Monthly Archives: June 2012

Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path II – Ethical Conduct

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The next stage of our journey along the Noble Eightfold Path is understanding how Ethical Conduct affects every single aspect of our lives.

By conducting Right Speech, Action and Livelihood to the best of our abilities, we can move closer towards an enlightened body, heart and mind.

You don’t have to be Buddhist to follow these principles. As you read on, you will see that that these concepts, and indeed Buddhism itself, is a way of life that emphasizes growing and practice.

It’s not about overhauling your life completely, rather, it’s about doing our best to make small changes, and choosing the right decisions as you encounter them. You don’t have to do everything at once, even a small attempt at any of them will improve your life, and the lives of others around you.

Right Speech

Unlike our actions, because we cannot always see the potential effects straight away, we sometimes forget how powerful words can be. They can move people to laugh or cry, make someone fall in love or into an enemy, they can create friendship, war, art, memories, arguments, admiration, motivation or inspiration.

The Buddha points out four different types of wrong speech which actually can be much more common in our lives than we like to admit:

1.  False speech refers to the telling of lies to others. We should not speak deceitfully to exaggerate our worth or convince people of something that is not true.

Perhaps sometimes telling very small lies for the sake of peace is acceptable when your intention is in the best interest of somebody else, not your own. However, while it may be difficult to eliminate lies completely, we should strive to remain genuine and honest as much as we can. That way, people will come trust us, and believe in the things we say. Nobody would choose to confide in or take advice from a liar.

2. Slanderous speech. We should not use words maliciously against others. Some things are just not our business, so it is a waste of our time to gossip about them. As good people, we shouldn’t talk about people behind their backs, and in return, people won’t talk about you behind yours.

Slanderous speech does nothing but divide people and create enemies.

3. Harsh words. It might take some practice, but even if we are angry, we should try to remain civil and calm as much as we can. Resorting to insults that offend or hurt others will never make the situation better.

Similarly, putting the blame on ourselves or others for something that happened in the past cannot reverse it.

We should also try to take all criticism constructively, even if the intention of the person wasn’t so. There is always something you can learn from others. And when we are trying to give feedback, we shouldn’t just point out everything they did wrong but include praise for the things they did right.

4. Idle chatter. We should always try to speak with purpose, depth and good timing. Using speech only when we have something useful or interesting for the other person to hear and knowing when to remain silent is a sign of wisdom.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, but actually if you are truly close to someone, or if you are confident in yourself, there’s no need to impress people with small talk to ‘prove that you’re not boring’.

In the end, the things that you don’t say are just as important as the things you do say.

 

Right Action

It’s not always easy to do the right thing all the time. However, as much as we can, we should try to:

1. Abstain from doing harm towards others intentionally or delinquently. This includes any sort of violence or action that may hurt other people or prevent them from having basic human rights such as food or water, freedom and equal love.

We should refrain from taking life, including, as much as we can, the lives of animals. You don’t have to be vegetarian, but you should respect that an animal has literally given it’s life for you to eat. Even insects are sentiment beings and as much as it is practical, we should try to spare their lives.

We should act kindly and compassionately towards everyone we meet, and try to make their day better for happening to cross our path.

2. Abstain from taking what is not given. This means refraining from stealing and fraud. We should respect the belongings of others and we should try to repay our debts to the people we owe and not take advantage of those who are in a position of less power than us.

If you manage to do this, the next stage is attaining contentment, which means being satisfied with what you already have, without feeling that you have to keep collecting more stuff, especially via unscrupulous means.

Finally, the highest goal is developing a perpetual sense of generosity – using or giving away one’s own wealth and possessions in order to better the lives others. You don’t have to live in a hut, but if you are content with what you have, then you will realise that most things that people desire, such as a sports car or huge house are not really needs but wants. A true practitioner would not waste their resources on such superfluousness and instead they would do what they can to help those in actual need.

3. Abstain from sexual misconduct. Although this mostly refers to relationships with our partners, we can also include any sort of loving relationship, such as friendship or family bonds. People should be honest and faithful to each other, care for them and be prepared to put their interests above their own.

Even if we only want what’s best for the people we love, we cannot change them by shouting about minimalism or Buddhism or any other way of life we believe is better. We must show them. When they see how happy and content we are, they may wish to change, and only then should we guide them.

 

Right Livelihood

Wealth is not evil. It’s how people obtain it or what people decide to do with it that makes it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and even these labels can sometimes fall into grey areas.

In general, wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. In other words, we should try not to harm other beings in pursuit of it. Therefore, we should avoid:

1. Dealing in weapons or anything malicious that could potentially be used to exploit others. We should not knowingly be involved with violence or trickery.

