Buddhist practice encompasses much more than meditation or the adoption of a new intellectual point of view. It is the the gradual and wholehearted immersion of oneself into a new way of being in the world. It is a transformation that has many different aspects. Here we’ll discuss some important elements of the Buddhist path: ethics, devotion and spiritual friendship.
There are three main paths in Buddhism: wisdom, meditation and ethics. Wisdom is our understanding of the Dharma through study and experience. Meditation calms our mind and opens it to understanding the Dharma. Ethics is the action or expression of our meditation and wisdom. It is also that which helps us to function skillfully in the world so that we all live happier lives.
As we calm our minds with study and meditation we see that everyone and everything in all of the universe is completely interconnected. This brings the realization that all of our actions affect ourselves and others.
Our actions always have results. Skillful actions bring positive results. Unskillful actions bring negative results.
There are two ways we approach working with our ethics. One is to grow in our understanding of “conditioned co-production” – our interconnectedness. The other is to focus on our day-to-day actions and the motivations that underlie them. Living ethically helps us to develop positive states of mind and benefits other beings.
The Buddha laid out specific ethical precepts that focus on the actions of body, speech and mind. These are stated in two ways – first by describing the actions that one should abstain from, and then by describing positive actions to be taken.
- I undertake to abstain from taking life.
With deeds of loving kindness, I purify my body.
- I undertake to abstain from taking the not given.
With open handed generosity, I purify my body.
- I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct.
With stillness, simplicity and contentment, I purify my body.
- I undertake to abstain from false speech.
With truthful communication, I purify my speech.
- I undertake to abstain from taking intoxicants.
With mindfulness clear and radiant, I purify my mind.
The first precept refers to the ultimate harm of taking the life of a sentient being. It also refers to not harming another in any other way. Loving-kindness is the positive antidote to harm.
Refraining from taking the not-given in the second precept does not only refer to stealing material goods. It also refers to not taking others thoughts, freedom, time, etc unless it is offered. The positive antidote is generosity and gratitude.
Sexual misconduct consists of sexual actions that cause harm to others. The positive antidote to sexual harm is keeping in mind the other precepts of loving-kindness and abstaining from taking the not given. It is also being content with our sexual partner.
Truthful communication builds trust between us. It gives us peace of mind if we always know what we said because it was factual. Again, we must use loving kindness as we practice telling the truth.
Intoxicants of any kind cloud our mind. With mindfulness and awareness that is clear and radiant, we can be attentive to our actions and our motivations and develop ways to think and act that provide ourselves and all beings with peace and happiness.
The precepts are not rules. They are guides for our practice. To grow with this practice, we need to learn to be mindful and aware of our thoughts and actions.