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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 57 Buddhist teachings out of a longing for freedom, and there’s a sense of ethics being seen as a limita- tion or a boundary. People think, “I don’t want another boundary. I don’t want something to define or limit me.” I feel there’s a misunderstand- ing of how this element of structure at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings actually supports the urge toward freedom. PEMA KhANDRO: I think there are several things we could emphasize to make ethics a compelling topic. One we’ve already been talking about, which is eth- ics as a vehicle for social reform. We’ve seen unprec- edented change in the participation of women at all levels across Buddhist traditions, and there is much more we can do. Whether we have been participat- ing in that dialogue or not, there is a call for all of us to question Buddhist teachings around gender roles. The practice of ethics does offer the freedom from fear that Ajahn discussed; that shows up in the Vajrayana vows as well. We are called to give four types of generosity: material generosity, the generos- ity of giving the dharma, the generosity of giving love, and giving fearlessness. There is a lot of anxi- ety and uncertainty in our culture, between the indi- vidual and a pluralistic society. It leaves so many people asking, “What code do I live by?” Ethical conversations can offer psychological comfort and clarity—they can give way to the confidence that arises from knowing what we stand for and why. I also think an unappreciated part of ethics in Buddhism is the diversity of its history. Indian Buddhist tantra in the sixth to eighth centuries is incredibly transgressive, and we see Tibetans deal- ing with the inheritance of that, debating the ques- tion of whether we are innately ethical or if there need to be stronger social rules in place to restrain practitioners of Buddhist tantra. When we can see these diverse perspectives in Buddhist history, it creates the basis for us to work out our own ques- tions and doubts and come up with our own critical perspectives. BuDDhADhARMA: We find ourselves at an interest- ing moment in history, with a lot of Buddhists expressing enthusiasm for political involvement or social activism, many for the first time. We began this conversation talking about the precepts and the noble eightfold path. How do those ethical teach- ings serve as a support for someone who wants to engage with the world and effect change? AJAhN AMARO: If, in your actions, you are in tune with respect for all beings, if there’s a quality of honesty and commitment to nonviolence, then what cause you take part in or what party you support or how you support it are secondary issues. The partic- ular skillful means will arise from that. I spend a lot of time disabusing people of the notion that being peaceful means being passive. Oftentimes people misinterpret being kind or practicing right speech as meaning not saying anything or keeping your head down. That’s not the case—you can shout right speech. You can make noise, you can act up based on dhamma. BuDDhADhARMA: Rev. angel, what do you say to that person who is looking to Buddhist ethics as a guide for how to make a difference? ANGEL KyODO WILLIAMS: I’m for engaging, but I’m also for a willingness on the Buddhist—and I like to say the buddhish—community’s part to cut through this obsession with asking how we do things “the Bud- dhist way.” Some teachings are not incisive enough to cut through all of the challenges that we face. There are other means by which to address our societal problems, including training in antiracism and anti-patriarchy. Understanding the history of It’s not enough to look at the practice and teachings on ethics without examining our larger context, which includes patriarchy, racism, and discrimination. —Rev. angel Kyodo williams