2020-02-17: Introduction to Buddhism Part 5: The Equivalence of Ethics and Enlightenment
10:50PM Jun 21, 2020
So Good evening everyone and talk from IMC. And in coming down thinking about coming down here to teach. I had this image of this talk being a little bit more like a fireside chat. I think because the feeling for that because what I want to talk about for me personally feels very personality kind of intimate than something that's close to my heart that in some kind of nice way. And, and so it's kind of like sharing this with you. So it just kind of feels a little, you know, it's a fireside chats, the kind of more intimate or something. And the window might not be obvious to you and that's what how it is for me. The I'm continuing on the series of talks that I'm giving since the beginning of the year. called introduction to Buddhism. So I'm doing a variety of topics of what Buddhism is or could be or how I understand it. And today I want to talk about Buddhist ethics. And when I was new to Buddhism in the early years long time ago, there was very little discussion about the ethics. And the, and it was kind of like almost like an afterthought. It wasn't considered that important, you know, or wasn't given any important place. It was kind of like there and sometimes passing reference would be made to it. But it was kind of like classic idea that Buddhism there's a path of practice a series of practices that people do, or series of states to attain kind of or move through that As I've already said, you know, organized in three major categories, ethics, meditation and wisdom. And ethics is first. So, you know, you really want to get to the wisdom part, that's what's really important. And, and since we're all sophisticated people have grown ups and, you know, smart and you know, we want the work ethic parts and and we want the wisdom part. And the ethics was kind of like kindergarten Buddhism. You know, it's like, you know, it's kind of, you know, it's kind of a good idea, let me tell you about the wisdom, kind of feeling. And, and so, the ethical parts of Buddhism didn't seem to have much importance. And in and then there was a kind of this this way I got involved in this tradition, which is the Tera vaada tradition, based on the earliest teachings of Buddhism back to the Buddha There was a funny kind of attitude that people had about from the outside looking into this tradition that we're in here. On one hand, people would say that we're the selfish ones. We had a college student come here once, who had taken a class on Buddhism. And he'd been told in class that the Tera vaada, Buddhists that we are, are the selfish ones. And my you know, the people are altruistic, the other kind of Buddhism. And so he came especially because he thought that was kind of you know, strange or we met him strange group of people are all selfish. So he specifically came to find out what they look like. So this is what he saw. And because there's this, there's this critique of Tera vaada Buddhism from later Buddhism, that these early Buddhist people they're just interested in the enlightenment and they're selfish. Then the pendulum swings. The other side is your other critique of our tradition is that sometimes people say it's all about ethics and just meaning meaning that people say it's all about ethics. It's like this is like, you know, they're missing the important parts of Buddhism. Or maybe there's a little bit puritanical, a little bit overly strict and a little bit kind of caught up in rules and regulations. And, and that's not really where the heart the spirit of Buddhism is, it's about freedom, and you want to express your freedom and be free and be wise and do you don't want to be restricted. So, so there's all these attitudes. And so, in one hand, it wasn't taught much, you got a sense it was kind of like kindergarten Buddhism. On the other hand, you got the sense that it was, you know, somehow, because we weren't interested in ethics, we were selfish. But on the other hand, we were too interested in ethics and we were uptight. And so it was kind of like, you know,
So those are kind of the messages I got early on. And then I started studying for myself there are the Buddhist teachings. And surprisingly, the ethical teachings started jump out more and more. And there were such teachings like this, that that brought ethics and wisdom together. There was a statement that, that ethics, how does it go? There's an analogy, that ethics and wisdom go together, like two hands, like the right hand and left hand washing themselves watching each other. Take two hands and you want them to watch each other, they need each other, and that the intimacy or their the compatibility of ethics and wisdom was that they're really working together to do the same task. They weren't so separate wasn't like one was a low status and one was high status had a certain quality like to two hands washing washing themselves. And then there's a statement that about a wise person the Buddha wants to talk to about it, you know, who's a wise person and he actually talks about who's a wise person of great wisdom. So now we're back into wisdom. And would have said, a wise person of great wisdom is someone who can is concerned with the welfare of themselves. Haha, this is the selfish school, the welfare of others, the welfare of both self and others, and the welfare of the whole world. That's a wise person who have great wisdom and is concerned with the welfare maybe he's not two dozen people in associate drift directly with ethics depending how we define ethics, but it does show that ethics has to do with how We relate to the world, and how we care for the world, that this is what, how wisdom is defined as someone who has this kind of caring attitude and concern for the world. And a person of great wisdom is someone you know, is someone who's enlightened. And the idea that so if someone asks, you