Dissertation: Religious Ethics in Comparison

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[. . .] For the second Precept ("…would you sell an employer's secret to a competing company?") men and women both indicated they would take the money and sell out their employer. Men and women both said they would violate the third Precept ("…would you leave your girl/boyfriend or separate from your spouse?") and they would also take the money by going against the 4th Precept ("…would you falsify a report saying a client was a good risk when he wasn't?"). But men were more likely to agree with the 5th Precept ("…would you drink a bottle of whiskey every day for a year?"). If there was a similar study of Christians or Muslims one could fairly compare those two denominations with this Buddhist investigation, but those studies were not available.

Ethical Comparisons: Five Precepts and the Ten Commandments

Buddhism puts forward Five Precepts in terms of showing believers ways that bring help rather than harm or suffering. There is no "single course of action that will be right in all circumstances," The Buddhist Centre explains. With that in mind, the Five Precepts do not speak of right or wrong but rather of being "skillful" (kusala) or "unskillful" (akusala).

Buddhist Precept #1 ("Not killing or causing harm to other living beings") is the closest thing to a fundamental ethical principle in Buddhism, according to The Buddhist Centre. This is why many Buddhists are vegetarians -- because they do not wish to eat animals that have been killed. Taken a step further, it could also mean don't mistreat the neighbor's dog or cat, and don't use pesticides like DDT because it brings harm to wildlife, notably birds.

Christian Commandment VI ("Thou shall not kill") is abrupt, straight forward, and does not identify what should be and should not be killed. Christians who eat animal meat clearly do not believe "Thou shall not kill" refers to animals (including fishes in the sea).

Buddhist Precept #2 ("Not taking the not-given") is about stealing and why stealing can do harm to others. The Buddhist Centre explains that "Not taking the not-given" also refers to not taking advantage of others, or manipulating them; in other words, taking the not given is taking advantage of others because no one has been given the right to exploit others.

Christian Commandment VIII ("Thou shalt not steal") is again very simple and obvious and it offers nothing about manipulating others or taking advantage of others though it is implied because to steal from someone is to in effect take advantage and manipulate them.

Buddhist Precept #3 ("Avoiding sexual misconduct") basically refers to not causing harm to another person through a sexual activity of some kind (that could be not getting a woman pregnant or giving her a venereal disease). This Buddhist precept also alludes to not "breaking commitments in the area of sexual relations" which dovetails with the Seventh Commandment (VII).

Christian Commandment VII ("Thou shalt not commit adultery") is right out there without equivocation or confusion. It is the closest match to Buddhist Precept #3 albeit it does not suggest causing harm, it simply states that a married person should not engage in sexual activity nor should an unmarried participate in sexual activity with a married person.

Buddhist Precept #4 ("Avoiding false speech") would be equivalent to saying "Do not lie" and comes close to matching the Ninth Commandment in the Christian Bible. The Buddhist Centre says that language is "a slippery medium" and people can easily "deceive" themselves and others without knowing that they are being deceptive. In other words, those Buddhists who profess to desire an "ethical life" should be truthful (which flies in the face of Barnhart's narrative earlier in this paper -- that is, if telling the truth contradicts other obligations, or betrays a "trust," perhaps the truth can be either postponed or deferred somehow).

Christian Commandment IX ("Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor") certainly suggests that God does not want humanity to lie, but it is not a generalized way of asserting that the truth is better than a falsehood. It asks humans to "avoid false speech" because false witness implies statements that are untrue and unethical (hence it is linked to Buddhist Precept #4) against not only neighbors, but also implied is the suggestion that bearing false witness against anyone is wrong. Perhaps that is a stretch but surely bearing false witness is deceptive and wrong.

Buddhist Precept #5 ("Abstaining from drink and drugs that cloud the mind") doesn't necessarily command that Buddhists should live a clean, healthy, drug-free life, but clouding the mind with substances takes away the ability to achieve enlightenment. Again, Buddhists are urged to seek nirvana, or freedom, and anything that gets in the way of that is unethical.

Christian Commandment I: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" is very different from Buddhism because the Buddha is not God and doesn't pretend to be God; Buddhism is not based on a powerful Deity, but rather it is based on those values and ethics that reduce pain and lead to contentment and enlightenment.

Christian Commandment II: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any craven image, or any likeness or anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth below or in the water under the earth" (Heritage-Signs). In other words, false idols are not to be admired no matter where those idols might be found.

Christian Commandment III: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain" -- this is very far afield from the ethical standards that the Buddha asks of his followers. Clearly God in the Christian milieu is a God that demands obedience to his rules, whereas Buddha only suggests ways of life to reduce pain and seek enlightenment.

Christian Commandment IV: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," which is yet another Christian rule that has little to do with ethics per se, but instead is a demand by God to never forget which day to worship; the implication, however, is that an ethical Christian will observe the Sabbath the way God intended it to be observed.

Christian Commandment V: "Honor thy father and mother" is God's way of trying to keep families together and to explain to Christians that respect of one's parents is vital.

Christian Commandment X: "Thou shalt not covet…[anything that is thy neighbor's including the neighbor's wife and servants and cattle]. It is interesting that nothing like this commandment is found within the Buddhist ethical values although it might be considered similar to Precept #2, "not taking the not-given," because to have a desire to take the not-given could be construed to be coveting that thing.

In conclusion to this section of the paper, in Deuteronomy 6:2-4 the subject of "fear" of God comes up (as it does in many other places in the Holy Bible). The idea that Christians should be afraid of the Lord is the exact opposite of what Buddhists are asked to do, but that helps a researcher relate to how different values and ethics are in the two denominations.

"So that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God so long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you" (Bible Gateway).

And in Matthew Chapter 19 Verse 17, Jesus was asked what is good and what is bad. He responded (according to the New International Version of the Bible): "Why do you ask me about what is good?' Jesus replied. 'There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments'" (Bible Hub).

Islam vs. Buddhism vs. Christianity -- Areas of Ethical Agreement

In the Oxford Handbook of Eschatology essayist Max. L. Stackhouse explains that "All religions" have something in common, and that is a "…sense of being under a moral law that is not constructed by human will" (Stackhouse, 2007, p. 548). Religions also "…share similar sensibilities about what is right and wrong," Stackhouse continues; religions also have what Stackhouse calls "…an overlapping awareness" of the sorts of human "practices" and "institutions" that are required so that humans may find their lives sustainable (548). The essayist selects Hinduism and Confucianism as the "most enduring 'high' philosophical and ethical religions," which he said has formed the "moral character of millions" of people for centuries (549).

But Buddhism and Islam… [END OF PREVIEW]

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