The Noble Eight-fold Path
By Bhiksuni Heng K’ung (Cont. from issue #119)
Right action is abandoning wrong action, that is, leaving behind fetters, defilements, wrongness, worldly states, greed, perversions, bad ways, hankerings, cravings, and inherent tendencies. If we avoid these undesirable states, all our actions will be good. Why is this? We cannot live without expressing ourselves and if we simply guide our expression without interfering in it, everything we do will be of benefit. Not interfering is simply not asserting one's personal desires too strongly. Not asserting is keeping the mind still and inactive. It is not asserting one thing at the expense of negating another. We want to be careful that in excluding one assertion we don't assert its negative. This is like walking in mountain torrents to avoid the peaks. When we assert our desires, we are unable to recognize solutions to problems other than the ones we formulate based on those desires. Guiding our expression is being mindful of unbeneficial means and avoiding them. Guiding our expression is establishing a code of ethics that we are willing to maintain even at the cost of personal sacrifice. The five precepts are an example of such a code of ethics, that is, no killing, no stealing, no lying, no taking of intoxicants, and no sexual misconduct.
In cultivating the Way the response we obtain is directly related to the amount of effort we expend in the direction of personal sacrifice. In looking at the above list of wrong actions, fetters are a desire to own more than we need. If we have more than we can use we are depriving another of his or her share. Among defilements, one of the greatest is stiffness of mind: being unable to say to yourself, "I may be wrong." If we spend a lot of mental energy trying to justify our shortcomings and make them appear right, we are only preventing truth from illumining our minds and dispersing our afflictions.
Wrongness is just the opposite of rightness as delineated in the Noble Eight-fold Path. The Eight Worldly States are:
We must develop our inner life to the extent that these states cannot turn us around even for an instant. The five kinds of greed occur with respect to:
And they manifest as our inability to share these things with other people.
Bad ways mean doing what should not be done and leaving undone what should be done. Hankerings and cravings are the desire for unbeneficial objects and states. Inherent tendencies refers to our bad habits which need to be overcome.
Not cheating people is right livelihood. Right livelihood is cleansing because it relies on the Law of Karma. When we determine our success or failure and proceed to accomplish our task ahead without fear of loss or anxiety about gain, this is Right Livelihood. Knowing that to seek outwardly is an obstruction, the cultivator of the Way never leaves his self-nature even while engaged in a myriad of activities.
These three, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood constitute the virtue-aggregate of the Path. Virtue has the nature of stopping misconduct. Many people make resolutions to stand by a code of ethics and guide their minds along basic moral lines. This often manifests as trying to imitate the good qualities in the character of a religious sage or in the character of a great hero. One may think to embody his patience, generosity, fearlessness, etc. Or one may make the decision to hold one of the prohibitive precepts such as no killing or no taking of intoxicants. Or perhaps one decides to adopt an ascetic practice such as eating once a day. Many people in the course of a lifetime make a resolution to hold firm to a guiding principle to improve themselves. Although many people make such a resolve, only those endowed with virtue hold firm to such a resolve. The ordinary person may keep the resolve for a long time under ideal circumstances, but as soon as adverse conditions prevail, calling on one to make a personal sacrifice, one becomes confused and abandons one's practice. A virtuous person holds firm to his practice even if it necessitates his making personal sacrifices. Personal sacrifices are letting go of something one never dreamed one would have to let go of. Virtue is the servant of conscience and shame and is manifest as purity.
-Continued next issue.