In the TV series Monkey, loosely based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, one of the main Buddhist characters is a young monk called Tripitaka, who joins forces with the protagonist Monkey in a series of amusing adventures, with not a little kung fu.

At the beginning of the 1st of 2 series:

Monkey eats many of the peaches, which have taken millennia to ripen, becomes immortal and runs amok.

Apparently intoxicated. Yet, the lotus sutra clearly warns monks to stay clear of those who are overly fond of intoxication.

If you need more context then please do check the links :)

Is Tripitaka acting against his moral principles?

If Tripitaka does, but nevertheless was right to join monkey, in what sense are his actions or principles deficient?

  • You're not suggesting any way in which he might be acting against his moral principles. Can you edit your question to make it explicit how you think he might be? – virmaior Sep 1 '14 at 1:44
  • he's a monk and the lotus sutra tells monks to leave the monkey alone ? i can't play infinitely... there needs to be a certain amount of joining the dots, to understand normal speech !! – user6917 Sep 1 '14 at 1:46
  • That would depend on whether or not it's against your morals to act against your morals. – user8962 Sep 1 '14 at 10:00
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    If your moral principles are wrong and you act against them you are acting right. If your principles are right and you act against them, you are acting wrong. That is if you subscribe to moral realism but it seems you presuppose that in you question, so relativism shouldn't be an issue. – Einer Sep 1 '14 at 11:05
  • i agree that the right act is the right one, but in the conversation below perhaps huck did the right thing but is not acting right... not being virtuous, or not behaving in some other way which would make his action deficient despite its utilitarian outcome – user6917 Sep 1 '14 at 11:10

A better example, which is often discussed in the ethical literature, can be found in the novel Huck Finn. Huck is befriended by a runaway slave named Jim. Huck believes that it is wrong for Jim to run away and wrong for him to help Jim. But, he decides to do the "wrong" thing and help Jim escape to the free northern states anyway. The question then is: Is Huck Finn a good boy or a bad one?

Here's one paper on the topic, arguing that Huck is in fact a good boy.

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    my example is fine, it has a wealth of stuff to draw from, thanks would you not like to give your own opinion too, in the spirit of answering ?? – user6917 Sep 1 '14 at 10:24
  • Your example is poor, b/c (1) it's not clear that the moral prohibition is one that it seems reasonable to apply--does the buddhist scripture seriously contemplate the need to warn people off companionship with alcoholic animals of an immortal nature? (2) It isn't clear that the moral prohibition was a good one in the first place. It's easy to see why slavery is wrong--it's harder to see why you shouldn't be friends with a drunk. Maybe drunks are the people most in need of friends. – shane Sep 1 '14 at 10:29
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    yes, you're right, we must only ask about analytic philosophy b/c? your answer was fine, a bit off topic but interesting still. i don't really like the overly patronizing tone but meh, that's that – user6917 Sep 1 '14 at 10:32
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    To patronize is to treat someone as infantile, or a child, or a subordinate. "Oooh what a clever question you asked, aren't you so smart!" is patronizing. Reasoned criticism, on the other hand, is treating a person as a peer, not a subordinate. If you want to read more about what a lot of philosophers have said about the topic of your question, my answer give you a place to start your own research. That's what I take this site to be about. – shane Sep 1 '14 at 10:58
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    then stop telling me off b/c the question wasn't analytic. my apologies if you didn't like it – user6917 Sep 1 '14 at 10:59

The answer to both questions is yes. First there are no absolutes in this world. Moral principles are relative and can vary from time, place, and circumstances. Moral principles are there to guide you when you are beginning on the path of dharma, or for those who cannot follow dharma. Moral principles are like a fence around a young tree; necessary when it is young, but when the tree grows large, no fence is needed to protect it. An old Indian story says that you remove a thorn stuck in your finger with another thorn. When the thorn is removed, you can throw both thorns away. You remove evil with good, you remove bad tendencies with good tendencies. When the bad is removed you can throw both good and bad away.

