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Moral Integrity

Whatever people's station in life they all have the ability to try to be moral although life's journey can make this very difficult. I have not always been a moral man as you could imagine if I was drinking. Whilst I held down a teaching job, I cannot say that I always worked to the best of my ability - the Fourth Agreement. But in truth I was trying in many ways, until I stopped the drink I would say that my sober life was moral my drinking life was not - and I blamed the other, the drinker as not being myself, a typical alcoholic's copout.

It is only recently I have started to understand the importance of this moral integrity - the Pali word Sila. The moral lesson I most recall from my father is "Don't get caught", not to imply that he or I went around stealing but the basis of my conduct was not driven by my own integrity. Once I hit bottom, I came up and started on the Path, retrospectively I can see moral integrity was starting but lacking at that time. I grew up at a time when my generation were rejecting the moral values of the "Victorians" (Pirsig discussed “Victorians” throughout Lila B14). There was a strong sense of being right at the time for this Victorianism was a superficial morality. As a generalisation they had many good codes of behaviour but, underneath, these codes were not based in the heart. As I like criticising the intellect I am going to describe this as an intellectual morality. One only has to look at the state of the world at the time to see what this intellectual morality meant. Wars had been fought, were being fought. The intellectually moral allowed a US government supported by other countries to invade Vietnam, and the people, sadly not myself, stood up and decried this act. There was no morality, moral majority, that prevented this war yet the generations preceding mine considered themselves moral. No wonder in youthful ignorance I rejected all such things. But I also rejected much that was good - a youthful lack of discernment. But I did have my soul that kept me in line - mostly, but this soul was not a moral code. I remember being called a "Right ----er", this was the right actions of my soul but I can also remember actions that were not moral, not criminal but not moral. When you consider the wars that are still being fought under the slightest pretext, I understand any rejection young people might now feel; far from being different it is worse despite the love generation.

I have always considered my soul was in some way connected to the Path so it is important to reflect on this. I now have a 100% conviction of the connection between moral integrity and the Path. Without moral integrity one cannot hold to the Path, near or far but never on the Path. Quite simply without moral integrity there is no attainment of Buddha Nature - no non-duality. The Path has moral integrity, True Nature is completely moral. All religions have their own moral codes but this is not the same thing. However it is better than what I had, I had soul conviction without moral correctness. In my generation this showed mostly in relationships. Promiscuity had just begun to be accepted starting in the 60s, through the 70s. Whilst I wasn't particularly promiscuous, it wasn't for the lack of trying. I was of the generation that rejected the sexual mores of my parents' generation, and sought a width of sexual experience. Why? Because we rejected what our parents stood for, what I have described as Victorian. On the surface they followed some sort of moral code but it was custom and practice, not the genuine caring for others that follows from moral integrity.

Promiscuity not only brings with it dangerous sexual disease but it brings with it a barrel of hurt. The sexual act is symbolic of the act of love. If we make love when we have sex, there is a level of love that is powerful. However there are many who just perform the sexual act, they do not create love. The problem lies when one is performing the act and the other is making love, the love-maker becomes vulnerable - and then hurt. To cope with this hurt many have sex rather than making love, another danger created. Promiscuity prevents much love-making, and can cause great hurt to one partner.

In Buddhism one of the lay precepts refers to "no excessive sexual activity". Buddhism does not establish rules such as "Thou shalt not commit adultery" but Buddhism asks that your mind engage the precept. What properly-engaged mind would accept adultery, especially where the care for children is involved. Wherever we are we engage with this precept - no sexual excess. But there is a danger in this; depending on our background - social and otherwise, we will already have a level of custom and practise concerning our moral conduct. How can a free-thinking person in the West not be attracted to sexual excess? If young westerners grow up with a moral code concerning sexual conduct, they are ostracised; yet this moral code is precisely what is required for following the Path. Western media is completely pre-occupied with sex, uses sex for advertising and therefore exploiting, and our young people grow up with a loose moral code towards sex and sexuality. Do these young people when starting the Path then reject sexual excess, and to what level? Quite rightly what is considered excess in one society is perhaps the norm for another, so there are no absolute standards. But any sexual relationship that is outside monogamy has got to be given great thought and contemplation.

For me sila is a measure of whether someone follows the Path, and if there are spiritual teachers not stressing sila I certainly question them. There are no absolutes in worldly conduct but common sense dictates that sila and monogamy are very close. People warn of charlatans in the world of spiritual teachers. If a student sees the possibility of a sexual relationship with the teacher, how can s/he concentrate on the Path? If the teacher is either outwardly celibate or monogamous, then there is no possibility and learning can occur. If the teacher has opened themselves up to sexual relations, then doubt has to be cast on the wisdom of the teachings.

The importance of sila is not concerning sex alone, it is about integrity. And the mind likes to cast doubt on actions. If there is sila there is no doubt - there is conviction. The mind might cast doubt but to no avail, conviction wins through. This level of conviction is essential on the Path, the temporary egoic mind will try to pull you this way and that, but if it meets the resistance of sila it can cause little damage.

There is much that teachers discuss about life on the Path. Nature, bliss, wonderful experiences (better, different, more powerful than the ones I describe?), but without sila they can fade. Sila holds you to the Path, conduct without integrity takes you away. This is not just following a moral code. I remember childhood trips to the Catholic confessional. Even if my faith had been more than a duty to my parents and Nana, rattling off a list of misdemeanours and then saying a few prayers to compensate is not sila. Sila is deep, it gets right to the core of your being. It has to be deep, it has to fight the onslaughts of this world of Dukkha and it has to fight our own internal trickster. Sila can provide order in a world of chaos, not a set of rules or laws, but a deep moral integrity that throws out confusion. Building this sila is an essential part of the Path. This sila also acts as a protection, it helps you sense whether the person speaking to you is truthful and in this difficult world of spiritual charlatans we need that protection.