Surely, we all use our moral compass on a daily basis to help us make decisions. And while no one can really be exactly sure why we develop such strong mental concepts, we can point to certain factors that contribute to their construction, such as culture, family, religion, education, experience, etc.
However, I think there is a lot to be said about clear definitions, in so far as how they mentally allow us to make the right/wrong decision or good/bad judgement. For most, it is a fairly straightforward process that is never really scrutinized. I call this “the Bible tells me so” approach. For others, it is a highly developed sort of philosophical tool where various factors come into play, such as one’s own happiness (ex. Stoicism). But I personally think of morals and ethics as very gray and dynamic.
A quick example is within the 8 Fold Path that Buddha taught, which is essentially a set of moral guidelines; only it’s a list of “Do’s,” as opposed to the Judaic-Christian set that favors a set of “Don’ts.” They are as follows:
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
You’ll notice I highlighted the 5th Noble Truth “Right Livelihood.” This is a perfect example of how complicated set guidelines within a moral scope can be. Essentially, by “livelihood,” the Buddha means, how you make a living (your job); and more importantly whether it harms people or leads to the creation of “bad karma.” So far, so good. Most people think, “No problem for me there,” but it isn’t that easy.
Let’s say you’re an engineer for a rocket propulsion lab. If your work could eventually go into a missile that kills people, then your career is not under “Right livelihood.” Let’s say you’re an attendant at a gas station. If you sell people cigarettes, you are contributing to their death, or alcohol that later causes a DUI, and so, your career is not under “Right livelihood.” A final example is that you own a shoe store. You are buying and reselling a product that was created by exploiting people, so your career is not under “Right livelihood.” The list goes on and on, for anyone in sales or marketing, there the element of deception, or contributing to someone who has a shopping addiction, or furthering people’s debt.
In the end, following “Right livelihood” essentially leaves us all unemployed, which was not a problem for Buddha, who made the moral guideline, because he didn’t have a job or a mortgage to pay. That being said, I think Buddha was definitely on to something when he set out the moral guideline in the 2nd Noble Truth, “Right intention” (Italicized in the list set).
We could spend a lifetime getting into why things are right/wrong and good or bad, but all that really matters is what our intentions were. FACT: No human is perfect. And since we all mistakes, all that matters was what our intentions were. This especially works for me as a Non-Dualist because I don’t believe in the intrinsic value of Right/Wrong or Good/Bad. Basically, those are human constructs of the mind to me, so they are no more “real” then a unicorn, which is also a human construct of the mind.
However, because I live in a society, and because I am currently engaged in the narration of Gabriel Bravo, then I need some kind of moral guideline. I happen to be a Pacifist, which means I don’t believe in violence – EVER. So, for me, intention is the crux of my moral makeup. That being said, it is still pretty gray because I often do things knowing they may not be viewed as lawful, but as long as they aren’t “hurting” anyone, I can justify them. In the end of the day, as a Non-Dualist, I will default to the wise words of the movie director Woody Allen, “Whatever Works.” Because after all, EVERYTHING is included in Oneness: Right, Wrong, Good and Bad.
That’s definitely an interesting take. I’m particularly enamored with your treatment of Buddhism’s concept of “right livelihood” because it’s something that I’ve reflected on throughout my career as a marketer. My father has always suggested that I not stress too much over some of the nastier corporations I’ve worked for because he believes that my intentions are good (e.g. providing for my wife and son) and being that he’s not a buddhist, I think it lends credibility to the guidance laid out 8 Fold Path.
The same could be said for certain aspects of all religious doctrines (Christianity, Islam, Shinto, Scientology, etc.) but it’s important to note that just because their teachings overlap with real-life observations doesn’t automatically mean that their more supernatural assertions have any validity whatsoever.
I agree that words like right, wrong, good, and bad are just that; words invented by humans to cope with day-to-day cognition. Therefore, I tend to focus on a more scientific approach to creating an empirical, objective understanding why humans behave the way they do as well as ensuring that young humans like my son have the right foundation to build healthy moral/ethical perspective.
As you know, I’m definitely not an absolute pacifist, because I don’t like to deal in absolutes, but I definitely think that violence can be avoided in nearly every instance of our day-to-day lives. Not sure if that good or bad, right or wrong, but I do like the fact that two people with opposing points view on this and other topics (e.g. you and I) can coexist and even thrive despite our difference. Moreover, both of us are committed to activism and community service despite having very different views on the fundamental nature of reality.
Those two things are probably what counts the most at the end of the day.