Ethical Discipline

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    Shannon Kelly

    According to the Dalai Lama what produces a truly ethical person and what are your thoughts on the topic?

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    Lena Wiley

    Interconnectedness seems to be a theme throughout Ethics for the New Millennium; the Dalai Lama points out that people, ideas, and actions are all dependent on each other. Just like everything else in the world, ethics and discernment are complicatedly intertwined. On page 149, the Dalai Lama writes, “In the case of a dilemma, we need in the first instance to consider the particularity of the situation in the light of what, in the Buddhist tradition, is called the ‘union of skillful means and insight.’ ‘Skillful means’ can be understood in terms of the efforts we make to ensure that our deeds are motivated by compassion. ‘Insight’ refers to our critical faculties and how, in response to the different favors involved, we adjust the ideal of non-harming to the context of the situation. We could call it the faculty of wise discernment.” What the Dalai Lama is describing is simply the ability to adjust your reaction to an event based on weather or not your reaction is ethical. On page 148, he says, “The overriding question, however, concerns the individual’s spiritual state, their overall state of heart and mind (Kun Long) in the moment of action. Because, generally speaking, this is the area over which we have the most control, it is the most significant element in determining the ethical character of our acts.” To be able to be a truly ethical person, you must have discernment. However, before you can use any for of discernment, you must be both self-aware, and aware of those around you. Without the ability to clearly understand yourself and your role in this ever-complicated world of interconnectedness, then it will be difficult to use discernment to choose the more ethical approach to a situation. Therefore, to be a truly ethical person, you must have discernment.

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    David Kerr

    The Dalai Lama believes that the practice of ethical discipline and the employment of discernment are what produces a truly ethical person. The Dalai Lama defines ethical discipline as “the means by which we mediate between the competing claims of my right to happiness and others’ equal right.” Ethical discipline is one of the many facets of the Dalai Lama’s argument for the importance of compassion in our lives, and discernment is essential in the correct usage of this kind of awareness. The Buddhist Tradition refers to discernment as a “union of skillful means and insight.” As the Dalai Lama says on page 149 of Ethics for the New Millennium: “Skillful means are the efforts we make to ensure that our deeds are motivated by compassion,” and “Insight refers to our critical faculties and how we adjust the ideal of non-harming to the context of the situation.” In any situation, it is important to be able to understand your own motives and the motives of others when you take action in matters regarding your own right to happiness and others’ right to happiness. If you do, you will have the ability to be compassionate towards yourself and others, which will lead to a greater opportunity for happiness in your life and the others’ lives. Truly ethical people are those who know how to balance their own needs with the needs of others.

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    Tobin Mitchell

    According to the Dalai Lama a truly ethical person is someone who makes his or her choices based upon the belief that their actions will create happiness. Such a person values the happiness of others just as much as their own happiness and understands the consequences of their actions in the lives of those surrounding them. The Dalai Lama says, “Ethical conduct is thus not something we engage in because it is somehow right in itself. We do so because we recognize that just as I desire to be happy and to avoid suffering, so do all others.” In this case an ethical person doesn’t do things simply because such an act is regarded as correct or moral in their society; they act ethically because they understand that in doing so they are bettering either their own life or the lives of others, and thus creating happiness. In order to be ethical however one does not need to be selfless.
    Being self damaging or self hating is unethical because it takes happiness away from you and the world. If you are mad at yourself then you are less happy and therefore have less happiness to spread. The Dalai Lama believes that both your own interests and the interests of those around you are of equal importance. In order to be ethical to others you have to be ethical to yourself first. The Dalai Lama points out that there are also cases when it appears that both choices will cause suffering in the long run and choosing which one may not be a simple task. He says, “ There are bound to be situations when any course of action would appear to to involve breaking a precept. Under such circumstances, we must use our intelligence to judge which course of action will be least harmful in the long run.” In this case it seems that the choice which causes less pain is the correct one. In an especially tough scenario you may find that either way suffering is inevitable. The Dalai Lama suggests that the ethical thing to do is to use discernment to decide which action will do less damage overall.

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    Zoe Kelly

    The dictionary defines “ethical” as “morally good or correct” and “avoiding activities or organizations that do harm to people or the environment.” While both of these definitions scratch the surface of ethical behavior, they don’t encapsulate its full meaning.

