How do we practice ethical conduct, or sila, without falling into judgment, and without ignoring the complexity of each moment? According to Norman Fischer, the way has always been there.
Sila Paramita is the paramita of ethical conduct, of purification, of moral discipline.
It is cleaning up your act, straightening out your behavior, so you can practice effectively.
In the Judeo–Christian tradition, moral discipline is obedience to a God who requires you to be good and not bad and rewards and punishes accordingly. This idea, without humane interpretation, can create a feeling of coercion leading to guilt and all sorts of moral confusion, including attraction to the forbidden, and immorality perpetrated as rebellion.
In contrast, sila paramita recognizes moral discipline as, on one hand, the goal of practice—to so harmonize with awakened reality that your conduct is naturally beautiful and compassionate—and, on the other hand, a practical necessity for going on with practice, because wrong conduct unsettles the mind and heart, and a settled and focused mind and heart is necessary for awakening.
There is an observable connection between meditation practice and ethical conduct. In meditation practice, you begin to notice the connection between your fidgeting body and mind, your various emotional and physical painfulnesses, and your conduct.
You see that the more straightforward your everyday conduct, the easier, more focused, and more calm your sitting practice becomes.
In long sesshins (intensive Zen sitting retreats), you sometimes experience this dramatically, feeling your physical pain on the cushion suddenly resolving into a heartbreaking sense of remorse for something you did or failed to do in the past.
You see how a mind and body full of resentment, anger, and reactivity, caused by emotional responses to what’s happened in your life, can’t sit still without misery.
And when your mind calms down and you are more accepting and patient with yourself and others, you sit with more happiness. Any shoddy or unthoughtful conduct of body, speech, or mind makes shadows in your heart that, as soon as you sit down and begin to practice, you won’t be able to avoid. In this way, sila paramita is a natural outgrowth of your sitting practice.
In classical Buddhism, there are three main practices, each a prerequisite to the next: sila, dhyana (meditation), prajna (wisdom).
Wisdom—specifically the wisdom that sees impermanence and the nature of reality—immediately leads to awakening, the end of suffering, which, as I’ve said, naturally leads to Buddha-like conduct.
In Zen, we practice these three at the same time, understanding them as inseparable.
BY NORMAN FISCHER|