The use of fur in fashion has always been an ethically dubious practice. The fashion industry has been growing at a scorching pace across economies, and so has the controversial practice of using animal products in dresses and accessories. When it comes to making a moral assessment of this practice, one has to give fair and balanced consideration to the lives of the animals involved. Wool, for example, is an acceptable product, for it is ‘sheared’ off a sheep and allowing it to live. On the other hand fur-coats made from the process of ‘skinning’ an animal is outright cruelty to animals. Since each fur-coat is the result of killing an animal, the practice throws up several moral conundrums to consumers.
Historically, fur-coats used to be key for people to survive in cold climes. Even today, many indigenous populations depend on fur-coats for survival. But the continued use of fur in urban societies is not called for, when one takes into consideration the availability of cheap-yet-effective synthetic alternatives for insulation. Hence, far from being a necessity for survival, today fur is purely being used for purposes of fashionable consumption, which is quite unacceptable. In this context, I strongly oppose the continued use of fur in the fashion products. The fashion might argue that they treat the animals fairly well and they are killed without causing pain. But, irrespective of pain, killing of animals should be avoided whenever possible, more so because many of the animals are in the endangered species list. And hence the use of fur in fashion products will have to stop at the earliest.
The setting up of traps to capture wild animals is another controversial practice. But, unlike the issue of fashionable fur products, the ethical dilemmas in using traps are not straight forward. Some indigenous hunter-gatherer societies living in remote parts of the world do employ this method to capture food. At the other extreme are poachers, who capture valued animals for lucrative gains in illegal markets. These people trap animals so that they can sell them alive or select body parts that are in high demand. Some of the prominent cases of illegal poaching in recent decades happened with regards to elephants (tusks), pandas (pets), rhinoceros (horns), etc. So, traps set by poachers should definitely be condemned on moral and legal grounds.
Some traps are set by gamesman, for whom hunting of wild animals is a pastime. This tradition developed during medieval times as a sporting event for members of royal family. It used to be a badge of honour to display the embalmed specimens of killed animals in royal households. But in twentieth century, when democracy is the leading political arrangement, there is little place for such showmanship. And those countries that still allow trapping in the name of such traditions will have to rethink their laws.
Finally, there are legitimate uses of traps, of which I approve. Conservationists sometimes resort to trapping in order to relocate animals from high-risk environments to relatively safe ones. This they do because the animals may not have the ability to migrate to safety on their own. Wildlife enthusiasts and documentary filmmakers too sometimes trap animals without causing them any injury or great distress. This is also a legitimate exercise, for their efforts bring awareness to the general public about rare species of life forms that thrive in remote parts of the world. In other words their temporary arresting of animals can be justified because it is done to observe, study and inform the larger society about the richness and diversity of the planet they inhabit. Hence, I am okay with the concept of trapping for these genuine causes, whereas against it for poaching, game-hunting, etc.
There appears to be some fundamental differences between Western and Buddhist approaches to education. The Western philosophy of education, as is prevalent today, is more systematic and scientifically grounded in terms of its objectives and outcomes. But the Buddhist view of education is a lot more open-ended and fluid. Also, while there are fundamental tenets upon which Buddhist education system rests, they only serve as an aid to the student in discovering truths for himself. In other words, while the Western educational model has at its core the principle of ascertaining truth through rational inquiry and systematic experimentation, the Buddhist model espouses the principle that introspection through meditation will lead to the ultimate truth. (Haskett, 2005, p.192) Moreover, it is integral to Buddhist culture to put the ‘collective’ good ahead of ‘individual’ excellence. Notwithstanding these basic differences, one could still incorporate certain norms, customs and cultural aspects of Buddhist education into American schools. This essay will show that not only is this exercise feasible but also rewarding for the educators and students involved.
A key feature of the Buddhist education system is its spiritual dimension. In fact, the seeking of spiritual truth is a cornerstone of Buddhist culture. The Buddhist system attempts to prepare students to transcend the scientific realm and into the spiritual realm. School administrators in America might find it challenging to encourage students on spiritual quest alongside the emphasis on scientific inquiry. Moreover, in the spiritual realm, objectives tend to be vague and instructions difficult to comprehend. But a simple means by which the esoteric sounding spiritual quest can be incorporated in the American classroom is by breaking it down into common social principles such as co-operation and compassion. In other words, school curricula in the United States could give grade points for students for their social skills and their willingness to help fellow students. The Buddhist system sees education as a component of a student’s social life, as opposed to being distinct to it. (Tat Chia, 2009, p.122) In this scenario, ‘education as competition’ would be replaced by ‘education through sharing of knowledge and experience’. A similar point is made even by some Western scholars like Daniel Goleman, who underscore the importance of Emotional Quotient (EQ) alongside the development of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) for overall healthy personality development.
The spate of campus shootouts in recent years in America clearly indicates some fundamental flaws in the schooling system. By embracing the Buddhist principle of ‘non-violence’ and inculcating it in students will mitigate the occurrence of such shoot-outs. Non-violence aligns closely with virtues of co-operation and compassion. (Shin, 2010, p.33) American schools can include biographical sketches of world leaders renowned for the message of non-violence. These would include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. A study of their life examples is an effective method for instilling the value of non-violence in American students.