Dos and Don'ts.
One of the hardest things for me, growing up, was following other people’s rules.
In some egoistic way, I like my rules better than your rules, and that’s okay. But…are we there yet?
Have I grown up and established my rules, or are they subject to further negotiation?
There are so many gurus to follow.
One guru that has been reliable for me for 15 years is the late Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche. I was fortunate to see him give his last official public teaching in Portugal, in 2013. (thanks again, Gerry)
In his seminal text, Joyful Path to Good Fortune, there is an excellent translation of the text on non-virtue. Firstly, we hear from Atisha’s Spiritual Guide, Avadhutipa, saying,
“Until we have eliminated self-grasping, our main practice should be the practice of moral discipline… There are many famous scholars who have been reborn in hell”.
For alcoholics and drug addicts, we think we have already had that happen. In Buddhism, there are many graphic stories and thangkas that depict even more horrible hell realms.
For many years, I would awaken with that familiar taste like the ‘bottom of a cocky’s cage’ in my mouth, run to the bathroom to vomit for as long as it took to wash up. I'd then try to get ready for the workday. For the last ten years of my drinking, I would have large glasses of warm wine to settle my nerves.
I thought this was hell.
Promising to ‘never do that again’ was useless. That obsession to have just one, and the compulsion to keep going once started, was a train I could not stop.
10 Things to Not Do
In ‘Joyful Path’, I learned that there were ten non-virtuous actions, that according to the law of karma, are best to avoid.
Somehow, they make a lot more practical sense than the other list of ten that I learned in school. I began to put them into practice and from day to day, I feel that I am getting better with their constant influence.
Along with the Six Perfections that I often write about, they form the basis of what I consider MY MORAL DISCIPLINE.
Here they are, as described in Geshe-la book, The Joyful Path of Good Fortune:
- Sexual Misconduct
- Divisive Speech
- Hurtful Speech
- Idle Chatter
- Holding Wrong Views
They can be broken up into Bodily Actions (the first three), Verbal Actions (the next four) and Mental Actions (The last three).
As stated, I would rather be a great practitioner than a great scholar. Becoming aware of these harmful actions has been a great revelation and also a companion to my AA work.
Through working the steps and practising these traditions, I feel that progress is being made.
At the very least, I sleep well.
We don’t live in a vacuum.
With everyone having a different lived experience and ipso facto, personal set of beliefs, life is complicated.
The good news is, you don’t have to like everyone. It is certainly true, that not everyone is going to like me.
If we can use the highway as a metaphor for life-
Those of us that drive a car have had some elementary training and passed the exam. I drive on the left-hand side of the road because in Australia and Great Britain that’s what we do. It’s universal for this part of the universe.
This idea of all of us adhering to local laws and customs keeps us from killing more than we already do. About one in five deaths on the roads in Australia involve a drink/driver. I was often a drunk/driver—I am so blessed to have not had someone else’s death on my conscience.
The way that we interpret the rules of the road and our own skill level, mood, and age determine how we steer the vehicle around.
HOWEVER, everyday I encounter drivers that are not up to my high standards and I get angry at them.
At least we all drive in the same direction.
Handling anger, and having expectations, are the subjects of many other articles to come.
What Life Are You On?
One of my favourite things about Buddhism is the explanation of our mental continuum.
This is not the subject for today, but having infinite births makes sense and what I do in this life gets real.
Am I to pursue the Pleasant Life, The Good Life, or The Meaningful Life? This is posed in Clive Hamilton’s “The Freedom Paradox”.
By pursuing only my own personal pleasure, there will be many times that I will transgress the 10 Non-Virtuous Actions and most of the tenets of every tradition on the planet.
The Good Life is where I find most people, including myself, unless I am mindful. We treat others with the courtesy and dignity that we want for ourselves and try to get along, whilst getting ahead,
The Meaningful Life is usually that of only the most serious and pious of sentient beings. These are ones who are dedicated to improving their mind with the guidance of the texts of religion and with the help of a guru to lead the way. We call these the Bodhisattvas.
Living a life of meaning, for the benefit of all, is aspirational.
I refer to the friends in my Sangha as Bodhisattvas not because they are better, necessarily. The folks who determine to keep trying to train their minds in the teachings of the guru, are living as close to the Meaningful Life as I have encountered.
AA and Meaning
I see a great correlation between sober alcoholics that go to meetings regularly, practise the 12-Steps in all their affairs and help the newcomer, and the Bodhisattvas at the temple.
Both are imperfect humans with beautiful intentions.
I like to summarise my Mindfulness training in respect to these two words; Attention and Intention.
I make an intention to improve the things that are important to me. I have intention to make others happy. I want to die having made progress on the Spiritual Path. I may have an intention from time to time to help a cause.
I pay attention to the good things that are significant to me so that I don’t lose them. By paying attention to my partner's needs, I ensure that she will want to continue to love me and stay with me. I also pay attention to the needs of my children that they will grow and benefit from me being their parent. With attention to my friends, I will avoid being lonely, and help others in their journey.
What Now, Batman?
The rules that we follow are usually subject to the prevailing influences in our life. If this statement is true, and I believe it to be, then all people are allowed to find their own guiding tenets. The proviso is that we all have to live on this rock together, just as we all have to drive on the same common freeway.
The rise of AI in recent years has brought us all to a pivotal point in human history (Fr Richard Rohr would say, a liminal space). We will need to decide how this technology is to benefit all humanity, and to set some commonly agreed boundaries.
If we are to judge ourselves by how we treated each other in the twentieth century, this will be difficult.
For now, the best I can do is to follow MY rules the best I can.
There is a FREE guide that I wrote for attaining and maintaining happiness and peace of mind in sobriety that may be helpful. It's called the “10 Strategies For Overcoming Addiction and Living a Happy and Sober Life”.