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    sources for "there are no absolutes in this world"? This seems to be stating just your opinion, which is probably a bad answer. To improve, cite ppl/reconstruct arguments for your position. – Lukas Sep 1 '14 at 18:01
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    @Lukas All answers are necessarily a sequence of assertions. This is a Buddhism question, and the Dalai Lama is certainly on record as saying there are no absolutes. I wouldn't be surprised if Buddha also were, but I'm no expert on Buddhism. I don't think it's necessary to agree with an answer to recognise it's value, not is it fair to single out only the answer that differs most from your perspective for needing a higher standard or cross-referencing than others. – AndrewC Sep 1 '14 at 20:36
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    This is the only answer that is not citing anything. As I don't have an opinion on this matter, your second half does not apply. Also, if it is an axiom or something of buddhism that there are no absolutes (which looks like an absolute by the way), then he should include that, instead of posting his opinion on the matter. – Lukas Sep 1 '14 at 20:43
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    Buddhist sources: Non-Duality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy by David Loy; Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki; The Tibetan Book of the Dead by W. Y. Evans-Wentz; Buddhism Ultimate Collection ed. Darryl Marks; to name a few – Swami Vishwananda Sep 2 '14 at 5:53
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    Also btw, the monk's name, Tripitaka. Tri-Pitaka means Pali Canon. Southern Buddhists - called Thervedaic Buddhists, hold that Buddha taught no higher doctrines than those recorded in the Pali Canon. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 2 '14 at 6:11

So it all comes down to Tripitaka's intentions. Did he make friends with the intention to help the monkey tame his mind?

The KALAMA Sutta is a good Sutta to begin a discussion in morals. In this Sutta Buddha asks you to judge whether something is moral by discerning whether it is not only good for yourself but for others as well. The monkey represents the average person with the untrained monkey mind. However, each of us has the potential to be future Buddhas and his friendship with the monkey represents the Monks holy desire to tame this monkey mind which is beneficial for everyone. Just like Lord Buddha comes to earth to help beings and befriends even people like Angulimala-- with monkey minds, he does this to enlighten us for the benefit of all beings.


Buddhism is NEVER morally relative, not Theravada nor Mahayana. They must believe in the efficacy of morals even if their karma does not allow them to follow the precepts daily. Theravada or Tripitika does not force people to abide in precepts, it's pretty practical if you read The Jatakas. Mahayana was never meant to be a higher teaching, it was meant to help cleanse the mind during The Dharma Ending Age so The Tripitika could be understood. Buddhism does acknowledge that situations require flexibility to get out of a morally compromising karmic situation. That however is not moral relativity as much as moral flexibility and nonjudgementality. We cannot judge others since we don't understand the intentions of others.


It is right to act contrary to your moral principles in the case that your moral principles are wrong. Obviously the problem is that, in general, any person's moral principles at a given moment are equivalent to his or her best judgment of what is most right.

It doesn't seem like we could ever give any general case of it being right to not follow your own principles --obviously it would be preferable to change them in the case that you know them to be wrong. Instead there may be specific cases where it turns out that following some particular moral principle --i.e. avoiding drunkenness, obeying authority, etc. --is not the right decision, perhaps because the individual principle is superseded by some higher moral law. Life being what it is, we may only be able to judge these correctly in retrospect.

  • "It doesn't seem like we could ever give any general case of it being right to not follow your own principles" It seems like Huck Finn shouldn't obey his principles that he should turn the runaway slave Jim in. – shane Sep 2 '14 at 16:17
  • @shane That is a specific case, not a general one. I was actually thinking about your example when I wrote the sentence following the one you referenced. – Chris Sunami Sep 2 '14 at 16:31

ok so i only asked this so i could answer it.

the advice on what company monks should keep isn't iirc isn't explicitly said to be a minor precept, one that the effects of not keeping are relatively benign.

but the lotus sutra does say that there is a lot of merit to be found inside it. and of course the greatest sin in buddhism is causing a schism, comparable with killing your mother and father.

however, tripitaka, being modelled on the historical faxiang monk Xuanzang, is an accomplished meditator. so while he may still suffer any bad karma from spending time with monkey, it may be the right thing to do. especially as he is put up to it by the bodhisattva goddess gaunyin.

in the same way that the zen monk nansen cut a cat in half: whether or not he suffered bad karma due to doing so, it was argued, he had to do it to teach his students. eventhough he created suffering

One day a student asked me, 'Does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?' I answered, 'No, he does not.' Since then I have been doomed to undergo five hundred rebirths as a fox. I beg you now to give the turning word to release me from my life as a fox. Tell me, does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?" Hyakujo answered, "He does not ignore [cloud] causation [cause and effect]."

so it seems that Tripitaka's actions were deficient because they created suffering, but they were also somewhat skillful, which is what the lotus sutra is all about.

the fact that any act every act, perhaps of any sinfulness, is included within the one vehicle, can be ridden toward perfect enlightenment. it's just that sometimes, we, like tripitaka, act deluded to the truth and end up taking a haphazard course.

perhaps because it is the only one available.

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