2020-01-19: Virtuous Behavior
2:24PM Jun 21, 2020
So for those of you who are new here, maybe the first time we do have is hearing system devices on the counter in the outer Hall. Because, you know, even with the speaker system, I have such a low voice, I keep my voice low and if I'm going to say something very profound I'll say I'll say it with a very soft voice. So I apologize for that. So welcome to IMC and thank you for being here and I don't take it for granted the opportunity to sit in community and meditate together. I certainly appreciate it to value that opportunity. And, and maybe I'm feeling that particularly because of the topic for today. I'm going to talk about what in Pali is called sila Si la, and often translated into English as ethics or virtue. And it's the middle part of the Eightfold Path. So, two Sundays ago I talked about the Four Noble Truths. And the fourth noble truth is a truth of the way to the cessation to the ending of suffering. And that's specified as being an a set of eight practices. And these eight practices sometimes said to encompass Buddhist practice, all the all forms of Buddhist practice somehow are held within these set of eight. And it's a big list, you know, eight things. But, you know, if you are in this for long term, it's relatively easy to learn. And it's a really good list to have in mind because if you go through your life, different circumstances, different ones of these eightfold paths, aspects are relevant and come into play. And so it's a way of, hopefully, having the Dharma that Practice of Buddhism be integrated into your life or have your life integrated into this practice. And so last week I talked about five of them. I talked about the first two which is right view and right attitude. And I talked about the last three, right effort or right the endeavor I called it, right endeavoring, and right mindfulness and right concentration. And I think I said one sentence on right mindfulness. But, and, and those two sets, the first two are called have to do with wisdom, the wisdom factors. And the last three have to do with a meditation practice or cultivating, developing the mind what you do with your mind. And then in between those has to do with your action, what you do, how you live your life in the world, and that sila and that's it. Said often called ethics, probably the in how its utilized in the teachings of the Buddha. Probably the best translation into English, which is currently being used by Bhikkhu Bodhi, the great translator of our texts, he translated as virtuous behavior. Because the idea of ethics can suggest the idea of something abstract principles that you're supposed to kind of learn or live by. And the idea of virtue suggests that you're supposed to have these wonderful, sweet, inspiring qualities inside, which is nice if you had but the the when you say virtuous behavior, you're specifying behavior, behavior counts, behaviors, important how you live your life and what you do. And so these middle factors of the Eightfold Path have to do specifically with behavior. So the first two have to do with understanding the left three have to do with how you cultivate your mind But then living your life is very important. And so that's what the topic is today is, is virtuous behavior. And as a further introduction to this topic, I want to first point out that generally virtuous behavior, ethical behavior has to do with our relationship with what's outside of us. Most predominantly with other people, sometimes other living beings, sometimes the planet itself, that we haven't being in relationship to something. And it's easy if we've emphasized meditation too much to get the idea that it may be this Buddhist practice is all about, you know, withdrawing from a relationship. It's not being in relationship, it's being caught somehow independent and free and disconnected. But actually, it's the opposite is true, that the
Dharma practice is a practice. If you do it well leads to a growth and connectedness and, and a deeper sense of being connected to others and the value of that relationship between others in oneself self and others, and caring for that being caretakers for that and for ourselves and for the welfare of others. And, and the idea of ethics so this sila virtuous behavior, it's sometimes listed as the first of the three trainings. So this is a turning around of the Eightfold Path, which prioritize ethics as being the first virtuous behavior being first. And, and then there's a meditation and then there's wisdom and wisdom, and then it's given the pride of place as being at the top, the best, the highest. And so, some reasonable people maybe would think well I'm not going to bother with this ethics stuff, I'm just going to go right to the wisdom. And that's what I want. Because, you know, I want the real stuff, the important stuff. And, you know, since the firt, the first training is in ethics, that's kind of kindergarten Buddhism. And, you know, and you know, and I, you know, I don't really care about that, or I'm basically the ethical person and that's for other people. And I just want to relate that get their real stuff, meditation, insight and enlightenment, and, you know, and so I just gonna, you know, just go from my own enlightenment and just, you know, these are these people are just in the way is so so. And it's actually the opposite. That the whole path of practice is so deeply integrated with our relationship to the world, that there is no kind of pulling ourselves completely independently aloof Lee away from the world that The wiser we become the deeper we practice, the more we cultivate the mind, the more that's actually integrated integral to how we behave in the world. And the to go hand in hand, there's, there's no separation between the two. And if you have some doubts about this, there's a wonderful quote from the Buddha. I quoted a lot because it's one of my favorite quotes these days, where he defines a wise person. So for those of you