know, I'm involved too much as you tell somebody about Buddhism and they say, oh, Buddhism, that's the one that that's the school the religion has enlightenment. What is it like to be an enlightened person? Now you know what to say. And someone who's enlightened is concerned for the welfare of the whole world, self, others, both self and others know the whole world. And so, these are interesting statements are made. And then it gets more and more interesting and more I studied it. And at some point, it became inseparable. The Buddhist teachings about ethics and the Buddhist teachings by wisdom, inseparable, the path to liberation, the past Awakening enlightenment, and the path to ethical maturation, that the path to the path to enlightenment, which is clearly what Buddhism is about, is the same as a path to the maturation of our ethical of being an ethical person. That the combination of becoming an enlightened person is to become completely through in through an ethical person. These two are they're not separate, there's like one is kindergarten Buddhism, but they really go together. And kind of the way you know whether someone's maturing in enlightenment is if they live in a more ethical way. Now, it's possible to be ethical and uptight ways it's possible to be ethical and follow just strict rules and regulations. But then it but if you're if you're doing Buddhist practice, than the Buddhist practice, all the different elements of the Buddhist practice have an ethical Quality to them have a quality of developing a person's ethical life. And I'll describe that a little bit. First, I'm going to say about the goal, the Enlightenment goal. why I say that, you know, an enlightened person is also an ethical person is that this early Buddhist tradition will say that makes the claim that all unethical behavior whether it's by physical action by speech, or just how you think how you think all unethical behavior is comes out of three fundamental tendencies, they call them the roots. And those roots are considered to be unethical. And the language that they use is more strict with more and more. The tradition is not ethics, but they use the word on wholesome are unskillful unskillful.
And so there's three unskillful routes, basis foundations for all unethical behavior. Those are greed, hatred and delusion. The definition the most common definition in the, in the sort of the tradition for what enlightenment is, for what Nirvana is. It's the destruction of greed, hatred and delusion. the very basis for being unethical, is destroyed with enlightenment. If those if the routes for unethical behavior is destroyed, then the person has become ethical. They're not going to do anything intentional, consciously intentional, to harm other people to do something that's hurtful for others. If these greed, hate and delusion of our been upgraded. So, this is how will it really come together with enlightenment to kind of separate, inseparable. And the Buddha was most most commonly kept referring to people who are enlightened or been for to enlightenment or to Nirvana, in what could be called ethical terms the destruction of greed, hate and delusion. He didn't talk about it from you know, cosmic consciousness or some great, blissful state of mind. He had lofty terms for it like enlightenment and awakening and liberation and, and Nirvana. But over and over again, we actually explained what he meant, explained it by the destruction of greed, hate and delusion. And there are other words a little bit like that the destruction of something the ending of something to the letting go of something that all these things attachments that are the source for being unethical. So then it's Then what about the price practices. So last week I talked about the Eightfold Path. And these are eight sets of practices which are which are way of organizing all the important practices in Buddhism that lead towards liberation. And if we analyze these eight for these eight sets of practices, it's pretty easy, I think, to see how each one of them is has an ethical quality or ethical nature. The first one is called the right view. And one of the ways the right view is understood. It's having an insight having a really clear understanding of the nature of suffering. It's arising. It's ceasing its ending and the way to its ending. Suffering is another way of talking about harm. If you understand about suffering really well, if you're intimate, they can And know it well, that's one of the jobs of Buddhists. We shouldn't be in our public advertisement, no one would come, come to Buddhism, and become really intimate with suffering. You know, that doesn't sound like very much fun. But this is kind of, to really have a really clear understanding of the illness is a way to the cure. And so to really understand not only suffering, but the origin, the beginning of it, how it arises, how it comes to be, but more importantly, that we're not stuck with it, that there's an end to it, it can it could stop like we could see so it could and to have some sense of how it works makes a person acutely aware of suffering and the possibility of ending of it that lends itself to that person now becoming very sensitive to suffering and others as well. And with that kind of sense of sensitivity People don't want to cause harm. They don't want to be involved at heart causing harm. So this right view has built into it this idea, that view that kind of wants to kind of decrease harm production in this world. The other thing that right view is, it's understanding that our conduct and how we act has consequences and that good good behavior, ethical behavior has good consequences. And unethical behavior has bad consequences. And to be acutely sensitive to that is one of the ways of becoming wanting to be more ethical, not because we follow rules that we should be ethical. We don't want to have those kinds of consequences for ourselves and others.
