Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Morality is a difficult and pertinent area particularly for Western Buddhists brought up in a universe firmly governed by Greco-Christian codified systems of morality. We bump up against our fear that without applied morality, our religious commandments and precepts that we will all run amok causing strife and disorder.
Notions of becoming ‘better’ people through studying philosophy or ascetic religious practises of one sort or another, of becoming ‘more moral’ or ‘spiritual’ are endemic. Many schools of Buddhism have compounded these misunderstandings by creating ever more labyrinthine lists and systems of precepts or determining that there are attainable states of being in which we can realise something special.
As Buddhists, we have noticed that the future is not here yet and the past has gone forever. Existence is this very moment which is, in fact, the only existence we have. How can we act morally with this understanding? When we meet this fleeting moment of existence we can’t apply a codified system of morality to it because it will already have gone and the moment for moral action will have passed. If we think about a situation, process and analyse it according to our system then act, are we acting to the same set of circumstances? These codes also presume that there is an element of predictability to human life, that it is possible to construct rules that can be applied to widely varied real situations and always produce a ‘good’ outcome or at least if action is determined by them that action will be morally sound on the behalf of the individual concerned. But examining the cause and effect of real actions we can see that ‘good’ actions as often cause ‘bad’ outcomes as the reverse is true.
From a Buddhist perspective, if I tap my pencil on my desk five times in a row, each strike of the pencil falls in a separate universe, a separate dimension. In actuality, this is true. We can remember the previous taps but our memories occur in the dimension of actuality. Our memories of experience are shadows in the present of parallel universes that have come into and passed out of the dimension of reality.