Saturday, April 18, 2009

"May I be be pure and virtuous."

Sila Paramita, the perfection of ethics and morality represents the Bodhisattva's abstention from the commission of evil deeds involving his body, speech or mind.

The abstinences of the body consist of abstaining from killing living self-aware beings, taking that which is not freely given, or indulging excessively in sensual pleasures, sexual misconduct or ingesting substances which cloud the mind or cause confusion.

The abstinences of speech include abstaining from falsehood, slander, and finding fault in others.

The abstinences of mind consist of refraining from thoughts of jealousy, envy, wrath, hatred or greed.

These abstinences are sometimes referred to as precepts (though both my teacher and my Roshi tend to dislike this translation, simply preferring to use the term 'Síla' instead.)

These Síla or precepts offer us a moral and ethical guideline. For the most part, those of us who were raised, particularly in a Western Judeo-Christian society, are more or less used to morality being defined by rules, and most of those rules are preceeded by the word "don't".

In Buddhism, the 'rules' are mostly guidelines which help us to ameliorate or to lessen the effects of the Three Poisons (anger, greed and delusion) by warning us to avoid the acts that result from those poisons.

We are not expected to blindly follow a set of rules that have been written down without first comparing them against our own wisdom, and against our own life experience.

Naturally, there are often times when our wisdom may not be so great, or our life experience painfully wanting in certain areas, and, it is in this case that we look to our mentors, our teachers, or others who fill this role in our lives, to help us to gain some better understanding of how to apply these precepts to whatever we may be confronting.

The Six Paramitas give us a different perspective on ethics, and our teachers help us to apply them to our own lives and circumstances. The close relationship between student and teacher in Zen is extremely important for this reason, and for many other reasons as well. For those who are not Zen practitioners, there are others who may very well fill this place in your life; parent, teacher, priest, rabbi, friend, whoever we look up to, whoever we wish to emulate, whoever is a positive example for us to follow. As in many things, it is very important that we choose carefully who we allow to fill this role for us.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the word 'Paramita' (Parami in the origninal Pali) actually means, "To cross to the other shore." So, the paramitas are also the ways by which we cross away from the Three Poisons (anger, greed and delusion) to live a better life.

Síla means virtue, ethics, morality, self-discipline, impeccability. Síla is a beautiful Sanskrit and Pali word. It means that which cools the intense broiling, roiling stew of passions and conflicting emotions. It's like a shade tree in the desert of blazing, conflicting emotions, a shelter where we can find relief. Non-attachment, integrity, and a righteous, honest, impeccable life provides a shelter, a true refuge in our increasingly confusing times.

On an external basis, Síla is somewhat akin to 'Ahimsa' or 'not harming'.

On an internal basis, this means exercising integrity and honesty.

Every human being has this innate capacity to be honest and pure of heart, even if it is only dimly viewed at times, and not revealed so very often. We each have the capacity to be impeccable, honest, virtuous. Not self-righteous, but to live what is known as the righteous life. That's enlightened living.

We can approach our training and our practice from the outside in, by restraining or vowing not to harm, not to engage in improper behavior, not to kill, lie, steal, intoxicate ourselves, and so on.

We can also simultaneously approach our trainng and our practice from the inside out, from our innate goodness and integrity, by resting in the natural state without clinging, free from concepts and attachment.

By utilizing this approach of working both from the outside in, as well as the inside out, we allow our natural morality, natural integrity, and natural impeccability to flow forth without vows, without having outer strictures. We allow our true nature to shine forth, and, we improve our own life, and the lives of others around us.

So, it is best to train is from outside in and inside out at the same time, not just blindly following rules, but allowing our true nature to flower and our highest character to develop. This is enlightened living. When we allow ourselves to change for the better, our children and grandchildren and the world change, too.

Morality and ethics is, at its most basic form, about expressing a love for others. A sense of kindness, tolerance, and compassion for every other being. It is better, from a Zen standpoint to exploit that innate, natural resource of love and compassion, and to let it guide our actions towards other, rather than exploiting others for what we think we need and want. Let's exploit our own natural resource within, our own true spiritual inheritance. That is something we can never really lose; no one and nothing can take it away from us. It can only be given away, bartered or sold... but never taken.

The essential nature of this paramita is that through our loving-kindness and compassion we refrain from harming others; we are virtuous and non-harming in our thoughts, speech, and actions. This practice of ethical conduct is the very foundation for progressing in any practice of meditation or spiritual growth and for attaining all higher realizations on the path to enlightenment.

The practice of Dána (generosity) must always be supported by the practice of Síla (ethics); as this ensures the lasting results of our generosity.

We should constantly strive to perfect our conduct by eliminating harmful behavior and following the precepts of the Six Paramitas.

The Paramitas are not meant to be a burden or a restriction of our freedom. We follow these precepts so we can enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and security in our lives, because through our virtuous behavior we are no longer creating suffering for ourselves and others.

It is important to realize that unethical behavior is always involved somewhere in the cause of suffering and unhappiness. If we consider, even to the slightest degree, the advantages of cultivating ethical behavior and the disadvantages of cultivating unethical behavior, we will certainly view the practice of ethics with a greater sense of enthusiasm.

In practicing the perfection of ethics, we become free of negativity, we cause no harm to others by our actions, our speech is kind and compassionate, and our thoughts are free of anger, malice, and other delusional or otherwise wrong views.

Those whose commitment is strong in the practice of ethics are at ease, naturally confident, without stress, and happy because we are not carrying any underlying sense of guilt or remorse for our actions, and thus, we have nothing to hide from anyone! Maintaining our personal honor and integrity, our moral impeccability, this is the cause of all goodness, happiness, and even the attainment of enlightenment.

Nobody is perfect. Each of us has likely committed some act in our lives for which we are ashamed or regretful. There is little or nothing that can be done to change what has happened in the past. We can attempt to make amends for whatever we may have done, if this is possible, or, we can accept that it was an unskillful act, realize that it was caused by a series of wrong views and wrong choices, and resolve to begin developing right views, and making right choices based upon them. It is through the practice of Síla Paramita that we are able to develop these right views.

Not a one of us is a snapshot. Nothing that we do, either good or bad is indicative of our nature, or of who or what we are. It is simply something which took place. We are a process... continuously flowing and changing, and each breath provides us with a brand new opportunity to begin anew!

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