Monday, 19 October 2015

Buddhist Philosophy on actus reus and mens rea?

Here is a random thought that just popped up in my mind. It is said that the expressions actus reus and mens rea were developed in English Law and were derived from the principle stated by Edward Coke, namely, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (“an act does not make a person guilty unless (their) mind is also guilty”). Hence the general test of guilt is said to be one that requires proof of fault, culpability or blameworthiness both in thought and action. I know that we have been repeatedly warned of the pitfalls and perils of comparing Eastern and Western ideas. Nonetheless, I cannot help thinking of the Buddhist idea that the wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, or neutrality of an action is always determined by the wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, or neutrality of intention or motivation. It also seems worth bearing in mind that an action or deed (which, by the way, must be by definition volitional) can only then be considered karmically efficacious or potent if it has been committed with the right gzhibsam pasbyor ba, and mthar thug. Thus one speaks of byas la bsags pa’i las (“committed-and-accumulated karmic deed”) and byas la ma bsags pa’i las (“committed-but-not-accumulated karmic deed”). There is thus the possibility (also in Buddhism) for making a difference between, for example, “murder” and “manslaughter.” Suppose I have accumulated tons of negative karmic deeds but what would happen to my karmic loads if I were to suddenly attain Arhatship and pass way into the restless nirvāṇa? (Note that negative karmic deeds need not necessary bar one to attain Arhatship.) That would be a bad luck for my karma! In German, one would say: “Karma hat eben Pech gehabt!”

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