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cultivating life

Being ethical when practising meditation means that on a day-to-day basis you try to cultivate life and help it grow. You reflect on the conditions that enhance existence and you actively participate in improving them in a practical way. You do not remain a bystander who thinks that he or she need only refrain from certain actions to be ethical. There are five qualities you can develop in your daily life: harmlessness, generosity, respect, honesty and clarity.


Harmlessness means reflecting on the kind of harm you might be causing to yourself and others. You can be quite hard on yourself, judging and putting yourself down for no reason, and you might do the same to other people. You can change these patterns by questioning their intrinsic reality. If you intend to cultivate harmlessness, you must deliberately be kinder to other people and to yourself.

Once, I was talking about harmlessness and a woman in the audience was struck for the first time by what the word truly meant. She used to have a habit of cutting her body; since the body was hers she had not seen her actions in terms of 'causing harm'. My remarks made her realize that even her actions directed at herself should also be seen in an ethical, compassionate context. It became part of her practice consciously not to harm herself. We often develop coping mechanisms in childhood that later become habits and which can be damaging to our well-being. As adults, meditation and ethics help us realize that our coping mechanisms are no longer necessary.


Generosity is an important quality that is generally associated with money, although that is only a minor part of its meaning. How can you be more generous in your thought, speech and actions? The first step is to learn to give others - and yourself - the benefit of the doubt. It is so easy to be negative, expecting yourself to fail and others to be up to no good. If a small baby is crying, is your first reaction to think that he or she is doing it on purpose, just to be awkward and annoy you? No, you instantly react by asking yourself what the matter is and trying to soothe the child. In the same way, you could be open, spacious and generous in your relationships with yourself and other people.


Respect is a vital quality. It sometimes gets lost in wanting to make one’s way in the world, in grabbing what one can. I was once talking to a friend about relationships and he told me that his bottom line was that his lover was there to satisfy his need and vice versa. This seemed to me a bleak vision of love.

The key to a loving relationship is respect. You are with a person because there is something you like about them, you enjoy their company, you are attracted to them. Yet very quickly you forget that they add something to your life and you want them there just to service your needs. This is so limiting. What can you do to make your relationship grow emotionally, sexually and practically? Each of you is different and has to find your own creative way to make love blossom – but small ways are often better than any grand gesture.


The source of words is the mind. We usually have a running commentary in our heads that greatly influences our communication. What are you actually telling yourself, from moment to moment? What kind of yarn are you spinning? Consider whether this inner dialogue is an honest reflection of what is going on. Are you deluding yourself in small or big ways?

Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: 'I am no good’ or 'they are no good'. Is this true? Have you really done something dreadful or have you just made a mistake? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst, and they color the truth rather than accept that there has been a mistake. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?


Clarity of mind is characterized by spaciousness and brightness, and accompanied by stability. When can you see clearly? When are you befuddled and confused? Ask yourself what kind of conditions give rise to clarity or confusion. A smaller intake of intoxicants or none at all can help. But it is not only alcohol and drugs that confuse. Your mind can also be clouded by strong emotions, or anaesthetized by too much television-
watching. We do not have a television at home and when I visit my mother and watch programs with her, I notice that I can only take so much. After two  or three hours of television—watching, my mind is mushy. Gossiping too can cloud the mind, as can overworking. Each of you must look at your particular circumstances and try to cultivate the clarity of your own mind so that it can shine more brightly for the benefit of yourself and other people.