    The Dali Lama describes ethicality as something far more spiritually bound and deep rooted. “Our spiritual development is of such critical importance in ensuring that our actions are ethically sound. The more spontaneous our actions, the more they will tend to reflect our habits and dispositions in that moment. If these are unwholesome, our acts are bound to be destructive…it is very useful to have a set of basic ethical precepts to guide us in our daily lives…it is best the think of them less in terms of moral legislation than as reminders to keep other’s interests at heart and in the forefront of our minds.” (Ethics for the New Millenium, page 150) Unlike the dictionary definitions, which present ethicality as a set of rules that should be followed out of principle, the Dali Lama is arguing for something much deeper. When we cultivate our spiritual disposition to think of and care about others, ethical behavior comes naturally. Instead of trying to decipher what course of action best fits the label “ethical” we can try and understand the long-term effects on both ourselves and others. This requires an immense amount of self-reflection. Before carrying out an action, if one is to reflect on their motivation, they can discern whether or not that motivation includes the happiness of others. It is also important to decipher the situation. Most ethical acts are circumstantial; their effects will vary. Again, discernment is key. By cultivating discernment and self reflection, one can begin to gain the tools necessary to live an “ethical” life.

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    Ethical discipline is one of the main traits that the Dalai Lama stresses to be most important for an individual’s ethicality. Ethical discipline must be adopted voluntarily so it is not thought of as a chore. He points out that there is little hesitation to discipline eating or exercising habits, so why not ethical ones? Ethical discipline gives meaning and value to existence; it includes understanding that other peoples’ happiness is just as valid as your own, and isn’t there because it is the right thing but because it is the inherent thing.

    “…it is clearly something to be embraced with enthusiasm and conscious effort.” (page 147)

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    Cassie Caborn

    In Ethics for a new Millennium, by the Dalai Lama, the intentions and actions of a truly ethical person are closely examined. The term Ethical discipline is discussed. Ethical discipline is the way in which one mediates between the competing claims of their own right to happiness and others equal right. An ethical person has the ability to discern between striving for their own happiness while maintaining awareness of others equal opportunity to acquire happiness.
    The Dalai Lama says, “Ethical discipline entails more than just restraint. It also entails the cultivation of virtue. Love and compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness are essential qualities.” When one encompasses all of these qualities, the intention behind each action becomes an instrument to benefit the whole human family. An ethical person must be aware of their actions and the affect those actions have on others. The Dali Lama says, “Exercising our critical faculties in the ethical realm entails taking responsibility both for our acts and for their underlying motivation. One must acquire wise discernment to ensure that their actions and deeds are motivated by compassion. The Dalai Lama says,” Ethically wholesome conduct depends on us applying the principles of non-harming.”

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    Sage Buzzini

    After reading the Dalai Lama’s ‘Ethics for the New Millennium’, my opinion of what creates a truly ethical person has been clarified. To me an ethical person is one who can practice bringing aspects of compassion and virtue into your life while using your discernment to place those skills into the right situations. Compassion is the ability to truly feel the pain or struggles of someone else. Whether it be you have experienced the pain your self or have been afflicted by the outcome of that pain; if you can step inside the mind of another and truly understand what they are going through, it allows for you to be compassionate towards them and come at the issue they are facing with a sense of “I understand and I am here to help.” Sometimes people don’t want outside help at all and that’s where the use of discernment ties into the application of compassion to daily life. It’s necessary to know when or when not to show your compassion for someone because it could seriously help them or seriously progress the issue. The ethic of virtue requires the constant reinforcement of our basic human and spiritual principles. In ‘Ethics for the New Millennium’ the Dalai Lama gives us the Tibetan word “So Pa” which means forbearance but at a deeper level, it means courage. Through the ethic of virtue and ‘So Pa’, we can show patience and compassion to all those around us. In situations where negative emotions cloud our initial judgment, it allows us to show compassion to even those who wish to harm us because we can see past all the negativity and see right down to the good that is within every one. Even if we can create a mental calmness for our selves in negative situations, it is usually better to stay out of them. We need our discernment to tell us when to push ourselves into situations and provide our mental tranquility and positive reasoning to the situation. The Dalai Lama defines an ethical person as someone who strives to achieve their own happiness while also progressing the path to happiness of everyone around them. This is called ethical discipline and applying it to your life can be a difficult task to achieve. Sometimes something that makes you happy might just as well make the person next to you very sad so it is important to be able to see if your decisions impact the people around you. If someone can achieve ultimate happiness for themselves and also provide happiness for others around them then to me, they have reached a true state of personal ethicality.

