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Buddhist Axiology

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Buddhist Axiology (“Theory/Study of Values”)

§1. Is there anything in Buddhist philosophy that can be said to have an intrinsic value, that is, any entity or reality that has a value-in-itself or is an end-in-itself? One might debate about whether the Summum bonum according to each Buddhist system can be attributed with an intrinsic value but otherwise nothing can be said to have an intrinsic value inasmuch as the physical-psychical complexes (skandha: phung po) that constitute the entire conditioned existence is fleeting, hollow, and essence-less. But because nothing has an intrinsic value everything can be attributed with an extrinsic/instrumental/contributory value. Some Mahāyāna thinkers might argue that even the Buddhahood itself has only an instrumental value insofar as it is meant to serve as a mere means of benefiting other sentient beings. Can benevolence and beneficence then be attributed with an intrinsic value, at least according to some Buddhist philosophers? If so, can we assume that some Buddhists attributed intrinsic value to ethical values?

§2. How about aesthetic values (or sensori-emotional values)? Is there a Buddhist philosophical standpoint on aesthetic values? How did Buddhist philosophers view the nature and status of art, beauty, and taste? What did they think of the creation and appreciation of beauty? Here, too, perhaps, they could have not denied the instrumental value of aesthetic values but certainly they would not have attributed any intrinsic value to sensori-emotional values. Importantly, the Buddhist concept of beauty and the appreciation of beauty seem to determined by the Buddhist concept of purity and the appreciation of purity, on both mundane and supra-mundane, physical and spiritual levels. That is, I find something or someone beautiful because I assume that something or someone is pure. (Thinking of what Āryadeva said with regard to the association between the notion of purity and desirability.) The spiritual and supra-mundane purity would override the physical and mundane purity. A pure mind/heart is a beautiful mind/heart.

§3. How about epistemic values? I suppose that only instrumental value can be attributed to epistemic values.

§4. Perhaps an objection: Some things, such as venom or ambrosia (“elixir of life”), must have an intrinsic value because of their intrinsic (i.e. ontologically existent) efficacy and efficiency to kill or cure. Response: The efficacy and efficiency of these substances are due to their instrumental value not because they have an intrinsic value. There is nothing that has an inherent existence. If substances such as elixir and poison have the intrinsic potential to kill or cure, they should be able to kill or cure anybody and at all times, but this obviously not the case. Even venom can sometimes cure somebody, whereas even elixir can kill somebody. This idea is stated clearly in the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra (T, fol. 190a3–4):

kha chig bdud rtsi ’thungs pas ’chi mi ’gyur || kha chig gis ni ’thungs nas ’chi bar ’gyur || kha cig dug ’thung pas kyang ’chi mi ’gyur || kha cig gis ni ’thungs nas ’chi bar ’gyur ||

Some do not die after drinking elixir. Some do die after drinking [it]. Some do not die even after drinking poison. Some do die after drinking [it].

§5. I contend that Buddhist ethical-spiritual values have been crystallised or embodied in the so-called six perfections (pāramitā: pha rol tu phyin pa).

§6. Mahāyānic ethical-spiritual could be subsumed under compassion (karuṇā: snying rje) and insight (prajñā/jñāna: shes rab / ye shes) and these are further crystallised as bodhicitta.