by D Breyer · Cited by 3 — 2 Department of Philosophy, Illinois State University. Email: dbreyer@ilstu. Page 4. 534. Breyer, The Cessation of Suffering
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Journal of Buddhist Ethics ISSN 1076-9005 http://blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/ Volume 22, 2015 The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology Daniel Breyer Illinois State University Copyright Notice: Digital copies of this work may be made and distributed provided no change is made and no alteration is made to the content. Reproduction in any other format, with the exception of a single copy for private study, requires the written permission of the author. All en-quiries to: email@example.com .
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The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology 1 Daniel Breyer 2 Abstract This article examines Buddhist axiology. In section 1, the article argues against the dominant interpretations of what the u ltimate good is in Buddhist ethics. In section 2, the article argues for a novel interpretation of Buddhist value theory. This is the Nirodha View , which maintains that for at least the P !li Buddhist tradition, the cessation of suffering is the sole intrinsic good. In section 3, the a r-ticle responds to objections and briefly suggests that even non-Buddhists should take the Nirodha View seriously . 1 I would like to thank audiences at Illinois State University and St. JohnÕs Un iversity, as well as an anonymous referee, for their helpful comments on previous ve rsions of this 2 Department of Philosophy, Il linois State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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534 Breyer , The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology Introduction Axiology is the study of the good. What is good? What makes something good? What is the ultimate good Ñthe summum bonum ? In this article, I examine Buddhist axiology while focusing on this final question: What is the ultimate good according to the Buddhist tradition? The Buddhist tradition is of course vast. To make this task manageable, therefore, I focus on the P !li Canon. I will not argue that the P !li Canon represents original Buddhism or that all Buddhist traditions share a common axiology, but I do believe that identifying the core axiology found in the P !li Canon will move us forward in our unders tanding of the Buddhist trad ition as a whole. In section 1, I review the most promising contemporary interpr e-tations of P !li Buddhist axiology and argue that they fall short in i m-portant but understandable ways. In section 2, I argue for what I call the Nirodha View, which maintains that, at least according to the P !li Bu d-dhist tradition, the cessation of suffering is the sole intrinsic good. In section 3, I defend the Nirodha View against objections and suggest that even non-Buddhists should take the view seriously . Section 1: Nirv!”a and the Good In traditional axiology, philosophers have focused on questions about what counts as intrinsically good. What is good in itself ? Money is good, for instance, but not intrinsically. Money is not good in itself; it is only instrumentally good because it is good only insofar as it leads to (or is perhaps constitutive of) a more fundamental good, the most fundame n-tal of which is good, not because it leads to something else, but because it is good in itself Ñbecause it is intrinsically good .
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Journal of Buddhist Ethics 535 In the Western tradition, philosophers have endorsed many di f-ferent views about what is intrinsically good. As an example, consider hedonism. On a rough and ready version of hedonism, only pleasure is intrinsically good and only pain is intrinsically bad; everything other than pleasure is good only insofar as it leads to or contributes to the e x-perience of pleasure and everything other than pain is bad only insofar as it leads to or contributes to the experience of pain. In other words, pleasure is good in itself, whereas everything else is good instrumentally or extrinsically good. Classical P !li Buddhists are not hedonists, but according to the standard view, they endorse a similarly straightforward axiology. This is the ÒNirv!”a ViewÓ: The Nirv!”a View: Nirv !”a is the ultimate good. In ot h-er words, only nirv !”a is intrinsically goo d; everything else that counts as good is only instrumentally good to the extent that it contributes to the attainment of nirv !”a. Classical Buddhists distinguish between two levels of nirv !”a (P !li: nibb!na): (i) nirv !”a-with-remainder (sa-up ! dhisesa -nibb!na), better known as nirv !”a-in-this -life, and (ii) nirv !”a-without -remainder ( nirup ! dhisesa -nibb!na), better known as parinirv !”a. Roughly, nirv !”a-in-this -life is a state of moral and spiritual perfection and serves as a precondition for parinirv !”a, w hich one achieves only at death (when no life remains). Western scholars have focused their attention on nirv !”a-in-this -life as the ultimate good in P !li Buddhism. Damien Keown is the most sophisticated proponent of the Nir-v!”a View, but it is typically the default view among western scholars as
