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Comparison Between Western Philosophy And Buddhist Ethics

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Buddhism and western philosophy are two ideologies that have stood the test of time. By looking at a cross-section of western meta-ethical theories, there is an adequate theoretical framework that triggers moral thinking in terms of Buddhism and a vast heterogeneity in Western philosophies. Scholarly, there’s a need for a rich philosophical dialogue and conversation about western philosophy and Buddhist ethics, most significantly how the two philosophies influenced each other until today, considering that different periods focus on different western perspectives.

To begin with, Buddhism ethics and western Philosophy originate from different geographical setting. Western Buddhism involves knowledge and practices of Buddhism outside Asia, thus implying that there is inter-cultural interaction Martin (2001). The interaction provided a hybrid version of Buddhism because of interactions between western civilization and Buddhist traditions which had different cultural practices. During middle age, the two cultures had minimal interactions until the emergence of early-modern, technology and mercantilism, (Bernard,2004). This era provided cultural interactions that increased the knowledge and teachings of Buddhism among westerners. The results between the two philosophical factions led to religious proselytism, religious polemics and Buddhist modernism. The interactions were also cartelized with immigration, globalization and changes in Christianity among westerners Martin (2001).

Buddhist was developed in India and spread across the world to different cultural context. Every culture that Buddhist permeated with transformed the teaching of Buddhist in one way or the other through the doctrines of dependent origination and impermanence. For instance, a traditional scholar who studied Buddhist outside their linage extensively synthesized ideas that help in gaining more insight on issues related to suffering( Kuzminski,2008). Buddhism from western countries brought by immigrants and missionaries is a hybrid version of Buddhism that incorporates a diversity of intellectual and traditions. The two philosophies first came into contact when Alexander the Great conquered India. His conquest included the philosopher Pyrrha who contributed to the development of the philosophy Pyrrhonism. Later, the Pyrrhonism philosophy conflicted with teachings of Madhyamaka Buddhism. Other incidences of convergence between Buddhists ethics and western philosophies were reported. Classical and early Christians documented several instances of interaction between Buddhist and Roman Empire such as Pandya. This account provides prove that Indian religious men Sramanas visited Mediterranean countries. Reports by Giovanni de Piano Carpin and William of Ruysbroeck indicate some similarities between Buddhism and Nestorian Christian communities (Hallisey, 1992). Interaction between European Christians with Buddhism in the early 16th century, such as Jesuit missionaries gave a detailed account of Buddhist doctrine and practices. In the 19th century, Buddhism dominated western intellectuals. However, the activities of western missionaries, for this reason, the two have coexisted for an extended period thus need to identify the nature of the relationship between western philosophy and Buddhist ethics (Robert and Keown 1994).

Buddhist had a series of fundamental teachings that were different from western ideologies (Youru,2007). Some of the noble teaching fronted by Buddha is that life is full of suffering. The cause of suffering is definite; hence, there is a possibility to stop suffering because the suffering is distinctive through right views, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, exemplary efforts, mindfulness, and concentration (Youru,2007). There is a theoretical overlap between the two most potent forces (psychoanalyst scholars operating in western and Buddhist. The commonalities between the two schools of thought, Buddhism branches, and modern western psychologies revolves around phenomenological psychology, psychoanalytical psychotherapy, humanistic psychology, and cognitive psychology( Simon. (, 2007).

From the time of Plato and Aristotle, justice has been a primary concern of western philosophy in contrast to premodern Buddhism. Emphasis on the teaching of western political theory about human dignity and rights forms the basis of engagement on justice issues. Western philosophy on the environment, for instance, informs Eco-Buddhism on how to respond to modern challenges never faced by classical Buddhist (Jin,2006). Buddhist traditions focus on universal elements such as mind, world and meaning, while Western philosophies explore the same ideas to provide insight on how to deal with oppressive social structures fragmented natural systems. In this case, Buddhist traditions such as rational argument and analytic mediation should be aligned to western thing to gain more insight and more in-depth understanding of universal challenges besides elementary teachings. Youru (2007) noted that the cultural and philosophical orientation of western philosophy could be seen through the interpretive framework of Buddhist text. Classical Buddhist text challenge Buddhist to think differently because their influence is more from an external discourse. Such perspective can touch and change a broad scope of Buddhist practices that are inclined to aspects such as mythology and valorizes psychology, nature as well as social engagement of the current situation.

The first sermon of Buddhism teaching is about enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The noble truth taught by Gautama Buddha that is also the foundation to Buddhist traditions include the presumption that life is characterized by dissatisfaction, suffering (duhka), that suffering is caused by self-attachment samudaya); that suffering can be stopped;( nirodha) and practices are the path to the cessation of the suffering (marga) The path as stipulated under fourth truth constitutes three activities: prajna (wisdom)sila (moral conduct) and samadhi (mental discipline (David 2008), In this context, Buddhist argue that; lack of wisdom and mental contributes to behaviour that causes suffering on both self and others. Moral significant of traditional Buddhist teachings rests in wisdom, mental discipline ability to understand reality. This means that only wisdom and mental discipline drive the sense of compassionate and attending to the needs of others (Jin,2006).

