How Ethical Practice Works
There are many ethical systems existing in this world.
Many are based on the idea of an external authority that imposes rules.
But in the Buddhist system of ethics, we simply look at any action we might perform.
This could be something we do physically, something we say verbally, or even something we think.
We then classify that action as skilful or unskilful by working out the state of mind that lies behind the action.
Skilful and Unskilful Action
Skilful actions are said to be based in love, generosity and clarity. Whereas unskilful actions are said to be based in greed, hatred and delusion.
→ Skilful actions lead to more positive states of mind, and not cause harm to ourselves or others.
→ Unskilful actions lead to more negative mental states, and lead to harm to ourselves or others.
But we are not asked to take this on as a new belief. It is something we need to test and prove to be true for ourselves.
Now it’s not always that obvious how actions will turn out, so we are given a few guiding principles to help. These principles, or guidelines are presented both positively and negatively.
So we try to:
✓ practise actions of loving kindness, and try not to cause harm or take the life of ourselves or others
✓ practise acts of generosity, and not take that which does not belong to us
✓ practise contentment, and avoid neurotic or harmful sexual acts
✓ practice truthful and harmonious speech, and refrain from telling lies, or speaking negatively of ourselves or, anyone else.
✓ practise mindfulness, and try to avoid becoming intoxicated through drink or drugs
Even with these guidelines, it can sometimes be hard to know how to act. This can be the time when friends who are also practicing meditation and ethics can be our greatest resource.
Not a punishment
And this is definitely not about giving ourselves a hard time – or another stick to beat ourselves with.
Rather, it is just suggested that if we begin to move our actions more and more in line with these guidelines, we will begin to see the effects in terms of the mental states we inhabit.
The idea is that we try it for ourselves. If it works, we will naturally want to move further in this direction.
If it doesn’t, well we are free to discard it any time we want.