"Do not commit any unwholesome actions,
Accumulate virtuous deeds,
Tame and train your own mind."
ETHICS AND VOWS
Many of us may be hesitant to read about ethics and morality, but according to Buddhism, our lack of self-control is the very thing that leads to our problems. Hopefully, the large amount of rules and vows will not stop you to investigate what they are all about; they should not just be accepted and followed, they must be understood and then you may automatically find yourself living according to them.
The main practice in Buddhism evolves around transformation of one's own mind. The main means to accomplish this is via meditation as one needs to know the 'enemy' inside before one can efficiently subdue it. However, without the causes for positive results in terms of karma, spiritual progress is impossible. For example, you may plan to do a meditation retreat, but you fall sick instead because of some negative karma ripening, and no retreat will happen at all. Hence, the practice of ethics and positive behaviour prevents us from creating negative karma and will enable our spiritual progress.
Ethical behaviour is said to be at the basis of any spiritual path. A life filled with killing, stealing and lying is certainly not very conducive to inner peace and the generation of compassion.
The Buddha explained the 8-Fold Noble Path (correct thought, speech, actions, livelihood, understanding, effort, mindfulness and concentration) as a guideline to proper conduct.
If you desire to achieve Buddhahood in order to help all others, then you can also try the practices of a Bodhisattva: the 6 Perfections ( the perfection of giving, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom).
In other pages of this website more details can be found on the various sets of Buddhist vows (see the pages on Refuge, Sangha, Compassion, Mahayana Precepts and Tantra ). Vows are intended to keep ones' mind focussed on mindfulness of our mental and physical actions. Moreover, keeping to vows creates a large store of positive energy (karma) which allows progress on the spiritual path. For example, if one does not kill without having taken a vow, one simply does not create any karma. However, when one has taken a vow not to kill, one accumulates positive karma 24 hours a day, as long as one does not kill.
The bottom line for all these practices is to control our mind and intentions; to change our behaviour into not harming others, but helping them instead.
"Conquer the angry man by love.
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
Conquer the miser with generosity.
Conquer the liar with truth."
The Buddha (The Dhammapada)
BUT I NEVER DO TERRIBLE THINGS...
"Please don't hurt others...
Please try to work with people and be helpful to them.
A fantastically large number of people need help.
Please try to help them, for goodness sake, for heaven and earth.
Don't just collect Oriental wisdoms one after the other.
Don't just sit on an empty zafu, an empty meditation cushion.
But go out and try to help others, if you can.
That is the main point...
Your help doesn't have to be a big deal.
To begin with, just work with your friends and work with yourself at the same time.
It is about time we became responsible for this world."
Chogyam Trungpa, from "Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala"
Two psychological/sociological experiments
Please take some time to reflect on a famous scientific experiment done in 1963 by Stanley Milgram:
Test persons came after an advertisement: "Join a memory experiment, one hour for 4 dollars". It was explained that the people were the "Master" of the experiment, and the "real" test person was in another room, connected to electroshock equipment. The research was to verify if people learn better when being punished. Whenever the other gave a wrong answer to a question, the Master should push a button to give a shock. To clarify what the other person was undergoing, the Master was given an very unpleasant shock of 45 volts. Every time when the other person would answer wrongly, shock must be given, 15 Volts higher than the previous one, from 15 to 450 Volts. The other person could be heard, and would be screaming and banging the walls at shocks over 300 volts. At the highest voltages, the other could not be heard anymore.
The crux of the experiment: the "other person" in the room next door was an actor, not receiving any shocks at all, the real test persons were the masters giving the shocks and the experiment was about how far they would be prepared to go.
The truly shocking about this experiment was that two-thirds of the test persons would continue (though often sweating and nervous) after some simple assurances from the test leader that they should continue in order to make the test work, until the maximum shock of 450 Volts was given. This means that as much as two-thirds of people are potential torturers who merely need a little encouragement and 4 dollars per hour! The experiment did not clarify if people are really bad, or just easily convinced by a man in a white coat, but it does make one think....
If you think the above is not representative of normal human behaviour; please reflect on the following equally disturbing experiment. (Recently a German movie; 'Experiment' was made inspired by the findings of this experiment.)
About 30 years ago, Professor Philip Zimbardo carried out this experiment in Stanford University.
