Points of Controversy

8.9. Of Matter as ethically Good or Bad

Controverted Point: That physical actions involved in bodily and vocal intimations proceeding from good or bad thoughts amount to a moral act of karma.

Theravādin: If that be so—if rūpa involved in bodily action be of morally good import—then it must have a mental object, and the mental attributes of” adverting,” ideating, co-ordinated application, attending, willing, anticipating, aiming, which you deny. But otherwise it is not good.

All these things you can predicate about the good contact proceeding from good consciousness, as well as about the good feeling, perception, volition, faith, energy, mindfulness, samādhi, understanding, that proceed from good consciousness, and have an object of thought, but you cannot do so about rūpa involved in bodily action.

Or again, you would admit that, if rūpa of the kind you name has no mental object, it will have no mental adverting, ideating, and so on; but you would deny that contact, feeling, perception, and the rest, similarly proceeding from good thought—good, but without mental object—lacked mental adverting, ideating, and so on.

Now take the matter involved in the bodily action, resulting from good thought: Is all of it morally good? You deny. But then you cannot maintain your proposition as generally true. For instance, would you call visible object which was the consequence of good thought, “good” matter? Are audible, odorous, sapid, or tangible object, or the four elements: extended, cohesive, hot, and mobile, if they “happened” as the result of good thought, “good” matter? You deny. Then would you call any of them, under the circumstances, indeterminate matter (neither good nor bad)? “Yes” you say; yet you deny that the matter or material quality appearing, under the circumstances, as bodily action is indeterminate. That, you say, would be “good.’…

Let us then take your “good “bodily action which, as matter, has no mental object: must you not equally allow that visible or other sense-object, or those four elements which, as matter, have no mental object, are also, under the circumstances, “good”? But you deny… . Similarly you refuse to see that, if you allow any sense-object, or any element brought about by good thought, and having no mental object, to be indeterminate, you must equally allow the “matter “of bodily intimation resulting from good thought and with no mental object, to be indeterminate… .

You call this bodily intimation, which is consequent on good thought, “good” matter even though it is so unmental as not to be conjoined with any mental reaction or “contact.” Yet you would deny the possibility of this if, for “bodily intimation,” you substitute any sense-object, or one of the elements.

Taken conversely, you allow that any object of sense or an element consequent on good thought, but not conjoined with any mental reaction, is indeterminate (neither good nor bad). Yet you would deny the indeterminateness if, for sense-object or element, you substitute matter of bodily action born of good thought.

And if to “not conjoined with mental reaction or contact” I add “not having a mental object,” your attitude is the same, in both alternatives .

The whole argument to be repeated for “vocal” instead of “bodily intimation.”

Next with respect to bodily intimation proceeding from bad thought. You affirm similarly that this is “morally bad “matter. Then it too must have a mental object, and those mental attributes named above, which you deny. But otherwise it is not morally bad. All these things you can predicate about the bad reaction, or “contact,” proceeding from bad consciousness, as well as about the bad feeling, perception, volition, lust, hate and delusion, pride, erroneous opinion, doubt, sloth, distraction, immodesty, and indiscretion, that proceed from bad consciousness, having a mental object, but you cannot do so about that bodily intimation, which is rupa, or of material quality

Or again, you will admit that, if bad r u p a of the kind you name has no mental object, it will have no mental adverting and other mental attributes named above; but you will deny that contact, feeling, perception, volition, lust, hate, and so on, proceeding from bad thought, bad and having no mental object, lack mental adverting and those other attributes… .

Now this that you call “morally bad “matter proceeding from bad consciousness: is all of it bad? Yes? Whether it be “bodily intimation,” or other material quality? This you deny, so your proposition amounts to this: that some material qualities resulting from bad consciousness are bad, some not.

And all that we have argued as to “bodily intimation “as “bad “matter applies to “vocal intimation.”

For instance, would you call visible object which was the consequence of bad consciousness “bad “matter? Or audible, odorous, sapid, or tangible matter? Or any of the four elements? Or impure matter, tears, blood, sweat (if any of them happened as the result of bad consciousness)—would you call them “bad “matter? You deny. Then would you call any of them, under the circumstances, indeterminate matter? “Yes,” you say. Yet you deny that the matter or material quality appearing, under the circumstances, as bodily or vocal action, is indeterminate. That, you say, would be “bad.’…

Let us then take your “bad” vocal action, which, as material, has no mental object: must you not equally allow that any sense-object, or any of the four elements, or impure matter, tears, blood, sweat, which have no mental object, are also, under the circumstances, bad. But you deny… . Similarly you refuse to see that, if you allow any of these things, when brought about by thought, and having no mental object, to be indeterminate, you must equally allow the “matter,” bodily or vocal, of action resulting from bad thought, and with no mental object, to be indeterminate.

are simply repetitions of , substituting “bad” for “good,” “vocal” for “bodily,” and adding “impure matter, tears, blood, sweat” to the sense-objects and four elements.

Mahīsāsakas and the Sammitīyas: But if we may not say that matter is good or bad, is not deed or word as an act good or bad? This being quite orthodox, our proposition must be right.

Theravādin: But if you maintain that matter is good or bad, you must not hesitate to say that all five organs and objects of sense, the four elements and impure matter, etc., are (intrinsically) good or bad—which you deny. If body and bodily action be material, would you affirm that mind and mental action are so? If these, on the contrary, are both immaterial, would you affirm that both body and bodily action are immaterial? Or if body is material and bodily action immaterial, would you speak similarly of mind and mental action? To say that bodily action as well as body is material, involves such statements as “sense-consciousness is material because the sense-organs are material.”

You must not say that rūpa, or matter, is action (or karma). For was it not said by the Exalted One:

“I say, bhikkhus, that volition is karma; when we have willed, then we make action (or karma) by deed, word, and thought.”

And again:

“When, Ānanda, there is action, subjective pleasure or pain arises because it is well determined by the deed. So also when there is speech or thought, subjective pleasure or pain arises because it is well determined by the action of speech or of thought.”

And again:

“There are, bhikkhus, three modes of volitional acts of body, four modes of volitional acts of speech, and three modes of volitional acts of mind, all of which amount to immoral deeds, bringing forth suffering and entailing it as result. And there are a like number of modes of volitional acts of body, speech, and mind amounting to moral karma, bringing forth and entailing happiness as result.”

Once more:

“If, Ānanda, this foolish man, Samiddhi when asked by the Wanderer Pātaliputta, were to answer: ‘Brother Pātaliputta, it is when anyone has acted intentionally in deed, word, and thought that he comes to feel pleasant, or painful, or neutral feeling, felt as pleasure, as pain, or as neither:’ so answering he would make right answer”?

Is the Suttanta thus? Then it is not right to say: Matter, or material quality, is karma (action).