The virtuous acts are the antithesis of the non-virtuous acts. They are extensions of observing the Precepts. They do not supplant or supersede them.
We cannot begin to protect life if we do not stop taking life.
We cannot be generous while taking what is not freely given.
We cannot speak beneficially while lying.
We cannot respect others while abusing their bodies.
We cannot cultivate sobriety while intoxicated.
How many persons who claim to be “pro-life” support the death penalty? How many eat animals every day? How many hunt? How many applaud wars?
One cannot claim to be pro-life (protecting life) and continue to directly and indirectly deprive others of life. And it is thus with all virtuous acts.
If we do not observe the Precepts, all so-called good acts are a façade, a deception.
You want to be happy, and you try as best you can to achieve happiness. You just do not know how. You make mistakes. You have made some unwholesome choices —perhaps many. You have harbored ill will. You have hurt others.
You think you cannot change, that your ways are set. But sooner or later, you realize that your approach has not worked as desired, that it is not working, that it will never work.
And when you recognize this truth, change is inevitable. This is the dawn of wisdom. It is your nature.
The very same compulsion that led you to act in unwholesome ways will lead you to try a different approach. This is compassion —for yourself and for all.
Gratitude is the realization that we are neither independent nor self-sufficient, but part of an extraordinary continuum of events and beings, and the celebration of our mutually supportive connections.
The understanding of dependent origination explains that everything in this world arises from and is supported by its environment. Everything and everyone is connected. There is no one, therefore, who does not owe a debt of gratitude to others. In this sense, gratitude may be described as our awareness that our lives are supported by our environment, which includes all sentient beings, and our desire to respond in kind to such support.
Those who are ungrateful or feel burdened by others’ kindness fail to see the interconnectedness of all lives. They build walls of ignorance and selfishness around them to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. The causes of ungratefulness are four: (1) failure to recognize a benefit, (2) taking benefits for granted, (3) self-absorption, and (4) forgetfulness.
Gratitude is an intrinsic aspect of Buddha Nature. By cultivating gratitude, we come closer to manifesting our Buddha Nature. Cultivation uncovers the gratitude that is already present in us, rather than creating it anew. The means of cultivating gratitude are many, but they all begin with respect for our own and others’ Buddha Nature.
The more we trust our Buddha Nature and live by its prompting, the more gratitude we feel. Sometimes gratitude is felt deeply, while at other times we may not consciously be aware of it. When our lives are rooted in Buddha Nature, then gratitude is never far away. It is a confirmation that we are on the spiritual path.
To awaken the desire for universal enlightenment (bodhichitta) is the highest form of gratitude. It is virtuous to offer the merit of one’s efforts for the benefit of all beings, to cultivate gratitude to our Teachers, and to recognize how much we are given in this life. Every day to devote our lives to the benefit of all beings releases us from suffering. The way of the Bodhisattva is to dedicate all merit to others, so that they may realize and manifest Buddha Nature.
Any situation, whether “good” or “bad”, will be made better or worse by the attitude we bring when facing it.
Will a negative attitude ever improve a bad situation? Even a positive situation can be spoiled by a poor attitude. In contrast, a negative situation can be made tolerable by a good attitude, and an already positive situation can be vastly improved.
We may not be able to control all aspects of a given situation, but the attitude we bring is always ours to determine. Which will you choose?
Confronted with excessive and overwhelming cruelty in our contemporary world, many persons ask: Is it possible to contribute to peace effectively, when nation states, multinational companies, and numerous ignorant groups and individuals are dedicated to multiplying suffering everywhere? What can one person do?
Even if we do not have the capacity to help all those who suffer, we do have the power to reduce suffering considerably in our own sphere of action. We can be kind to our neighbors; we can refrain from increasing pain and suffering. And because the universe is an interdependent network of cause and effect, our compassionate acts —however small and seemingly insignificant— do have a positive effect on a global scale.
Specifically, without waiting for anything or anyone else, we can:
- cultivate mental peace, tolerance, good will, and generosity in our lives
- combat fear, rejecting the alarmist media
- withdraw our support from political, social, and religious institutions that preach or sanction hate
- avoid expressions of hate and animosity toward those with whom we disagree
- eliminate our demand for animal flesh, secretions and products, which constitutes the principal cause of the enslavement, torture, and death of billions of non-human animals each and every year
These five actions are well within our reach. We are not powerless!
In the aftermath of the Paris massacre, there has been much public consternation, accompanied by ubiquitous expressions of solidarity. Some have argued that there is deep hypocrisy in lamenting French deaths while ignoring equally gruesome loss of life in other parts of the globe, as in Kenya, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Mexico, Palestine, or the United States, where African Americans and other etnic minorities are the victims of pervasive institutional violence and prejudice.
Others observe that our exclusive preoccupation with human suffering is an expression of speciesism, and that the human proclivity for violence cannot be curbed until we stop the animal holocaust that deprives billions of non-human animals of their freedom and lives every single year.
While acknowledging that it is true that most humans tend to care more deeply for those whom we consider “our own”, it is neither fair nor helpful to criticize harshly the concern or solidarity of those expressing partial compassion, even if it seems biased or limited.
The circle of compassion needs to be expanded to include all sentient beings, but belittling its initial expressions, however miniscule or insufficient, is counterproductive. It is indifference to suffering that needs to be identified and corrected.
Knowing that possessions are ephemeral and devoid of essence,
practice generosity with respect
toward monks, teachers, the destitute, and relatives.
For the next life, there is no better friend than what one has given.
—Arya Nagarjuna, Letter to a Friend