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Ethics in the Order , A Good Place To Start

You can also listen to this talk.

by Khemasuri


by Khemasuri

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=LOC706
Hel o everyone and thanks for the chance to talk about something I’m enthusiastic about!

This talk has emerged over the last couple of years. It is a coming together of several
strands of my thinking, and has ‘matured over time, and hopeful y wil continue to do so. So
this talk is more ‘work in progress’ rather than anything definitive.
The strands are:

• Talk given by Bhante in 1971 cal ed ‘Evolution or extinction, a Buddhist view of world
problems’ In this Talk Bhante talks about the spiritual community as an agent of
change in the world. I talked to Bhante about the themes in the talk and he said that
he stil stood by his understandings and would also encourage me to take them out
into the movement more.
• My interest in Pratitya Samutpada as the core teaching of the Buddha. And the
traditional formulations of this truth as the very structure of reality. A truth that is
always present, it is just that we don’t see it.
• The change in the scientific community’s understanding of the world. A paradigm
shift that has taken place over the last 50-60 years. This can be seen in many
disciplines, cybernetics, biology, physics and mathematics, but also the ‘softer
sciences’, ecology, economics, the understanding of consciousness and
organisational theory. In its widest scope it is known as general systems theory or
‘systems thinking’.
• The importance of promoting the ethics of non-harm and the positive value of skilful
action. For me acting ethical y is no longer a idealistic option but a necessity for our
global survival.
• Lastly my enthusiasm for the Order. The way it has been set up by Bhante, and as a
potential force for good in the world. It’s ability to function for the benefit of all
beings. I suppose it’s potential to embody the hands of Avelokiteshvara!

So I wil begin with the word of the Buddha.

The fundamental experience of the Buddha upon his Enlightenment was what he later
referred to as, ‘pratitya samutpada’, variously defined as 'conditioned co-production',
‘conditioned arising’ or 'dependent arising'. This spiritual insight had nothing to do with any
kind of conceptual construction. It was a particular way of experiencing the world, which in
the Buddha's time it was simply known as 'the way things are'. The Buddha later went on to
teach various formulations of this insight in terms comprehensible to the intel ect, such as
the Four Noble Truths and the Nidana Chain. These formulas were embedded in the
understandings of an Indian culture of over two thousand years ago. The Four Noble
Truths, for example were based on a wel -known contemporary method of diagnosing and
treating il health by looking at the problem (suffering), the cause of the problem (the cause
of suffering), the possibility of a cure (the cessation of suffering)and the prescribed course
of treatment, the conditions necessary for the cessation of suffering. (the Eight Fold Path).
It can be argued that the doctrine of pratitya samutpada is not just one Buddhist doctrine
amongst others, but is the Buddhist doctrine; it is what makes Buddhism, ‘Buddhism’. It cuts

1 across al Buddhist schools, the present Dali Lama cal s it ‘The Buddha’s slogan’. It is not
dependant on man, it is not human being based; it is more like a natural law operative on al
levels of existence, from physical matter to culture and consciousness. The most famous
expression of pratitya samutpada is:
When this is, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises. This not being, that
becomes not; from the ceasing of this, that ceases. (Maj hima-Nikaya 11.32).
Although this looks like a simple sentence, it is difficult to comprehend in al its richness and
implications. Ananda, who was the Buddha’s attendant for much of his life, says to the
‘It is wonderful lord, it is marvelous how profound this pratitya samutpada is, how deep it
appears. And yet it appears to me as clear as clear’ The Buddha responds;
‘Do not say this Ananda, do not say this! This pratitya samutpada is profound and appears
profound. It is through not understanding, not penetrating that this generation has become
like a tangled bal of string.…… (Samyutta-nikaya 11 92)
So Ananda’s understanding can be seen as merely conceptual, he does not see Pratitya
Samutpada in the ful sense of enlightenment, does not penetrate the reality of it. It is
important to remember that understanding pratitya samutpada conceptual y is not the same
as knowing it through direct experience.
The Buddha’s teaching of pratitya samutpada also points the way to the possibility of
something quite new arising, qualities that have not existed before can emerge under
certain conditions. These are known as emergent properties, and are quite new. When the
conditions are appropriate they simply appear, for something to exist in the present it is not
necessary for it to have existed in the past. Most of the time when we experience suffering
we also experience craving. Sometimes it is craving for a situation to continue; sometimes it
is craving for a situation to come to an end. But when the conditions are appropriate, from
suffering we wil experience faith, faith in the doctrine, faith in the Buddha and his teaching.
This is known as an emergent property, and is the true beginning of the spiritual life. It can
be seen as a paradigm shift, a perspective that offers new horizons, new possibilities within
ourselves. The conditions for faith to arise could be seen as not only suffering, but also an
awareness of that suffering, a discomfort with our ordinary way of being and also ‘a forth
sight’ something that shows us an alternative way or vision. Every one of us in this room wil
have experienced this in some way!
The conditions prevailing in our globalised, 21st Century Society are very different to those
in the Buddha’s day. It was a different time and a very different culture. It can be difficult for
us to relate to the traditional doctrinal explanations of pratitya samutpada. Buddhism, in its
2,500 year history, has spread very widely. It has done so in a spirit of adaptation and
assimilation. In ‘The Survey of Buddhism’ Sangharakshita, talking about the rapid
expansion of Buddhism through different races and cultures says, ‘the Dharma, while
remaining essential y changeless, was capable of assuming a thousand forms, because it is
in principle simply the means to enlightenment.’
The Buddha, in discussion with his Aunt, Mahapajapati, defined his teaching in positive
terms as “…whatever is conducive to dispassion, not to passion detachment, not to

2 attachment, leads to a decrease in worldly gains, frugality, contentment, energy, delight in
the good, and solitude. This is the norm; this is the discipline; this is the Master's message.”
(Vinaya 11. 10 Anguttara-nikaya 8. 53). The Buddha was asking us to decide what is
helpful to us as practicing Buddhists in the light of our own experience, and his teaching of
the qualities, the conditions, that lead to enlightenment.
In this spirit, we can also gain understanding from contemporary sources. For me one of the
most useful models to have emerged in recent decades is that of general systems theory.
Systems theory can deepen our understanding of how we set up conditions for change and
the implications for how we need to act. It is a world-view with a much greater overlap with
traditional Buddhist teachings than previous mainstream scientific models.
General systems theory is a conceptual construction of our time, and our culture, which has
grown out of scientific understanding. I believe it can help bring us closer to understanding
conditionality, the essence of the Buddha's teaching.
With this in mind I want to begin by looking at the difference between causality and
conditionality; because these two ways of looking at the world have very different
implications in terms of the way we understand the world and how we act within it.
Causality was expounded by Descartes, Newton and others, and it is often known as
'Cartesian thinking'. This approach moved from a holistic understanding of the world to a
mechanistic one, in which there is direct cause and effect. So, A causes B. You chop down
a tree; you process it and you get paper at the other end. Cartesian thinking sees the world
as being machine-like; there is a direct relationship between input and outcome. This model
led to a view that we could control the world 'from the outside'; that we were in charge and
that we were separate from the world. As superior beings, we could dominate the world
through our intel ect. The world was there for Man to have dominion over. It is important to
understand causality as it is the dominant world view of the westernised world, a world view
we subscribe to without being aware of it.
Systems theory looks at the interplay of conditions which make up the world we live in. So
in ...

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