Buddhist Ethics / Talk 1: At Home in the Here and Now

Thay’s 2008/09 Teachings on Ethics – Talk 1 – Rains 2023

Dear friends,

Join us in learning, reflecting, and applying these teachings on a Buddhist contribution toward a Global Ethic - made available for the first time with English subtitles. 

We will continue to share related videos, excerpts, and reflection questions throughout November, December, and January.

Buddhist contribution toward a Global Ethic

There are many different wisdom traditions in the world, and each has their own insights, wisdom, and experience of ethics and morality. How can we move toward acknowledging the values that we hold in common – a Global Ethic that is accepted by the whole of humanity?

As Buddhist practitioners, we have the responsibility to speak out about the Buddhist contribution to the new Global Ethic. We need to use our wisdom to examine things and discover the basic principles.

In the Buddhist teachings, ethics means the guiding principles that lead to a path, manifested as the conduct between humans and are accepted by everyone. It contains the word ‘virtue‘, such as integrity, charity … the qualities that bring us happiness and do not bring suffering to others.

Ethics is Đạo Đức in Vietnamese (道德 in Chinese). Đạo (道) means path. Đức (德) means virtue. The virtues that shine the light for us and show us the way to act, so that we do not suffer and do not make others suffer. So that we can be happy and from there, to bring happiness to others.

The first teaching that the Buddha offered to his five spiritual friends set the foundation for an ethic. In that teaching, called “The Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dharma”, he spoke of human suffering and how to transform suffering. And he offered the methods of practice – a path to transform suffering.

The First Truth is that there are real sufferings in our heart and in society. It is a truth. We have to recognize the presence of suffering in order to resolve it.

Ethics or morality is like that. We bring our mind home to re-examine our sufferings, to find a path. How to act. What we ought to do. What we ought to be. We need to identify the sufferings of now.

We need to recognize the violence, division, fanaticism, environmental destruction. And there are of course personal sufferings that are connected to that of the entire Earth. It could be despair, hatred, anxiety. We must acknowledge that it is real in order to find a path to transform it.

If we want to transform the suffering, we must see the roots of the suffering.

For example, if we want to reverse the situation of climate crises, we must see why this phenomenon exists – our ways of daily consumption, car use, deforestation, raising cattle for meat … all these are contributing factors. This is the Second Noble Truth – “the making of ill being”. If we cannot see the Second Truth, we cannot hope to transform the suffering.

It is similar to the principles of medicine. We are sick. What are the causes of that sickness? Sometimes it is our diet; sometimes it is too much anxiety; sometimes it is working too much with no time to relax.

What are the roots of the world's pains and sufferings?

Why are there economic crises? 

Why is the environment being destroyed? 

Why is there so much violence and hatred? 

At the 1993 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, representatives of many different religions jointly signed the Declaration Towards a Global Ethic. We also invite those of other ethical and religious paths to look deeply together. Whether our friends are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, you also acknowledge that the sufferings are real and they have their root causes near and far.

Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s 2008 November 20 teaching –
Dharma Nectar Temple, Plum Village France

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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