Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Developing our inner moral compass

Developing our inner moral compass

  • Turning our energy inward while preparing for retreat
  • Looking at the affliction in the mind when we are agitated or reactive to something
  • Questions to ask ourselves in looking at our own minds
  • Becoming aware of virtuous mental states as well as the nonvirtuous mental states

Developing our inner moral compass (download)

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote a very lovely piece about Buddhists speaking with a voice of ethical authority about what is happening in the world now and how important that is. So, I was thinking of (talking about) that and then I thought that’s not really what we need to hear a few days before starting a silent retreat.  Before we start a silent retreat, we need to bring our energy in and not have it so outward focused.

So, I decided not to talk about that, but instead to talk about how important it is while we are in retreat that we get our own moral compass right. If we are going to act after retreat, or any other time during our life, we have to be calm, and collected, and clear. Whether it’s in public life or even in our personal life, when our mind is stirred up, when our mind is turbulent, when we’re confused and there are afflictions in the mind, that’s not really the time to act. Because when we act, then we say and do things that aren’t very effective, and that often come back to haunt us.

All of us can think of conversations we’ve hand with different people when we’ve been angry and what we said; or jealous and what we’ve done; or full of greed and attachment, and again, what we’ve said or done, just on a personal level. And that mind just brings problems, doesn’t it?

When people come to me, they often say, “What do I do? I have a problem! What do I do?” And I always say, “First calm your mind and figure out what the affliction is in your mind. Do some practice to get rid of the affliction in your mind so that your mind can think clearly. Then when it does, very often the answer comes to you. You don’t need to twirl around a lot.” But when our mind is agitated, and there’s anger, or attachment, or fear, or something in it, then we can’t think clearly, can we? We’re always saying “What do I do! What do I do!”; but, we can’t think clearly about what to do. Even if we make a decision, we can’t carry it out very well because our mind is so nutty at that time. 

The retreat time is really a time to go inside and work on our own minds and look at these afflictions:

  • What causes them to arise?
  • What’s going on when they’re manifest in the mind?
  • What are their results?

These three often come—the cause, the entity and the result; or the cause, the nature, and the result. So, do it with our afflictions. What caused them? Not only the external situations, but internal thoughts, internal moods, internal lifetimes of habits, of ways of looking at things. And study those in ourselves.

His Holiness says the best laboratory’s here (inside). Not out there. You don’t need a $5 million grant to pay anybody like you do if you’re going to investigate at a university. You have your own self —it’s free! Your laboratory is free! You look inside:

  • What are the conditions that support the arising of different afflictions?
  • When the affliction is there, what does it feel like?
  • How do I recognize an affliction in my mind?
  • How do I differentiate between an affliction and a virtuous mental state?
  • What are the differences in natures?
  • How do they feel inside?
  • What motivations do they provoke?

Also, think about:

  • What are the results of afflictions?
  • What do we say?
  • What do we think?
  • What do we do?
  • How do we live?
  • What is the effect on other people, on the environment, on our future lives?

Really investigate the results of our afflictions.

And do the same for virtuous mental states:

  • When you have a mind free of attachments, what causes that?
  • Have you ever investigated that?
  • Can you even tell in your mind when you don’t have attachment there?
  • What causes that balanced mind that is free of partiality?
  • What does that feel like?
  • How do you act when you have that?
  • When you have a mind of compassion for others (the opposite of anger), what causes compassion in your mind?

I don’t mean wimpy Mickey Mouse compassion here. “Oh, I feel sorry for these people, they’re suffering so much.” The real compassion that doesn’t have the difference between self and others:

  • What does that feel like?
  • What causes that to arise in our mind?
  • What actions does that motivate?
  • What are the results of those actions?

Same with the opposites of all the other afflictions. Last night we mentioned integrity—a sense of personal integrity—and consideration for others as two mental factors that are important to restrain us from negative actions. And their opposite: the lack of integrity, the lack of considerations for others. Investigate those (those two are really important):

  • What does one feel like? What does the opposite feel like?
  • What brings one? What brings the opposite?
  • What is the result of one? What is the result of the opposite?

It’s quite interesting to really do this. You can do it in the context of whether you are doing the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga or the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, because the afflictions are going to come up all the time anyway. So, instead of going “I shouldn’t think like that! I shouldn’t feel like that!”, put your attention and observe these things and how they operate. As you learn about yourself through doing this, then you automatically are learning about others, because we all function in very similar ways. Maybe not exactly the same, but the more we can understand ourselves, then when we talk to other people the more we can understand what they’re saying and what they’re going through.

As we get to know ourselves better, and figure these things out, then we can see how we change in our behavior and in our personal relationships. Then, in terms of society, how we can speak with an ethical voice in terms of issues in society.

You’re not going to get bored in retreat, are you? That’s one thing that doesn’t happen is boredom. Whatever arises, you observe it. You watch it, learn about it, study it.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.