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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
55 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly ordained by the divine: You must behave in these ways and if you don’t you’ll burn in hell for it. Ethics in Buddhism is more about discovering how to live in accord with who we really are, as Palden so beautifully expressed. I think it’s wise for Andrew to choose the word “integrity.” It’s in the terri- tory but it doesn’t bring with it all the fire and brimstone that “ethics” and “morality” do in our culture. aNdrew oleNdzki: It carries more the sense of being something organic that expresses the quality of your mind. “Morality” is coming from outside; “virtue” is something you aspire to, and “ethics” is a big umbrel la society puts over you. One of the core insights of Buddhism on this whole matter is that sila, how you act, is an expression of your understanding. NormaN Fischer: Instead of ethics as a set of rules imposed from the outside, sila is understood as how a buddha would conduct herself or himself spontaneously. aNdrew oleNdzki: Yes, and in terms of our training, it’s not simply a matter of “If you do this, you will become that.” Rather, “As you become that, this is what you do.” lama PaldeN: It’s a sense of alignment with deeper principles of truth and reality and with our fundamental nature, which is basic goodness. In the traditions that most of us in the West grew up in, there is usually the sense that there is some problem at the core of who we are. Buddhadharma: Buddhism’s flowering in the West coincided with a flight from rules and convention, yet sila often ends up being expressed in rules, such as the precepts and the Vinaya. If you have a complete flight from rules, don’t you risk leaving something essential out of the tradition? How do we relate to the traditional rules and vows that guided our forebears in the Buddhist traditions? NormaN Fischer: We do need rules and precepts, but what we’re emphasizing here is the spirit behind those rules. If the spirit behind the rules is to align oneself with your true nature, then the rules are understood, administered, and held in a very different way. I was invited to address the ethics panel at Kai- ser Medical Center where they’re concerned about issues sur- rounding organ donation, when to turn off the respirator, and related questions. And I will share with them the viewpoint we’ve been talking about. From a Western perspective, you have principles and rules that must be adhered to as absolutes. It’s a very different matter when you have rules held as guide- lines for awakened conduct, where awakening, kindness, and cooperative living are the watchwords. You don’t have fixed principles so much, so you don’t debate over when does life start and end. Those debates are less important than finding out what is the kindest thing here, what will bring the most benefit to everybody. aNdrew oleNdzki: Rules in the context of sila also afford ref- uge. The laws of cause and effect mean that the harm you do is going to not only hurt the people around you but come back dUAl-pUrpose precepts observing the precepts, says Bhikkhu Bodhi, is not just about abstaining. it also involves cultivating positive, wholesome actions. THE PATH IS STRUCTURED in such a way that it proceeds not suddenly, not abruptly, but in a gradual step-by-step manner to help us climb the ladder to the ultimate freedom of enlighten- ment. One has to begin by keeping the coarser expression of the defilements under control. One does this by observing the precepts. One observes the five precepts or the eight precepts. These control the coarser expressions of the defilements, the defilements that erupt in the form of unwholesome actions. Observing the precepts is not merely a matter of abstaining from negative actions. One also has to cultivate their counter- parts: virtuous, wholesome actions. These suffuse the mind with pure and purifying qualities. One has to be compassionate and kindly towards others, to be honest in one’s dealings with oth- ers, to be constantly truthful in one’s communications, to be responsible to one’s family and society, to observe right liveli- hood, to be diligent, to be respectful of others, to be patient under difficult conditions, to be humble and upright. All these virtues gradually help to purify the mind and make the mind bright, clean, and radiant. From the Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter, No. 55 and hurt you. Even if you feel disinclined to obey them, having a set of rules that you sign on to gives you a kind of protection from yourself, as well as a protection for everyone else. It’s a gift of harmlessness that you give the people around you. See- ing sila as a refuge and a gift takes some of the edginess out of the “you must obey the rules or else” point of view. lama PaldeN: The core of Buddhist ethics is the motivation to not cause harm to any living being and to be of benefit to others. Buddhadharma: Even when people understand rules as a means of protection, they wonder how much the ones we’ve inherited from Asia are rooted in those cultures. How can we adapt these rules and let them evolve? aNdrew oleNdzki: The Buddha emphasized intention as the driving force of karma. What you do is less important than the intention behind how you do it. That universal guideline is not bound to cultural vicissitudes. There’s a certain timeless quality around working from intention rather than on the basis of a specific set of actions. lama PaldeN: The understanding of interconnectedness that is at the heart of the dharma, and the practice of equanimity (portrAitsleFt—right)©christinealicino,unknoWn,unknoWn