Review of generosity and ethical conduct

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Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • How possessiveness applies to people, situations, and opportunities
  • Different ways of viewing ethical conduct
  • The Mahayana view of ethical conduct
01-09-17 Review of Generosity and Ethical Conduct - BBCorner

The best giving is a lack of possessiveness.

Clearly, if we’re possessive, we can’t give. It’s very clear, isn’t it? If we’re possessive we’re clutching and clinging to everything so nobody else can have it. This is applying to material things, but it also applies to people, situations, opportunities. Don’t get stuck just thinking it’s material things, because we can be really possessive of other people. Can’t we? And hang onto them and constrict their activities.

It’s quite important to remember that other people belong to the whole universe. They aren’t our personal property. I think even of His Holiness in this regard, because when His Holiness comes—when he’s giving a talk—everybody’s kneeling over (hands pressed together) with one or two eyes up saying, “Will he look at me? Will he look at me? I hope he looks at me. I hope he comes over to me.” And here’s His Holiness teaching us all about the lack of an inherently existent self, and the disadvantages of self-centeredness, and we’re all sitting there like that. Realize that in His Holiness’s expanded mind there’s room for everybody. Whether he looks at us or not doesn’t really matter. We have a place in his mind. And if he looks at us it doesn’t mean we need to feel puffed up about it because there’s a place for all the other living beings in his mind, too. So not to be possessive about His Holiness’s attention. And certainly not with the other people in our lives.

This can be quite difficult, because sometimes we really want people to be “ours.” We want to be special to them. We want them to be special to us. And a lot of possessiveness results in a lot of jealousy, a lot of extreme expectation. And I think probably most of you have had some experience with that. So, releasing the possessiveness so we can be more generous.

Also, with opportunities, not always thinking, “Oh, here’s a great opportunity. It’s MINE. I have to have it.” And, “Here’s an opportunity that I don’t like so much. Give it to someone else.” Really getting over that self-centeredness that feeds that kind of thing.

The best ethical conduct is a tranquil mind.

I think that one’s really beautiful. And that really expresses the essence of ethical conduct. Some people think the best ethical conduct is keeping all the rules one hundred percent perfectly. That’s not what the Kadampa masters say. That’s not what they wrote there. They didn’t say it’s keeping every small detail perfectly. It’s having a tranquil mind.

What does that mean? In other contexts they talk of ethical conduct as the wish not to harm others. There’s a link between the wish not to harm and having a tranquil mind. Isn’t there? If we have a mind that’s tranquil, automatically there’s no wish to harm others, and automatically our ethical conduct is very good, and automatically we keep the essence of the precepts. These things really stream together.

This is much more of a Mahayana interpretation, I would say. Some of our friends from other traditions really look at it as the best ethical conduct is keeping all the details of the precepts exactly perfectly. And that works for them, and that’s fine for them, and we don’t criticize that. But we have a different perspective, a different take on it.

The Mahayana way doesn’t mean being sloppy in your precepts, but it’s much more looking at why were the precepts set up. What’s the reason for this precept? What defilement is the Buddha trying to get us to look at and subdue? And I think that’s a really nice way to approach ethical conduct and precepts, because it’s much more psychological. It’s much more looking at the mind. And when we think “what is karma?” Actually, karma is the mental factor of intention. So to follow the functioning, the law of karma and its effects, we have to look at the mind and the motivation, at the intention, not just the physical action. So definitely, having a tranquil mind is going to give us the mental space to have really beautiful intentions when we act, without being contaminated by, “I want to get even with somebody, ” or, “I want to show that I’m superior to them, ” or, “I want to humiliate them.”

Spend some time thinking about this link between ethical conduct, keeping the essence of the precepts, having a tranquil mind.

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