Our fourth week in the exploration of the Eight Fold Path.
Read the transcript below or listen to the audio of our gathering here.
Thoughts become words and words become action. Well, usually. But we all know it’s not quite that simple. Actually, there are times when we do things almost unconsciously and then regret it later. We look back and it is almost as if we were on autopilot.
In simple terms, the Buddha gave us three particular areas to look at here.
- Abstain from taking life
- Abstain from taking what isn’t given.
- Abstain from sexual misconduct.
Actually, I think we can look at this in a different way. Abstain from causing harm. I’ve expressed this before. If we start with this simple approach to life, it is going to make a positive change and it is going to be wholesome. So we must examine our actions and ask if they are likely to cause harm.
Of course, here we can return again to what drives our actions and we find that again they can be driven by greed/grasping, aversion/hatred or delusion.
Delusion is rather difficult to see through for some people. There are spiritual approaches in our world which actually encourage acts that cause harm, on many levels. If we are immersed in a spirituality like this, it is very difficult to see through the delusion and understand where the harm is being caused.
Of course there are many complications here, some of which I really don’t have all the answers to. For example, where we end a life of someone who is suffering unbearably from an incurable illness. There is nothing in the Pali canon that guides us here and personally, I hope I never have to take that decision. I’m not sure if I could.
Theft if fairly obvious but again, we can have complications here. The advice here is don’t take what isn’t given, but there are of course degrees here too. We all remember the PPI situation with the banks. Many agencies jumped on the bandwagon and encouraged us to claim. The banks were inundated and many people made money when they weren’t entitled. For a while there was a real hatred of the banks. It caused great damage. I know many hard working, decent people who work in banks. Although the banks certainly failed to behave ethically here, the claims against them were in excess of the mistakes that were actually made here. As individuals, no matter what we might be capable of “getting away with” we shouldn’t take what isn’t given. Or in this case, we shouldn’t take what isn’t actually owed to us, even though we could potentially get away with it.
Why not? Where’s the repercussion? Again it comes back to what is wholesome and what isn’t. Actually, we have to examine how we feel as an individual. If we know that our mortgage cover wasn’t mis-sold to us and we go putting the claim in, there will be a knowledge and a tightening. This is doing us damage and it is certainly hurting others. We cannot dismiss this by saying ” the banks are big enough, they won’t notice the impact of my little claim”. If enough of us think in this way we cause real damage.
Abstaining from sexual misconduct. Here we are of course talking about what causes harm and what doesn’t and most of us have a pretty clear moral compass with this one. Of course here desire is a key ingredient to this one. The damage to oneself too is clear. But I think paying heed to the mental side of this is even more damaging. Sex can become an addiction and this addiction is very very dangerous as it doesn’t just damage us, but it damages others.
So this section of the path can be seen as the simplest to understand because of its emphasis on not causing harm. The opposite of which is of cause to offer out love, compassion and generosity.
So today, to explore this in meditation, we will meditate on compassion with the Metta Bhavanna.