"Abandon negative action; create perfection virtue; subdue your own mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha"
Alone among the world's religions, Buddhism locates suffering at the heart of the world. Indeed according to Buddhism, existence is suffering (dukkha). The main question that Guatama (c.566 BC - c.480 BC), the traditional founder of Buddhism, sought to answer was: "Why do pain and suffering exist?"
Buddhism teaches compassion toward all sentient beings. By contrast, Christianity and its secular offshoot, Western science, cling to a very un-Darwinian form of human exceptionalism. According to the Biblical Book of Genesis, God put animals on earth purely to serve Man, who exists to serve God.
Early in the 21st century, there are an estimated 300 million Buddhists in the world. Central to Buddhist teaching are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-fold Path.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:
Buddhist universalism is best represented by the Mahayana tradition, which embraces the well-being of all sentient life.
The meaning of the term nirvana, literally "the blowing out" of existence, is not entirely clear. Nirvana is not a place like heaven, but rather an eternal state of being. It is the state in which the law of karma and the rebirth cycle come to an end - though Buddhist conceptions of personal (non-)identity make these notions problematic. Nirvana is the end of suffering; a state where there are no desires, and individual consciousness comes to an end. Attaining nirvana is to relinquish clinging, hatred, and ignorance. Its achievement entails full acceptance of imperfection, impermanence, and interconnectedness. Sometimes "nirvana" is used to refer either to Buddhist heaven or complete nothingness, but most Buddhists would not understand the term in this way.
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Ethical utilitarians share the Buddhist focus on suffering. But only "negative" utilitarians identify the minimisation of suffering as the sole ethical goal of life. "Positive" utilitarians regard the maximisation ofhappiness as ethically valuable no less than the minimisation of pain.
One radical form of utilitarianism is abolitionism. Abolitionists believe that biotechnology should be used to abolish suffering altogether - though not all abolitionists are utilitarians. Given the accelerating revolution in biotechnology, the abolitionist project is the logical implication of a utilitarian ethic. Even so, the creation of a truly cruelty-free world entails a disconcertingly ambitious technological solution. To achieve a world without suffering, it will be necessary to rewrite the vertebrate genome and redesign the global ecosystem. Any cross-species enterprise of this magnitude is beyond our current technological capabilities. Yet some kind ofparadise-engineering is foreseeable in the coming era of quantum supercomputing allied to nanorobotics. Critically, too, genetically-engineered vatfood can potentially deliver global veganism more effectively than appeals to compassion alone.
These distinctions might seem academic. Most people are not avowedly utilitarians in their code of ethicalvalues. Moreover the term "utilitarian" itself is pedestrian. It conveys no sense of moral urgency. But a rough-and-ready utilitarian ethic is widespread in contemporary secular society. Even professed anti-utilitarians normally rely on (indirectly) utilitarian arguments by appealing to the bad consequences that would allegedly follow for our well-being from the [mis-]application of a utilitarian ethic.
BUDDHISM VERSUS UTILITARIANISMSetting aside differences of metaphysic, how closely do the core values of utilitarians/abolitionists and Buddhists coincide? If suffering and its abolition are central to life on Earth, can differences between the two traditions be resolved to questions of means, not ends?
Perhaps. But these differences of means are substantial. Most Buddhists would challenge the idea that technology offers an escape-route from the pain of earthly existence. Despite the cumulative success stories of scientific medicine, it would seem the advances of modern technology haven't left human beings any happier on average than our ancestors on the African savannah. Indeed the incidence of clinical depression, anxiety disorders, suicide, drug abuse, marital breakdown and other "objective" indices of distress is rising in Western consumer capitalist society as a whole. The track-record of technological science to date is not encouraging. Opponents of scientific utopianism envisage that its application will yield - at best - some type of "Brave New World".
Abolitionists respond that only enlightened biotechnology can ever deliver the world from suffering. Unless the biological substrates of unpleasantness are eradicated, then suffering is genetically preordained by the biochemistry of the human brain. All Darwinian humans periodically go through periods of distress ["dukkha"]. Its intensity and duration varies. But its spectre is never absent. Endowing their vehicles with a capacity to suffer enhanced the inclusive fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. A heritable capacity to undergo all sorts of nasty states, conditionally activated, has been genetically adaptive. So even devout Buddhists undergo pain, sorrow and malaise in the course of their lives. A Buddhist lifestyle andmeditational disciplines may offer palliative relief. Yet under the yoke of a Darwinian genome, no pursuit of a "Noble Eight-fold Path" can re-set our emotional thermostats, redesign our gene expression profiles, and dismantle the "hedonic treadmill" of Darwinian life. In evolutionary history, primate mothers who weren'tanxiety-ridden, "attached" to their children, and desirous of their success left less copies of their genes than their malaise-ridden, un-Buddhist-like counterparts.
