Dharma Talks / Compassion and Ethics

Sr Chân Đức

Sister Annabel Chan Duc’s thought-provoking memoir True Virtue: The Journey of an English Buddhist Nun is now available everywhere books are sold. https://www.parallax.org/product/true-virtue/
This Rains Retreat we will look into the 14 Mindfulness Trainings. Sr Chan Duc continues exploring the foundations of ethics in our tradition. The 3rd and 4th line of the poem by our patriarch Lieu Quan mentioned last week by sr Doan Nghiem, from which the which the word “heart” in our Dharma names is derived, are as follows:

The source of Mind penetrates everywhere.
From the roots of virtue springs the practice of compassion.

People talk a lot about compassion these days and scientists are getting interested as well. Where is compassion in the brain and do animals have compassion as well?
[As practitioners we ask ourselves how can we build a compassionate society.]
Compassion arises from empathy, and comes with of loving kindness, happiness and health. But empathy can also lead to empathic distress, suffering and ill-health. Because of this, compassion and loving kindness meditation are becoming as widespread inn psychotherapy as mindfulness.
Some people say there are two kinds of compassion: intuitive and rational. As humans we have these sides and compassion needs both qualities. When we have a moral dilemma we can breath to quite our rational thinking and let our store consciousness make an intuitive decision. But even better is to decide as a sangha.

Over time the 14 Mindfulness Trainings have been revised to start with “Aware of…”. As the basics of ethics is the awareness of suffering. It is Thays deep aspiration to contribute to a global ethics. To do this we need to look into the ethics of other religions and cultures as well. In 1993 Thầy attended the 100th anniversary conference of the Parliament of the World’s Religions organized by Hans Küng. A initial “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” was drafted with the following points:

Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life
Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order
Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness
Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women

In order to continue Thầy and arrive at a global ethics we sometimes need to be able to let go of our dogmas.

In Anguttara Nikaya 2.9 the Buddha says there are two things that protect the world: “hiri” and “ottapa”, moral shame and moral dread. Recognizing when we do something wrong and the fear to make ourselves and other people suffer.

Mencius said humans are innate good and talks of four beginnings: “The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety; and the feeling of right or wrong is the beginning of wisdom”.

In the chant for our evening sitting meditation we sing “there is no more thought of right and wrong”. Because ethics is not about ideas, but about awareness of suffering, happiness and being able to let go of ideas.

Relevant links:

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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