Ethical Practice As Purification

The Eightfold Path picks out Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Action as the foci for ethical practice. This is wise.

I’d like to begin with where we are, however. We engage in wrong, unwholesome, negative thought patterns; and we react, in wrong speech and in wrong action, out of these unwholesome thought patterns.

In lieu of appealing to basic ethical precepts (however helpful these may be), might each of us try to identify the particular ways in which a specific unwholesome thought, speech, and action arise? If we could do that, then we’d be in a position to formulate ethical maxims that could be skillfully applied to the specific situation–just where we need them most.

It would be good, then, to begin by identifying one’s samskaras, or false identities. If John, out of pride, believes, “I am the knower,” then unwholesome thoughts will show up (“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about–the fool”) as will wrong speech (“It seems to me that quantum mechanics says otherwise”) and wrong action (the agent in question refuses to do X or Y on the grounds that both are ‘beneath him’).

The key ethical maxims, in this case, would be:

  • Be humble: let go of pride and thus of separation.
  • Be charitable: give a lot of slack to others as they express their views, etc.
  • Be open: let go of “yes this” and “no that” (Zhuangzi).

Understood thus, ethical practice is a way of purification and thus a way also of attuning oneself to Awareness.