Dharma Topic: Discipline, Morality, and Mindfulness

Dharma Topic: Discipline, Morality, and Mindfulness

Discussion date: Thu, Apr 20, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Several weeks ago we began our intermittent exploration of the SixParamitas, six traditionally revered ways of practicing which help usmove from suffering to ease. This week, after our meditation, we willaddress the second of the Six Paramitas (sila in Pali, shila in Sanskrit) variously translated as morality, mindfulness trainings, precepts, or discipline.

For many of us in the West, words such as morality, precepts, anddiscipline have a negative connotation. Especially in”progressive” circles, conventional morality is often interpreted associally sanctioned justifications used by those in power to controlthe lives, thoughts, actions, and bodies of those with less power,especially women, oppressed minorities, children, and the economicallyor socially marginalized.

Modern Buddhist writers, on the other hand, have sought to give adifferent meaning to morality, mindfulness trainings, precepts, anddiscipline. Drawing on the original conceptions of the Buddha, moralityis seen as a self-chosen discipline that allows our deepest aspirationsto flourish. A moral life is seen as one which is lived in accord withthe interbeingness of the universe.

Santikaro Bhikku, an American born Thai monk, writes that Buddhistmorality and rules of conduct “are expressions of the wisdom that seesthe world as it is and the compassion that motivates us to live in itwithout causing suffering.” It is:

the way serious Buddhistpractitioners arrange, organize, and structure their lives in order tosupport Dhamma study, practice, realization, and service. This coversall physical and verbal actions. It involves all forms ofrelationships: interpersonal, social, economic, political, ecological,as well as with one’s own body.

In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings Thich Nhat Hanh notes that: 

The practice of the FiveMindfulness Trainings is a form of love, and a form of giving. Itassures the good health and protection of our family and society. Shilaparamita is a great gift that we can make to our society, our family,and to those we love.

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron understands sila/discipline to be a “process that supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitual patterns.” She notes that:

Discipline provides the supportto slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our liveswithout making a big mess. It provides the encouragement to stepfurther into groundlessness.

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation period andour program. Our discussion will begin with two questions:

  • How have we experienced morality and discipline in our lives?
  • Looking toward the future, are there ways we see morality and discipline assisting us in living the way we wish to live?

The above short quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron were extracted from passages  provided below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


From Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart Of The Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy, And Liberation.

The second practice is the perfection of the precepts, ormindfulness trainings, shila paramita. The Five Mindfulness Trainingshelp protect our body, mind, family, and society. . . .

The practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a form of love, and aform of giving. It assures the good health and protection of our familyand society. Shila paramita is a great gift that we can make to oursociety, our family, and to those we love. The most precious gift wecan offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Ifwe live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we protectourselves and the people we love. When we practice shila paramita, weoffer the precious gift of life.

Let us look deeply together into the causes of our suffering,individually and collectively. If we do, I am confident we will seethat the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the correct medicine for themalaise of our times. Every tradition has the equivalent of the FiveMindfulness Trainings. Every time I see someone receive and practicethe Five Mindfulness Trainings, I feel so happy – for him, his family,and also for myself – because I know that the Five MindfulnessTrainings are the most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We need aSangha around us in order to practice them deeply.
 

From Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times 

To dissolve the causes of aggression takes discipline, gentleyet precise discipline. Without the paramita of discipline, we simplydon’t have the support we need to evolve. . . .

I remember the first retreat I led after The Wisdom of No Escape hadbeen published. Most people came to the retreat because they wereinspired by the notion of maitri that permeates that book. About thethird day of the program, we were all sitting there meditating when onewoman suddenly stood up, stretched a bit, and lay down on the floor.When I asked her about it later, she said, “Well, I felt so tired thatI thought I’d be kind to myself and give myself a break.” It was thenthat I realized I needed to talk about the magic of discipline and notbeing swayed by moods. . . .

What we discipline is not our “badness” or our “wrongness.” What wediscipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In otherwords, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with therichness of the moment.

What makes this discipline free from severity is prajna. It’s not thesame as being told not to enjoy anything pleasurable or to controlourselves at any cost. Instead, this journey of discipline provides theencouragement that allows us to let go. It’s a sort of undoing processthat supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitualpatterns.
At the outer level, we could think of discipline as a structure, like athirty-minute meditation period or a two-hour class on the dharma.Probably the best example is the meditation technique. We sit down in acertain position and are as faithful to the technique as possible. Wesimply put light attention on the out-breath over and over through moodswings, through memories, through dramas and boredom. This simplerepetitive process is like inviting that basic richness into our lives.So we follow the instruction just as centuries of meditators have donebefore.

Within this structure, we proceed with compassion. So on the innerlevel, the discipline is to return to gentleness, to honesty, toletting go. At the inner level, the discipline is to find the balancebetween not too tight and not too loose –between not too laid-back andnot too rigid.

Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be presentenough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess. Itprovides the encouragement to step further into groundlessness.

Discussion Date: Thu, Apr 20, 2006


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