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536 Breyer , The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology far back as William James and Arthur Schopenhauer. 3 This is what Keown himself says: By Ònirvana,Ó I understand the summum bonum of Bu d-dhist soteriology. To avoid any confusion, I am concerned . . . only with that nirvana in terms of which ethical goo d-ness can be predicated of a human subject, namely Òni r-vana in this life.Ó (19) Nirvana is the good, and rightness is predicated of acts and intentions to the extent which they participate in nirvanic goodness. (177) Keown also links nirv !”a with the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia , where eudaimonia is a technical term that means Òhuman flourishing.Ó As Keown puts it, Ò eudaimonia and nirv !”a are functionally and conceptually related in that both constitute that final goal, end and summum bonum of human endeavorÓ (195). Other scholars, such as Owen Flanagan, have also made this suggestion. Following Flanagan, we can say that ÒBu d-dhist Eudaimonia Ó is a stable sense of serenity and contentment caused or constituted by wi sdom and virtue. LetÕs call this the Ò Eudaimonia ViewÓ: The Eudaimonia View : Buddhist Eudiamonia is the u l-timate good. In other words, only Buddhist Eudaimonia is intrinsically good; everything else that counts as good is only instrumentally or constitutiv ely good to the extent that it contributes to the attainment of Buddhist Euda i-monia or constitutes Buddhist Eudiamonia . 3 Stephen Batchelor summarizes the standard view nicely: ÒFor an orthodox Buddhist, the highest good is a transcendent state of nirvana located beyond the conditioned worldÓ (307).
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538 Breyer , The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology 32. ÒWere it rightly speaking to be said of anything: ÔThat is utterly wished for, utterly desired, utterly agreeable,Õ it is of heaven that, rightly speaking, this should be said, so much so that it is hard to finish descri bing the happiness of heaven.Ó 49. ÒBhikkhus, suppos e a gambler at the very first lucky throw won a great fortune, yet a lucky throw such as that is negligible; it is a far more lucky throw when a wise man who conducts himself well in body, speech, and mind, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reap pears in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. This is the complete perfection of the wise manÕs grade.Ó The problem, as Charles Goodman has pointed out (64 -65), is that, if nir-v!”a-in-this -life or even parinirv !”a is the summum bonum , a heaven ly rebirth should not count as good in any way, because a heavenly rebirth does not lead to either nirv !”a-in-this -life or parinirv !”a; in fact, it often leads one away from both. As Goodman himself puts it, For the most part, it is true that the happier oneÕs situ a-tion is, the better our opportunities for spiritual practice will be. But there is an important exception: the heavens. Early Buddhist texts consistently tell us that going to heaven is, in one important way, inferior to being born as a human Bu ddhist: life in the heavens does not usually bring one closer to Nirv ana. (65) This is insightful. If the ultimate good explains why everything other than itself is good, then we have to look beyond nirv !”a of either sort. Of course, this does not mean that nirv !”a lacks value completely or even that it is not fundamentally important to P !li Buddhism, but it does su g-gest that something is wrong with the standard view.
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Journal of Buddhist Ethics 539 In response to problems like thi s,4 Goodman argues for a diffe rent view, claiming that classical Buddhists endorse a two -class objective list axio logy, according to which both worldly prosperity (or happiness) and moral virtue are intrinsically valuable: The Objective List View : Both wor ldly prosperity and moral virtue are ultimate goods. In other words, only world prosperity and moral vi rtue are intrinsically good; everything else that counts as good is only instrumentally good to the extent that it contributes to the attai nment of world ly prosperity or moral virtue. Although Goodman is right to look beyond nirv !”a, I think his own view misses the mark. One reason GoodmanÕs Objective List View falls short is that the P !li Buddhist tradition cares about more than worldly prosper ity and mor al virtue. In the Majjhima Nik ! ya , for instance, we hear of a monk with a very bad memory who might also be a little intellectually slow. We have no reason to think heÕs a bad person, but we also have no reason to think heÕs either virtuous or prosperous. As he neared a grove of trees, he met the Buddha coming from it. The Buddha smiled and took his hand. Together they went to a temple where two old monks were swee p-ing the floor. The Buddha said to them: ÒThis young monk will live here with you from now on . Continue your 4 According to Goodman, other problems loom (65 -66). For instance, the Bu ddha has little to say about either nirv !”a-in-this -life or parinirv !”a, other than that we can Õt r e-ally talk about them adequately, and when the Buddha does talk about nirv !”a, he often explains it in amora l terms, saying in the A#guttara Nik !ya, for instance, that nirv !”a is Òneither black nor white,Ó lying outside the boundaries of conventional de signations. If nirv !”a is the ultimate good, moreover, then we face an action -guidance problem: How can we know whether we Õre doing the right thing if we don Õt really know what the good is?
