Sunday, June 28, 2009

Living Ethically: Advice from Nagarjuna's Precious Garland

Sangharakshita has a new book Living Ethically on Nagarjuna's Precious Garland.

At first I didn't want to write a review because I'm not an expert on the Precious Garland. I've read it, and had parts read to me on retreat, but in no way do I feel I can judge whether Sangharakshita is true to the text or not, whether I agree with his interpretation. But in the end it's Sangharakshita riffing off of Nagarjuna's Precious Garland, and updating it with his unique vision for modern Buddhists. Whether you like his vision or not, will inform whether you find this book useful.

I would categorize with book with his Mahayana commentaries, Tranforming Self and World, The Inconceivable Emancipation, and The Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment. I might add The Yogi's Joy.

I would also connect it with Sangharakshita's book Ten Pillars of Buddhism in that much of the book is also an exposition of the Ten Pillars:

1. I undertake to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake to abstain from taking the not-given.
3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake to abstain from harsh speech.
6. I undertake to abstain from useless speech.
7. I undertake to abstain from slanderous speech.
8. I undertake to abstain from covetousness.
9. I undertake to abstain from animosity.
10. I undertake to abstain from false views.

There are also positive ones of these (which I have modified a little):

1. With deeds of loving-kindness I purify my body.
2. With open-handed generosity I purify my body.
3. With simplicity, stillness and contentment, I purify my body.
4. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
5. With words kindly and gracious I purify my speech
6. With utterances helpful, I purify my speech.
7. With utterances harmonious, I purify my speech.
8. Abandoning covetousness for tranquility I purify my mind.
9. Changing hatred into compassion, I purify my mind.
10. Transforming ignorance into wisdom I purify my mind.

So the above ideas of how to move towards skillful actions play a large part in this book, and I feel the exploration is positive and helpful. He puts it this way:

"Ideally, we should act spontaneously, with ease and flexibility, rather than acting out of a sense of being hedged in on every side by self-recrimination or out of fear of transgressing some immutable moral law. Having said that, our wider aim should be to reach out beyond our personal happiness towards what is of profounder concern to us, namely, benefiting others. If you succeed in doing this, you are being a true friend to yourself." (p. 18)

There is also references in the book to monitoring mental states closely, so as to try and cultivate positive states, which makes me think of Know Your Mind, which is based on the Abhidharma, and it perhaps one of Sanghrakshita's most complex books.

So categorizing aside, this book has many strong messages. In my 7th year or reading Sangharakshita, I'm noticing the theme of intensity. Being a Buddhist is more than just reading books, more than just meditating, there has to be a real translation into action, and not just an ethical action, but also action that takes into account others, the boddhisattva ideal. Of course this book is less intense than The Essential Sangharakshita, because those are the edited highlights of his whole career, and Living Ethically is just one edited seminar. By the way you can find the seminar or seminars this book was based on at Free Buddhist Audio.

For a sample of the intensity and clarity, consider the following quote about vows:

"You might want to make a vow. A vow is a very simply a statement - usually a public statement - to the effect that you will do or not do, something either for a certain period of time, or for ever. Not that you'll try to, not that you promise to: you will. When you make a vow it is already accomplished, and there is no question of your breaking it. To make the vow is to keep it. Even if you don't say it in front of other people, you say it in front of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and you call upon them to witness your vow. For example, you should know yourself well enough not to make a vow out of self-hatred, just as a way of making life difficult for yourself, although even if you did this, you would still have to keep the vow. Should you break a vow, it means you didn't really make it in the first place, and this wills how that you are not an emotionally integrated person." (p. 22)

I found this very helpful about vows.

Consider this quote:

A Buddhist should be a walking paradox in the eyes of the world: he or she should be obviously happy, even in the absence of financial security, social status, luxury consumer goods, or a sexual relationship - all of which are commonly regarded as being essential to human happiness. The sight of such a person would make people wonder, 'How can this be? Perhaps ideas about life are not the whole story.' It is what a Buddhist is that speaks to people, far more than clever presentations of Buddhist Doctrine." (p92)

And this:

There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112)

The intensity is provocative. Am I a piker? I've got to get down to it!

There's a lot of really good stuff in this book, and I could have easily produced 3-4 longer quotes that meant a lot to me. I recommend reading this book. And may you be happy, may you be well.

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