Moreover, with a traditional neural architecture, it's notable that desire-driven "hyper-dopaminergic" people, who have the greatest range and intensity of appetites, tend to be the least unhappy - though their lives can still be blighted by disappointment and loss. By contrast, the extinction of desire experienced by many contemporary humans is more akin to apathy and withdrawal than illumination - not enlightenment and consequent nirvana but instead a condition of melancholia or anhedonia: emptiness in the sense of an absence of meaning. This isn't the kind of extinction of desire Buddhists have in mind. Yet it's unclear if Buddhism offers a solution to, say, anhedonia - the incapacity to feel happiness or anticipate reward - characteristic of many depressives.
Looking to the future, the new technologies of post-genomic healthcare promise effectively unlimited joy,meaning and motivation - or serenity. If we so desire, a rich hyper-spirituality can be awakened, too, even in the otherwise spiritually barren. Intelligence can be pharmacologically and genetically amplified, as can lifespans, perhaps indefinitely; and also, more counter-intuitively, compassion. In future, genetic engineering will allow control over archaic emotions and eventually the creation of whole new categories of experience in state-spaces of consciousness hitherto unknown.
More prosaically, but more importantly from an ethical point of view, the reproductive revolution of "designer babies" will enable us to choose how much - or how little - suffering we bring into the world when we decide on the genetic-make-up of our children. Gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being can be the destiny of our offspring from conception, depending on which dial-settings we favour. If we so choose, we can abolish the soul-polluting nastiness of Darwinian life altogether. Dukkha can be consigned to historical oblivion; and replaced by a post-Darwinian era of mental superhealth.
The era of mature genomic medicine is still decades away, perhaps longer. Buddhists are surely right to stress how desire and attachment as experienced today often lead to heartbreak. But when heartbreak becomes genetically impossible, it will be safe to follow one's heart's desire without limit. More generally, an absence of desire is a recipe for personal and social stagnation, whereas an abundance of desires is a precondition of intellectual dynamism and social progress.
Control over our emotions nonetheless strikes many bioconservatives as a frightening prospect, evoking images of enslavement rather than empowerment. So it's worth recalling how some early social commentators feared that the discovery of anaesthesia gave doctors too much power over their patient. The use of anaesthetics for painless surgery allegedly robbed the individual of his or her autonomy and the capacity to act as a rational agent, reducing the patient "to a corpse". In a contemporary context, investing a quasi-priestly caste of physicians with the sole lawful power to grant - or withhold - pleasure-giving, pain-relieving prescription drugs undoubtedly does magnify the scope for abuses of authority.
Whatever the risks of abuse, our technologies of pain-eradication are too valuable to renounce, even if this option were sociologically realistic. Right now, of course, the vision of life without suffering still strikes many non-Buddhists (and even Buddhists) as fanciful. Life-long happiness seems no more likely than the prospect of effective "pain killers" or pain-free surgery struck our early Victorian forebears. For the most part, we are possessed by the deep unspoken feeling that "what has always been was always meant to be". Status quo bias has deep cultural roots. Even classical utilitarians may find it difficult to believe that suffering could beeradicated in the foreseeable future in the same way as, say, smallpox. Yet it is hard to underestimate the ramifications of rewriting the vertebrate genome as the millennium unfolds. The abolition of the biological substrates of suffering promises to mark a major discontinuity in the development of life on Earth. Ourgenetically enriched descendants may regard existence without "dukkha" - the abolition of suffering - as the ethical foundation of any civilised society.
SOME SALIENT ATTRIBUTES OF THE DHAMMA
Modern age broadens one's view and urges man to search for what is best and most truthful in life. Human life is superior to animal levels of existence, because man has the power of discrimination between good and bad, wholesome and unwholesome, right and wrong, cause and effect, etc. Man, as a rational being, observes that it is human nature to struggle and discover the truth of life, that is, to enjoy genuine peace and real happiness and release from all pains.
Man is indeed given the golden opportunity to obtain lasting peace and happiness. It wholly depends on how he strives for his own salvation. The power is latent within him. He is therefore capable of utilizing his power to the best advantage. By relying on one's own effort and mastering oneself one can make circumstances favourable and thereby experience the truth of one's life here and now.
The technique of practice in Buddhism is rather simple, not to search in a faraway place, but to discover it only within your body and mind with the help of the Buddha's Teaching, known as Dhamma. If you practise it at this moment, you are sure to obtain the marvellous results forthwith. Just put yourself in the actual practice for some days and then you will amazingly find the effective fruits through your own experience in the enlightened life.
The Buddha-Dhamma is a systematic method of teaching, based on universal principles of cosmic nature, by which human beings can be released from all sufferings in Samsara and attain ultimate happiness through supreme enlightenment. The Noble Truths of the Dhamma are not confined only to one individual, or to one sect or nation. They can be discerned by any one, provided he or she really wishes to obtain them. They are, in fact, universally present in everybody's mind. The Dhamma is not confined only to believers in Buddhism. It indeed can be used by all. But the essential fact of the Dhamma is to examine it by oneself as far as possible.
