Presentation of “Living Being” in Early Indian Buddhism and Its Ethical Implications
Keywords:“living being” in ancient India, Theravāda Buddhism, Pāli terms satta, pāṇa, and bhūta, plants in Theravāda Buddhism, early Buddhist ethics
This article focuses on the presentation of the notion of “living being” and its link to ethics in the Pāli Buddhist canon and its commentaries. This objective is achieved by examining the key Pāli terms that refer to “living being” (i.e., satta, pāṇa, and bhūta) in different contexts with the aim of identifying their sematic ranges. The article then discusses how the notion of “living being” in the Pāli sources can be situated within the main doctrinal models developed in early Buddhism such as the six sense bases (āyatana), dependent origination (paticcasamuppada), and the Abhidhammic presentation of cognition, which are linked to a larger ethical framework that axiomatically repudiates the existence of a human “self” as the centre of all analysis. Instead, complex systems that link all living beings serve as the foundation for Buddhist praxis, and lead to a new understanding of the lived experience, which is founded on an ethics of behaviour, centred around non-violence or the non-harming of all beings. The article concludes by exploring the important contribution of Buddhist ethics to the current environmental challenges by underscoring the essential role played by the doctrine of non-self (anattā) as the very source and foundation of an ethical stance from which ethical actions can proceed.
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