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Good and evil

c10.gif (12714 bytes)I have already said that most religions saw the events of the world as the work of deities or supernatural forces. If mankind did not want any unpleasant events to befall him, or if he aspired to some reward, he would have to let the deities see some display of worship and obeisance.

This applied not only to external natural events. Even people's personal lives were under the control of the deities. The deity, God, was the creator of the Universe, together with all of its happiness and suffering. He was constantly monitoring mankind's behaviour to ascertain whether it was pleasing to Him or not, and so people were constantly on their guard to avoid any actions which might displease the deity.

According to this standard, all of humanity's behaviour could be classified into two categories. Firstly, those actions which were pleasing to the deity, which were rewarded, and which were known as ‘good’; and those actions which were displeasing to the deity, which he punished, and which were known as ‘evil'. Sometimes these qualities were seen as being the directives of the deity. Whatever the deity approved of was ‘good', whatever the deity forbade was ‘evil', The priests or representatives of the religion were the mediators who informed mankind which actions were good and which were evil, according to the standard as laid down by the deity.These standards for defining good and evil became known as ‘ethics' or ‘morals'.

Morality, or ethics, is a very important part of religion. You could almost say it was the essence of religion. Western morality evolved and developed much as I have described it here.

As for science, from the time it parted with religion it interested itself solely with the external physical world and completely ignored the abstract side of things. Science took no interest at all in moral or ethical issues, seeing them as concerns of the deity, unfounded on facts, and turned its back on these things altogether. The populations of the Western countries, or of the countries we know as technologically developed, were captivated by the advances of science. In  comparison, religion's teachings of deities and supernatural forces seemed ill-founded. And so they turned their backs on religion. At that time morals and ethics lost their meaning. When God was no longer important, morals or ethics, God's set of laws, were no longer important. Many people today, including those in scientific circles, view ethics as merely the arbitrary dictates of certain groups of people, such as priests or religious representatives, at best established to maintain order in society, apart from which they do not have any intrinsic truth.

Those branches of science which study the development of Human civilization, especially sociology, and some branches of anthropology, seeing the success of the physical sciences, tried to afford their branches of learning a similar standing, by using principles and methods much the same as the physicals ciences. The social sciences tended to see ethics or morals as values which did not have any scientific foundation. They have tended to avoid the subjected ethics in order to show that they, too, are pure sciences void of value systems. Even when they  do make studies about ethical matters, they look on them only as measurable quantities of social behaviour.

The physical sciences, the social sciences, and people in the modern age in general, look on ethics as purely conventional creations. They are incapable of distinguishing ethics from their conventional manifestations, which is a step in the wrong direction - in trying to avoid falsehood, they have ended up straying further from truth.  

Now let us come back to the subjected Buddhism. In regard to ethics, both science and Buddhism differ from the main gamut of religions. But while science has cut itself off from them, completely disregarding any consideration of ethics or values, Buddhism turns around and studies and teaches the role of ethics within the natural process.

While most religions look at the events of nature, both outside of man and within him, as being the directives of a deity, Buddhism looks at these events as being the normal and natural process of causes and conditions. In regard to human beings and abstract conditions, or values, the same laws apply to the physical workings of nature. They are part of the stream of causes and conditions, functioning entirely at the directives of the natural laws. The difference in quality is determined by variations within the factors of the stream.

In order to facilitate our understanding of these processes, Buddhism divides the laws of nature into five kinds, called niya.gif (845 bytes)ma (laws). They are:

1 Utuniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (physical laws):

The natural laws dealing with the events in the natural world or physical environment.

2 Bi.gif (57 bytes)janiya.gif (845 bytes)ma (biological laws):

The natural laws dealing with animals and plants, in particular heredity.

3 Citttaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (psychic laws):

The natural laws dealing with the workings of the mind and thinking.

4 Kammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (karmic or moral laws):

The natural law dealing with human behaviour, specifically intention and the actions resulting from it.

5 Dhammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (the general law of cause and effect):

The natural law dealing with the relationship and interdependence of all things, known simply as the way of things.

In terms of these five divisions of natural law, we can see that science has complete confidence in the dhammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (the general law of cause and effect), while limiting its field of research to utuniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (physical laws) and bi.gif (57 bytes)janiya.gif (845 bytes)ma (bio-logical laws). As for Buddhism, practically speaking it emphasises kammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (the law of moral action), although one stream of Buddhism, the Abhidhamma, stresses the study of the cittaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma (psychic laws), in relation to kammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma and dhammaniya.gif (845 bytes)ma.

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