Okay, to continue.
I'd like to pick up three terms I referred to in the last post. Firstly, 'human rights'. The Buddha did not draw an absolute distinction between human and non-human beings. His concern was for all sentient beings - i.e. any creature capable of feelings - in particular capable of feeling pain.
Secondly, 'moral individualism'. Morality is certainly at the heart of the Buddha's teaching (which I'll return to) but what about the second term? The more philosophical aspect of the Buddha's teaching is centred on the claim that there is no such thing as an individual 'Self'. Thinking about yourself is actually the root error that causes suffering. This is a deep and complex matter which I won't develop here but it is fundamental to Buddhist thinking.
Keeping away from the philosophy, therefore, I'll try to explain the implication of the last point for our discussion on human rights. The Buddha never talked about anyone's rights; what he did talk about, at great length, was our responsibilities, or duties.
A central term in Buddhism is 'Dhamma'. It has many connected meanings - some are 'The Truth', 'The Way Things Really Are', 'Natural Law'. It is the way the universe operates when not interfered with by ignorant beings. It is therefore also the way we should behave to be in harmony with the universe - thus it also means the Buddha's teaching (which tells us how to do this) and our duty. The Buddha, therefore, taught kings how to rule according to Dhamma, and he taught children how to follow their Dhamma in relating to parents and teachers etc.
You could argue, as D. Keown does in the article in your coursebook, that if one person or group has duties, by implication another has rights. Thus, if people have a duty not to steal, we have a right to protection of our property. Personally, I'm not persuaded by this argument.
I'll explain why in the next post!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Okay, to continue.