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    Shel Silverstein once wrote, “There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long, ‘I feel that this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.’ No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide what’s right for you- just listen to the voice that speaks inside.” By truly listening to one’s conscience, true ethicality can be achieved. Often times deep desires seem to muddle this voice inside of us and allow us to believe that the choices we are making are ethical, when they are really only in accordance with our innate desire for self-fulfillment. The Dalai Lama says in his book Ethics For The New Millennium, “Ethical discipline is indispensable because it is the means by which we mediate between the competing claims of my right to happiness and others’ equal right.” (Pg. 146) There is a need for discernment between what is truly ethical, and what only appears ethical due to the desire for it to be ethical in order to justify selfish longings.
    No action is complete without reflection. This translates into this topic meaning that we must understand and take responsibility for the motives behind our decisions. The Dalai Lama states, “We need to ensure that we are wisely discerning in pursuit of our ideals. Exercising our critical faculties in the ethical realm entails taking responsibility both for our acts and for their underlying motives. If we do not take responsibility for our motives, whether positive or negative, the potential for harm is much greater. As we have seen, negative emotions are the source of unethical behavior.” (Pg. 158) While it is impossible to truly rid oneself of unethical thoughts, it is imperative that one understands those thoughts, especially when they lead to action. We can avoid the inevitable suffering that comes with negative emotions by examining and appreciating our motives as a means to expel these negative thoughts. In addition, by understanding our motives we can begin to discern between our truly ethical actions and those that we only want to believe are ethical. By utilizing this level of discernment and reflection, a truly ethical human being can be striven for.

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    Caitlin Gray-Harley

    It Starts With You

    On page 147 of the Dalai Lama’s Ethics For the New Millennium he says, “Ethical conduct is thus not something we engage in because it is somehow right in itself. We do so because we recognize that just as I desire to be happy and to avoid suffering, so do all others.” To me this means that is order to be a truly ethical person, you must practice discernment and awareness throughout your life on a daily basis. There will be occurrences that will come our way, whether we choose to practice these values or not. If we want to learn how to balance and understand the various aspects of life; what is “good”, and what is “bad”, then we must develop a way to understand the difference between to two.

    “Good” and “bad” will not be the same for everyone. If we as individuals understand our own morals, it will in the long run allow us to be more balanced and understanding and open-minded when it comes to other people’s ideas of ethical conduct and discipline. Everyone has disagreements, but a lot of the time these disagreements originate from inner battle of the singular person. In these situations it is important to remember that it is not our place to fix someone else’s inner battles. All we can do at the end of the day is learn from our own inner battles, and then follow with compassion for others.

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    Lexi Julien

    There is not a clear-cut definition for what constitutes a truly ethical person. There are no specific guidelines that can be followed to produce an ethical being, nor are there any specific rules that disqualify one from being considered ethical. The only way to tell if a person is truly ethical is to look at the intention with which they lead their life—the person’s kun long, as the Dalai Lama would say. The Dalia Lama defines kun long as being “that which drives or inspires our actions—both those we intend directly and those which are in a sense involuntary” (30). This intention that directs our lives is something that we must consciously decide upon, and we must use our powers of discernment to decide what our intention will be. A truly ethical person is someone who has chosen for their life’s intention to be to do good in the world, to live not only for themselves but for others as well. We are reminded of the Dalai Lama’s main thesis in Ethics here: that we all desire to be happy and avoid suffering. An ethical person is someone who recognizes that every human’s inherent desire is to be happy, and respects that desire by refraining from creating suffering in other people’s lives to the best of their ability. It is easy for us to be blind towards the repercussions of our actions on other people, even when our own intentions are good, and this is why we must continually remind ourselves of our life’s intention through constant questioning of our actions. The Dalai Lama stresses that we must constantly be “checking our outlook and asking ourselves whether we are being broad-minded or narrow-minded…Is our view short-term or long-term? Are we being short-sighted or clear-eyed? Is our motive genuinely compassionate when considered in relation to the totality of all beings?” (149) The intention of leading an ethical life is a practice, something that we must remind ourselves of and keep in mind as we go through our daily experiences. A truly ethical being is someone who is dedicated to their intention of leading a good life, and who lives up to this intention to the best of their ability.

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