Cultivating virtue evokes, to me, images of planting seeds and nurturing. That eventually fruit, results, will be harvested. These plants, herbs, and fruits can be shared with all people. Not only will they fill our stomach they can heal and nourish our communities.
In my own case and in quite a few people I’ve meet there is a thirst for meaning and purpose. We often feel isolated while flooded by shallow interactions, information and distractions. In the effort to combat that we go seeking for community, holistic healing, yoga, meditation, etc. We embark on a spiritual journey in the hopes to find someone or something to remedy what feels like a giant black hole in our lives. We have an existential crises and no tools to deal with it. If we want to get our thoughts back together there is therapy. If we’d like to get our heart and spirit back together as well we can seek out teachers who embody a spiritual path and guide others.
To refrain from all evil,
To perform all good,
To purify one’s own mind-
This is the teaching of all Enlightened Ones.
This message can be found in most spiritual traditions. There is a saying that is is easy for a child to understand but difficult for 100 year old to do. It is a lifelong practice to be engaged in. For us to engage in it we have to see the value in improving our lives and that we don’t live an encapsulated existence. We affect and are affected constantly.
On a foundation of understanding that all things have a mutual interdependence we then can fathom the far reaching effects/results our own actions, speech and thoughts. If the internal world and external world are mutually affecting one another then we have the capability of directing this effect with our intentions.
What is it that our heart is oriented towards? What is the hearts wish and aspiration?
Within the streams of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism there is an idea of a ‘path’ or ‘way’ that an individual follows and treads along as they go through life. To enter the ‘Way’ we have to recognize, aspire to and turn towards an infinite and purified state of being.
In Buddhism this begins with ‘turning towards refuge’. When our heart recognizes the suffering state we are in, the endless up and down of life, we turn it towards the Three Jewels. The Buddha is a state of being fully liberated and perfect in both wisdom and compassion. The Dharma is the teachings and practice to this awakening. The Sangha is the community of people who have liberated themselves to some degree, guide and support us in practice or who we practice with on a regular basis.
The Three Jewels are then three requisites for transformation- a state of awakening, engaging in those methods, and relying on others who embody those methods. When our dedication and faith in them grows our lives are gradually reorganized, our priorities become more broad than day to day pleasures, our worldview is larger and we have a clear meaning in our life.
The Lotus Sutra states-
“If anyone, even while distracted,
With even a single flower,
Makes and offering to a painted image,
They will progressively see countless Buddhas.
If anyone, even while distracted,
Enters a stupa or mausoleum,
And even once exclaims, “Homage to the Buddha,”
They have fulfilled the Buddha way.”
This indicates that even the smallest acknowledgement or recognition of Enlightened state will eventually lead to attaining that state. If such a minute action such as appreciating representative image creates a seed for future Enlightenment; then it follows that concentrated understanding and deliberate efforts will manifest that state more quickly. Essentially we must be able to conceive, to some degree, of a state of infinite perfection. Without this we cannot take further steps.
When an activity is undertaken in relation to the Three Jewels, with a proper motivation, there is a positive manifestation of that action in the future. This is because the Three Jewels are understood to have an infinite relationship in their end result (how often do we act out of motivation for ‘all sentient beings’, throughout ‘all time’?) and because they are in relation to liberated states, free from cyclic existence. The state that our activity is dedicated to is one free of causes of suffering.
Below is a chart offering the synthesis of three major philosophical and religious influences on East Asian culture and Buddhism. I’ve included a secular interpretation as well that I use as a way of expressing these ideas in healthcare practice without placing them in a religious or spiritual framework.
|Element – Taoist
||Application – Secular
||Virtue – Confucian
||Perfections – Buddhism
||Lying, thoughtless behavior
||Stealing, taking without consent
||Intoxicants, deceptive mind
Taoism leads practitioners to cultivate the 5 Elements and Three Flowers of essence, energy and spirit leading them to an ‘immortal’ or transcendental state that is beyond life and death. They aim to return to an ‘original state’ of being and to express this in their life.
Confucian thought focuses on self-cultivation through social and individual means. That humans are teachable and can pursue perfection through mutual concern and efforts. It could be seen as a ‘secular’ form of spirituality and has at times been used within East Asian cultures as a complementary ethical teaching in addition to religion.
Buddhism leads cultivators through developing the Six Perfections, infinite states of virtue done for the benefit of all beings. Also developed are various enumerations of ‘Sila’ or ethical conduct that subdues harmful ways of living. When combined with wisdom practices the heart is purified as the practitioner take steps to realizing the true nature of reality and ultimately achieve Buddhahood.
How can I use this information?
Personally I really enjoy these sorts of organized presentations on virtue and self-cultivation. I realize each of them speaks to only some people, so I’ve shown four of many more possibilities. My point in this is not to convince anyone that a particular one is the ‘right’ way. Rather, I aim to just give information on ideas that have influenced various cultures and brought people great freedom in the past.
I’d like to increase these kinds of conversation so that people think about, reflect on, explore and digest ideas to construct a “worldview” within the framework of Life and Death- two ultimate events for every being to undergo. I believe there is only spiritual development when there is questioning. If we constantly investigate the nature of our lives both personally and in relation to others we will come to deeper understanding of our existence. When we find a path that suits our disposition then we should, without hesitation, exert ourselves in it. We contain the potential for perfect wisdom and clarity, we have the capacity to know the infinite.
Furthemore I want to encourage a culture of ‘virtue cultivation’ and really interested in dialogue with others around the topic. To quiet our hearts and listen deeply. What does it aspire to? The heart is representative of our desires and unification, not only emotionally but also spiritually. Is there a state, an ideal, a quality, an expression that we long for? To become? No matter how far from it we are we should make even small steps and efforts to move towards it and express it in our daily lives. Whether that is the Tao, Enlightenment, Christ-Heart, Krishna-Consciousness, etc. Whether it is personified or abstract, if we keep it in our deepest thoughts constantly we can shine it into the world.