Towards a Spiritual Revolution

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Spiritual and ethical practice (continued)


Can you think of times you have harmed or upset someone, even though that was not your intention?

We do not always know the effect of our actions, but we can—unfailingly—be aware of our intent.

Nature of the act

Forceful or aggressive acts are not necessarily harmful nor is acting gently always beneficial.

Can you think of examples in your life where a forceful act contributed to someone's well-being, even though it might have felt aggressive to them?

Disciplining children might be an example of such a situation, as might a teacher's strictness. Why "might"? The importance of intent would determine if such discipline was for the well-being of the student or the convenience of the teacher.

Can you think of an example in which gentleness might not be well-meaning?

Sometime we use pretend or false kindness in order to mislead. Again, the intent to harm has the potential to injure, and surely injures the recipient's trust (and expectation of truth).


The most significant factor in gauging an action's ethical value is motivation. The Dalai Lama chooses to teach us the Tibetan term —kun lung—because its meaning goes beyond the range of motivation.

Kun lung is that which drives or inspires our actions — both those we intend directly and those which are in a sense involuntary. Kun lung denotes the individuals overall state of heart and mind. When this is wholesome, it follows that our actions themselves will be ethical.

Can you think of an example of a situation in which gentleness might not be well-meaning?

Think about how your actions are affected when you are gripped with powerful negative thoughts and emotions such as hatred and anger. When your mind and heart are in turmoil, do you lose your sense of proportion and perspective? Can you see  the likely impact on others of your actions?

When heart and mind are seized by negative emotions and thoughts our acts — our deeds, our words, our omissions as well as our commissions — are bound to be destructive.

Can you remember situations when you hurt someone who your overall intentions towards were loving or positive? Can you think of times when you intended to help but you harmed?

Here we can see the distinction between intent, which is the first factor we mentioned, and motivation. It is our state of heart and mind — what underlies our actions — that determines our deeds, not just our intention.

Imagine an argument with someone close to you. Do you find yourself reacting negatively, speaking harshly, even though your intention is to not harm and you feel deeply for that person?

When we are not calm, when our motivation is lost in emotion, we are more likely to act in ways that harm.

Imagine you are walking on the street and accidentally bump into someone, and that person shouts at you, berating you. What state of heart and mind would allow you to shrug off this potential trigger?

When the driving force of  our actions is wholesome, our actions will tend automatically to contribute to others' well-being.  The more this is our habitual state, the less likely we are to react badly when provoked.

The healthy state of heart and mind the Dalai Lama encourages clearly contributes to the well-being of others and ourselves, that is to ethical conduct. But it requires a transformation of our kun lung.

Finally the Dalai Lama reminds us that we can never know for sure the effect of our actions. Nevertheless, if we are attentive and clear of heart and mind, at least we will know we have done our best.