Robert Thurman talks “Buddhist Ethics” at Google

Robert Thurman talks “Buddhist Ethics” at Google November 1, 2015

In an entertaining and thoughtful talk, Columbia University’s Robert Thurman discussed Buddhist ethics at Google late last week. The talk is excellent for both situating Buddhist ethics in the context of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path as well as engaging with aspects of Western philosophy and current ways of thinking.

The talk revolves around a visual aid, The 10-fold Path of Skillful and unskillful evolutionary (karmic) action*:

Kill Save Life
Body Steal Give
Abuse Sex Beneficial Sex
Lie Truth
Speech Divide Reconcile
Harsh Sweet
Meaningless Meaningful
Greedy Generous
Mind Malicious Loving
Fanatical Realistic

In a not-so-tacit critique of colonialism (and no-doubt much of the neo-colonialism to be found in claims of Western superiority today), Thurman says:

I’m hoping some day that the colonial era will be reviewed and the West, which conquered the world, will be seen as inferior for having done so, and Asia and the indigenous people who didn’t go out and conquer the world will be seen as superior for not having done so. Just as, if you have a bunch of gentle people on your block who have lovely parties and play Monopoly and Scrabble and whatever, you Google lots of interesting things having a nice time, and then some mafioso bully comes on the block and starts a protection racket on your block and beats a few of you up, you’re gonna be afraid of that person and they might extract some wealth from you, but you’re not going to think that is the superior person on your block. You’re really not going to think that.

But now, our history is still taught like “Empire, Sun never set, it was all so great…” And we’re still stuck in that attitude and that’s really too bad….

* You can read a Theravadin commentary on the 10 skillful and unskillful paths of action (dasa kusala ca akusala·kamma-patha) by Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw here.

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