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Act and Result in Nikāyan Ethics

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 21, 2014

Act and Result in Nikāyan Ethics

Stephen Evans

Scholars continue to debate the ethical priority of act versus result in Buddhist ethics. The present essay looks at the issue as an approach to exploring the connection between act and karmic yield: Why there should be such a connection at all? The priority question was not asked in the Nikāyas (or commentaries) and it seems to have been the same thing to say that an act was good and that it had happy karmic yield, suggesting a kind of identity between the two. Given the necessity and specificity of the connection—the yield must accrue and must accrue for this person—and the analogical resemblance between act and karmic yield, a causal explanation seems unsatisfactory. Suspending such assumptions, the connection appears simply as an indissoluble unity. It is hypothesized here that the unity is grounded in a primordial cosmic order, which I call the “sacral dimension,” conformity to which is by definition right and of necessity beneficial, violation of which is by definition wrong and of necessity harmful. Evidence for belief in such an order is found in the Nikāyas and supporting similarities noted in the Upaniṣads.

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