The second of the Eightfold Path is right the attitude, right intention and these are threes. sets of attitudes with which everything we do, we can do it with these attitudes. And two of them would seem explicitly ethical because to what the two of them have are having an attitude of kindness, an attitude of compassion, attitude of non non ill will and non cruelty and have those qualities in yourself and your attitude go about go about your life, then you're going to go to the world ethically. The next three are all ethical, explicitly, so, right speech, right action and right way of life. So we don't write speech you don't lie. Right action you don't kill, steal or harm through your sexuality. Right Livelihood you don't have a lot you don't have a way of living in the world, or livelihood that is causing harm. harm The presence of the cause and then and the cause and the ending of harm is the core definition of ethics is in Buddhism. It's all about harm and the ending of harm. It's not about some kind of abstract ultimate rules coming down from the heavens that you have to act a certain way. It's this very practical concern about not causing harm and causing benefit. The sixth eightfold path is called the right effort. And that is the effort that if you notice you're doing something that is unwholesome, unhelpful, unskillful unethical. If you notice, you notice that you notice it for yourself that this is harmful, then you would stop doing it. If it's skillful, wholesome helpful, beneficial, then keep doing it. And this is a little principle that applies in many areas of life. It's, it's often considered to be really the essence of meditation practice, if we're going to become our own teachers in meditation, this is the guideline by which we look at her in her life as we meditate. And what I'm thinking about right now, is the attitude I have in my meditation is the way in which I'm practicing right now. Is it skillful, helpful, wholesome, beneficial or not? So, you know, if you're thinking about, you know, mostly thinking about you're sitting down to meditate, and your whole time you're you're trying to calculate the best lottery numbers. You know, and but then you remember Oh, right effort. That means I'm going to look at what I'm doing, and see is this helpful or You know, just a skillful to do this, then you might discover, you know, it's not that helpful to spend meditation time thinking about lottery numbers. And then you might stop doing it. Or you might look and you're really trying hard to get concentrated so you can get, you know, some kind of wonderful bliss states. And you look at yourself as you're doing this, you say, wait a minute, this kind of striving, kind of a little bit conceited effort to have really good bliss states. This is actually unwholesome unskillful to do that. And to really and you feel that inside you feel the tension of it, the strain of it, this doesn't feel good. And because you feel the tension, we let go with this, this kind of whole valuation, whether it's skillful or unskillful, lends itself to being ethical. And then we come to right mindfulness is seven today for Patrick Pachter, and this is where it gets even more interesting. There's plenty of people Here in the West teachers who've taught mindfulness with very little reference to ethics. For the Buddha, he repeatedly talked about how the practice of mindfulness is an ethical practice, that practicing mindfulness makes a person ethical. That the practice of mindfulness really paying careful attention, in and of itself diminishes these three roots of greed, hate and delusion that the more mindful we get, the more difficult it is to act unethically. the more difficult it is to violate the five precepts, precepts of not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, not lying, and not getting in touch and toxicated.