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540 Breyer , The Cessation of Suffering and Buddhist Axiology sweeping, and as your brooms move back and forth, say the two -syllable mantra that I will now give you. Don’t stop until I come back.Ó The young monk sat down and li s-tened to the movement of the brooms, to and fro over the floor. He heard t he whispered rhythm of the mantra as it was repeated over and over again. This went on for many weeks, and before the Buddha came back, the young monk had found full liberation and so had the two old monks. This young monk achieves nirv !”a-in-this -life, a nd the story gives us every reason to think that this is intrinsically good; yet, the story never emphasizes moral virtue, even if it implies that the monk was also ded i-cated, disciplined, eager, energetic, and good. Relatedly, we hear stories about very b ad people, like Angulim !la, a highway murderer who r e-forms himself with the BuddhaÕs help. Angulim !laÕs story is about r e-demption, and of course Angulim !la dedicates himself to the Buddhist path after his conversion, a path that requires him to cultivated virtue over time. The story also highlights that he renounces violence, just as the Buddha himself has, but the Majjhima Nik ! ya emphasizes that, after Angulim !la had, Ògone alone into seclusion, [he] experienced the bliss of release,Ó even though he was ne ither prosperous nor virtuous at the time. The stories of the Sweeping Monk and Angulim !la, among coun t-less others in the P !li Buddhist tradition, put pressure on GoodmanÕs O b-jective List View, if only because these stories seem to support some ve r-sion of the Nirv !”a View. Yet, as I have indicated, Goodman has raised serious doubts about any interpretation of Buddhist axiology according to which nirv !”a of either sort is the ultimate good. So we face a pote n-tial impasse. Some texts seem to support the Obje ctive List View, wher e-as many others seem to support some version of the Nirv !”a View. How can we make progress?
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Journal of Buddhist Ethics 541 I think we can make progress by pressing an important question. What makes worldly prosperity and moral virtue good, according to the P !li Bud dhist tradition? Goodman doesnÕt press this question, but itÕs important. Why would a Buddhist as represented in the P !li canon think virtue and worldly prosperity are good? The easy answer is that they contribute, in some way, to nirv !”a, but of course Go odman has shown that the easy answer is technically wrong, and thatÕs why he holds that moral virtue and worldly prosperity are intrinsically good. Another a n-swer is simply an appeal to common sense Ñwe ordinarily believe that virtue and worldly prosperity are good, and that explains why they a p-pear on the Objective List. This is an inadequate answer, however, if only because the P !li Buddhist tradition often resists common sense notions and so it would seem that we need a distinctively Buddhist reason to a c-cept that virtue and worldly prosperity are good if we are to include them in the BuddhistÕs Objective List. So this leaves us with our question: Why else might P !li Buddhists think that virtue and world prosperity are good? I want to argue that virtue and worldly prosperity are derivatively good in a very specific sense: they contribute to and are sometimes co n-stitutive of the cessation of suffering . Section 2: The Nirodha View My view is that the P !li Buddhist tradition endorses a distinctive neg a-tive axiology, according to which only the e limination of suffering (i.e., dukkha /du$kha ) is ultimately good. In this view, x is good if and only if x either (i) contributes to the elimination of du$kha or (ii) consists in the absence of suffering. LetÕs call this the ÒNirodha View,Ó after the third noble truth: the truth of the ÒcessationÓ ( Nirodha ) of suffering ( Sa%yutta Nik ! ya 56).
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