Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:

Sunday lecture: Morality. Hedonists, perfectionists. College days. John Adams. Strawberry/cliff story. Wrong-doing = causing harm to oneself or others. Ten grave precepts. Gay rights.


Recording starts after beginning of talk.

Auto-Generated Transcript

was joined by an old friend and her son who is in training to be a rabbi and he just returned from a year in israel where he had among other things been picking fruit for the palestinians on the west bank
and i knew from my friend how frightened she was for him so i was celebrating with her his safe return
and while he and i spoke he's a very
sweet and
sincere young man
he asked me what i was going to talk about today
and i kind of
grasped my heart and said morality and he said oh how very brave

think it's interesting ironic given that priests and reverence and rabbis are afraid to talk about morality
who will do it

the word ethics who comes from a greek word for character for our personal character
and the word morals from a latin word for social customs mores
so from my point of view it's taken quite a long time for this generation of california hippie anarchist send students to confront collectively the excesses of the cultural revolution
in which many of us took an eager part
in fact i think that's how most of us got here in the first place to the zen center we were in rebellion against what we perceived as the dark values of the mainstream culture
racism sexism capitalism militarism and so on and so on
but now in our middle years we are all called on to look again
at what was the baby and what was the stinky bathwater of our revolution
i remembered sane when i was in college to anyone who would listen that i wasn't immoral i was a moral
i didn't want anything to do with right and wrong as defined by them
i was mostly concerned with the various enthusiasms of my own studies of music of romance and of art
and as a political science major i even learned about a classical philosophical tradition called hedonism
led by epicurus
and to my understanding hedonism held that the pleasure or the good feelings in life for the essence of of human development
and in contrast to epicurus to where the perfectionists led by aristotle and plato and the stoics
and their view come to my understanding
was that doing things well and doing bring those things worth doing was the essence of human well being
and to my juvenile ears that sounded a bit too much like the protestant ethic which i knew very little about but had decided i didn't like
so believing that these two systems the hedonists and perfectionists were contradictory rather than complimentary which in fact they are
like many of my generation through a someone under educated and youthful wishful thinking chose hedonism as a path of pleasure
well with my youth long fled i recently read in my new a cambridge dictionary of philosophy what epicurus actually had to say
i'm embarrassed to note
what he said in his own words was that excelling at things worth doing that is exercising one's intellectual powers and moral virtues in exemplary and fruitful ways is in itself the try
tried and true means to experiencing life's most satisfying pleasures
little bit of a different story
and then in reading a little bit more from the other camp the perfectionists aristotle is quoted as saying
it's the importance of pleasure
in doing a deeply satisfying job a job well done
so leading the good life in both of these classical western traditions really came down to pretty much the same thing a lot of hard work and a deep commitment to moral clarity and behaviors
so at the same time that i was misreading the classics in my undergraduate years at san francisco state college i was also carrying around mao's little red book in my work shirt pocket
i lived on ashbury street and i had bought some posters my freshman year on haight street that i decorated my room with on the left was fidel castro and on the right check rivera and over my bed
a bank of america on fire

