If anything here is in conflict with your own experience, please let me know via comments or email. Some even say that it is your responsibility to speak up :).
As a junior in high school, I applied to study abroad in Honduras. On my application I wrote “I aim to transcend cultural differences and find humanity’s common bonds.”
That experience abroad eventually resulted in the following insight:
Human behavior creates the society in which we live.
If we are to answer the problems of the world, we must answer with our behavior, and unwaveringly examine the forces that drive behavior.
Behavior is motivated by suffering and compassion. That is, all beings want to move away from suffering, towards happiness.
Now, for the time being, set aside your personal opinions on the subject and imagine that human nature is fundamentally compassionate.
A being who has realized the fullness of her/his compassion wishes for nothing more than for all beings to be free from suffering. This is the aspiration of the Bodhisattva (a being devoted to ending suffering for all living things).
Let’s pretend that you and I are Bodhisattvas. Now our purpose is to help all beings move to the right end of this spectrum. By fulfilling our purpose, we ourselves also move towards happiness.
In effect, we could pretend we are all one massive being, working for our own benefit.
If this were the case, then:
- A living being in suffering sets us all back on the spectrum.
- Bringing happiness to a living being brings happiness to everyone
Now the question is, “How do we bring maximum joy to all living beings and ourselves?”
With our behavior. This is where we create suffering or happiness. Ethical behavior maximizes happiness and minimizes suffering.
Practically speaking, our capacity for ethical behavior is limited by selfish habits.
To expand your capacity for ethical behavior, practice these instructions:
- Stop doing everything that causes harm
- Do that which is perfectly good.
When my friend read these instructions, he asked “How can I know what is perfectly good? Trying to follow these instructions could lead to paralysis!” YES! It should lead to paralysis, unless that paralysis results in harm.
If these instructions are still unclear, then you should cultivate clarity. Clarity arises from a settled mind.
How to Settle the Mind
Pay attention. Observe what causes agitation and what dispels agitation. Observe what brings peace and what ends peace.
The mind will naturally over time and with practice be drawn to dispelling agitation and attracting peace.
As the mind settles, the subtle, often unnoticed agitations become more clear.*
Ending agitation brings peace
Peace brings clarity
Clarity brings ethical behavior
Ethical behavior ends suffering and brings joy
May all beings attain perfect, complete, unmistakable enlightenment.
*Retreats of silence and simplicity provide opportunities to observe and end the subtle causes of agitation. An internet search will provide plenty of information on available retreats.