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The seven jewels of the aryas: Personal integrity

The seven jewels of the aryas: Personal integrity

Part of a series of short talks on the Seven Jewels of the Aryas.

  • How to increase your integrity and consideration for others
  • Considering what kind of person we want to be, and modifying our behaviors to support that
  • Examining how we feel about ourselves at the end of the day

I thought to mention a little bit more about those two mental factors of integrity and consideration for others. I hope people have been thinking about them a little bit since two days ago, because I had suggested that everybody just take some time and look and see things that you regretted in your own life, and then ask yourself, “Was my integrity missing at that time? Was my consideration for others missing at that time?” And that may not have been the main affliction that pushed us to do the action–that main affliction may have been jealousy or arrogance or attachment or anger–but because those two were missing, then we gave ourselves permission to go ahead with the action. It often happens that maybe we have a little bit of those mental factors in our mind, and let’s say you’re really mad at somebody, or you’re really attached to something and you want to get it, and so you have that very strong affliction in your mind, and then in the back of your mind there’s the thought of, “I shouldn’t be doing this,” and the affliction is saying, “But I want to do this, it’s going to bring me happiness.” And in the back there’s, “Mmmm, mmmm, be careful.” And in the front there’s, “Just shut up, I want to do this, I don’t get the chance to get my way, or to tell this person off, or to get what I want very often, and nobody’s going to know, and it’s okay….” And we make up all sorts of reasons and excuses why our bad behavior is okay.

Anybody have that happen to them? This is standard routine for sentient beings.

Then the question comes…. We’ve talked a lot about how do you subdue the main defilements that are going to cause the bad behavior, the attachment or jealousy, or whatever it is. But the question also comes, how do you increase your integrity and consideration for others? Because those are two of the 11 virtuous mental factors, so they’re almost a fifth, 20%, of the virtuous mental factors. (I’m sure there are more than 11 virtuous mental factors.) But of the ones they point out in lorig (mind and awareness), they’re prominent there. So how do we increase them in our mind? We find a lot of instruction about what is the antidote to attachment, what’s the antidote to anger? But where do we get instructions on what’s the antidote to lack of integrity or lack of consideration for others, which are listed in the auxiliary defilements, they’re two of the 20 auxiliary ones. So how do we counteract those two and develop the two virtuous ones?

I think that’s something for all of us to think about. I want to put forth a few ideas right now. And then ask for your ideas, and then keep thinking about it, and next time we can also discuss it. Because I think it’s important. Especially since now in the political world we see people completely with this integrity and consideration for others really gone in many of the people who are elected officials. And also in many people who sincerely want to be religious people, but they get lost and they start following people who are acting unethically. Or they use unethical means to get what they think are ethical goals met. So to prevent us from becoming like that. Or even the scandals that we hear about in different religious communities, they’re caused because of the dominant afflictions, but those two virtuous mental factors are missing. So how do we strengthen them and call them up?

One thing that I find is very helpful is to sit down and have a chat with myself. Sit and ponder, “What kind of person do I want to be?” And think of all the different behaviors I’ve seen different people do. And when you’ve been around a lot, you’ve seen a lot of different things. Things that you never thought anybody would do, or you never thought friends would do, or you never thought virtuous people would do, and then you see these things and you realize, “Hey, I could do those, too, if I lack integrity and consideration for others.” So to really ask myself, “What kind of person do I want to be?” Do I want to get my way at the expense of my ethical conduct? Is getting what I want so important that it’s more important than considering other people’s faith in the Dharma? Or considering other people’s trust in me? Am I willing to risk people trusting me in order to fulfill whatever it is I want right now? And to really kind of look. If I lack integrity and consideration for others, what are the results going to be in my life, and am I willing to accept those results? And if I’m not willing to accept that other people are not going to want to be around me, then I shouldn’t act in ways that make other people not want to be around me. Or if I want people to trust me, then I shouldn’t act in ways that are going to make them mistrust me. Or lose trust in me. To really see, what kind of human being do I want to be, and am I acting so as to create the causes to become that kind of human being? Or have I lost my conscience? You could say. I think those two mental factors are what we call “conscience.”

