Ethics in Action

April 21, 2014
This is the last post until the end of May. If you get hungry for a little mindfulness, check out the archives. Every post from the last year is available anytime. Today’s post is adapted from a previous one.  I wish you a wonderful month.
The thought manifests as the word
The word manifests as the deed
The deed develops into habit
And the habit hardens into character
So watch the thought and its ways with care
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings
This is one of my favorite pieces of wisdom from the Buddha because I think it’s really true. I know that when my mind thinks caring and kind thoughts, my speech and actions will likely follow suit. I feel clear and at ease. Or if my mind is caught in contention and my thoughts aren’t so kind or caring, I hope I’ll have enough awareness to keep from acting them out and have the restraint to keep my mouth shut.
In the classical Buddhist teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path, Wise or Right Action are those actions that are rooted in harmlessness. The Buddha gives specific guidelines in the form of precepts, a code of ethical conduct. Really, they aren’t so specific to Buddhism; they’re simply the moral, skillful and harmless way of living. You’ll recognize them.
1.      Abstain from taking life; don’t kill
2.      Abstain from taking anything that has not been freely given; don’t steal
3.      Abstain from the misuse of sexuality
4.      Abstain from using harmful or false speech; don’t lie
5.      Abstain from the use of intoxicants to the degree that the mind becomes clouded and causes heedlessness
At first glance, these precepts seem quite obvious, but in actuality they may be more difficult to carry out. 

How far do we take not killing? What about the ants carrying aphids to the artichoke plants or string beans in the garden? What about that magazine on the table in the waiting room at the dentist’s office that has an article you’d like to read? And how do we express our sexuality and in what environments? How about the time we said something in public that was told to us in confidence and caused a friend humiliation? And, the consequences of drinking too much or using other intoxicants are well-known.
Our actions really do have consequences, whether in the immediate or somewhere down the line. This is the law of karma. In fact, karma translates as action. 

I remember a difficult time in my life many years ago when I was struggling with an unhealthy relationship, doing everything I could to make it work. It took me quite a while to see that nearly every encounter I had brought me pain, seemingly endless pain. It was like sitting in a chair with a broken leg. Each time I sat in that chair, I fell on the ground and injured my tailbone.
The Buddha taught that our happiness and unhappiness are dependent upon our own actions, not on anyone else’s wishes for us. This is what it means to be the heir to our own karma. The truth that we really can and do directly influence our lives through our own actions is a profoundly liberating statement. When our motivations and intentions come from harmlessness and goodwill, we are likely to act skillfully and wisely.
I find that when I really pay attention, I am my own best guide.

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.” 
                                                                      Abraham Lincoln