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The Moral Order and its Upholders

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by Sangharakshita

... we should know: it's the family. The family, that is to say the human family, is not just a biological unit. The family should also be a moral order. It should reflect the larger moral order of society just as society itself should reflect the ideal moral order which is the law of karma. So who are the upholders of the moral order within the family? Obviously, the parents. We can say that parents are divine kings on a small scale. They educate their children in the observance of moral norms. They teach them that actions have consequences. It's not just a question of socialising the child: it's a question of giving children some understanding, however rudimentary, of the law of karma, some training, however elementary, in the performance of skilful action. And this will help the child to become later on a true member of a society which is also a moral order, and will help him to develop as an individual, and we find, according to the Pali scriptures, the Buddha himself doing this, this very thing. We are told that one day when he was out walking, maybe going for alms, the Buddha passed a group of boys, small boys. And what were they doing? Well, as small boys will, whether it's India or England or anywhere else, they were tormenting a crow which had broken its wing. So the Buddha went up to them and he asked them whether they would like to be treated like that? So they replied no, of course not. So the Buddha then said if they would not like to be treated like that themselves, why then treat others like that? He said the crow doesn't like it, either. So the boys understood, and they let the crow go free.

It's well known that children need to know where they stand, what they can do and what they cannot do, what actions will be approved, what actions will be disapproved, even punished. If the parents laugh when the child is naughty one day but get angry with him the next for just the same piece of naughtiness, then the child becomes confused - may even become anxious. He just doesn't know what to do. So it's much the same with adults, even. We need to feel that certain actions will definitely be followed by certain consequences. We need to exist within an order; best of all, to exist within a moral order, though psychologically speaking, at least, almost any order is probably better than no order at all.

So what happens when the moral order breaks down, when it breaks down in society at large? What happens when the king overlooks an evil deed? what happens when an evil deed is not followed by its appropriate result? To find this out, we must go back to our chapter, back to Brahma's speech, and the picture which he paints is a grim and terrible one. It's a picture of a society which is not a moral order, a society which is therefore to that extent not a society at all. I won't read out everything that Brahma says, but just enough to give you some idea of what happens when the moral order of society collapses.

Lecture 130: The Mo ral Order and its Upholders - Page 9 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Brahma says: `When a king overlooks an evil deed in his region and does not inflict appropriate punishment on the evil person, in the neglect of evil deeds lawlessness grows greatly, wicked acts and quarrels arise in great numbers in the realm. The chief gods are wrathful in the dwellings of the Thirty-three when a king overlooks an evil deed in his region. His region is smitten with dreadful, most terrible acts of wickedness, and his realm is destroyed on the arrival of a foreign army, his enjoyments and houses. Whoever has accumulated wealth, by various evil acts they deprive one another of them. If he does not perform the duty on account of which he has kingship, he destroys his own realm, just as the lord of elephants tramples on a lotus-pool. Unfavourable winds will blow; unfavourable showers of rain will fall; unfavourable will be planets and asterisms, likewise moon and sun. Crop, flower, fruit and seed will not properly ripen. Famine will arise where the king is neglectful. Unhappy in mind will the gods be in their dwellings when the king overlooks an evil deed in his region. All the kings of the gods will say to one another: "Unlawful is this king, for he supports the side of the lawless." This king will ere long anger the gods. Through the anger of the gods his region will perish. There will be destruction by the weapon in the region where there is lawlessness. Wicked acts, quarrels, diseases will arise. The lords of the gods will be angry. The gods will ignore him. His realm will be ruined. The king will come to grief. He will find himself separated from his loved ones, from brother or son, separated from his beloved wife. Or his daughter will die. There will be showers of meteors, likewise mock suns. Fear of foreign armies and famine will increase greatly. His beloved minister will die and also his beloved elephant. As soon as they have died, his beloved horses and female camels will likewise die. They will carry off one another's house, enjoyments, wealth. In every district they will slay one another with arms. In the regions there will be disputes, quarrels, evil acts. An evil demon will enter the realm. There will be severe disease. After that the venerable will become lawless. His ministers and attendants will become lawless. After that there will be respect for the lawless person and there will be constantly oppression of law-abiding beings. Where there is honour for lawless people and oppression of the law-abiding, there three things go wild: asterisms, water, and winds. Three things perish when there is acceptance of lawless people: the savour and strength of the good Law, the strength of beings, and the savour of the earth. Where there is honour for untruthful people and dishonour for truthful people, there will be three things: famine, thunderbolt, and defilement.

After that there will be no savour or strength in fruit or crop. Many beings will become ill in those regions.

Large sweet fruits in those regions will become small, bitter and sharp. Play, laughter and pleasure, things previously enjoyable, will become feeble and unenjoyable, fraught with hundreds of troubles. The moist nature and the savour of crops and fruits will disappear. They will not satisfy the body, the senses, or the elements. Beings will become of bad complexion, of very little strength, and very weak. Having eaten much food they will not attain satiety. After that they will get no strength, prowess or energy. Beings in those regions will become without prowess. Beings will become disease-ridden, oppressed by various illnesses. There will arise evil demons, asterisms and various Rakshasas. A king would be lawless if he stood on the side of lawlessness: the three spheres in the circle of the whole triple world are harmed.

Numerous such evils arise in those regions when a king is partisan and overlooks an evil act. If he overlooks an evil act, a king does not exercise his kingship according to the duty for which he was consecrated by the lords of the gods.' So this is what Brahma says. Brahma then goes on to stressing the strongest possible terms the importance of the king fulfilling his duty, that is to say being an upholder of the moral order. Well, as I said, the picture which Brahma paints of what happens when the moral order breaks down is a grim and terrible one, but some of you may have noticed something. It's a picture which is not entirely unfamiliar. Certain features of it we recognise only too well, because we ourselves are living today in a society which is not a moral order. It's not that the moral order has broken down equally everywhere, but it has certainly broken down to a great extent in many parts of the world, in many areas of human life. This is not to say that large numbers of people have all at once become deliberately wicked. People are probably much the same as they always were, but the situation has changed.

To begin with, the spiritual values on which the moral order was traditionally based are no longer so widely accepted. Science and technology seem to have made them irrelevant. In some parts of the world, in some societies, those values have indeed been openly attacked and overtly rejected, and even where that has not happened spiritual values are not really important to significant numbers of people. The moral order of society therefore has no real, solid foundation. It continues out of force of habit, as it were, and that cannot go on for very long. Then corporate life has become not only larger but more impersonal.

Sometimes it's very difficult to find out who is responsible for what, who has done what. Things just happen - even things which affect us personally quite a lot - but we cannot trace them back to anyone in Lecture 130: The Moral Order and its Upholders - Page 10 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ particular. Nobody accepts responsibility. They are nobody's actions. This is particularly true of government departments, perhaps, as well as of large business firms.

Then again, corporate life has become very complex, not to say complicated. Social life, life as a member of a human society, has become very complex, just like an enormous Persian carpet, except of course that there is no pattern. There are just thousands and thousands of threads running in all directions, and it's very difficult to see where any particular thread begins and ends.

In the same way, in society, thousands upon thousands of events are happening, thousands upon thousands of things are happening, but it's very difficult to trace any one event through its entire course. It's very difficult to know what has caused what. Very often we don't even know whether a particular factor in the situation is cause or is effect, ...

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