When Lawrence Kohlberg wanted to test subjects' moral development, he
asked them to think about the story of Heinz, a man who stole medicine to
save his sick wife. Was Heinz right or wrong? If he'd asked young Buddhist
monks, he might have been told, "That does not matter."
Heubner and Garrod (1993) traveled to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in
Nepal, to ask young monks (thirteen to thirty years) what they thought
about Kohlberg's dilemma. The monks' answers generally involved two
concepts: the theory that people are reborn in different bodies, depending
on their behavior, and the idea that though life is full of suffering,
people should be compassionate and prevent as much suffering as possible.
One monk said about Heinz, "If his wife dies, then he will be
suffering only for this life. But if he steals the drug, he will be
suffering for many lifetimes." While most Westerners explain the
Heinz story in terms of justice, the monks talked about compassion-even
the monks who scored as Kohlberg "premorals" and thought about
Heinz in terms of rewards and punishment. These ideas are so different
from Western morality that the researchers found it impossible to use
Kohlberg's scale to describe Tibetan Buddhists' moral development.