2. Dealing with living beings in a harmful manner such raising animals for slaughter or being involved in  the slave trade or prostitution. If it is within our power, we should try to reduce the suffering of workers, especially those who are exposed to dangerous or over-laborious conditions.

3. Working in meat production and butchery. If this is not possible, we should at least try to discourage the slaughtering of animals by not eating meat excessively. Check out this TED talk.

4. Selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Again, it might be a lot to ask for to completely stay away from alcohol or cigarettes, for example, but at least we should stay away from being involved in potentially very dangerous, illegal or addictive drugs or substances that are bad for people’s mental or physiological health and draw people in against their will.

Finally, we should try to stay away from jobs or activities that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action.

 

When you think that minimalism is all about asking “what is necessary?”, it’s easy to see how it relates to Ethical Conduct – don’t lie or show off about the things you own, do what is right and be content with what you have.

There was so much to cover here, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. It may take a while to master all of these, indeed, it may even take a lifetime, but remember, there is no goal, what truly counts is doing your best with all your heart.

 

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These three principles act as a bridge towards the next stage, Mental Development, which I will talk about in the next post. In the meantime, due to popular request, I will start posting book recommendations on Twitter!


Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path I – Attaining Wisdom

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So here we are on the first part of our journey along the Noble Eightfold Path, laid out by the Buddha to guide us away from ignorance and suffering. In this first part, we will look at wisdom, what it means and how to attain it by practising Right View and Right Intention.

Wisdom

What is wisdom exactly? Some would say it is like knowledge, but that wouldn’t be the complete meaning of real wisdom. There are plenty of people who are book smart, or have a lot of general knowledge or can make obscure cultural references, which are all very well, but true wisdom is a different kind of knowledge that you can only gain from experience.

Unlike knowledge, wisdom is not a clear cut goal that you can reach by passing an exam. The real tests come from being able to overcome the obstacles that life throws at you.

Being wise simply means knowing how to be. What to say or not say, what to do or not do and how to be true to yourself and do well unto others.

Wisdom is the accumulation of humbling experiences that come from keeping an open mind and freely admitting when you are wrong. Wise people are not proud. They have plenty of dignity, but they are not proud in the way that most people are. They don’t need their egos boosting and they don’t feel the need to have recognition for every little thing they do. Zen teachers always tell their students, “If you think you are already wise, then you are not“.

 

 

Right View

To become wise, firstly you have to obtain a little perspective on things. Right View is being able to see things for what they really are. This means having the insight to see what truly matters, and what does not. It means realising that everything is impermanent and that the world around us is in a constant state of flux.

Stuff breaks, gets stolen or lost. People change their minds. Time moves on. If we insist on trying to keep things the same forever or if we hold on to an ideal or memory, one day when it will inevitably be gone, we will be unhappy. Instead, so we should enjoy these things while we can but we should also recognize that nothing lasts forever, so we shouldn’t become upset when it is gone.

In minimalism, having the Right View is the first step in the right direction. You have to see things for what they’re really worth – which is usually nothing really at all, just a bit of money here and there doesn’t make something actually valuable.

You have to realise that being happy is the most important thing in life, and simply possessing a bunch of stuff or qualifications won’t make you happy, so what’s the point in worrying about it all so much? The same goes for relationships that aren’t working or goals you’re holding onto just to impress other people with. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone, yet we spend our whole lives striving to win points in life as if it’s one big game.

Having the Right View shapes all of our other intentions and actions, so it is vital that people put their priorities straight. What are you working towards? What do you really want to do? What matters to you?

Right Intention

Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if more people intended to leave things in a better state after they came than before they arrived? Every act of kindness, no matter how small, adds up. Just a smile or some kind words can improve someone’s day or week, or even save a life. You can make a difference. This is what minimalism is all about – resisting the pull of selfish desire for the greater good of ourselves and for others.

If people just took a moment to breathe before they spoke or acted, then there would be much less anger and violence in the world. Holding a grudge or desire for revenge against somebody else is like holding a hot rock – painful and burdening, and yet people feel like this every single day.

Extending our compassion for people who annoy us doesn’t mean we understand why they’re doing something, it means that we understand that they are only human, they make mistakes but they’re just doing their best to be happy.

Every interaction we have with the Earth and other people should be with the intention of goodwill – to make the world a better place. If you want to make your mark on the world, let it be a positive one.

Commit to this with your whole heart, and you will attract like-minded, kind and gracious people into your life. Everything slots into place if you have the right attitude, and true intentions.

 

People who are truly wise can see things from a higher perspective. They know when to listen and when to speak. And they know when to act and when to let things go. But most importantly, they know how to be happy.

 

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