Benevolence can be defined as the moral inclination to be kind and compassionate. If people could control their malicious behaviors and focus on participating in acts that are solely beneficial to humanity, the earth would be much more prosperous. Being kind to others gives us a feeling of contentment that is otherwise unattainable. Receiving compassion and kindness provides us with a sense of gratitude and wellness that many cannot help but share with others. No one enjoys being the subject of someone else’s ill will. This is why moral codes such as (but not limited to) Buddhism, Confucianism/Taoism have emerged. If everyone followed any one of the previously stated practices, it would be much easier for humans to grow and develop as a whole because there would be fewer causes of our discontentment.
The Buddhists’ ultimate goal is to end suffering by achieving enlightenment, or nirvana (Kessler, pg. 186). Benevolence is indefinitely required to reach this state. Enlightenment can only be obtained by recognizing the Four Noble Truths. This basically states that life is suffering, which is the result of bad karma caused by malevolent actions that are driven by natural human desires. The end of desire will inevitably be the end of suffering. The only way to end suffering is by following in the footsteps of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment (Kessler, pg. 166). This method of bringing an end to suffering is otherwise known as the Eightfold Path, or the Way of the Buddha. In order to obtain the same enlightenment, Buddhists are required to uphold a strict set of rules regarding the way to behave as a beneficial member of society, including “right view, right thought, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.” (Kessler, pg. 224).
The most devout Buddhist possesses immense self-control and discipline in attempt to live the purest, least harmful existence possible. A good example of the ideal Buddhist is the bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas have reached the ultimate level of moral purity, kindness, and compassion toward the world and therefore live to relieve people from suffering (Kessler, pg. 170). Concerning overall kindness and compassion, the fate and preservation of the entire world should be taken into account before performing any act. No living being should ever be harmed or killed. One should never steal from another, but may receive gifts openly. Buddhists should be chaste, truthful, and fair. They are required to keep peace among people if necessary. A devout Buddhist would never speak to someone in a discourteous manner, including sharing erroneous information (Kessler, pg. 185).
This moral code practiced by Bodhisattvas is directly concerned with the wellbeing of the world through good deeds, which leads to the end of eternal suffering, according to the previously stated teachings of the Buddha. Another influential teacher of morality and obtaining widespread human prosperity is Confucianism. The Way, or Tao, is the Confucian concept of human nature. The Mandate of Heaven is dictated by the fact that humans, by nature, want to obtain balance and harmony in the world, which is possible beginning with harmony within the self. Harmony within one’s self leads to harmony among other people, which results in the harmony of natural phenomenon, and thus the world is harmonious.
This requires that all human emotional conditions be in balance. Although the notion is truly inconceivable, this can be most closely described as the Confucian concept of heaven. People must be understanding and compassionate towards one another, and make sacrifices for the greater good. When this is achieved, human flourishing is then possible. People are either intelligent enough to possess the sincerity of the way, or they can be instructed to do so. Humans are all capable of making a contribution toward achieving the order of the Way, which results in spiritual salvation (Kessler, pg. 242-243). The most important way this goal is to be achieved by the followers of Confucian teachings is through sacrifice. An honorable person intends to sacrifice in order to spread good will to the earth.
This helps emphasize the responsibilities all humans have to maintain peace and harmony in the world for the well being of everyone (Kessler, pg. 240). Humans are born into different ranks, which must be taken into consideration, but the overall goal of Confucian teaching is to uphold the moral obligation of goodness. Elders and authority figures are to be respected in accordance to the Confucian way. For example, a child is respectful to a parent because both are needed to maintain balance in the family. This plays a crucial role in the functionality of the family unit. The same notion can be applied to the citizen and his governing body. The citizen is obedient to the government because defiant behavior would lead to chaos (Kessler, pg. 242). The Buddhist and Confucian doctrines are similar in many ways.
The ultimate goal of both sets of teachings is the same: human benevolence leads to moral salvation and the well being of humanity. Renunciation plays a major role in the overall intention of both parties. The crucial difference between the two is the source of the regarded texts. Confucians’ fate is subject to the government no matter what. They pay respect to all people, but understand the necessity to respect the upper class because they play a major part in the well being of the whole. The elders and authority figures “take care” of the younger or less fortunate.
Buddhists focus more on solitude and undergoing suffering for the greater good. They go as far as to give up normal eating habits as to refrain from any selfish behavior that may lead to bad karma. Confucians also undergo suffering, but do not give up basic human desires for the benefit of others. They are undeniably considerate. Any feeling that one would not enjoy feeling would never be bestowed upon someone else. No form of extreme asceticism required of Confucians as it is sometimes in Buddhism. Rather, Confucian success is more important to human flourishing. Although true, both moral concepts have the same intended outcome of benevolence toward everyone.
Kessler, Gary E. Ways of Being Religious. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 166+. Print.
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