Are We Obligated to Prevent Suffering?
It could be hardly doubted that Buddhism as a philosophy and religion had a significant impact on the development of Western moral and ethical conceptions (Garfield et al. 293). It is also possible to notice that such influence became more apparent since the 19th century and to the present day due to the growing interest in Eastern culture. Concerning the essential aspects of the Buddhist philosophy, it should be noted that one of the most important concepts is suffering since the Buddha considered it to be “the first noble truth” of his dharma (Garfield et al. 295). Siderits observes Śāntideva’s argument, which states the obligatory nature of the prevention of suffering. This paper aims to discuss this assumption, employing arguments in favor of the mentioned duty as well as the reasons against it, to conclude which reason is stronger.
First of all, it is essential to dwelling more profoundly upon the assumption, which serves as a starting point for the discussion. In the second part of the lecture, Siderits states that Buddhism shares one significant point with other Indian philosophies, which is that “benevolence is instrumentally valuable in the pursuit of liberation” (98). However, the Buddhists also assume the concept of non-self to be a central part of their religion. Concerning the question of suffering, the following argument is formulated by Śāntideva: suffering is “ownerless” since there is no self to possess it or be the direct source of it since suffering has to be prevented, it should be stopped by everyone without exceptions (Siderits 98). This assumption represents a significantly complicated moral and ethical issue for the people who grew up in the Western culture. Therefore, several interpretations of this problem could be proposed.
In general, it is possible to suggest that the mentioned view can be accepted since suffering is not right or pleasant by its nature and thus it should be stopped. This reason is more than evident when it is applied to a particular person because very few people would be satisfied with personal suffering. Concerning the distress and pain of other people, it is possible to observe that Śāntideva’s argument is also applicable since the obligation to help the ones who are in misery is inherent in the Western culture, which is based on Christianity. Additionally, the acceptance of the given assumption significantly influenced the development of moral psychology as a science since it provides a profound insight on the interdependence between the fear of annihilation of self and the person’s ethical choices (Garfield et al. 302).
Nevertheless, it is also possible to provide reasons against the given point of view. First of all, the suffering of a different kind is not equivalent to its significance. In Western culture, the pain of a child and the pain of an animal could not be treated in the same way due to inherent moral instincts. Secondly, it could be argued that in some cases (for example, surgery operations or giving birth) the pain is inevitable and is often a sign of recovery.
In conclusion, it should be noted that arguments in favor of the assumption under consideration appear to be stronger. However, it should be mentioned that the principle of suffering prevention as a duty of every person does not apply to Western culture and ethics to the full extent. Overall, one can assume that the principle is highly beneficial, but it should be used with discretion.
Garfield, Jay L., et al. “Ego, Egoism and the Impact of Religion on Ethical Experience: What a Paradoxical Consequence of Buddhist Culture Tells Us about Moral Psychology.” The Journal of Ethics, vol. 19, 2015, pp. 293-304.
Siderits, Mark. “Freedom, Caring and Buddhist Philosophy.” Contemporary Buddhism, vol. 6, no. 2, 2005, pp. 87-116.