who want to become wise and quickly and and want to kind of just like, you know, put aside this, you know, this, you know, lower stuff that's, you know, ethics and hope he doesn't talk about the precepts. And then there were duck back in nursery school. The and the, so the quote goes, a wise person, a person of great wisdom is someone who considers the welfare of themselves selves, the welfare of others, the welfare of self and others, and the welfare of the whole world. And someone who's concerned with the welfare of all this, all living beings, including oneself, is living in relationship to other people is concerned about what's going on there with others, considering them aware of them attentive to them. And in this the IBF considering their welfare, it doesn't just mean that you're sitting in an ivory tower thinking about you know, it'd be good idea to if someone helped them. But rather it's you know, it's really having a loving heartfelt concern and connection and perhaps actions in the world to support other people. And so if they go the Buddha's mister become wise person, a person of great wisdom. In a sense, it begins with developing your ethical behavior, and it ends with ethical behavior. involves ethical behavior all along in between, that the idea of ethical behavior, how you behave in the world is completely integral to the whole path of Buddhism. It's not Elementary, it's not nursery school. It's not. It's actually the beginning, middle and end is to be concerned and interested in this, this topic. So, so this and you know, it doesn't take much reflection to consider how much we are social beings, how much we belong to others, they belong to us work so deeply connected. And I think I don't know if it's a product or a result of modern society. So sometimes even urban society has been more were more packed in people are the easier it is to feel alone or disconnected and modern forces sometimes keeps people from being connected in deep way and
And, and, and so, you know, I think our society could do a lot more and creating vehicles for people to feel more sense of belonging and connection. But you know, we have it, it's, it's very deep. It's, you know, in our, in our DNA in a sense. I was reflecting on this for a number of reasons lately. And it's kind of seen symbolically that,
you know, we were, when we are in just station, there's a human being who are really close to where do we belong, you know, being cared for and attended everything, all our needs comes from our mothers. And then, when we when we come out of our mother, genuinely, it's someone's hands who catches us, takes us hold us. And, you know, we met this we come into this world with hands, carrying hands. I think it's a fantastically symbolic thing that there were come into this world someone's carrying hands. And, and I remember with a doctor, he took my son and pretty quickly kind of handed him to me. And I remember was like to hold him in my hands first time, this idea of you know, and then, you know, we raised them and, and there was a lot of, you know, he hadn't, you know, he depended on us you know, those first days you know, 100% 120% you know, dependent completely on everything we do and, and then there was a slow slow process of you know, of him growing up and then he started to wean his parents of him You know, and I don't know, I don't know, who was, you know, ahead of the other. And not thinking about this little bit because last week he turned 22. And for me personally, that was a significant age, more significant than 21 or 18 or something. And, but I remember so well, you know, the hospital and the birth and I was like, holding him first time in my hands. And then I was on Friday, I spent some time with a with a man who had died. And, and I stood for a little while, you know, by him and put my hands on this, kind of in his temples and just held him and we did a little closest thing to what Buddhism has, like a prayer. We did a song so sir, there's kind of saying that or chanted the verses of loving kindness for this person, the person family and everyone. And you know, I thought about this person, you know, that you know, it was also born parents and belong to some mind cared for them and probably had family members and had life experiences and had been a child and a teenager and a young adult and dealing with all this challenges and maybe some of the joys of life and, and a big part of that has to do with the community you're in or the community you're not in some people the idea of connection is very, very painful, not having it still represents how important it is. And symbolically in the Buddhist tradition, this is I think of it as represented by the idea that when they say that when the Buddha was born any kind of a cosmic scale, you know that the mythic scale, that when the Buddha was born, his mother was standing so he so he came out and then He didn't touch the ground because the gods came with their hands to hold him up. And when he died, the gods came and, and also were there attending to him. And, and then when it was time after he to cremate the Buddha, the the pyre wouldn't burn. So the myth goes, and so no know what to do. They were trying to light it and wouldn't burn. And but then he's one of his main disciples, who had been away at the time finally made it to the cremation. And he unwrapped part of the shroud that was holding the Buddha from his feet, so to speak, to where it exposed, and then he touched the feet. And then the fire lit spontaneously. Because it's because it's a myth, right? It's a symbolic of something very important. So this idea of you know that you're born in the hands, something holds you and then you die. You know, many people die with touch and someone touching them perhaps or with them and I've been with people who died and and you know, I can't think of one of them if there wasn't someone touching them while they died. And the interest imagine you know that nowadays we feel we have all this.
