Posts Tagged ‘Barbara O’Brien’

Well, we may think that this is an easy topic to talk about when it comes to ethics in business and in life. There are stories every day about people who get caught up in their inability to resist temptation which often can result in “evil” actions. We can name them by the dozens, from big thieves like Bernie Madoff, who made off with everyone’s money and Jerry Sandusky the Penn State coach who turned out to be a serial child molester. But what about the smaller actions that we take every day in business and in life that might not create “evil” but could create hardship and anguish in our loved ones, friends, or co-workers lives. Those actions could be on purpose or by accident, but they can still create harm. Today might be a great day to look within and see the faces that we show to others though out the day.

Naming things good or bad or evil is what we do as human beings. If you look up the word on dictionary.com you’ll find 14 different definitions for the word which can be used as an adjective, noun, adverb, or idiom. Definition #10 was my favorite, “anything causing injury or harm: ‘Tobacco is considered by some to be an evil.’” Wow! The word is so broad that we can use it daily until it becomes meaningless.

Barbara O’Brien (http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/evil.htm) defines evil in two ways.

First evil as intrinsic characteristic: It’s common to think of evil as an intrinsic characteristic of some people or groups. In other words, some people are said to be evil. Evil is a quality that is inherent in their being.

Second: Evil as external force. In this view, evil lurks about and infects or seduces the unwary into doing bad things. The problem with doing that Barbara says is then “it becomes possible to justify doing them harm.” Then who becomes the “evil one”? She goes on to say, “Buddhism teaches us that evil is something we create, not something we are or some outside force that infects us.”

We had a saying in Unity: “What you resist persists.” Because while we are “resisting evil” what are we doing? We are thinking about it, mulling over it, doing something “evil” to the “evil doer” and that creates more energy and “evil” thoughts and deeds. That then affects our lives in a negative way. Remember good thoughts beget good actions, bad thoughts beget bad actions. That’s the law. Look for the good in all things. If bad things are happening look for a way to turn that into an opportunity for thinking good and doing good.

A great example of this technique is Malala Yousafzai the young woman who was shot in the head for wanting to go to school in Pakistan. She is now an education advocate for girls around the globe and was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. [1]

It is good to recognize that every day is a new day and we are given the opportunity to look a new at our thoughts and the actions that they create in our lives. As we observe we can choose to act on the negative thoughts or not. We can choose goodness, happiness, kindness, and compassion over evil thoughts and mean actions or harmful words–or not.

We can learn how to quickly identify the negative thoughts in our minds and just as quickly dismiss them and let them go. Or we can continue to give them power and harm ourselves and others. Just this…as we say in Buddhism. Or how about turning them into good like Malala? The choice is yours, which will you make today?

In gassho,


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66tIRTm91F8&spfreload=10)

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A few days ago I decided to do a series of blog posts on the 10 Paramitas in Buddhism as shared in Sylvia Boorstein’s book, Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake (2002).  She described these 10 ideals by which we live as Buddhists: Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Lovingkindness, and Equanimity (page 9).[1]  We started by practicing the Paramita of Generosity and each morning before we arose we set our intention for the day to find every opportunity or to create opportunities to be generous.

I found it very easy and lots of fun as well.  When grocery shopping I found some great things on sale that a friend of mine just loves so I bought them for him and surprised him when he came home from work they were sitting on his kitchen counter.  He sure was surprised and very appreciative of the gifts and enjoyed eating them throughout the next few days.  How wonderful is that!

Now I am going to take on the next Paramita on Sylvia’s list: Morality.  Wow, now we are in to the heady and often controversial stuff!  So let’s dive in with both feet into our newest adventure in life.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word moral as: “of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character; pertaining to the discernment of good and evil and being or acting in accordance with standards and precepts of goodness or with established codes of behavior…

“Mahayana scholars identified three categories of sila: Morality as restraint, morality as virtue, and morality as the selfless activity of compassion. These categories show us a progression of training, from self-concern to selfless concern,” writes Barbara O’Brien in her essay on “Sila Paramita: The Perfection of Morality.”[2]

She goes on to explain in her essay about what Morality is not.  “It’s important to understand that the basis of Buddhist morality is not found in external authority. In other words, the practice of morality is not found in unquestioning obedience of a list of rules. Instead, the perfection of morality is the natural expression of wisdom and compassion.”[3]

Whew, that’s a relief because if I had to review all the lists from all the religions of the world to see what they considered moral and what they considered immoral I’d be in a lot of trouble. Some say drinking alcohol is a sin and will send you to hell in a hand basket,” whatever that is, and others drink every single day as they serve wine during the Eucharist!  What’s up with that?

Zen Buddhists are minimalists and I just love that.  That makes me happy, keep it simple I say. It sure makes life easier knowing that if I focus on three simple things in my life—restraint, virtue, and compassion—I can live up to the ideals taught and practiced in Buddhism that resonate deep within me.

If we want an easy way to know if our thoughts, deeds, and actions are moral ones we can take a look at a Morality sermon preached by the Buddha as Sylvia describes it: “…the Buddha said that there are three times that a person should consider the consequences of any action: before, during, and after. “One should reflect thus,’ he said. “’Is what I am about to do. . .’ or ‘Is what I am currently doing. . .’ or ‘is what I just did. . . for my own well-being and for the benefit of all others (page 73).’”[4]

These go hand in hand with Zen Buddhism’s Three Pure Precepts: Cease all evil deeds, cultivate goodness, act for the benefit of others.  It sounds a little redundant, but redundancy is a good thing.  I tell my students all the time that it takes 12 times of handling the same information to learn it.  So how can we practice something that we have not integrated into our mind, body, and spirit?  Do as many things as you can over the next few days that will give you the opportunity to cease all evil deeds, cultivate goodness, and act for the benefit of others.  That shouldn’t be too hard I don’t think.

You could take Sylvia’s list of “Morality as restraint, morality as virtue, and morality as the selfless activity of compassion.” Or combine Sylvia and Barbara’s lists.  This adventure will take you through some tough times and some joyous times.  It may make you look at yourself in a different light.  You may choose to restrain yourself from getting into an argument with someone, even though you may feel justified in doing so.  Then take a look at how it worked out.  Did it end up being as the Buddha said, “for your own well-being and for the benefit of all others?”  I sure do hope so!

Barbara goes on to say, “Morality as restraint touches on renunciation. Renunciation is understood to be releasing whatever binds us to ignorance and suffering. . . So, we begin the journey by giving up behaviors that bind us, such as lying, stealing, and attachment. . .”[5]  Our attachments can be to almost anything: people, places, behaviors, thoughts, and even things.

So let me know how your next few days go with the morality trip!  It may be like a roller coaster, it may be like a trip in a hot air balloon, and, if you like, it could even be like a trip to the beach filled with sunshine and light.  You make the choice and then let me know what happens and enjoy the trip wherever you go!

[1] Boorstein, Sylvia, Pay Attention, for Goodness’ sake. Ballantine Books

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. Boorstein

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