so basically i had an attitude
and i suppose in those days i was as willing on my way to school to pick a fight as i was to fall in love and pretty much they came down to the same thing as i recall
but fortunately for me the baby survived and has for many of us it came in the form of my buddhist practice and some many years of psychotherapy and the very good fortune of having a child of my own
as a result i have been able to realign myself with the values of community and with other old fashioned notions like integrity
and this is the same values that i now wish for my girl child i support and encourage her for the sake of her safety and her maturation as i am now certain my parents wished for me
i found a charming letter in a book i've been reading a bout a book about john adams who
it was amazing man i didn't know much about him but i do now in this letter was written by his wife abigail whom he dearly loved
to their ten year old son john quincy
and he and his father were about to sail across the atlantic on a mission to france and behalf with the united states and its war for independence from britain
here the mother to her son you are in possession of a natural good understanding and of spirits unbroken by adversity and untamed with care
in for acquiring useful knowledge and virtue such as will render you an ornament to society an honor to your country and a blessing to your parents and remember you are accountable to your maker for all your words and as
so just what was that stinky bathwater
and what is it that we were trying to address and to root out from the culture that surrounded us in the nineteen sixties and from which surrounds us now
and perhaps after all it wasn't the protestant ethic that offended us put the lack of ethics altogether
separating stinky bath water from the baby is an ancient human problem and it was exactly the same problem that drove the young shocking when you buddha from his home twenty five hundred years ago
he left his beloved family in search of some deeper meaning to life
and to are very great fortune he found what he was looking for
and he found it by sitting all by himself under a tree
and he located inside of his very own human mind
just as the ocean or monks has one taste the taste of salt my teaching has one taste the taste of liberation
according to the buddha's teaching there are basically two ways that we can understand ourselves and the world around us
one way is through ignorance or delusion and this way is the most common and it's very easy for us
in fact according to the buddha were born to it
the other way is through wisdom and truth and it's not so common and it's quite difficult for us
our task in this life is to grow and ability to tell one from the other to tell ignorance and delusion from wisdom and truth
and this is precisely what may we mean in zan by the word practice this is our practice
and like a healing salve it applies to everything that we do we say and we think through the actions of our bodies our speech and our minds
in other words all of our behaviors and all of the consequences that result from the choices that we make day by day year by year throughout the course of our lives
for some of us in the human family those choices have included very harmful behaviors such as addictions to drugs and alcohol or two sex or possessions or power or ideas
they've also included harmful behaviors of speech such as line conceit and slander
they've included repeated outbreaks of violence and theft
in the extremes we record these behaviors in our daily newspapers in fact it's pretty much what we mean by the news
yesterday i was looking at the chronicle and there are few headlines i wanted to mention
laughing driver runs over ma'am
no jobs waiting for a pedophile priests
dead bodies placed at us embassy in iberia
that was yesterday's paper i haven't seen what's in the paper today
so what i'm talking about are not just the extreme violations of human decency that have plagued our planet for all time
but also the minor violations by which many of us have learned to navigate in a so-called modern world
all the little white lies
the flirtations
the strategizing and the stations
and i also want to talk about the buddhist path as an alternate route to human happiness safety and freedom
it's a path of simplicity a virtue and of humility
and as my new young rabbi friends said yesterday he was so grateful to learn from an older rabbi that humility is not about lowering yourself it's about raising up all of those around you
in its basic formulation we can think of buddhism as a the study of ethical cause and effect
and to put it more simply than good leads to good and bad leads to bad
and that there is a path that runs between these two called the middle way

oh i'm sorry

so the middle way as the buddha described avoids the extremes between
severe goodness and severe badness
i think as we can all see in our political spectrum that the far left in the far right look very much like one another to the convictions of self righteousness
and this is not the middle way
the middle way is a path that requires of us are fullest attention and our deepest commitment to telling the truth
especially to ourselves
there's a well-known buddhist story about a man who's been chased by a tiger he comes to a cliff and climbs down a vine only to discover a second tiger is waiting for him at the bottom
so while he's hanging there he notices a fresh ripe wild strawberry growing from the side of the cliff and he picks the strawberry eats it and says how delicious

the practice of the buddhist path such as articulated in sixteen bodhisattva precepts of our tradition requires that each of us face each situation just like that
not going back not going forward
not being particularly brave or particularly frightened
simply meeting precisely what is
so i think for those of us who were raised in a predominantly secular society on notions of civil liberty of personal and religious freedom
and of human rights and who lived through the cultural revolution of the nineteen sixties
it may come as a bit of a shock to encounter the elements of the buddhist tradition which mandate ice serious personal social ethic
and particularly in regards to issues that many of us fought very hard for
sexual freedom freedoms of speech and also the freedom to intoxicate ourselves in any way whatsoever as often as we pleased
to a large extent we demanded the decriminalization of our path of pleasure

and i wanted to say that
at this point i thought well i bet they're gonna worry a little bit ah
about where i might be edited or where i might be coming from for that matter and i wanted you to know for me personally this
court regarding gay and lesbian rights was a great joy and relief
for too long this part of our human population has been gravely abused
and as with sexism and racism it's high time it was overturned
so i don't find any conflict in discussing morality and human rights because the precepts are not about rights thereabout the obligation that each of us faces to confront in ourselves what we consider to be are
own wrongdoing

