Within the teachings of the buddhadharma, when we speak about morality, we speak of it as natural morality. The Buddhist guidelines about how to live this life are not predicated on anything other than this life itself and its reality—they are aligned with what is true. It’s a morality that clearly recognizes the causality of karma, the action of cause and effect. It’s a morality that acknowledges the emptiness of all phenomena, the selflessness of all phenomena. And it is a morality that appreciates the all-encompassing truth of impermanence and interdependence.
In a sense, those five words—causality, emptiness, selflessness, impermanence, interdependence—are just different ways of pointing toward what is real. The moral teachings on how to live this life arise directly out of this undeniable reality. They are not superimposed upon reality and they don’t demand that reality adjust to a particular perspective, specifically, my perspective.
When Shantideva teaches about the virtues that define practice, he speaks about selfless giving, moral discipline, patience, joyful zeal, samadhi, and non-dual wisdom—yet he’s not speaking about anything other than what we already are. These perfections are not something that we’re creating; they are the natural condition of the human mind. They are an expression of the realization of what this reality, what this person—you—are really like. It is a morality that never becomes moralizing.
So frequently in our lives we will want to use our rationality to justify ourselves. It’s a way we try to shore up our defenses, but in that process we distance ourselves from something very immediate and clear. It’s interesting because there have been experiments in moral psychology that show that if the part of the brain that attends to emotions is injured somehow, a fascinating thing happens. If we can’t feel our way through life emotionally, it doesn’t make a difference if our rational capacity is still functioning perfectly: we can’t make a decision. We become paralyzed. This is interpreted as evidence that we’re making our way through life on an emotional level, but then we continuously justify our actions. We do it so quickly that it looks to us like we’re making rational decisions, but we’re not. We’re just using our rationality to make ourselves think well of ourselves, to moralize. But in that, we lose contact with the immediacy of this reality. There is clarity intrinsic to this situation—this “everywhere”—clarity that is sufficient in its own way.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in which we can relax completely— often in the midst of nature, for example. In that completeness, we recognize ourselves in a different way. But these moments underline a boundary to that condition, they seem particular—not “everywhere.” It’s not this moment. It was that moment that happened ten years ago. That moment stands as a counterpoint, and when we contrast that moment with how life is right now, it can be painful. What would it be like if that ease were our life itself, not some aspect of our life?