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Lions Roar : July 2015
ILLUSTRATIONBYANDRÉSLOB I FIND THAT WHEN THE CONVERSATION shifts to eth- ics, people tend to have three basic reactions that complicate the exploration. I’ve been guilty of having all of them at different times. They seem impossible to avoid and are each worth examin- ing with two parts seriousness and one part humor and irony. Often, when we start talking about ethics, we either become (1) apathetic, (2) defensive, or (3) righteously judgmental. Until a person takes an interest in some basic form of mind- fulness and in the cultivation of self-awareness, it’s actually pretty hard to see the point of studying ethics. Without awareness, we can’t see an immediate correspondence between our actions and their effects, or how our choices affect how we experience our life. It’s often hard to see how our choices affect others. When we are caught up in apathy, the world seems like an insurmountable for- tress of greed, hatred, and delusion, a dark place where nobody seems to hold themselves accountable for the choices they make. If no one else thinks about the hard questions, why should I? If you notice yourself getting bored when the conversation turns to ethics, it might be helpful to reconsider what it means HOT OFF THE PRESS to be a contemplative person at all. To be contemplative means we are trying to think deeply about life, to grow more curious about the links between how we experience ourselves and how we act. To be a contemplative is to create a lifelong study of the interdependence between our views and our behaviors. If we want to step onto this path, we need to recapture the original purpose of both human philosophy and human psychology, which is to become a curious person, appreciative of our pre- cious opportunity to be alive, exploring principles that have useful and specific applications. From this standpoint, ethics is no abstraction; there is nothing vague about it. Practicing eth- ics is about making our lives tangibly better, because if we can learn to live fully in our own heartmind throughout the day, every day will feel infinitely more satisfying. A discussion of ethics can also make us defensive, as though someone is personally attacking our lifestyle. Somebody starts asking simple questions about why we choose to eat meat, or why we hold the political beliefs we hold, and we don’t even want to hear the question. I am a Buddhist who occasionally Do We Have to Talk About Ethics? The subject usually brings up negative reactions, but in this preview of The Road Home, ETHAN NICHTERN proposes a better way forward. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 73