In the interview we watched in class, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche describes how jealousy, pride, aversion, attachment, and ignorance – known as the 5 poisons – all have a positive side depending on how you handle them. He goes on to use an example of zodiac signs and how each sign has negative traits and positive traits. He states that he is a Gemini and that a negative trait of a Gemini is seeing both sides; but he explains how he also sees that as a positive thing. He goes back specifically to the poisons to conclude that anger can be destructive if you do not channel it correctly.
Although we haven’t learned about the 5 poisons, I really liked his explanation because it was really great to see someone of his stature making all these references to modern day culture in order to explain various buddhist ideals like astrology (and Beyonce). This explanation reminded me of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. The doctrine of the mean deals with the fact that Aristotle saw things on a scale of vices and virtues; with this scale people are supposed to learn to find the sort of middle way or mean of the two in order to be a morally upright person.
One problem I had with Aristotle was trying to figure out how his doctrine would work in the real world. I understand why it’s best to be in the mean, but it can also make things complicated as well. The mean could be hard to achieve when put under certain circumstances in respect to different virtues/vices! I wonder if it is ever okay and if you would still be considered virtuous if you were to ever be more on the side of one of the extremes rather than being exactly at the mean. I especially wonder how this works if you were to be put under a certain circumstance and the circumstance made for a justifiable reason for you being on the extreme side rather than at the mean. I too wonder how this functions in Buddhism. Buddhism does have the 5 poisons and various lists that are essential to it, but I’d be interested in learning specifically about emotions (good vs. bad and how to deal with said emotions). For example, I’d be interested in how both Aristotle and Buddhists would view someone who had to harm someone as a means of protecting themselves? Would that be seen as justifiable? Would it not be justifiable? If it is not justifiable, then what would be the proposed alternative to how one should act when faced with danger? For example, if someone was coming at you with a weapon with the intent to harm and/or kill you (it would seem the scale for this situation would be pacifism on one end and violence on the other) and you responded in a violent manner by harming the person and/or killing them as a means of self defense, thus falling onto the violent side of the scale, how would that affect you in terms of virtue? Would the mean for each scale be relatively adjusted in terms of the circumstance or is it fixed no matter what?
BBS. “Jangchub Shing- An Insight into Buddhist Truths (Guest Speaker- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche).” YouTube. YouTube, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEmS09KuC_I>.
Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Trans. Terence Irwin. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999. Print.