24 Students were put in a fictional prisonward (set up in the university) and divided into two groups. The 'guards' became a uniform, a batton, handcuffs and dark sunglasses. The 'prisoners', merely dressed in shirts were put into cells. The professor intended to observe them for 2 weeks via videocameras. However, already after 6 days the experiment needed to be stopped, as the guards treated the prisoners awful - the experiment had become dreadfully serious. To quote from the conclusion:
"We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation -- a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically."
"Do your best and do it according to your own inner standard - call it conscience - not just according to society's knowledge and judgment of your deeds."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
THE EIGHT WORLDLY DHARMAS
Apart from the above, the practice of trying to avoid the "Eight Worldly Dharmas" is quite important. These describe the ceaseless activities we develop towards short-term pleasures, which often prove not even to be pleasures.
The Eight Worldly Dharmas are being concerned with:
Getting what you want, and avoiding getting what you do not want
Wanting (instant) happiness, and not wanting unhappiness
Wanting fame, and not wanting to be unknown
Wanting praise, and not wanting blame.
From the point of view of karma, we usually behave contrary to our goals, because in order to receive what we want, we need to give others what they want. To avoid getting what we do not want, we should avoid giving others what they do not want and so on.
This is a very good subject for meditation; you can ask yourself for example:
- Do I often give others happiness or unpleasant experiences?
- Do I help others who are unhappy?
- How often do I blame people instead of praising them?
- What can I do with fame, what will it really bring me?
- What will be useful when I am about to die?
"Spiritual practice is difficult in the beginning. You wonder how on earth you can ever do it. But as you get used to it, the practice gradually becomes easier. Do not be too stubborn or push yourself too hard. If you practice in accord with your individual capacity, little by little you will find more pleasure and joy in it. As you gain inner strength, your positive actions will gain in profundity and scope."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
NO TIME TO PRACTISE...
"Your Holiness, it is a well known fact that you are a very busy person with many demands on your time.Could you advise a lay person with a home, family, and work demands on how to develope a systematic pattern of Dharma practice."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
"My Western friends often ask me for the quickest, easiest, most effective, and cheapest way of practising Dharma! I think to find such a way is impossible! Maybe that is a sign of failure!
We should realize that practising the Dharma is actually something that needs to be done twenty four hours a the day.That's why we make a distinction between actual meditation sessions and post meditation periods , the idea being that both while you are in the meditative session and also when you are out of it, you should be fully within the realm of Dharma practice. In fact, one could say that the post-meditation periods are the real test of the strength of your practice.
Durning formal meditation, in a sense you are recharging your batteries, so that when you come out of the session you are better equipped to deal with the demands of your everyday life. The very purpose to recharged batteries is to enable it to run something isn't it? Similarly, once you have equipped yourself through whatever practices you engage in, as a human being you can't avoid the daily routines of life, and it is during these periods that you should be able to live according to the principles of your Dharma practice. Of course at the initial stage, as a beginner, you do need periods of concentrated meditation so you have a base from which you can begin. This is certainly crucial. But, once you will be able to adopt a way of life where your daily activity is at least in accord with the principles of the Dharma. So all this points to the importance of making an effort. Without some effort, there is no way we can integrate the principles of Dharma in our lives. For a serious practioner, the most serious effort is necessary. Just a few short prayers, a little chanting, and some mantra recitation with a mala (rosary) are not sufficient. Why not? Beceause this cannot transform your mind. Our negative emotions are so powerful that constant effort is needed in order to counteract them. If we practise constantly, then we can definitely change."
SECRET GOOD DEEDS
"When we are humble everyone is a potential best friend and our generosity naturally grows. We want to do things, to help out. A wonderful Zen tradition is called "inji-gyo," or secret good deeds. The virtue gained through performing a secret good deed is believed to be immense. So, in a monastery, if one watched closely, you might see a monk secretly mending another's robes or taking down someone's laundry and folding it before the rain comes. In our temple I often find chocolate spontaneously appearing in my mailbox, or a beautiful poem, unsigned. This year the Easter Bunny visited our Sunday service, leaving chocolate eggs under everyone's cushions, even the one prepared for a visiting Zen master. Sometimes the bathrooms are miraculously cleaned overnight. And flowers spontaneously appear in a neighbor's yard, thanks to the children in the temple. Secret good deeds. They are so much fun. In their doing you can't help but smile."
Geri Larkin in "Tap Dancing in Zen"