Also, not just the consideration for others, how is it going to affect their faith in the Dharma, are they going to respect me, are they going to trust me? But also, how am I going to feel about myself. When I go to bed at night, I’m the only one who knows what my motivations were. Well, except for the buddhas and bodhisattvas. All the people whom I’ve pulled the wool over the eyes of, they think what I did is perfectly okay, and even wonderful, but inside I don’t feel good about it. And do I want to go through my life very frequently going to bed at night saying, “Ick. I don’t respect myself for the way I’m acting.” Do I really want to deal with that? When I die, do I want to look back on my life and say, “Boy, I really harmed so many people just to fulfill what I wanted to happen in this life.” Or to take revenge for somebody who didn’t give me what I wanted in this life. Am I willing to deal with the results of doing that? Which mean a lower rebirth.

To really look at what are the effects of my actions, and am I willing to accept the effects of my actions on myself and on others? If I’m not, then to me that really makes me say to myself, “Okay Chodron, you have to be on top of things.” Your integrity, having your own values and principles and acting about them so that you feel good about yourself, instead of making up excuses to hide our behavior.

You know how we make up excuses. I don’t know about you, I make up constant excuses, but there’s a certain feeling in my mind when I do that. That feeling lets me know this is an excuse. So if I don’t want to have that feeling in my own mind, then I need to not create the actions that cause me to feel that way about myself. Or if I’m upset about the way people don’t want to be near me because they don’t trust me, or whatever, then I need to think, okay, is that the kind of person I want to be? An untrustworthy person. Do I want to be one of those people that people go, “Oh, she’s so obnoxious. How do I get out of the room when she comes in?”

Are you getting what I’m saying? So instead of blaming others if they’re upset with me, look. If I did something, if I’m not acting properly, I brought this on myself. So if I want to be different, then I need to really take those two mental factors into my heart and be very concerned with them, and make sure that they’re active.

Venerable Chonyi: I was reflecting on this this morning, actually, and I realize that underneath just having integrity, I have to be very very clear just what is the basis of my integrity. There was a time in my life when I ran with a group of people who were pretty est influenced, and being truthful was very important. But being truthful meant you had to clear your stuff up, and tell the people the truth about what you were feeling, and “I need to clear with you, and you did this to me, this is how I felt,” and that was being integrity, given the value of that particular group I was with. And so appreciating that I have precepts now, and a lot of them now, but even if I just had the five precepts where I was looking at my speech more carefully, I would have had a different idea of what integrity was. So examining what is the basis that I rest my integrity on is also really important. Trying to see what am I still carrying forward from the earlier part of my life that would let me off the hook on some things, that now are absolutely not appropriate. So it’s just tricky.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Except if you look back then, when you were so honest and truthful that you hurt people’s feelings, did you feel, when you were alone with yourself, did you feel good about that?

Venerable Chonyi:: Terrible. Besides that, I hate confrontations, so it was awful.

VTC: Yes.

Venerable Chonyi: And I was not very good at it either. Except when I’m mad.

VTC: That’s like most of us.

Venerable Chonyi: But I could still put it in the framework of integrity.

VTC: That’s the justification.

Venerable Chonyi: So that’s the trick that I have to watch for in my mind, that the word itself, “integrity,” also has lots of different applications.

VTC: And what I’m saying is, one way to find out if it’s real integrity is to check inside. Do I feel comfortable with what I just said or did? Because like you said, you’re running with a group of people who are like that, so when we don’t look at ourselves, then, “Oh yeah, I’m doing what everybody else is doing and it’s good and it’s a value of the group.” But just because it’s a value of the group, we have to check how are we feeling inside of our own hearts.

C.H. I’ve been thinking that those two mental factors, they need a lot of support. So they need other mental factors, like mindfulness, introspective awareness, conscientiousness, effort, those kinds of things to strengthen them. And especially having a steady practice, having refuge, belonging to a sangha, setting altruistic motivations. The mind has to be trained to go in that direction, because a really sharp affliction will come up, those other mental factors will get completely run over.