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Buddhist traditions main focus is on the morality of thoughts and feelings, actions, character and commitment. From the western philosophical point of view, Buddhism is more of an ethical ideology. It incorporates works of appropriate and inappropriate actions, together with texts that illustrate both psychological appropriate and inappropriate qualities. Its text also helps in cultivation of human virtues necessary to become a bodhisattva. It guides the conducts of for instance the kings, monks and nuns (Aristotle 1999). . However, Buddhist teaching limits systematic ethical theorizing that determines moral principles that guide morality such as the difference between artificial precepts and natural precepts. In this case, Buddhist was not concerned with a theoretical inquiry on the nature and justification of moral principles like western moral thought. This implies that Buddhist focused more on normative and applied ethics with little attention on meta-ethics; a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin of moral principles. For instance, it demonstrates how morality is entrenched in nature rather than confining to specific rules of right contact. Under meta-ethics, behaviour varies with situations. Guided by three sets of meta-ethical aspects; Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Kant’s deontology, and Mill’s consequentialism, it confirms that situational response to ethics can vary( Harvey, (2000). The meta-ethics analogy is part of western philosophy because it agrees with other philosophers that morality: including righteousness of specific moral rules, is determined at the level of meta-ethics. Although Buddhist philosophers have provided a theoretical framework to help understand Buddhist morals teachings as part of a coherent ethical system, they have faced challenges that range from language, epistemology and metaphysics (Aristotle 1999).

Western moral thought differs widely with Buddhist traditional approach to thinking about morality. To link the two, philosophers must develop a meta-ethical framework that justifies Buddhist normative and applied ethics. Such a framework should encompass moral philosophies such as prescriptions, descriptions, narratives and mediation based on a given behaviour deemed appropriate. However, Buddhist ethics share common features with Western moral philosophies, particularly virtues and consequentialism. One of the renewed old practice is interpreting Buddhist text through the hermeneutic framework linked to contemporary European philosophy (Tuck 1990; droit 2003).

Academic scholars in 1990s understood Buddhist ethics in the context of western theoretical reflections. Macmillan.and Amstutz, (1997) noted that Buddhist ethics was characterized with forms of consequentialism, however, with the reintroduction of virtue ethics in Anglo-America moral philosophy in the 80s, Buddhist morals have been interpreted by some scholars as a form of Aristotelian virtue ethics. According to Damien Keown, ‘Aristotelianism provides a useful Western analogue’ that helps to explain the foundation and social structures of Buddhist ethics( Keown 1992, 196).In this context, Keown draws a similarity between Buddhist ethics with Aristotelian virtues since they both entail to perfect human nature through the cultivation of moral and intellectual virtues. Aristotle argues that all human beings are interested in the good with the highest good being eudaimonia(happiness of wellbeing). Aristotle further argues that other goods besides these are undesirable though are pursued to help attain the wellbeing: they include aspects such as friendship, political power, riches or health. According to Aristotle, eudaimonia is the ultimate goal of human life, and it is determined by individual choices (Aristotle 1999, 1–18). Both intellectual and moral virtues, according to Aristotle, determine Nichomachean Ethics, eudaimonia and should be cultivated alongside theoretical reasoning and understanding the nature of reality. Buddhist ethics, according to Keown, can therefore be interpreted in the context of Aristotelian ethics with goals of nirvāṇa; aligned to human nature objective. Interpreting Buddhist ethics as a virtue is a way of sharing essential characters with Aristotelian moral philosophy. Just like Buddhism, both analogies are embodied to ensure that human life overcome afflictions through cognitive and intellectual virtues (Dreyfus 1995, 35–7). Velez de Cea (2004, 139) further agrees that Buddhism is virtue ethics, although it differs with western morals philosophy because it incorporates aspects of moral realism and utilitarianism.

Goodman (2009). argues that Buddhist ethics incline more on meeting the needs of other people by sacrificing self. This means that humanity is obliged to take up the suffering of all sentient beings. Besides structural virtue ethics and consequentialism in Buddhist ethics, there are noted features of western moral philosophies in Buddhist thoughts, as noted by many scholars. Among them, it includes contours of Derridean and Levinasian ethics. Hallisey (1996).

On the contrary, argue that classic western ethical framework cannot be used to interpret Buddhist ethics. He suggests that understanding Theravāda ethics is also ideal. He argues that searching for meta-ethical structures as the basis for establishing principles of Buddhist ethics fails to establish how Buddhist ethical thoughts are not aligned to traditional Western conceptions of consequentialism and virtue ethics. He advocates for additional of Theravāda ethics. However, Hallisey (1996) argues that it will be hard to get the answer to the ethical theories that guide Buddhist ethics in general.

Buddhism provides a vast tradition of philosophical and moral replication. Western Traditions, on the other hand, evaluates the degree to which the experience and demands of each new generation such as justice and quality, the pervasiveness of information technology and navigating through different multicultural societies can be handled (Hallisey, 1996). .From a contemporary point of view, Buddhism should embrace western thought to be able to have a universal engagement on these contemporary concerns. Aligning its ideologies to Aristotelian moral ethics philosophy will introduce mutual leveraging wheel for two ideologies to mutually benefits from each other and achieve their ultimate goals

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Comparison Between Western Philosophy And Buddhist Ethics. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparison-between-western-philosophy-and-buddhist-ethics/
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Comparison Between Western Philosophy And Buddhist Ethics [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 24 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparison-between-western-philosophy-and-buddhist-ethics/
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