Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Do No Harm

In my stop by the Buddha Diaries this morning Peter mentions a website called Do No Harm and briefly discusses how the simple phrase "Do No Harm" very effectively encapsulates a great deal of what Buddhism is all about. Like Peter says, it really is a simple concept and truly is much handier to remember that all of the "Thou shall nots" that seem to be rule of thumb for so many religions. I differ from Peter in one way however, and that I don't think of Buddhism(more specifically Zen Buddhism) as a religion in any classical way. I prefer to think of it as a philosophy or as a way of consciousness rather than some strictly structured "religion". It is a minor point actually but it just feels better for me. "Do No Harm" fits nicely in how I like to believe and act.

Those not really familiar with some of the precepts of Buddhism might find it interesting that "Do No Harm" fits rather nicely with the "Eightfold Path" which is the heart of Buddhist philosophy. The Eightfold Path --- Correct View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration are typically thought of as a path of three ways: wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline.

The path of Wisdom includes Correct View and Correct Intention. Correct View is about rejecting doctrine and strict rules and instead trying to perceive the true nature of ourselves and the world around us. Correct Intention relates to the energy and commitment needed to follow meaningful Buddhist practice(it may be the trickiest of all!).

The path of Ethical Conduct includes Correct Speech, Correct Action and Correct Livelihood and is where the "Do No Harm" concept hooks in completely with Buddhist thought. Ethical Conduct means taking care in our speech, our actions, and our daily lives to do no harm to others and to cultivate wholesomeness and goodness in ourselves. This part of the Eightfold Path brings in the Buddhist Precepts. While you will find other precepts depending upon which school of Buddhism you are talking about there are five precepts which are common across all schools; No killing, No stealing, No misusing sex, No lying and finally the one where I tread a fine line, No abusing intoxicants.

The final part of the Eightfold Path is Mental Discipline where through Correct Effort, Correct Mindfulness, and Correct Concentration we cultivate our mental discipline which allows us to cut through the delusion generated by the world around us. In Zen Buddhism this is where Zazen or meditation is used to achieve clarity and focus of mind.

So, as you can see, Doing No Harm is very Buddhist in a very fundamental way and following the practice by consciously making choices and exercising your will to do no harm will, in fact, lead you to be happier and more in tune with the world and those around you. I think if we each say to ourselves each morning, Do No Harm Today! the world will be a better place and we each can, in turn be happier and more fulfilled in it.

I guess I should mention one other Buddhist concept and that is the "Middle Way". It is an important concept and one that separates the study of Buddhism from many Western religions. The Middle Way means that one should sincerely try and follow the path and apply the Precepts to their lives but avoid fanatical perfectionism. It recognizes our frailty and the pressures of the world and while the Eightfold path represents the ideal it is a razor's edge.

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