And so there's something about the careful sensitivity that comes with mindfulness. That now we're really talking about it. We are becoming Teacher, there's nothing about rules anymore. Now think about you're obligated to be ethical. It's all from the inside out. Through being more and more aware of the impact of what things happen to you the inside. You realize, wait a minute, to kill someone feels really lousy. Even the motivation to do it is a kind of violence to me to steal, to gauge consciously, intentionally in sexuality in ways that harms people. It just feels really bad. You can feel how we are not up or tight. We're alienated from ourselves. We're caught up in states of mind which are not productive and helpful for yourself or for someone else. And we start feeling the stickiness of it is this satisfactory quality for all these different states and it's kind of like you take your hand off a hot stove. Like you don't want to touch it. And so ethics at this point through mindfulness has that kind of almost physiological, biological kind of instinct as part of it. You get close to wanting to harm someone through your ethics. And you pull your hand back. No, I don't want to do that. Because we're so sensitive. Generally, it's thought that more often than not, most of the time, that those people who are doing unethical things in their world, they're actually out of touch with themselves. They somehow have been disassociated from their feelings, their emotions and the impact and really paying attention to what's really going on here. They're living up in their head, they're living in their desires. They're kind of being projected forward into the goal and what they want and the you know, the lust for power sometimes and Buddha type and the Buddha connected unethical behavior with the desire for power. And so over and over again Buddha talks about mindfulness cultivates ethical and ethical, ethical people. And then the final step the Eightfold Path is right concentration. And right concentration is a beautiful practice of settling the mind so that it's an agitated. The mind is tranquil. The mind is clear and distractible. So the mind then can not so much focus on something the mind can the tension can settle on something like what the breathing and just be there just easily almost naturally, because there's no there's no distractibility. There's no agitation a mind that has no agitation is tricorn clear, is a mind that has very little or no greed, hate and delusion. It's has very little preoccupation with wanting to kill or steal or lie or sexual misconduct or, you know, thinking about where the local liquor store is. Those are all agitated states to be involved in. And, and one of the wonderful functions of concentration practice is to give an individual a really clear experience, inner experience of a kind of ethical purity, a kind of clarity or competing of being clean cleanliness inside of the mind of the heart of the inner body. They just feel so great. It's kind of like great like waking up from the most refreshing nap you've ever had. Wow, it's so good. I feel so clear and bright and rested and all that. So that to discover the kind of ethical clarity inside is one of the wonderful consequences of getting concentrated. If you experience that, then you're probably not going to want to be unethical because it's kind of a violence a violation of this wonderful, very healthy, wholesome, beneficial kind of experience way of being in the world. And we learn that to be unethical, we're becoming more more agitated, you have to be agitated some degree to be unethical. And the more agitated we become, the more alienated we come from the core of who we are core over in our life.
So that's kind of a going through the Eightfold Path and saying how each of those steps has an ethical quality to them. And ethical quality means it has to do with how we live in relationship to other people and the world around us. And that, and that, as we call it, a footpath, it becomes a natural thing, to want to live in the world and the world or other people and not cause harm and even Better to be concerned with the welfare of others to care about people, and when and when to take care of them. And I find that one of the, so as I as you know, I practiced and as I studied, I just really start seeing more and more that convergence of wisdom and ethics a convergence of doing the mindfulness practice, and not only becoming ethical, but becoming more more interested in ethics. I believe that the deeper someone practices, the more thoroughly mature someone comes becomes in mindfulness practice or in Buddhist practice, the more natural is for them to be an ethical person to think ethically to be concerned ethically. And again, what I mean by that is to be concerned with harm and benefit the welfare of the world around them to care for people and not wanting to and to not want to cause harm. And that becomes an array or orienting principle. Buddhist Buddhist life is this idea of not causing harm, but doing the opposite to promoting the welfare and well being of oneself and others. And, and so this practice so the Buddha back in the ancient times I think he was brilliant in, in seeing this connection between inner liberation and becoming ethical, and then he kind of did this wonderful Aikido this wonderful, you know, sleight of hand almost where he kept, he had all these lofty ways of talking about enlightenment and practice, because that's what was expected back in his time about what really, you know, spiritual practices do. They offer lofty goals and and then