Here we have wonderful, wonderful, wonderful artificial intelligence and robotics and a lot of things whenever you want to make them efficient and cheaper and it will be great because what it will do is, it will have automated hospice and they will just have these little systems of you know, conveyor belts that will put our dying people on and and they'll sensors, they will understand all their needs. And we have wonderful robotics. It's amazing what the robots can do with their hands that come down and, and they will take care of every possible need. And you know, as they're going through their dying process, they the rope, the conveyor belts you'd like like at Amazon, you know, they go, you know that there's a fork out and people have certain conditions on the left, and those go to the right and the robots come to take care of them. And they all their needs are taken care of, they'll be comfortable as can be, and it'll be great. And then they'll die. And then robots will take the robots to disk, and then they do the next thing and the care rail belt, conveyor belt goes the other direction, whatever. That would be horrible. Right there, the human touch the human contact, the human presence, you know, it's such an important part of human life and belonging and being connected. And so this idea that the Eightfold Path, that the center of the middle three has to do with our relationship and, and rectifying that caring for it, being careful with it, practicing with it. It's part of the Buddhist practice as part of the way to how we become wise. How we become liberated, is to care for our ethical behavior, be attentive to it, reflect on it. And I would say that our modern society is ethically complex and confusing. The interconnect levels of interconnectedness that's a spreads out from us is more complex in this kind of modern world, and they probably have ever been in human history. And the you know, what we do here in California is directly related to what's going on and sometimes very obscure places around the globe in a way that it wouldn't have been the case hundreds of years ago or thousands of years ago. And, and even with our society, that complex ways in which we relate to each other In the government and caring for each other, not caring for itself and immigrants who are coming here and how they're treated and you know how we treat people have different economics or status, how we treat people of different races and ethnicity and how we learn to live together. It's a complex world of how to do this in this modern world and and they say in Buddhism, that is part of it, I must admit wonderful myths symbolic that each person chooses where they get born. They say that before you know before you got born, you were kind of like a disembodied kind of thing getting great born, and you looked around for your parents. And so those are the two in the zip right down and, and the release of stork brought brought you or something and, and so let's buy this idea simple. You know, this idea that Buddhism has actually there's a choice involved in where we get born. So guess where you got born? Or where you ended up? You know, you got born in such a way that you came here. And this is where you are, this is your society, this is the complex world you're in. And so how do you participate in it? How do you engage in it and, and so to think, ethically, to be concerned with behavior and impact of our behavior, in this world, is, is not just seeing what's in front of you and the person in front of you. But it's, you know, things that ripple out that are part of the unseen world unseen, because it's so complex. So to be to care for that, but to care for it. This is the interesting part of it. And I think where it gets, I think, really, you know, really alive and interesting for a Buddhist to care for our relationship to care for the people around us to be concerned for their welfare, to want to avoid causing harm. to not do it because it's a moral obligation to not do it because, you know, we have this huge responsibility as a burden, thou shalt do this. But to do it because you're inspired, that it's really for your own welfare. It's really a way for you to discover how to be lighter, how to be clear how to be cleaner, how to be wiser how to grow and develop, and you know, repeating myself, how to discover greater freedom.
