Innocent Bandhula got what he deserved: beheaded along with all his sons due to slander against him. If the Buddhists do not have Job’s problem — do not demand an answer to the question, ‘Why do the innocent suffer?’ — it is tempting to suppose that this is because, due to moralized karma and rebirth, no one is innocent. But as Bandhula’s story and many others show, appeals to karma do not have this kind of appeal. Rather, the demand to justify suffering does not arise for the Buddhist because everything suffers — suffering is a mark of existence. That we dislike this fact is not doubted; that the connections between cause and effect are often inscrutable to us, and so our attempts to avoid suffering often in vain, is regrettable — sometimes tragic. This Sophoclean condition of blameless responsibility, in a world without any ultimate author of whom we might demand account, grounds an ethic centered on pity rather than blame, on compassion rather than justice.
Amber Carpenter is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of York. She received her B.A. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1996 and her Ph.D. from King’s College London in 2001. 2003 to 2005 she was Assistant Professor at the Franklin & Marshall College, 2005 to 2007 teaching fellow at the University of St. Andrews; in 2007 she was Einstein fellow at the Einstein Forum. She works in Ancient Greek philosophy and in Indian philosophy. Her general interest is in ethics, ancient and modern, and specifically in the place of reason in a well-lived life — what might reason be that it could be ethically relevant, or even required? Her publications include a number of articles on Greek and Indian philosophy. Her book on Indian Buddhist Philosophy will appear later this year.