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Lions Roar : November 2017
These days, the one time people do ask me about ethics is when scandals or controversies happen in Buddhist communi- ties. Despite the clear importance of nonviolence and compas- sion in the Buddhist tradition, many students are not sure how to deal with these situations. I can see why they get confused. There are many different Buddhist lineages and schools, and it is hard to keep track of all their different teachings, practices, and ethical frameworks. This is especially true in the Tibetan tradition, where we have three different approaches—which we call yanas or “vehicles”— that are woven together into one path of Buddhist practice. These are the Foundational vehicle of individual liberation, the Mahayana vehicle of great compassion, and the Vajrayana vehicle of indestructible wakefulness. This combination is one of the unique and beautiful aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, but it doesn’t always make things simple. Ethics in Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism we practice the three yanas together, and that includes the practice of ethics. Let me clarify. The most basic ethical principle in the yana of individual liberation is nonviolence, the commitment to avoid harming others at all costs. When we add in the Mahayana, we do not forget about nonvi- olence, but take it one step further with the practice of bodhichitta. This is the commitment to help all beings become fully enlightened. Finally, Vajrayana brings in the notion of pure perception. In practicing the Vajrayana, we remain firmly grounded in nonvio- lence and the altruistic motivation of bodhichitta, but take the fru- itional view. We treat everyone and everything as the embodiment of awakening. We commit ourselves to seeing ourselves, others, and the world around us as fundamentally pure, complete, and perfect. This ideal of pure perception is embodied in the principle of samaya, the formal commitments that a Vajrayana practitioner adheres to. There are many details about samaya, but simply put the essence of samaya is to practice pure perception to the best of one’s ability. Many people misunderstand samaya and think it refers only to seeing the teacher as a buddha, a fully awakened being. That is part of samaya, but it misses the key point. Samaya is about seeing everyone and everything through the lens of pure per- ception. The sole purpose of viewing the teacher as a buddha is so we can see these same awakened qualities in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. It is a tool that helps us to gain confidence in the purity of our true nature. Vajrayana practice is rooted in the ideals of nonviolence and great compassion. There is no Vajrayana without them. So how do we use these principles to guide us on important issues like finding an authentic teacher and working with the inevitable challenges that arise in the life of a community? LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 37