2020-06-18: The Ethical Heart (4 of 5) Ten Wholesome Actions
2:56PM Jun 18, 2020
So today is the fourth day of this theme of ethics. And as I've emphasized that there's not a good match in the Pali language of the Buddha, for our English word ethics, and that sila doesn't quite match because sila has to do with conduct and ethics often has to do with certainly conduct, but other aspects of like virtue and the principles behind how we act. But sila means action, or refers to action. Some people nowadays, Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as virtuous conduct. Conduct is actually quite important. And there is this wonderful teaching in the middle length discourse of two Brahmins who come to the Buddha and they're having a disagreement about what makes a person a Brahmin. Are they born that way? It's kind of like a caste system where there they are somehow, by birth, that's how they become the top class, caste in the society, or is it by their actions? And the Buddha comes back with a lengthy response. Or he's very clear that people are defined by their actions, not by the birth. The Buddha in this teaching was explicit that there's no differentiation between different species, different race, different human beings. That human beings are all one class of beings. And that what differentiates human beings for the Buddha is their actions, what they actually do. And the Buddha repeatedly in the in the texts will come back and over and over again to what are people, how are people actually living. And are they living in ways that are causing harm? Or are they living ways which are not causing harm? He answers philosophical questions, metaphysical questions, he answers sociological questions, questions about distinctions within societies, caste distinctions, all kind of looking back, how did the people act? What are they doing? And is it in our English terms, is it ethical or not ethical?
And so in this discourse, he says "one is not the Brahman by birth, nor by birth a non Brahman. By action is one of Brahman. By action is one and non Brahman." So he is redefining Brahman from being a particular caste of people to being Brahman is someone whose actions is ethical and everyone can be a Brahmin in this kind of teaching. And then he goes on his describes how people are defined by what they do for people are farmers by farming. By doing crafts are people crafts people. People are merchants, by their acts by what they do. Some people are robbers because they rob. Soldiers because they soldier and chaplains because they're chaplaining by their acts, by their action. And people are rulers by their actions. So that is how the truly wise see action as it really is. The wise are skilled in action, and in the results of actions, they see the consequences of actions. And then here he says it's kind of nice. It's nice. It's kind of like in English, sometimes you say, Love makes the world go round. In translation, the Buddha said, "action makes the world go around. Action makes this generation of people turn. Living beings are bound by action. Like the chariot wheel by the pin that keeps it to the axle. By self control and inner training, by this one becomes a Brahmin. In this Supreme Brahma hood lies." So here again, actions and so it also includes not only physical actions in the world, but the actual inner actions, of inner training, of self control the developing oneself through practice.
And so, action makes the world go round. So, action is very important and but it's the measure of action is whether it's causing harm or not, or whether it's skillful or not. And there's a list of 10, what's called 10 skillful actions or 10 wholesale actions. Or if we take the word kusala translated as ethics, 10 ethical actions that the Buddha emphasized much more than he emphasized the five precepts for example. The 10 skillful, 10 wholesome actions. These are the 10 unskillful ones, unwholesome ones, are killing, stealing, sexual misconduct. lying, malicious speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, pointless speech, avariciousness, ill will, and wrong view. The skillful ones are abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct, abstaining from speaking falsehoods, abstaining from malicious or divisive speech, abstaining from harsh speech, abstaining from pointless chatter, abstaining from avariciousness, abstaining from ill will and abstaining from wrong view.
And this is so important for the Buddha that this is why I think the word kusala, skillful or wholesome, is probably the best closest to the English word ethics, ethical. And it's such an important, these List of 10, are so important in the Buddha's teaching that he said, doing the 10 skillful actions, this is the Dharma, this is the noble dharma. And this is the far shore. Some of you might know that the both the word noble and the word far shore often are used to represent enlightenment or the goal of practice. And here he's very powerfully saying, acting living this way, by these 10 ethical ways, this is what the Dharma is, this is what is, is noble. This is the far shore. And he says, The near shore, that what's not the Dharma, what's not noble, is that unskillful 10 actions. And I wanted to emphasize this today because I want to keep bringing this together, that what we might call ethics, and what the goal of Buddhist practices are one in the same. That you can't really be separated. And this attaining the far shore, attaining the noble Dharma, we become ethical, we become these qualities. So someone who is ethically, spiritually mature and Buddhism will naturally live by, it's just who they are. They're not going to kill, they're not going to steal, they're not going to engage in sexual misconduct. They're not going to lie. They're not going to be involved in malicious or divisive speech. They're not going to be involved in harsh speech or pointless chatter, being avaricious and wanting and acquiring and acquiring, they're not going to be living with ill will, and they're not going to have wrong view.
This is little bit I know when in when I first came to Buddhism many years ago, that in the counterculture of the United States at that time, this kind of ethical teaching, we call this ethical, was kind of uninteresting for us. What was interesting is great states of mind, more kind of non ethical descriptions of awakening, liberation, all this. And that was all fine got many of us to practice. But as we practice, as we develop the practice there becomes inherently a natural tendency to want to live more and more by in ethical ways. What we would call ethical. The Buddha would call it skillful or wholesome or healthy ways. And these 10 are party what defines this healthy and wholesome. And when ethics is associated with purity, he calls these 10 the way to live with purity. He calls them good and bad, abstract terms is often used to describe ethics. And he calls one condusive towards happiness, the skillful, and the unskillful ones to suffering. He associates these, some of these with virtues with inner virtues, so the positive correlation to them. Abstaining from destroying, killing life is correlated with being compassionate for all beings. Avoiding malicious speech is using speech that unites, reunites those who are divided and promotes friendship. That's how to speak. Abstaining from harsh speech, is to speak gently and courteously. Abstaining from pointless speech is to speak what is factual and what is useful or good. Abstaining from ill will, is to wish others to be free from affliction.
So these are kind of virtues as well to live this way. So kusala is the word of the week. This is the word probably the best word for the English idea of ethics. And I think you get a very different feeling for ethics, when you think of it as being developing, what's asked what's skillful, what's wholesome, what's healthy.
And then there are three roots of what is unskillful, and three roots of what's skillful. And that'll be the topic for tomorrow. And I'll do that in the context of suggesting that there's one more word, the Pali word that can be associated with the English word ethics. And that's the word that I will translate as beautiful kalyāṇa and that what is ethical is also associated with beauty. So the three routes and beauty will be tomorrow.
The other thing I would like to say is tomorrow after the teachings here at 7:45, those of you who'd like we could have another one of these kind of community meetings where we can meet on zoom. And some of you may be can ask them questions, but also we can do a breakout groups so that some of you have a chance to talk with each other maybe about the topic for the week, I can pose some questions, or maybe just meet some people. It's quite a nice community we're developing over time here on this text on this, this these mornings, and it'd be nice just to kind of be able to meet someone somewhat random with zoom breakout groups, and that zoom information will be posted on the IMC calendar for that for the event with tomorrow's morning, seven o'clock sitting. And also it'll be posted in the chat here and so and also I think there's gonna be there might be a password again, and I'll tell you what the password is same password as last time. I'll tell you tomorrow what it is. And so that'll be at 7:45. Just we'll finish here. And I'll probably just turn off the YouTube channel, and then we can all go to that to the to the link and we can meet on zoom. I look forward to it. So thank you very much