2020-06-16: The Ethical Heart (2 of 5) For the Welfare of Others
2:57PM Jun 16, 2020
So today I'll continue this conversation about ethics, Buddhist ethics. I like to think of it as the ethics that comes out of doing our practice, as opposed to the ethics that comes out of Buddhist texts, though I'll certainly refer to them today Buddhist texts.
And the first one now I'll refer to, which I find quite inspiring, and or in more important than inspiring, instructive is the Buddha talks about ... defines a wise person in a particular way. And it's interesting to see the difference between wisdom and how that's talked about, and the description of a wise person. Because really, it's the person we're trying to transform in Buddhism. To be a different kind of person, not just to know abstract wisdom, or something that's out there in a sense or just to have knowledge. To really become changed. And, to be a wise person of great wisdom, the Buddha said such a person is concerned with the welfare of themselves, the welfare of others, the welfare of self and others, and the welfare of the whole world. And in terms of ethics, to be concerned for the welfare of the whole world, and welfare of others, and includes oneself, is an ethical possibility, potential that we have. And to be a wise person, that's the whole direction in which we're moving in Buddhism is to become a wise person. And it's not, again, not book learning, but rather it's defined by becoming a person who's concerned for the welfare of all beings. That's the goal. And that's points to how I'm emphasizing this week that the path of liberation, and the path of what we call in the West call ethics, are the same thing. That the spiritual maturation in Buddhism is the same as ethical maturation. And it's just that they don't have that language of in the ancient world of ethics, like we have that word in English. So we don't find you know, that word there in some clear way saying that, but definitely that's the way the texts are going.
Interesting, the Buddha also said that someone who's spiritually mature not only lives by the precepts, lives in that kind of ethical way, but also encourages others to live that way. And exactly what this means to encourage others to live this way, you know, that's a fascinating topic and in different settings that might look differently. In some settings, it might be to somehow stand up for social justice and where where people are killing each other or harming each other. We would stand up and encourage them not to do that. And that encouragement and maybes acts of civil disobedience could be quite strong and powerful. But that would be an expression of encouraging others not to kill and they wouldn't be done with hostility, but it'll be done with maybe with real strength. A wise person lives by the precepts and encourages others to do it as well. And so becoming a wise person has this ethical component in part and where does that ethics comes from, and it comes from a kind of ethical sensitivity. And that mindfulness itself has an ethical component to it. And that it cultivates the sensitivity to recognize within oneself, what is harmful and what is beneficial. And this ability to really refine one's capacity to understand in ourselves, what is afflicted, what causes affliction, and what causes welfare. That is the primary criteria for understanding what is ethical in the Buddhist tradition.
There is a story of the Buddha teaching his son, that everyone knows that Buddha had a son. And the Buddha went off and about six years to go off in practice and become enlightened, went off to graduate school in a sense, and then came back to his hometown to his family, at which point his son ordained as a seven year old became a novice monk. And then for the rest of the sons growing up, he was under the tutelage of his father. In a sense, the Buddha was the primary parent for much of his son's life. And, but there's a story of the Buddha saying in very strong terms to his son, how important it is not to lie. The text in the middle length discourses, doesn't say what happened. But most people who read it say, well, this is pretty obvious that his child had said a lie. And it was it was caught saying the lie and so the Buddha then, without saying something directly criticizing him specifically, said something more a little bit more removed about lying. He said something like the value of someone who's lives a monastic life, who lies, a monastic who lies, the value of that monastic life is as much as turning a bowl over upside down so all the water runs out. The amount of water is left in the bowl is the worth of monastic life with someone whose lies. That's kind of strong language. And the Buddha goes on to say that if someone who is consciously lies, that person would probably be willing to break all kinds of other precepts as well. It's that important. But what what is even more valuable is what the Buddha said next. He said to a son, When you're going to do something before you do it, while you do it, and after you do it, you should reflect and consider whether what I'm doing or what I did. What I'm going to do is going to cause harm or affliction to others or not. And he used the metaphor of a mirror, he said to his son, do you know what is a mirror for and the son said a mirror is for reflection. And the same way you should look at yourself, you yourself are kind of the mirror for yourself, look at yourself, or the question, you know, is this afflictive or not afflictive is maybe the mirror. To see in oneself. And so it does take this ethical considerations, this mindfulness of looking at what is afflictive and what is not afflictive and learn to recognize that. And is it does it lead to pain and suffering? Or does it lead to happiness for people, for yourself and for others? And when he said does it lead to affliction? He said does it lead to affliction to one oneself? Or does it lead to the affliction to others? Or does it lead to the affliction of both self and others? So, here he's talking to a young child. And he has a same kind of teaching as he does about a wise person, that the concern is in all directions to self and others and self and others. And the criteria is, is it afflictive? And how do we know it's afflictive through our powers of attention, through paying attention to ourselves and we ourselves as a standard, we yourself have the empathy, the reference point for really understanding how others are hurt by us. And the more we can develop ethical sensitivity and feel, how we experience stress, how we experience affliction and pain and harm by our actions or maybe the actions of others that we wake up the capacity to be sensitive to these kinds of issues. And so then we're more careful.
So to make this kind of at the heart of Buddhist ethics means that we are the arbitrator for what is ethical through the criteria of what is causing harm and what is effective or not. It's not an abstract moral code, rules out there that one has to adopt. There's no one in Buddhism outside who, you know, has some kind of abstract moral code. That really is the heart of it all. The heart of it is this capacity to recognize harm and benefit. And to do that is really strengthened by our capacity to be mindful, to be attentive to be here. We will make mistakes, we will do things that are harmful, we will kind of can be very, very subtle, the ways in which we, you know, cause little pieces of stress.
But this attention to what's afflictive and non afflictive, to suffering and happiness. This is, even though it's a teaching to a young child here, I've heard Buddhist teachers emphasize how this little teaching is actually at the very heart of the Buddhist path, and all the way to enlightenment, that this little distinction to see what's afflictive and non afflictive, what causes suffering and what causes happiness. That's the guide and support for the path to liberation. And because it has to do with affliction and pain and suffering, and happiness, it's also in Buddhism, the path to on the path of ethics to becoming ethically mature, the two are one in the same. They're not any distinct from each other.
So it might seem a little simplistic to begin ethics by looking at what's afflictive and what's not, what's suffering and what's happiness. But that's really the reliable criteria, that if we learn to be skilled at recognizing that we find our ways, both personally and socially, in very, very effective ways, and it's phenomenal support. And one of the things that means is that the way that we're ethical also needs to be non afflictive. The way that we hold ourselves in ethical way to it's not going to cause harm, it's actually going to be something which brings happiness and well being. And how do we experiment like we did with breathing today? How do we experiment with the way we behave in the world and how we speak so that we can be resilient and learn from what we do and not be weighed down by things, but be able to kind of come back to ethical way of being or fresh way of being. So that is nourishing and supportive, and that supportive and nourishing in a way that then encourages further ethics. Or if you prefer the ethical approach to life. And if you don't like kind of the idea of the ethical approach to life, it is completely fine for it to be a liberative aspect of life. How do you more conducive to liberation and freedom and wisdom? How can you come back so that is the direction you go, and why I can so confidently say it's fine either one is because they're one in the same. There's no difference.
So one of the primary principles of this early Buddhist ethics has to do with our capacity to be sensitive. To what causes affliction, and what causes welfare, what causes suffering and what brings about happiness. So I'll talk more about this tomorrow and and thank you for being here.