In Buddhism and other ancient traditions, including yoga, training in morality is considered a precursor to meditation practice. At the same time, it’s understood that meditating can strengthen our capacity to act in an ethical manner. Meditation and morality go hand in hand, and each supports the practice of the other.
The practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom
You may have heard it said that we don’t practice meditation to get better at meditating, but to get better at life. In part, getting better at life includes living in a way that avoids harming others. But which comes first? Acting with the desire to minimize harm, or kindness, compassion and the ability to walk in another’s shoes? Is it meditation that builds a life of greater peace, or is it morality and the ease that arises when we no longer need to concern ourselves with hiding our moral failings?
In Buddhism, meditation isn’t merely a means to greater productivity or a personal sense of calm, but part of a trifecta of practices (morality, meditation and wisdom) that help cultivate wholesome, virtuous, pro-social qualities. By becoming a better person, we not only do less harm, but become better able to contribute to the benefit of all others and the world we live in.
Through practicing both morality and meditation, we recognize the root cause of our suffering is us. We become more inclined to act with others in mind. Not only avoid our own suffering, but to contribute less negativity to the world in general. Acting with the intention to plant positive seeds is just one indication of wisdom. Traditionally, the merit we gain through the practice of morality, meditation and wisdom makes us better suited for realizing the ideal of enlightenment.
Meditation as Moral Training
Without a strong foundation in mindfulness, acting morally isn’t always easy to do. We’re either unaware of the ways in which we harm others, or so quick to react, it’s not until harm is done that we notice our behavior. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps us slow down, focus, and recognize our harmful habits. With awareness meditation, we might explore how these habits are connected to our suffering and develop insight about cause and effect.
A regular meditation practice thus gives us space in which we can choose to behave more ethically, while understanding why. Indeed, studies show people who meditate are less self-focused and more aware of the needs of others. Mindfulness leads to ethical decision making and compassion.
Morality for Meditation – Avoiding the 10 Negative Actions
While meditation indeed supports morality, the corollary is also true. Living an unethical life of lying, stealing, judging or otherwise harming others makes it quite difficult to sit still with a quiet mind. In meditation, a guilty conscience disturbs the mind and prevents focus as we ruminate on past transgressions.
One way to clear the mind is to behave kindly and refrain from harming others. Each of the world’s authentic spiritual traditions share some type of guidelines for ethical behavior. This is important spiritually as well as in behaving ethically in business or in any relationship with others. In Buddhism, these guidelines are summarized by avoiding the following 10 Misdeeds:
- Harming any living being
- Taking what’s not been given
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
- Lying or misrepresentation
- Divisive or alienating speech
- Harsh or unpleasant speech
- Gossip or idle speech
- Coveting or craving
- Wishing ill upon others
- Wrong view, or failure to see how our actions lead to consequences
By examining the 10 Negative Actions more closely, through both mindfulness and awareness meditation, we can see how we do each of these things in small or big ways. We also begin to see how refraining from these actions could protect the mind, leading to greater peace and ease.