Basic Instructions in Integrity

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Basic Instructions in Integrity

The chief danger, of course, lies in the mind’s creative capacity for self-deception. But—unlike many other religious figures—the Buddha didn’t simply recommend that if we can’t trust ourselves we should place our trust in him. Instead, he provided ways for us to train ourselves to be trustworthy by investigating the areas where we tend to lie to ourselves most: our intentions and the results of our actions.

In his first instructions to his son, Rahula, he told Rahula to reflect on his intentions before acting on them and to carry through with them only if he saw that his intended action would cause no harm. While acting, he should reflect on the immediate results of his actions; if they were causing any unintended harm, he should stop. After acting, he should reflect on the long-term results of his actions. If he saw that they actually “did cause harm, he should resolve never to repeat them. If they didn’t, he should take joy and continue on the path.”

These are basic instructions in integrity: learning to see where you can and can’t trust yourself, and—by repeatedly testing yourself against the principle of action and result—making yourself a person you can consistently trust. As you develop this inner integrity, it becomes easier to gauge the integrity of any teaching or teacher you encounter, for here, too, the Buddha recommends vigilance, testing things through action and result. Gauge teachings by the harm they do or don’t create when you put them into practice. Gauge teachers, not by their special powers, divine authority, or enlightened transmission, but by the harm they do or don’t do through their actions.

This pattern of heedful scrutiny applies not only to blatant actions but also to the most subtle workings of the mind: your response to sensory stimuli, your deepest meditative and non-meditative experiences. Whatever you’re doing—and especially when you don’t seem to be doing anything at all—don’t be complacent. Look carefully, again and again, for even the slightest stress or disturbance you might be causing inadvertently, and learn how to drop whatever you’re doing that’s causing it. Keep at this until there’s nothing more to be dropped.

In this way, your sense of appamada helps to ensure that your path goes all the way to the Deathless. To borrow an old analogy: if the practice is like a building, then appamada is not only the foundation. It also acts as the walls and the roof as well.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, Purity of Heart, (pdf) p.90.