Statement XII

by zenquaker

So I’ve gone over some of the most obvious moral restrictions derived from the Cause Principle (P6) and the Negative Derivative (D2): killing, hurting, and stealing. The next two are one I have a lot to say about and one I have very little to say about.

Derivative 6: Abstain from Greed (The Simplicity Derivative)

Clearly, we have limited resources on this planet. There is only so much land mass to live on. There is only so much of that land mass we can devote to food production. There is only a limited amount of minerals to mine to produce objects.

Limited resources means that the more we take, the less there is for others to take. It is entirely possible for some to take so much that it becomes impossible for others to get what they need to survive and thrive. If we prevent them from getting what they need, we will cause them suffering from that lack. Therefore, we should only take what we need for our own survival. To take more than that is greed, which will cause others suffering, and by the Unity Principle (P3) cause us suffering.

The suffering can be even more direct than that. We often get more than we need because we think that the excess will make us happy. But those desires that feed the greed will only bring us suffering.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention one of my favorite blogs: Do The Math. I have said I was worried about studies showing that people tend to learn those facts which support things they already believe, and wondered how much I did that. Do The Math gives me hope, because reading it changed my beliefs. It’s a guy who does the math on energy and economic growth. He basically proves what should be obvious, that growth is by definition unsustainable. I used to think that we needed to put more resources into space flight, so that we could one day escape the earth we will inevitably outgrow. Do The Math showed me that migration to the stars is a pipe dream, and we need to solve our problems here and now.

While most of the derivatives I’ve been detailing lately come from the Buddhist precepts, this one comes from my Quaker practice. While Buddhism is certainly all for a simple life, it is more a side product of other Buddhist practices than a primary teaching. For Quakers it’s right up front. On the other hand, it was my Zen practice that made me realize how much stuff I had that I didn’t need. I guess it’s just one of those congruences between the two faiths. In the past few years I have gotten rid of about 85% of the stuff I used to own. It’s a little frustrating. I bought my condo in large part because I needed room for all the stuff I got rid of. Now the housing market has collapsed and I can’t sell my condo and move into a small space. Life is still wonderful.

Derivative 7: Abstain from Abusing Sexuality (The Ethical Sex Derivative)

It is easy to cause suffering with sex. The most obvious way is rape. Even when rape is not combined with physical pain, it can be an incredibly traumatic event that causes immense suffering. That is just the extreme. There are all sorts of other sexual activities that can cause similar suffering. Therefore, if we wish to avoid suffering, we should be careful when engaging in sexual activity not to cause suffering to our partner.

I’m not going to get into the details here. When it comes down to it, various factors in my life have combined to complete warp my head when it comes to sex and women. I don’t trust myself to pontificate on what is good and bad in sex. I would recommend Sex, Sin, and Zen by Brad Warner. I cannot say if he is right, but it is at least a thoughtful discussion of the issues.