Sunday, August 8, 2010

the moral/ethical path

Ethics is what we do on behalf of others. Morality is what we do when no one is looking.

I guess I thought of this again today because I was reading the words of someone searching for a Zen teacher. As he put it, once bitten, twice shy: He had run into choppy waters in the past and didn't want to get blind-sided by some new charlatan.

No one can see the future, but the writer's concerns deserved some reassurances, however flimsy those might be.

One of the good things about Zen practice is the fact that it requires your own effort, your own practice, your own experience. Mostly, this is what any decent Zen teacher will do -- encourage you to practice zazen or seated meditation ... and find out for yourself. The good part is that no one, no matter how elevated or how debased, can ever take that experience from you. No books or wisdom required -- when practicing zazen, you know ... even if what it is you know is not yet precisely clear.

Some spiritual endeavors seem to rely on ethics, which can be measured and judged. Lots of religions have laundry lists to be adhered to.

As far as I can see, Zen is not much different, but the ways in which it encourages ethical behavior have slightly different roots. Zen's roots are not some attempt to bolster a temple or teacher or text or teaching or power structure. Rather, Zen's ethics rely on morality ... what would you do if no one else were around and you faced a particular situation or sorrow?

When I started sniffing and snooping spiritual endeavor, I was more interested in the morality of things: What did spiritual endeavor mean when the woo-hoo'ing crowd was nowhere in sight? Was it fact or was it some elevated fantasy? Did it or did it not work?

Of course separating ethics and morality smells strikingly like one of those homework projects in religion or philosophy. But I think that not separating the two is as mistaken as trying to paste them together.

What will you do when no one else is around.

What will you do when everyone around you is praising god?

In both instances, what's interesting and informative -- i.e. outside the realm of mere homework or belief -- is the doing.

Doing tells the tale, whether in ethics or morality.

Just noodling.

1 comment:

  1. sry G,

    just talking aloud.

    teachers eat. students also eat. teachers and students both need to earn moolah, get wives, and have kids... sometimes they wank. hey, i do that. sometimes they go for the biggie.

    they feed their parents, they respect elders, love their kids, knock off when they finish work,

    when somebody at home is sick, they feel worried, when somebody dies, they cry.

    my 80 year old grandmother knows all this. and she's my best zen teacher.

    but i still have no solution for the penrose stairs paradox which hollywood made into a big film called Inception.

    what do u say if... i tell u secretly that all i want is a girlfriend and a nice car to zip around with her.

    take care,