Here, the Buddha explained to the Kalama Princes in the Kesamutti Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya:
"You Kalamas, be not led by heresy or by what is handed down by tradition or by what people say, or by what is stated on the. authority of your traditional teaching. Be not led by reasoning, nor by inferring, not by argument as to method, nor by delight in speculative opinions, by seeming possibilities, or by the directions from your teachers. But, Oh! Kalamas when you know of yourselves that certain actions done by you are not good, false and considered worthless by the wise: that when perpetuated, they will lead to loss or suffering, then give them up... and when you know of yourselves that certain actions done by you are good, true and considered worthy by the wise, then accept them and put them into practice."
Moreover, one can also see, observe and scrutinize one's experience with the inherent qualities of the Dhamma and see whether it is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end (Svakkhato), whether it is to be realized by oneself (Sanditthiko), whether it is immediately effective (Akaliko), whether it is inviting all to come and see (Ehipassiko), whether it is worthy to be achieved (Opaneyyko) and whether it is to be comprehended by the wise each for himself or herself (Paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi).
In this way, the Dhamma advocates a golden rule that guides a person by means of pure thoughts and right living to the attainment of supreme wisdom and liberation from life's miseries. The Dhamma is not a subject to be studied for scriptural knowledge (Pariyatti), but to be learned in actual practice accordingly (Patipatti) as its main emphasis is on practice. There by one can expect to realize the Noble Truth or Enlightenment (Pativedha). In other words, one must learn the Dhamma thoroughly for sufficient knowledge of the scriptures (sutamaya nana),thereby developing the reasoning faculty (cintamaya nana) and then attaining insight knowledge (bhavanamaya nana) towards Supreme Wisdom(Adhi panna).
The Dhamma of course is always in existence as it is an immutable law of the eternal truth of the nature of the universe whether the Buddhasappear in the world or not. But it can be discovered and fully realized only by the Buddhas. The Dhamma itself is therefore that which really is. In other words, it is the Doctrine of Reality or Truth comprehensible only by the wise or Noble Ones, and a means of deliverance from all sufferings of life. Thus the Dhamma can prevent a person who lives up to its principles from falling down to lower miserable and woeful planes of existence(Apaya) and it can rather lead him to the stage of the Path, Fruition and Nibbana by preventing him from doing evil deeds. The true followers of theBuddha who live by the principles of the Dhamma can enjoy the Blissful Happiness of Liberation (Vimutti rasa). Thus the Buddha and His Noble Disciples, having realized the supra-mundane wisdom of the Dhamma through their enlightenment, show its light to all beings so that they can also attain the same.
Therefore the Dhamma is not regarded as a divine revelation, but simply as the advice of a great religious teacher to his disciples. It is not to be accepted and believed, but to be understood and practised. The Dhamma, in fact, contains only non-aggressive morals and psycho-philosophical principles; it demands no blind faith, expounds no dogma and encourages no superstitions, but bestows practical and experimental intelligence.
Furthermore, the Dhamma itself proves that "one who practises the Dhamma, will in turn be protected by the Dhamma. He who imbibes the Dhamma will live happily with a purified mind and the wise will always take delight in the Dhamma as revealed by the Noble Ones (Ariyas).The gift of Truth (Dhamma) excels all gifts, the flavour of Truth excels all flavours, the delight in Truth excels all delights and the final victory over all suffering is the extinction of craving".
In His Teaching of the Dhamma the Buddha made some noteworthy points: "He who practises the Dhamma to the best of his ability honours me best. One is one's own refuge, who else could be his refuge?"
"By oneself evil is done; by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone; by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity are dependent on oneself, no one can purify another."
"You should do your work, for the Buddhas teach and show only the way. You yourself should make an effort; the Buddhas are only Teachers. Be ye enlightened unto yourself, be ye a refuge unto yourself, be ye a refuge unto the Dhamma, there is no external refuge."
On the whole, in the Dhamma there can be found neither divine revelation nor divine messenger, neither reward nor punishment, neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification, neither metaphysical nor ritualistic way, neither pessimism nor optimism, neither scepticism nor dogmatism, neither eternalism nor nihilism. In the Dhamma there is a unique principle to be practised for the attainment of Supreme Wisdom and Perfect Enlightenment of Nibbana. The Dhamma indeed paves the noble way to be trodden for purification of morality and concentration and then wisdom of the Middle Way which the Buddha Himself discovered.
The Dhamma thus teaches one the genuine art of living harmoniously with oneself and with all those one happens to meet socially in one's daily life. The gradual purification of conduct and mind through the practice of the Dhamma makes one's mind calmer, clearer, steadier and more composed. It eventually removes confusion, anxiety, tension, uncertainty, doubt, egoism and wrong view, all the impurities of mind and thus the intending Yogi comes on the true way of enlightenment. In this way, one can, even in this present life, experience and realize the everlasting happiness of life which exceeds all other sensuous feelings. In conclusion, the real aim of the Buddhadhamma is to put an end to all pains and sufferings of life and to attain the Ultimate Blissful Peace of Nibbana.