Editorial: Lighting the Way

Featured in Mountain Record 30.4, Summer 2012

Many of us hear the word “morality” and feel an immediate, if subtle, aversion. In our culture, the word has overtones of restriction and even shame; we think of Judgment Day and of failing to be good enough, of Puritans and inhibition, of soapbox rants and fundamentalist rhetoric. Yet while we may feel a heaviness when morality is mentioned, spiritual teachers across traditions point to something else. Rather than limiting and binding us, they say, moral guidelines reveal a path to genuine awakening and peace. They insist that teachings on morality, which direct our human behavior and activity, are among the most powerful and transformative of all religious teachings. It’s in this spirit that this issue of the Mountain Record, the first in a three-part series, takes up Morality as a theme. We begin with the spiritual roots of morality: what it is, how it functions, and why it matters.

Spiritual practice, whatever the tradition, is a path of transformation. But how do we actually change? Intention and aspiration are not enough. Morality offers us a pragmatic way of bringing such change to life. Rabbi Shapiro writes, “Spirituality is not a feeling, nor is it vague. Spirituality is a conscious practice of living out the highest ethical ideals in the concreteness of your everyday life.” There is nothing abstract about this journey—what we do moment to moment, day by day, matters. 

The teachings in this issue come from across traditions and touch on everything from cultivating empathy to understanding the nature of mind. Shugen Sensei asks us to look closely at how our self-centered attachments cause suffering; Ryushin Sensei speaks about morality as intrinsically joyful; Joseph Goldstein writes about the freedom discipline brings; Kabir Helminski reflects on the beauty of humility and service; Sister Joan Chittister writes about nonviolence as the heart of spiritual life; Master Bassui teaches that the practice of the precepts is inseparable from finding our true nature.

When we move beyond our conditioned response, we find that authentic morality is not a list of rules, social convention or political pandering. Rather, it is rooted deep within us, inextricably linked to sacred truth. Whether we turn toward God, or Allah, or our own buddha nature, the ancient wisdom passed down to us is clear: If we seek genuine transformation, we must change how we live. If we want a world where peace gains ground and injustice withers, we must change how we live. Moral teachings offer guidance; they are a key to liberation. May we regard them as we would a brilliant light illuminating a path through the dark and tangled wilds of our humanity.

Danica Shoan Ankele, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor