Justifying Anything

Ajahn Amaro

Justifying Anything

The subject of sila, or virtuous, beautiful conduct, is a very tricky area which people often misunderstand. It is therefore an area where we can benefit from some guidance and instruction – some understanding about how best to conduct ourselves in the manner in which we relate both to our own life and to other people.

Often, we are attracted to the Buddha’s teaching because it cuts right to the very heart of our experience. I was certainly drawn by the ultimate and incisive nature of it – in particular, the teachings on emptiness. This seemed to be one of the most important aspects of the teachings – i.e., that which pertains to transcendent, ultimate reality.

In Western culture, we tend not to want to settle for second best. We want to aim for the top and we can tend towards the same kind of attitude in our approach to religious life. Why bother with the provisional teachings, the kindergarten stuff, when we can go for enlightenment just by the use of these powerful insights into selflessness and emptiness, or into the essential Buddha nature of all beings?

You come across this in different Buddhist traditions, particularly Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. This aspect of the teachings, that all beings are Buddhas and everything is perfect just as it is, was stressed in Buddhism’s early years in the West: “We just have to awaken to the perfection that comprises everything around us. And once we have that realization we can act in whatever way pleases us. If we are all Buddhas, then we act as Buddhas and everything that a Buddha says and does is perfect.” So, the teaching was often interpreted in a way to justify any kind of activity. With the back-up of Ultimate Truth, everything is perfect. So, no matter what I do or how it looks to you, or to the police, it’s all perfect.

…But then we tend to find that what may have been a valid insight, after a while, just becomes a memory of something that we believe we have accomplished. We take it as some kind of credit card that we can keep spending on and never pay the bill – because there’s no one there to send it to. It is just as if you received your account from Visa and returned it to them saying, “There is no one here. No one actually owns this card. Therefore here is your bill returned.” If you did this, you’d soon receive a visit from someone in a uniform!

This interpretation has been a common occurrence in the West, causing a lot of distress: people have taken some big mystical experience, or ratification by a spiritual authority (such as being named a Dharma Heir), or some approval by a teacher of great reputation, as an indication of their enlightenment. I’ve heard of people saying, “You don’t understand what I do because I’m enlightened and you are not. Therefore, you can’t understand the motives of my actions. You should not question what I do.”

Anything can be justified by this outlet.

This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, Rain on the Nile, (pdf) pp.170, 171.

Biographies of the Buddha

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Biographies of the Buddha

The Buddha, as a teacher, was adamant about the power of action and focused special attention on what skillful actions could accomplish in bringing about a true and unchanging happiness. So it’s only natural to want to know what he himself did and what he was able to accomplish through his actions. An account of his life allows people who are not yet convinced of his awakening to assess him as a t…

Cessation

Ajahn Viradhammo

Cessation

“Cessation” is an important word in Buddhism, and it’s one that I like to define as the fading away of the sense of self. The sense of self fades away when we don’t attach to an experience. Cessation occurs when we learn to look at experience objectively. For instance, if I’m becoming irritated while I’m talking with someone, I can notice my reactions as objects in the mind and feelings in the bod…

Encased in Our Personal Histories

Ajahn Sucitto

Encased in Our Personal Histories

We have to keep challenging this ‘I’m a separate entity’ paradigm by which we tend to operate. If you were asked, ‘Where are you really?’, most of you would probably experience yourselves as living somewhere behind your eyes. This is the ‘me’ bit, somewhere up in the head, with all the rest underneath it. In other words, I don’t regard my head as being on top of me; I regard my feet as being under…

Firmly Intent

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Firmly Intent

In Thailand, when they translate “concentration” into Thai [from the Pāli], they translate it as being “firmly intent.” In other words, the mind is not simply still and quiet. There’s also a very strong intention to stay that way, to maintain this stillness. Of course, to stay right here you need motivation. You have to understand that this is a good thing to do. And there’s so much out there tha…

The Importance of Concentration

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

The Importance of Concentration

The desire to get the mind into concentration is an important part of the path. There are two reasons for why you need concentration. One of the purposes of concentration is to provide good food for the mind: a sense of pleasure, a sense of well-being that comes when you get the mind to settle down and you don’t need to think about how to gain pleasant sights, nice sounds, pleasant smells, tastes,…

Bowing, an Opening of the Heart

Ajahn Sumedho

Bowing, an Opening of the Heart

Bowing…this is another tradition. Learn how to bow mindfully, putting one’s head down, surrendering oneself physically, giving oneself in the act of bowing, instead of just saying, “I am not aggressive, I am not proud and arrogant.” If you get proud that you bow so well, or if you start hating people that do not bow, then … ! This is an act of devotion, and devotion is an opening of the heart, of…

The Monastery as a Refuge

Ajahn Jayasaro

The Monastery as a Refuge

The monastery, he [Ajahn Chah] said, was a refuge from the stresses and strains of daily life. It was a place where people could take a step back from their lives, take an overview and learn life skills that would stand them in good stead in their daily life. If they left it too long, it might be too late. He teased people who waited to go to the monastery until they could no longer sit on the flo…

Unacknowledged Suffering

Ajahn Munindo

Unacknowledged Suffering

The Buddha’s teachings on cultivating caring aim to equip us with skilful defences which strengthen and protect us without compromising our sensitivity and discernment. They aim to give us the skill to meet life, whatever that might mean in our case. Nobody goes through this experience of life without periods of feeling intensely challenged. What matters is how well prepared we are for the challen…

The Difference Between Form and Spirit

Ajahn Munindo

The Difference Between Form and Spirit

Most of us, at least in the beginning, do not always appreciate the difference between form and spirit in practice. For instance, our initial interest in meditation may well have been inspired by hearing that it could help us become more peaceful and help increase understanding. However, if we are not careful about how we engage with the forms and techniques used in developing meditation, we can j…