An Ethical Life

Many people come to meditation and Buddhadharma to find more peace of mind and to enliven the heart. We are not always aware of what gets in the way, but for many, there is a sense of a chronic disturbance. Maybe we are not living the life we had hoped for, or things have not turned out the way we thought they would.

We often talk about suffering, which comes in myriad forms. Some are quite dramatic and some are just an underlying sense of foreboding or discontent. When we have done something that doesn’t agree with our inner sense of okay-ness or our inner guidelines, there can be that foreboding sense of dis-ease. We might feel it in our gut or some free-floating anxiety, irritability or low mood. If we pay attention, we know something doesn’t feel right and is out of alignment.

Ethics has gotten a bad rap in the West. Usually, the association starts with “thou shalt not…” and then some dictum. We often associate ethics with feelings of guilt and fear of punishment. But perhaps instead we might think of ethics as guidelines or principles. They might serve as a guide for not doing harm, for not taking what is not ours, being wise and kind with our speech, intoxicants and sexuality.

What if we all followed just one guideline of not harming – not killing or wounding others? How would the world be a different place? What if we all followed the guideline of not using destructive, accusatory or otherwise derisive speech? What would be happening politically in the here and now if that guideline were followed? Would there be so much enmity? Anger, rage?

Agreed upon guidelines or principles of behavior help to make us feel safer in the world, with ourselves and each other. In our daily lives we can make it a practice to reflect on the ethics of our behavior and forgive ourselves and others when we are seduced by greed, aversion or delusion. We can begin to cultivate reverence for all forms of life and see how interconnected we all are. The pandemic, for all its tragic suffering and controversy, has taught us that we influence profoundly each other’s welfare all the time, that we are in fact interdependent and that we always have the potential to bring harm or kindness to each other’s lives.

The core ethical code of Buddhism is known as the five precepts. They are not rules or commandments but principles that are undertaken freely and put into practice with kindness, forgiveness, wisdom and sensitivity. They advocate the practice of non-harming, not taking what is not freely given, engaging in honest and kind speech, non-harming with our sexuality and not using intoxicants to the extent that they cause carelessness.

Being “a lamp unto ourselves,” I invite you to feel less distressed in your life, to think and act wisely and with compassion for ourselves and each other. Trusting what you already know innately from your heart-mind – how to care well for all beings and live together more harmoniously.

 

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