he was constantly kind of slipping in and it's it's an ethical goal. It's a practice of becoming more ethical. And he seemed to have been one of the maybe not the only person of his time, but have emphasized the religious life of an age in ancient India, ethic from the ancient literature that we have. Ethics was not a big part of religion before him, but with him It became center stage. But you don't see that. Very often. I think if you go read books, Introduction to Buddhism books, they'll make passing refuse reference to ethics. They might even have a whole chapter saying ethics is really important, but it's only one chapter. And then they move on to talk about all the other lofty things emptiness, you know, or whatever dependence arising and all these wonderful philosophical things but the impression I have is that The teachings of the Buddha were through and through ethical in nature. Now to say that there's some people, like I'm saying it here could feel oppressive, because some people have had oppressive experiences with people's promotion of ethics and telling us how we supposed to live and, and you should be this way and, and some some ethical teachings have been really detrimental to hope. Why populations of people that, you know, people are told basically you're, you're bad, you're evil because of your sexual orientation, your gender, all kinds of things. And then there's often comes with very strong, sometimes, sense of obligation, that you're obligated to be ethical, you're obligated to be generous, you're humbled to be this way. So I've been studying these teachings of Buddhism for a long time, and I don't see anywhere in the teachings of the Buddha, where he obligates anybody to be ethical So there's no so how do you so he's teaching people how to be ethical, with no obligation as part of it? Isn't that a relief? I think it's great. You're not obligated. But watch out. Because you'll become ethical. No Obligation, but you should know it's coming. coming in through the backdoor, you'll end up being a good person. Just watch out.
But you don't have to.
But if you're serious, it'll happen. Anyway, so I think it's I think it's very important to emphasize the non obligatory nature of all this because of how some people really have struggled under the sense of obligation and internalizing the sense that I have to be a certain way to be a good person. And so there's a whole different attitude. And, and as early Buddhism with this ethics, I like to think of it that through the if you start doing the practice of the Eightfold Path, then in ethics gets a awakened, woken certain way from the inside and it grows and blossoms. And it's not an external rules that you follow. So it's an important part of Buddhism. It's in, it's a into integral part of the whole path of Buddhism. It's not kindergarten, Buddhism is not just something you do a little bit at the beginning of Buddhism. You know, the first year your practice and you put it aside and get on to the real things. It is the real thing, all the way to enlightenment. The path to ethical maturation in Buddhism is the same as a path to spiritual vibration. The path to spiritual liberation is the same as a path to ethical maturation. They're one in the same. And if you don't believe me, that's fine. There's no obligation. Find out but then to finally do the practice and find out for yourself. And I'm pretty sure that if you practice sincerely and that you'll discover this case for yourself as well. So we have about 10 minutes before the end. And do you have any questions about this? Any comments, any testimonials, or any protests?
I'm curious how much you think The emphasis on ethical practice in Buddhism can get in the way of like more shadow integration work. So an emphasis on a certain way of being causing a subconscious suppressing of different parts of you, and not being able to welcome and integrate them.
Yeah, I think it depends how we how we incorporate ethics into our life. If we take it on as rules, or as social norms that we're supposed to take on, then it can become shadows, then it can be obscure the parts of us that are not that and, and all groups have shadows. So our group here under you know, Western Buddhism circles where I've been in kind of the normative ethics is to be a kind person. And but that's what this kind of kind of what's approved of, then it's a little bit hard to come in here and be mean, you know, or be angry or be grumpy. You know, I sometimes I'm grumpy and, and I've come down here and I feel you know, I'm the teacher here, I shouldn't be grumpy, you know. And so maybe I don't show my grumpiness that that easily. So then it goes in the shadow. And so so that's the anger and also people and I and kind of with this the western Buddhist circles, I tend to be conflict avoidant. And so you know, it's that's not so helpful. And but it kind of comes from this normative idea of what it means to be a good person or fit into the group or all kinds of things like that. So but all groups have this, all cultures have shadows. But that's why we have a practice. And the function of practices like mindfulness practices or mindfulness practices, is that their job is to put light in the shadow. So we can't help having you know these cultural things because we have to find some way to get Long. But then it's really important to go and do this practice. And I think then then it all that stuff gets looked at. It also means you not be too afraid of the shadows. It will come, it'll all come out if you're practicing mindfulness sooner or later. sys bind you
in the back.