VTC: Right, yes. It’s true, you have to nourish all your virtuous mental factors at the same time.

Venerable Losang: I definitely have times where I’ve had an affliction come up and overpower my… just get angry and yell at somebody, not stop to think about it. But what Venerable Chonyi was talking about, I’ve had things where…like fishing, I was raised fishing, and now that’s a big thing that I regret, that I didn’t have any qualms about it at the time. I was bringing home supper and it was fine. And so it wasn’t like yelling at somebody, justifying it.

VTC: It was just normal behavior, what you’re supposed to do. But this is relating to what C.H. said. You need to put yourself around good people who have good values who are going to nourish that part of you.

We all came from situations, worldly situations, where people have different values, and we saw those values in action in our families, in our environment, in our workplace. So we were all conditioned in that, either by what people said or what we saw people do. And coming into the Dharma, it’s a re-socialization process, and a re-training our mind process. Really looking at what we value.

Venerable Damcho: Also in the last talk when you said how hard it is to stand up to the group pressure, it reminded me at my workplace before, working for government, you’re asked to do unethical things in the name of national security, and that’s very very hard to question or stand up. Especially if you’re a very low level, small fry. But I was very fortunate that I think I worked with very good colleagues who at least we could get together and say, “Wow, we so do not agree with what’s going on,” or, “Let’s find a way to work around it.” What helped a lot from the Dharma side was the matrix you taught us, you know, is this for the long-term benefit or short-term benefit…about rebirth as well. And you said if you live in a country that supports the death penalty, at least you can mentally object, so you do not incur the group karma of that. So there were a lot of instances where I had to do things that I didn’t believe in, but at least I could say my piece, and mentally be like, “I am totally not buying into this. And when I can quit I’m quitting.”

VTC: Yes. Many people tell me that they’re pressured to lie. Kind of like Michael Cohen said in his testimony. He wasn’t always told directly, “You lie.” But the message was, “This is what you say.” And it was a lie. So often we’re in a situation where that’s the whole message we get in how we’re supposed to behave, and I think those situations are when we really need a lot of courage. Because people nowadays are so afraid of losing their jobs. And I think at some time when you’re in that situation where you’re being asked to lie or deceive or steal or whatever, quit your job, and have confidence that because you’re practicing ethically you will get another job. But people are so afraid of losing their jobs now. Because I suggest that when they say, “My boss wants me to lie to close the deal, and I don’t feel comfortable.” I say, “Leave your job.” “Oh, no, I can’t do that.” But you know, sometimes people undercut their own ability to get another job. Or to stand up for themselves. You were bonded, so you had the government bond on you. But many people don’t.

Venerable Samten: I continue to want to read and do read stories about people during World War II who absolutely took every risk knowing that they would be murdered for what they did, and they saved people, they worked in the underground, they did all these incredible things. I have the aspiration to have that kind of mind. So when I see myself falling down, I don’t just sit myself down, I just get really terse with myself and say, “Okay, you want to have that kind of mind? Is this behavior going to get you there?” They’re very inspiring stories.

VTC: Yes, it is. To read stories of people who really lived their values.

Venerable Losang: Sometimes in situations, when there’s a group thing going on, if you speak up, there are others in the group that are glad for that. And I remember in a teaching that you talked about somebody’s example of being at the breaktime at work, people talking badly about someone, and somebody saying, “I don’t feel comfortable being part of this,” and other people saying thank you for saying that.

VTC: So you can really see how attachment to reputation, as well as the other eight worldly concerns, how much that attachment–we want to fit in with a group, we don’t want to be criticized–how much that influences our behavior. It’s another thing to work on. We want to increase our integrity and consideration for others.

But I think that that’s one of the reasons that probably influenced most of us, or at least some of us, to ordain, is that we wanted to get our ethical being in order, and what I call stop being a jerk. So I think the people who come here have that in them, wanting to do that. And we need help and support.

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.

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