Why Act With Virtue?
The Buddha said,
Do no harm.
Tame the mind.”
What is ‘doing good’? What is ‘virtue’?
It is a sympathetic understanding of cause and effect. A simple sentence can have a whole load of profundity, and it’s worthwhile taking time to analyse. I sometimes feel that retreats have too much teaching; too many words and too much talking, when it’s sufficient to study one sentence, and reflect upon it in order to get to the root of our problem.
To act with virtue, we need a sympathetic understanding of cause and effect. The result of cause and effect is a build up of conditions for the future. The future is now! Because of this karma (or karmic reaction) in the past, conditions are created that appear now: this is sometimes termed ‘karmic debt’ coming to fruition, coming in the form of physical and mental productions. Whatever occurs or appears, we have a habitual karmic reaction, and so the status quo is maintained…we go round in circles, creating more of the same!
We should not underestimate how difficult it is to break out of this insane asylum.
A sympathetic understanding is compassionate understanding for whatever arises, both in the physical and in the mind. It is in our reactions that the potential lies. To react to the reactions merely creates more reactions = karma. So, “Do no harm”, thereby “Taming the mind.” We also have to remember that is it not only our mind for which we need a sympathetic understanding; it’s the minds of others as well. It is only through this sympathetic understanding that compassion can truly arise.
The cause of causes and effects is the emotions of desire and aversion; that which we want and do not want. These two go on to create the chain reaction of pride, jealousy and fear, which well and truly imprison us into the dungeon of cyclic existence – the asylum.
Where do desire and aversion come from? They come from ignoring our true nature; ignorance of our true nature is the root cause of emotions, which then go on to create karma. When we rest in our true nature – pure awareness, empty awareness – desire, aversion and ignorance do not arise. And so, when resting in our true nature, we automatically do no harm, do good and tame the mind… producing no karma!
Our greatest problem is our reactions, which are karmically produced. Unfortunately, our reactions seem to be part of us, and that is our curse.
How we deal with all this is down to the capacity of the individual, and how important we feel this is. Acting with virtue smooths the path to pathlessness.
There is one more aspect of which we need to be cognisant: there are actions that are neither good nor bad, but neutral. They are neither harmful nor beneficial, and it’s up to every individual to discern whether these are a delaying tactic, or emptiness itself.