Because kamma is directly concerned with good and evil, any discussion of kamma must also include a discussion of good and evil. Standards for defining good and evil are, however, not without their problems. What is "good," and how is it so? What is it that we call "evil," and how is that so? These problems are in fact a matter of language. In the Buddha's teaching, which is based on the Pali language, the meaning becomes much clearer, as will presently be demonstrated.
The English words "good" and "evil" have very broad meanings, particularly the word "good," which is much more widely used than "evil." A virtuous and moral person is said to be good; delicious food might be called "good" food; a block of wood which happens to be useful might be called a "good" block of wood. Moreover, something which is good to one person might not be good to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain thing may be good, but not from another. Behavior which is considered good in one area, district or society might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some disparity. It might be necessary to consider the word "good" from different viewpoints, such as good in a hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an economic sense, and so on. The reason for this disparity is a matter of values. The words "good" and "evil" can be used in many different value systems in English, which makes their meanings very broad.
In our study of good and evil the following points should be borne in mind:
(a) Our study will be from the perspective of the law of kamma, thus we will be using the specialized terms kusala and akusala or skillful and unskillful, which have very precise meanings.
(b) Kusala and akusala, in terms of Buddhist ethics, are qualities of the law of kamma, thus our study of them is keyed to this context, not as a set of social values as is commonly used for the words "good" and "evil."
(c) As discussed in Chapter One, the operation...