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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 53 (leFt—rigHt):CHriStiNealiCiNo,BeliNDaBlUeBell,NgakPaiNterNatioNal,SamDiePHUiS meditation and wisdom and hardly ever mentioned the ethical side. When asked about it, he said, “Well, I can tell people here don’t want to hear about rules.” This was before many of the scandals and crises that happened on the Buddhist spiritual front. He was very impressed by the commitment of Western students to meditation practice. At a ten-day retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, he said, “I couldn’t get my monks to sit this still. My nuns and monks could never be this quiet for ten days.” He saw that these stu- dents really wanted to practice and awaken, and he believed that as they recalled past behavior that was harmful, selfish, dishonest, or cruel, they would realize that having such acts weighing on their heart was obstructing their samadhi. And so they would come to the development of ethics through their own experience and motivation rather than being told Thou Shalt Nots by the authority. I think that learning-for-yourself principle is very much at the heart of Buddhist training. NOAh LEVINE: Because human beings are wired for greed, hatred, and delusion, putting a limit on our behaviors through an ethical framework is essential. That said, rather than taking on ethics as a religious practice, Siddhartha Gautama paid extremely close attention to the cause of suffering. And through a deep personal investigation of these causes, he found renunciation—giving up clinging, selfishness, and any form of violence or dishonesty—to be the solution. I do feel that mindfulness, if deeply investigated and applied, will lead to a deep commitment to kindness, equality, and altruism. At the same time, I’m aware of how many Buddhist practitioners, PEMA KhANDRO: In the Dzogchen, or Great Perfec- tion, teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, reality itself is innately ethical, so it would be impossible to inves- tigate mind or practice without encountering the intrinsic ethics that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called “the basic goodness of existence.” While we often talk about developing ethics or creating an ethical sensibility, the idea here is that ethics is actu- ally a self-existent matter of reality. The Tibetan word tukje, which means “the ruler of the mind,” is translated as compassion. It’s believed that tukje is built into the fabric of reality, and so to understand reality, we must attune with this innate responsive- ness and compassion. It is important to realize that the ideas of developing an ethical sensibility versus ethics being inherent to the fabric of reality are not necessarily contradictory, because as we develop compassion and practice it more conscientiously, the practice puts us in touch with the basic kindness that is actually our true nature, our buddhanature. AJAhN AMARO: In the Theravada teachings, it is said that one who is enlightened doesn’t have to make any effort whatsoever to live a virtuous life. There’s an interesting comment by the Buddha that an arahant is incapable of taking life and can- not deliberately tell a lie. When in touch with the goodness of the pure heart, the tongue can’t form a lie and the hand can’t reach to take something that doesn’t belong. The Pali equivalent for tukje is gunadhamma, the quality of goodness itself. When we talk about sila or ethics, we often think in terms of rules that people are keeping or not keeping, but the internal aspect is this quality of gunadhamma, or what I tend to call the love of the good. So attunement with your heart, which loves good- ness, which delights in honesty and in harmonious, respectful relations between others, manifests as wholesome behavior because it’s our inner nature to do so. Prior to that point, keeping the precepts or adopting them in a formal way is supporting a prin- ciple that’s trying to awaken. When my teacher Ajahn Chah came to the West in the seventies, the classical mode for teaching the path in Thailand was that precepts come first; ethics is the foundation that helps support the concentra- tion of samadhi, which leads to wisdom. People noticed when Ajahn Chah was teaching in Britain and the United States that he focused mostly on The practice should lead to a connection with morality, but we see sometimes that it doesn’t. It makes me wonder if people are paying attention in the correct way. —Noah Levine