Response to Frank Leavitt in July 2004 EJAIB
- Pinit Ratanakul, Ph.D.
Director of the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Salaya, Puthamoltoll 4, Nakornpathom, 73170, Bangkok, Thailand
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 164-5.
I appreciate Frank's comment in the last issue of EJAIB (July 2004). However, there are some points in my paper that may need further clarification.
Concerning humility which Franks deemed as an important value in bioethics, Buddhism views it as one of the virtues that mark spiritual advancement. Of course, we may be self-consciously humble. But genuine humility springs from the awareness of no-self (emptiness) and from the realization of interdependence i.e. that everything depends for its existence on the other. When we have no self to be concerned and when we are dependent on the other we cannot be self-assertive, self - righteous and arrogant. Bioethics in the West is too much preoccupied with the self and the language of individual rights. Buddhist bioethics focuses more on the community and on compassion. To pursue the Buddhist ideal of compassion is to transcend the language of justice and individual rights, and to be unconcerned whether one is getting what one deserves, being treated fairly, or securing one's rightful claims on the behaviors of others.
The Buddhist concept of nonegological consciousness (anatta) is difficult to be grasped particularly for those who follow the Cartesian thinking. Regarding the belief in the stable, immutable self Buddhism would ask: What constitutes this self? There is sensation. That is indisputable. There is perception i.e. awareness of sensation. There are also the mental formations and tendencies that make up the character. Are all these permanent? They too are subject to change and transformation, because they are linked up to past and present actions (karma). So what then is left? Only consciousness, the sum of awareness, the knowledge that says "I am", and that in every act of such asserting the "I" is changing, flowing, perpetually in transition. So there could be no permanent entity of selfhood, no single element alone and independent of the others, to constitute a self. There are just five psycho-physical aggregates, like bundle bound together by causal relationship. But this causal relationship is only an idea like equator and the latitudes. There is no absolute identity between the conscious existence of one moment and that of the subsequent one. The only thing that links them is the knowledge that we have, that one arises because of the prior existence of another. It is from memory that we derive the sense of persisting personality. Although we can remember our childhood, we cannot say that we are the same persons, in absolute identity, as we were in childhood. If we were the same, we should not be remembering being children. We should actually be children still. The fact that we remember shows that we are not the same.
The Buddhist concept of no-self applies also to every phenomenon which accordingly is also empty and changing incessantly. When all phenomena are empty they become one because empty things cannot be demarked. How will you demark emptiness? What Buddhism calls enlightenment is the awareness of emptiness in all phenomena e.g. the sky is empty, the rock is empty (devoid of any identity) and we are empty.
This is what Dogen, the great Zen master, means when he says: "To learn the Buddha Way is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget myself. To forget myself is to find myself in all things. To find oneself in all things is to cast off the body and mind of the self and others."
Go back to EJAIB 14 (5) September 2004
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