there's a simple criteria for us in understanding wrongdoing and that is whether or not we're causing harm to ourselves or does someone else
we do have the right to sleep with our best friend's wife or husband
and we do have the right to drink a quart of alcohol a day or to smoke a pack of cigarettes or to sell defective products
we have that right
so it's not our rights that give us pause or that make us well
something else is needed
something that comes from inside in the secrecy of our own hearts where we take and hold our bows and our promises
only each of us can heal from inside that which has been broken
quite often my daughter will say to me after she's done something that she knows she's not supposed to do
i didn't do that in one i or she says are you calling me a liar
reminds me of marlon brando in the godfather are you call him a liar
well yes matter back
do i dare
so the denial and the defense of our bad habits is kind of cute in a child
but in an adult or in the leaders of a nation it's not so cute
it's quite startling it shouldn't be startling you know where are the weapons of mass destruction
and what was president clinton doing with all of those women who were not his wife if it wasn't having sex
these aren't questions of rights their questions of integrity
of unkept promises
and of ethics and morality
a disciple of the buddha does not kill
does not take what is not given
does not lie
does not sexualized others
does not intoxicate mind or body of self or others
does not slander others does not praise oneself at others' expense
is not possessive of anything
does not harbor ill will
does not disparage the triple treasure of buddha dharma and sangha

the way that these precepts function is they act kind of like a die to illuminate the border line between what i see as myself and what i see as the other
the road and this is the relationship that the precepts colonists to study that between myself and all of you i promise not to kill you
i promise not to steal from you and so on each of them is about a promise that i make to you
so the precepts are not about making the world safe for me there about making me save for the world

through the pete precepts and through focusing our attention on relationships we begin to see how we are bound to one another
and how the welfare of the world by extension it depends entirely on our relationships to one another
in the buddhists great vision
he saw that the world around him was like a siamese twin to which he was bound by mind heart and hips
and since it's already so we don't need to make it any other way the strawberry is sweet and delicious all by itself
the precepts call on us to minimize if not eliminate entirely the disrespect and abuse that we cultivated through are delusional thinking
disrespectful and abusive behaviors happen freely among us regardless of our age
or disability
and the buddhist teaching is not about who we are it's not about how we look or what we have it's about how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves
basically it's about love and all of the challenges that the lover has in the face of their inborn tendencies for greed for hatred and for delusion
and as the dalai lama said after the nine eleven attacks don't look for blame look for causes
what are the causes
the primary cause of human suffering according to the buddha his delusion
and the primary delusion is of a separate self
out of that delusion flow all of the judgments and criticisms based on the appearance of difference between us
for example there is the delusion of normal and abnormal
if i were to be considered normal that would make almost all of you somewhat abnormal
well we can choose someone else and make the rest of us have one or more
but either way we have to ask ourselves what is the point
and i think the point is that we want to belong
it's true have children it's true of us we want to belong we want to belong because we believe that we don't
the hungry snake of delusion and longing begins by eating its very own tail
when we see one another as separate
we begin to look for our own tribe or our own people
those who we like and those who are like us
in other words those who are normal
also printed in yesterday's paper along with the supreme court decision on gay and lesbian rights was a response by a man from lafayette california
the court was politically correct but it avoids the question that most of us ask
speaking for most of us
is homosexuality normal
what good for humanity does it serve
i classify it with club feet and cleft palates
all three are accidents of creation serving no useful purpose and hopefully can be medically corrected
do you suppose that he reflected for a moment on the harm that his words might be having on others
on those with cleft palates and club feet

i understand there was even a time not so long ago after i was born
that men who found themselves uncontrollably attracted to other men were subjected to electric shock treatments as a method of cure
so can we begin to understand how such ideas as normal and abnormal can result in crazy behaviors such as those
that things really are the way they are
that i prefer strawberries and do not care so much for mangoes
and how about you
in our traditions setting the standards for tolerance respect and devotion to the welfare of others is accomplished through taking and practicing of precepts
once we take the precepts there are no acquittals and there is no possibility of divorce
and that's because we have married ourselves and our own deepest convictions
and of course no one takes the precepts until they fully understand
what they are and how they're going to affect their lives
and not before they have determined within the depth of their own hearts that there really is no other choice
and this usually comes with a glimpse of who we are truly born to be
a glimmer in the i have our own awakening
thank you very much
me our intention unique with a penetrate every be