Today we take the opportunity to think about the second of the Eightfold Path taught by Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), “Say nothing to hurt others.” I began my day this morning thinking about an old friend whose friendship had broken up due to hurtful words that had been spoken by her that I observed. I decided then and there that she was not the person that I had grown to know and love then one thing led to another and we, to this day, have not spoken.
Sitting in dokusan  with one of my teachers I shared this story with him and the power that those words, both hers and mine, had had in my life. I felt sad about it and wondered what good it had done.
Today I picked up from my bookshelf this wonderful book on ethics co-authored by Norman Vincent Peale and Kenneth Blanchard entitled The Power of Ethical Management (1988). I was curious as to what they had to say about ethics and the power of the word since it had been many years since I had read the book. And to my delight the very first paragraph in the introduction were the exact words I needed to hear.
In writing a book on ethics we are reminded of the story of a young Englishman who had just been elected to Parliament. When he entered the halls for the first time, he approached one of the sages and asked, “Tell me, sir, do you think I should participate in the debate today?”
The old man looked at him with piercing eyes and said, “To be honest, young man, I would recommend that you keep silent. It’s better that people wonder why you didn’t speak than wonder why you did.”
I wonder why I had spoken all those many years ago the way I had and maybe I could have handled the situation in a different manner and we would still be friends. So the Buddha says, “Say nothing to hurt others.” But when someone says something to hurt others in front of you what should you do? How should you handle it? Once handled should you talk about them in a negative way to show how “right” or “righteous” you were to speak up and set her “straight.” I will let each of you, my dear readers, make up your own mind about that, to think about how you have handled similar situations in the past and will handle similar ones in the future.
The authors go on to say:
Both of us agree that ethical behavior is related to self-esteem. We both believe that people who feel good about themselves have what it takes to withstand outside pressure and to do what is right rather than do what is merely expedient, popular, or lucrative.
Dealing with such a topic is like untangling a fishing line. The more you get into it the more complicated it becomes.
So these blog posts I’m writing on ethics will challenge me, expose me, and help me think through what I think, believe, and know about “Zen and Ethics in Business and in Life.” It will help me think before I speak so as not to “say anything to hurt others.” I hope you will take on this assignment for the week and let me know what happens.
1. Meeting of a Zen student with his/her master in the seclusion of the master’s room. Dokusan is among the most important elements in Zen training. It provides the student an opportunity privately to present to his master all problems relating to his practice.” The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991)
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