And if you're discovering greater freedom, personal freedom, freedom, psychological spiritual freedom, as you do these practices around ethics, then it's not a burden then you see Oh, this is a good thing. Of course I don't want to close down for me, I just I was had no interest in no interest in ethics growing up it wasn't a concept in my mind. I was you know, questioning, ever thought about it particularly and No interest. And in it at all, in fact, if someone asked me or I thought about it, I probably felt probably had a little bit of, of a stay under this taste of the right word, but I kind of maybe looked down on people who were into ethical. You know, it's like, you know, somehow they were, I don't know what to puritanical or something. And it was very unformatted in my mind was that far away this whole thing. And fortunately, my imagination was very small, what I could do so I really didn't do anything unethical. But that was just the coincidence of maybe a poor imagination. And, but that really came alive. For me the idea of this ethics and being interested in the precepts of Buddhism has when I sat my first long Ridge longest record, I'd sat up to that point in Thailand, and I sat for 10 weeks and And to my surprise, sitting and meditating for that long, I got still like a concentrated, quite open, very sensitive, and a lot of my usual chatter and preoccupations and concerns, kind of fell away for a period of time. And in that radical, beautiful simplicity of being, I felt in the language of my, my body, the only words I could put on it at the time. It was a visceral, embodied feeling was a feeling of inner purity. And the sense of inner purity of cleansing cleanliness was something that was so new to me. It was it was like, coursing through me like my bones and my veins are like a field or a vibration of purity or it was, you know, it's kind of clarity. It's kind of like I'd been dirty and I took a really nice shower and I felt so clean afterwards. But it was all on the inside was my heart and my torso and my inside and the way that you ever had before experienced. And and that was nice that was kind of blown away by this feeling. And then I noticed that if I had any, any any motivations or thoughts that were kind of unwholesome, that I felt that that inner sense of purity got contracted, got darkened, it got kind of lost kind of felt like a little bit of a, actually a violence towards it. And so now the idea of being ethical was not an obligation or responsibility or duty or something heavy to do. It was actually the opposite. The heaviness came from picking up these unwholesome tendencies being angry or lustful, or something like that. That's where the burden was. Keeping that sense of inner purity, that's where the likeness was. That's where the joy was, that's where the freedom was. So So rather than taking ethics as a bird, Or like a, you know, now you're a bad person and you have to kind of do this. I would propose it for Buddhism. It's absolutely opposite of that, that we engage in this, because we have some sense of the freedom that comes from how we're better which life is better. You know, so and I know I'm an old guy now, but so when I was a kid, we had this common commercial on TV. And it said, blondes have more fun. And Arjun Amro this Buddhist monk, he wrote an article that said, titled voice, monks have more fun. So he probably knew that commercial too. And but it ethical people have more fun. I mean, that's the idea. That should be the principle. I know. It's hard to always do see the theory that way. But that's the show. That's the inspiration. So, so this these three middle parts of the Eightfold Path are running speech, right action and right livelihood. And so it begins with right speech. And I think that's kind of fascinating to consider that I don't really know why the Buddha chose that to list that first. But I like to kind of interpret it to mean that speech maybe is more important than action, maybe more harm gets done in the world through speech, speech, maybe is the foundation for many other things.
