Today we’ll focus on the theme of integrity, continuing with excerpts from the Awakening Joy course designed by James Baraz.
We’ve been exploring how gratitude practice helps nurture contentment.
Living with integrity adds to that contentment.
In Buddhist philosophy, the Pali word sila refers to harmonious and ethical behavior.
A general rule for following a path of sila or integrity is to refrain from intentionally causing harm to oneself or others.
Mindfulness is an invaluable ally to help us cause the least harm possible.
The Buddha taught that following a path of integrity leads to “the bliss of blamelessness.” The Cetana Sutta says:
It is in the nature of things that
Freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue….
It is in the nature of things that
Joy arises in one who is free from remorse.…
According to the laws of Karma, our words or actions sow seeds of suffering or happiness in four ways:
1. when the action is occurring
2. when others react to our action
3. when we recall the action either peacefully or remorsefully
4. when we tend to act in a similar way afterwards.
With consciousness, we can learn enough from our unskillful actions to avoid repeating them.
Dharma teacher Ruth Denison says, “Karma means that you can’t escape from anything.”
How can we face compassionately the depth of habitual conditioning that leads us to act with attachment, aversion or confusion—even when we know better?
Unless our words and actions are congruent with our values, we can’t enjoy times of good fortune.
Once we see clearly that we are causing ourselves suffering, we begin to clean up our actions, not because we are trying to be saintly, but because we want to feel more inner peace.
According to Buddhist teachings, there are two mental qualities that help us lead an ethical life.
Hiri refers to “moral shame” and ottapa refers to “moral fear.”
Both are parts of our conscience.
When we know that we are acting in a way that lacks integrity, we feel moral shame or embarrassment.
Moral fear arises when we imagine that people whom we respect will learn about our moral lapses.
In my own practice, I prefer to focus on the benefits of acting with integrity, which lies at the root of mental peace and a liberated heart.
In a moral dilemma, we often sense the right course to take, by listening intuitively to our inner wisdom.
A teenager wrote after his first retreat, “The true secret of long-term happiness comes from knowing that your actions are impeccably aligned with the truth. When there is an innate recognition that you are doing everything possible to be generous and compassionate, and making your best effort not to harm other beings, you feel no guilt, and nobody can blame you for anything. Suddenly a heavy weight is lifted from your shoulders….”
Cultivating integrity involves the practice of listening to an inner moral compass, recognizing that the more we can follow it, the happier we will feel.
We can practice noticing the feelings that accompany our actions, whether or not they are skillful.
Reflect upon a time when you spoke or acted unskillfully.
Remember how you felt in your mind and body immediately afterwards.
Think about the antecedents and the circumstances that influenced the action that led to remorse.
What thought could help you act more wisely in a similar situation?
Recently I met with a friend for dinner at a restaurant. Because she’s been ill, she compensated by trying to control the environment. She requested a different table, asked the waiter to remove ice cubes from her water glass, and called him back several times to change her meal order. Instead of responding compassionately to the reasons behind my friend’s controlling behavior, and recognizing my own tendency to orchestrate life when I’m not feeling well, I felt frustrated by the repeated interruptions to our conversation. Afterwards, when a mutual friend asked me about the dinner, I gossiped about how difficult the evening had been. As I vented frustration, my body was tense, and afterwards I felt remorseful, worrying that my report would get back to my sick friend. Considering how I might hurt the feelings of someone I care about motivates me to speak more wisely in the future.
Reflect upon a difficult situation when you acted wisely.
Remember how you felt in your mind and body.
What helped you decide to take this wise path?
How do you know when you are acting with integrity?
What would help you do so in the future?
One of my yoga teachers, who lives very simply, mentioned that she was longing to attend a retreat taught by a yoga master. My classmates and I secretly collected funds and surprised our teacher by presenting her with enough cash to realize her dream. While I was participating in this generous mission, I felt content and relaxed. If I see clearly that my actions will help someone follow a healthy path, I know that I’m acting with integrity.
When we are committed to act wisely and to avoid causing harm, we are creating conditions for our own happiness.
Most people image themselves as consistently moral and virtuous, but they often deceive themselves.
It takes great patience and attention throughout life to “walk our talk.”
We need an attitude of humility, because we learn repeatedly the same lesson that our actions have consequences.
Ex: Movie: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
In the teachings of the Buddha, it’s never too late to change our unskillful habits.
In Buddhist literature the best example of a radical transformation is the story of Angulimala, who vowed to kill a hundred people and who wore a necklace of his victim’s fingers around his neck.
One day Angulimala saw the Buddha walking slowly down a road where everyone else was too terrorized to go.
The murderer yelled, “Stop!” and ran in pursuit as fast as he could, but he couldn’t catch the monk.
The Buddha turned around and said, “I stopped many years ago. When will you stop?”
In that instant, Angulimala faced his own confusion and hatred, which were causing him great suffering. He repented and asked the Buddha to teach him.
He practiced for many years as a monk and finally achieved enlightenment.
In comparison with Angulimala, our actions aren’t so terrible!
We can bring awareness to our unskillful actions and honestly face our feelings about them.
When we raise our level of consciousness, we can no longer pretend that there aren’t consequences for our actions.
Forgiveness practice is essential when we’re acknowledging the consequences of unskillful actions.
It helps to remember that if we feel remorse for some of our past actions, we no longer have the same level of consciousness that we had back then.
We have changed and grown.
Awakening is a process of purification.
We can learn to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness while we face our imperfections.
Ram Dass reminds us, “When you’re purifying yourself, your faults seem bigger than usual…. The lions guarding the doors become more ferocious when you come close to the inner temple. At the same time the light shines more brightly.”
Let us remember the Buddha nature that shines within each of us. We can trust it and our mindfulness practice to guide us on a path of integrity.