from my notes on the talk on precepts by Roshi Joan Halifax:
In the practice of Buddhism, the context of moral authority is transmitted through a dharma mandala of Theravada, Mahayana, and Buddhayana. The Theravada teachings provide a literal perspective that connects action to consequences, cause and effect. The Mahayana lens enters the realm of interconnectedness. Suffering is shared and therefore compassion is generated for the liberation of all beings. The Buddhayana lens is the boundless mind, encompassing not just all beings but all concepts and visions of the path, lifting desire away from outcome. Thus, moral authority resides in the integration of action, interconnection, and casting the net of compassion wide.
The guiding principles of such moral authority are manifested in three dimensions: inner, outer, and interactive. The inner source of moral authority arises from a singular precept: regulation of one’s mental continuum. This coolness and peacefulness prepares the ground to “pull aside the curtain that makes our ethos less visible to us.” That is, a solid stance taken on stable ground increases the likelihood of seeing what is present, unclouded by preferences, conditioning and cultural bias. By taking on the precepts, we clarify our intentions, direct our motivation and center our aspiration. It makes conscious our intention and holds up to scrutiny the rationale for doing what we are doing. These are also ego-taming precepts that regulate the psychological domain and mitigate the effects of anger, addictive behaviours, and preferential judgments.
The external source of moral authority is evident in the behavioural manifestation of what it means to be a good person within our social order and the congruence with cultural expectations of gender, age, and faith. These behaviours do not and cannot exist in a vacuum, free of the changing expectations of women, men, and children of any generation. It is within this crucible that the precepts of realization form and generate our awakening.
The practical source of our moral authority arises from the interaction with the world. Like the external source of our development, they are consequentially-based and context-driven. Actions congruent with one community may be incongruent or misperceived in another. The demands of living this precept requires a relinquishing of fixed knowledge and entering a “not-knowing.” Within this context, bearing witness provides that context-based way of engaging and compassionate action can be sensitive to the sacred language of the community.
The world as I experience it remains cold to the concept of practice that arises from precepts. It is enamored of situational ethics and moral ambiguity. As I reflect on the many scenarios of my personal and professional life, I am suddenly aware that we spend a lot of time negotiating around and from that place of outer and practical precepts but rarely spend time learning of the other’s inner precepts. Yet, it is these inner precepts that allow us the flexibility and clarity to develop the other two and engage wisely with our community.
Thank you for practicing,