People who end up doing harm in the world, sometimes the harm began because of how people were speaking to each other. That speech is a kind of a binder, you know, once the, once these kids grow up, and they're, you know, and they're, you know, they know their diapers, no longer needs to be changed and no longer feeding them. The you know, at some point the vehicle for relationship is speech. We talk to each other and as important communication. So right speech How do we talk in such a way? That we're caring for everyone, for yourself and other people? How do we talk in such a way that the speech that actually we do, do not sever connections, but enhances connections? It's so easy to speak in ways that cuts the connection, even if people we love and care for, you know, we can we can say no, or we can say, we can see it's kind of like say, say something and then we change the subject or, or we say, you know, are we? So it's not like that. No, it's not like that. Let me tell you, is all kinds of ways in which, in subtle ways, maybe even we don't even notice is it? The actual movement of conversation is separation is not not coming closer, but actually being pulled apart. And so how can we speak in such a way that we avoid the severing of connection, the distancing and how can we talk away that we enhance the connection and come Closer. And just that question is enough, you can go home now, if you carry that with you as a regular, ongoing question and reflection, and you start using the mindfulness to see how this works, to see how the speech acts that you're involved in, the impact it has in that conversation and your relationship, the other people, you come closer to go further away. And both with people you're close to but also strangers. What happens when you say sometimes it's more clear with strangers, you know, if sometimes, strangers have come up to me or something, and, and I've said something and reply, and I walk away and I realize, wait, there was absolutely no connection. You know, you know, where's, where's the train station? point. You know, and I hit off, you know, maybe I'm in a hurry. And, you know, I did what they needed, help them out and They knew where the train station is and, and so so I mean, I can pat myself on the shoulder, I did a good deed. However, there was no connection formed, you know to stop. Oh, you're looking for the train station. Yeah, I can tell you just right down there. But that's all you know that's that's how long it needs to take to make a connection. But then you're really there with them you stopped and you've taken the administer human being they feel seen and recognized and known as if you know, you're delighted to see them or appreciate them. It can be that they're that that simple this thing about, you know, making a connection as opposed to not making it. And so, but to really get down to what's really important, the right speech. The third part of the Eightfold Path has a number of criteria that they're reflected on. One is to speak in ways That are honest, to speak the truth. The other is to speak. What is not harsh, to avoid harsh speech to speak in kind ways and gentle ways to speak, don't don't so harsh is one thing to separate and that is cruel, don't speak in cool ways, speaking, compassionate ways and caring ways. There's also this idea of not that there's, this is a little bit perplexing because we don't really know what the Pali word really means ancient language. It's usually translated as idle speech. And, but some idle speech connects in a good way with people and makes connection so it can't just be all idle speech. But maybe it's trivial conversation that makes no living valuable human connection to someone else. Maybe that's what it means just kind of feel They ain't feeling the time and just chatting about silly things in a way that actually just doesn't help. There is. So there's so these, you know, to be careful for a relationship or speech. And then it's a training. So it means you're not expected to be do it well yet.
And this, I think, is empowering and relieving, to relieving because you don't have to hold yourself up to as high standards, you're already supposed to be there. It's a training. And, and so as a training, you have to be interested in doing the training. So where is the opportunity to train and right speech? Well, if you go downtown, if someone asks you where the train station is, that's your opportunity. If you go to the supermarket, and there's the checkout clerk, and the clerk says something to you, that's your opportunity to practice there and see how does that work? And, and so you know, actually anytime you're speaking with someone, it's it's a, it's a training ground. Some people I've heard some people say, you know, I really want to go and retreat or some people say no can go on retreats but I can't go into work I'm that can't do this and I really as you go from being a monastic for a while and go off to Asia and practice for a year and come back and you'll be happy ever after and all kinds of things, and I can't. But then your monastery is how you speak to people. It's right there waiting for you. You don't have to go off on retreat. You're not to go off to monasteries. If you take every speech act you have as your monastery, that's your retreat. You know, how you practice how you do it. There's opportunities right there. You're speaking anyway, if you are and so take it on, be sensitive, be aware. So here's a very interesting So I gave you one question to reflect on when you do speech and that is, it does a speaks B checks connect to or separate that connection. Here's another interesting question to carry with you as your speech speak. Why are you going to say what you're about to say? So ideally, you do it beforehand. But it is useful to ask afterwards. Why did I say that? It's also useful. But why? Why? Why did I Why am I going to say what I'm about to say? But don't settle? Don't settle for the first answer. Why am I going