Ethics of Intention and of Effect: Making decisions on how to act in a world full of need, by Dh. Karunamati (Dr Jane Stephens)
Ethics of Intention and Effect: Making Decisions on How to Act in a World Full of Need
Jane Karunamati Stephens
Introduction In this paper I will present a few reflections and questions that pertain to all of us as Buddhist practitioners, and particularly those of us who work for the benefit of others. The main purpose of this paper is to show that, when we choose to help others in whatever way, the positive intention to do good and act ethically is not enough. We also need to be able to assess our effect, and use this information to re-inform our views, intentions and further actions. If we do not do this we are selling ourselves short. Below, I will briefly outline a model which shows how view, intention, action and result flow into and inform each other, and how our internal reasoning process can operate in the world; I will then use this model to ask questions that we all need to ask ourselves when engaging in altruistic activity and I will use my own reflections from 18 years of working in development and as a doctor to illustrate the challenges we face. I am a practicing Buddhist in the Triratna Buddhist Order, and have been Ordained for 6 years. I have worked in development, partly in India but mainly in Nepal, for 18 years. My area of interest is the arena of Sexual and Reproductive Health. I have been a doctor of medicine for 12 years and work in a poor, inner city practice as a General Practitioner (GP) in East London, UK. I spend half my time working as a GP and half running a charity called the Green Tara Trust which works in Nepal. The First Bodhisattva Vow Although traditionally the vow to save all living beings from samsara, however innumerable, is considered a Mahayana concept, the intention to relieve the suffering of self and other is present from the time of the Buddha and in all traditions. The practice of developing the four bramaviharas requires us to imaginatively put ourselves in the position of another; this means trying to understand the human condition, the 4 Noble Truth teachings on dukkha and the teachings on pratitya-samutpada. Once we start to practice, we cannot but want to respond to the suffering in the world around us; and there is so much. So, how do we choose to respond? After all, we always have a choice. The world now seems much smaller due to air travel, and as a Westerner with training as a doctor I can find any number of causes and people to help; how do we choose where to put our energy? Model This model comes from the way I see my own mind working and the process I see that we go through as individuals and groups working together on a common cause. It is largely based on the idea of a Buddhist trying to follow the Eightfold Path, and the interaction between this individual and the outside environment. The model is not exhaustive or perfect but will help to act as a reference to look at as we go through examining our intention and effect.
Panel: Buddhist Leadership for Socio-Economic Development