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Practicing the Perfection of Ethical Discipline

Next up in our exploration of the Six Perfections or Paramitas is the Perfection of Ethical Discipline.

What does the word “discipline” mean to you? It sounds stern and stuffy, but it doesn’t have to be. We assure you that no one is in trouble! It means that instead of stubbornly resisting harmful actions, we stop wanting to do them in the first place because we have experienced the benefits of making more virtuous choices. This applies to how we take care of our bodies, our minds, our interactions with others, and our meditation.

For example, a person can take on a strict diet and force themselves to follow it every day without enjoyment, or they can learn and experience the benefits of eating foods that nourish their body and make them feel good. Then they will want to make better (for them) food choices. This process of how to build discipline certainly takes time and effort.

Here’s an anecdote from Lama Tsomo “I used to have quite a sweet tooth, but decided to eat low carb. I did it gradually, while finding healthier ways to still have a bit of sweetness here and there. Much to my surprise, my tastes literally changed, and I don’t yearn for so many sweets, the way I used to! My mother experienced the same thing with salt.”

In Deepening Wisdom, Deepening Connection, Lama Tsomo describes Ethical Discipline as follows:
Some people translate this as “Ethics” or “Ethical Discipline.” Obviously, if we don’t have enough discipline, we won’t practice any of the other methods, either during or out of sessions. Without this one, it’s a non-starter. With this one, you’re able to do your sessions and apply the methods. Outside of sessions, you’re able to steer your behavior toward virtuous acts and away from non-virtuous ones . . . which you’ll really want to do, not just out of compassion for those around you, but even for your own sake. 

As we know, this is essential for cleaning your karmic windshield. Of course a clean windshield, in turn, helps you apply the mind-training methods during your sessions. Improvement in that, in turn, helps you to improve your actions in between sessions. And so on.

This positive cycle is what we want to have happen—inner work and outer behavior helping each other along. This will speed up your progress exponentially.

Excerpt from: From Ancient Wisdom for Our Times: Tibetan Buddhist Practice: Deepening Wisdom, Deepening Connection, Namchak Publishing Company LLC  p 89.

So, how do we know what those virtuous choices are? The Ten Virtues can guide our thoughts, behaviors, and choices. Going along with the transformational aspect of Vajrayana Buddhism, let’s focus on how we can embody the virtues below:

Body: Protect Life, Give Generously, Maintain One’s Discipline
Speech: Speak Honestly, Reconcile, Speak Pleasantly, Speak Meaningfully
Mind: Generosity, Loving Kindness, Correct View of Reality

These 10 virtues can guide our thoughts and actions as we take measures to ease suffering for ourselves and the world. Of course, it will take some time to see a shift in these areas. We recommend starting small and focusing on one at a time. However we decide to contribute to the world, when our body, speech, and mind commit to virtuous action, the results will be beneficial.

Learn more about the Perfection of Discipline in this Dharma talk with our friend and teacher, Jetsunma.

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