to why am I going about to say when I'm going to say, oh, because they asked me directions to the train station. You know, I didn't get very deep there. That's obvious. That's just kind of like brushing off the question. Why am I Why am I telling them the answer? Because they asked, no, no, why am I hope because I care about them. Or I want to show off that I know the way There are some countries in the world I've traveled and which I after a while, I learned that no one would ever tell you they didn't know the way. They always point. But it might be a completely the wrong way. So I learned you have to ask a few people, because no one will ever say, say, you know, they don't know. So sometimes we speak in order to show off, you know something or show them how great I'm the great in a direction giver. But you know, it takes a little bit work to get underneath our surface of our minds. What are you really saying this What's going on? What are you really trying to do here? And keep reflecting and looking you'll learn a lot about yourself. If you keep asking why do you say what you say what's underneath it? what you're trying to do? And also don't settle for one thing? Because we can have multiple intentions multiple purposes in our speech. And if you settle for the first answer you know, you're missing In a great opportunity to start seeing yourself deeper and deeper. So then the The fourth step of the Eightfold Path is right action. And this is specified as being three forms of action, the action of not killing people, the action of not stealing from people and the action of not engaging in sexual misconduct, that harming people through our sexuality. And, and these are all negative statements, it's what we refrain from. And for some people, refraining is not a popular thing to do. And it's not very inspiring. But if we just consider a little bit, how much harm and how much social disruption happens through those three things killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexual, you know harm. It's monumental what happens in our society and God be the world and we would live in a radically different place.
And, and we would contribute to a radically different world, if we were careful, really careful in these three areas, probably here in this room. But certainly in our society wide, there are people who did not have we're not kept safe from those things. And it became lifetime impacts on their on who they are and shaped themselves and how they see themselves understand the world in ways that you know, sometimes its lifetime that healing from what happened to them. And so to offer a world where this is, when we care for this, and we're we people know or care for it, and this is a value to make a world that safe is a beautiful thing. And for in terms of your own heart, you harm your own heart. If you do those things, you close things down, you contract. And so this movement towards freedom to being lighter and more open is supported dramatically. By really a lot of care with these, this area, and for most people here, it's not like you're going out to, you know, Sunday afternoon killing spree. But does your life indirectly impact the death of others the death of animals, the death of species that this world has? Are you are you really living a harmless life or just there's a ripple out from you into all these different areas that this world where so much as dying these days. And then the final of the three ethical parts of a footpath is called right livelihood. And, you know, I don't think they had it livelihoods in the time of the Buddha like we have here like, you know, like, let's go to school and get a career vocational school and be get a career and this is my career. And I think it really and also, a lot of this was related to people who were renunciant renunciant Had this thing called the Jeeva livelihood. I think it meant a way of life. So live a way of life. But a way of life back in ancient India was intimately for laypeople. People who were in our pronunciations was intimately related to the work they did. That's how they survived. It wasn't like, you know, optional thing. But it has to do more how you live your life, the way of life. And so includes work for sure. But it also includes people who are no longer working and includes in retirement, for example, the way of life you have then if or before you work, you don't have a life and kids don't have livelihoods but they can have a right Jeeva like this right way of living. And so to live a life with your your way of living in the world, is you go through the world, trying to avoid harm, to not harm others, not harm others through the work you do not harm others Do what you can how you consume your consumptions you have and not harm others through your recreational choices, not harm others and just how you go through the world. To walk through the world with a light touch, light foot, you know the bunny footsteps, footprints or leave the world a better place than you found it when you when someone received you in their hands. So this is the middle part of the Eightfold Path and central to the Buddha Dharma. And it's not Elementary. It's our say this different differently. When it's elementary for you, it's Elementary, when it's meaty, middle level practices, middle length practice. And when your advanced practitioner whatever that is, it's an ethics is advanced practice. And there's ethics every step along the way. From the first contact with the practice and doing it all the way up to full awakening, it's an ethical path. It's a path to an ethical transformation. It's a path to living a virtuous, good, helpful life for this world that we live in. It's intimate, intimately integral part of the Buddha Dharma to do this. And, and if you want to be come free of suffering, to have this liberation that the Four Noble Truths are about the Eightfold Path is the way and at the heart of the Eightfold Path is these three steps of virtuous behavior. Thank you