One of the writings you mentioned today said that an ethical person is concerned with the welfare of self welfare of others, who welfare of self and others, and the welfare of the whole world. I'm interested in what you think the distinction he was making was between all of those categories, it seemed like the first to cover everything. Great, right, but what about what distinction was he making with self and others?
Great, that's a great question and the one that I find the most interesting is the third one wise person is concerned for the welfare of both self and others? And how does that different from, as you said that the first two because that seems to cover it. And so these might be modern interpretations. I don't know what the ancient were thinking. But one idea is that the both self and other is the weakest the relationship between us. It's we as a community, so like a family or a couple, or a group like this, that has a different dynamic and different kind of patterns in which we have networking, relationships have agreements, all kinds of things. That's, that's there because we're working together. And so it's no longer just the individual, but it's the community. It's the connections that are gone. And so we're paying attention to that relationship, those connections, and we have both self and other. It's the we, you I and we, that they say right that's it idea and the whole world the this is again, I don't know what they were thinking back then. But I like it because this thing about welfare of self welfare for others well for myself and others, I think in my mind, I think it's probably the meaning in ancient world. It's primarily human centric. But as soon as you say the whole world, you you expand beyond being concerned for the humans but the welfare of all the animals and creatures and the planet. You know, the gold thing. Like you
either push push the button so there's a light on it. Thank you pickup screen.
really appreciated the Talk and very timely for me.
I was wondering if you could comment on
the sorrow that you might experience when you witness someone who is suffering from greed, hate or delusion and might be behaving in a way that's unethical
to sorrow. So the, as I said, the sixth step of a thought path is to learn how to make certain distinctions, distinctions between what is helpful and not helpful. And so you think that there's a distinction between sorrow that's helpful and sorrow? That's not. When would that what would that look like or would that be?
In my mind, it might be unhelpful, Sorrow might be something akin to despair.
hopeful sort of sorrow would be a kind of mourning.
Hmm, great. And what what do you think the spare wood is a good word to use despair?
What are the conditions that have to be there that occur in a person so that they would experience something and feel despair?
agitation so they're agitated, yeah. And self concern, self concerns self preoccupation. Rather than being concerned with that person being having a hard time. I'm, I'm concerned with my discomfort around it, or my responsibility for it. And so that and then a healthy kind of sorrow would be feeling of Pain a feeling of you know just genuine concern for the person without referring it back to oneself
yeah i would i think that if we can learn to distinguish between good grief because that's what Charlie Brown had good grief and if we use that language bad you know Charlie Brown language bad grief you know it make a whole different world if we don't we don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater we don't have the kind of reject all these things sadness, sorrow, grief, but we want to be able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy version of it. And that's part of the functions of mindfulness. doubtless with that. So, anything else all your ethical issues that have been settled by once and for all. Yes. The mic, please. Make sure.
Okay, I don't know how well thought of this question is, but I have been noticing about myself, having grown up in Brooklyn that my personality is holding on to an edge. You know, and I think the edge sometimes is a protection of the fear that if I let go of that part of my personality, that I will be more responsible for everything. I don't know how I how that connection is men that you know that There's obviously suffering involved, but that the suffering protects me from stepping off the cliff, you know. So I just wanted to thank you for your talk, first of all, because it brought a lot of clarity to my understanding of, of how the two hands go together. And the bits so much sense for me. Thank you.
Thank you. I really, very much appreciate your self understanding about this, to be able to be able to be so articulate about this tendency for us. You know, you've probably took you a long time to come to that kind of clarity. And I appreciate that you understand yourself that way. And it's just you're here at a place where you do mindfulness meditation. And I could say that mindfulness if you really give yourself to the meditation That, you might discover that if that in the meditation, you can begin letting go of the edge and beginning to explore the more deeply more of these issues, what's really going on down there underneath there and go through the layers. And it's really worthwhile to go through the layers. It's possible to eventually put it all down and you'll be safe.
So great, thank you everyone. So I hope that my little attempt at a fireside chat was was nice for you all and and thank you