That which goes a little bit beyond the concept of morality is called ethics. What is ethics, and how does ethics connect with morality, and what is the difference? A very quick and simple answer would be that morality can be spelled out and ethics is beyond words. Morality helps us to become ethical. What is the root of "ethics"? I like to connect it with the word "ether", or the pure air, which has no pollutants in it. It is something that can pervade and enter our whole being—our mind and our body—and make us more lighthearted, more buoyant, more alive, more subtle, and more capable of bending. It helps us transform ourselves and our minds so we can grasp concepts beyond words. We can hope to see then into the roots of cause and effect and know what is good and what is bad without having to think about it. Morality is a guide to hold onto; ethics is further down the path. And a teacher needs to awaken that sense of ethics in his students.
In some languages of this world, like the languages of the Middle East—Hebrew, the ancient Semitic languages, and Arabic of today--the word for ethics is associated with creativity. It is the creativity of the human being that is good that is called ethics. Ethics has to do with creating good things. Anything that is created that is bad is not worth the title of being a "creature"—something that is created; it is not ethical. And what is not ethical is almost not alive— for that part of the world.
In our modern world, we know that there are many, many complex issues. Our world is a very complicated one. Those who teach definitely need to understand ethics, at least in theory if not in practice. Most of us here are quite aware of what the modern world is about. It began, so to speak, in the eighteenth century, or roughly two hundred years ago. It is the world of science; everything needs to be scientific in this world. It has to be measurable, provable, and tangible. If you cannot prove something, then it is not even worth thinking about. This attitude has by now swept our whole world and taken hold of it. That is why people these days do not study the arts, Buddhism, or anything that would be called the humanities—anything that is hard to prove. And even if anyone has the interest, that interest is usually discouraged by his or her parents, because it doesn't make any money. Parents are worried about the well-being of their children, and there is very little prestige in studying something that is not measurable, provable, or tangible. Those who nevertheless do study the humanities must limit these hard-to-prove concepts into little, tangible bites-they have to be able to prove them anyway, so they have to oversimplify very complex ideas and put them in little boxes.
People today are encouraged to become engineers, scientists, business majors, lawyers, and doctors, mostly because those are respected and profitable professions. I'm not trying to say that this is a bad thing necessarily, because all of these profession have methods, and they have potentials of helping human beings. There's no question about this. But unfortunately, these days ethics is not emphasized as the goal of these professions. In fact, these scientific professions are only concerned with short-term usefulness and quick results. As a reaction to this scientific approach that is so efficient and quick, and is taking over, we now have something that is increasingly popular in this world, which the scholars call "postmodernism." We are not in the modern world anymore, in the world of scientific truth and experiments, but in the postmodern world.
The modern world of science was very rigid. It always had to have proofs. Two and two was always four in the modern world. Now we have a reaction to this, and that is the postmodern world.
What is postmodernism? It is a lot of things. It is the bits and pieces of ancient culture that are floating about the earth. But mostly, it is a rebellion against the rigid scientific approach to life. We might not be aware of this, but it is a very serious revolution against science. And there are elements in it that are quite positive, that I consider to be very good reaction to the very narrow approach. But, like everything else in this world, in postmodernism too, it is very hard to find and stick to the Middle Path.
Postmodernism is very liberated, because it encourages people to free themselves from those rigid, petrified old traditions and their forms-forms that were very often created by modernism. Modernism was very formal; it had to have logic behind everything it did. Postmodernism encourages us to free ourselves from this. But, once we are free, then what? The answer is simply not there. And that is the question which the world is posing to itself today. "Alright, we broke all the forms, we broke all the traditions—now what?" It's a very scary question.
To be continued