I am contemplating the Buddhist paramita of discipline this month. Another facet of meaning of the word in this context is ethics and morality.
Traditionally, there are three categories of ethics:
- refraining from negative actions
- doing what is positive
- helping others
When I was a kid, I watched a TV show called Romper Room. Groundbreaking in its day, it was kindergarten via TV. We sang the bee song. It described desirable and undesirable behaviors for four-year-olds in the 1960s. (“Do be a car sitter. Don’t be a car stander.” Later generations would solve this problem by putting seatbelts in cars., Now we have seatbelt laws. But I digress…) In the same way that the Bee song set out ethical behavior for four-year-olds, this paramita establishes them for Buddhist practitioners.
The idea of the first group of ethics is to avoid taking actions that might hurt someone else. In other words: don’t be a jerk. That means avoiding (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying, (5) slander, (6) harsh speech, (7) useless speech, (8) covetousness, (9) ill-will, and (10) misguided beliefs. These are the “don’t bees.”
The paramitas themselves are the “do bees” – the second kind of discipline. Practicing positive behavior can be an antidote to the negative. “Generosity as an antidote for being stingy and mean, diligence as an antidote for laziness, meditation as an antidote for mental complexity, wisdom as an antidote for ignorance, and so forth.” (Buddhism Red Zambala)
Finally, you can practice discipline by helping others get what they need and want, as long as that does not harm someone else (including yourself). That includes acts of kindness, saying what others need to hear, telling them what you know of the truth, and living in accordance with accepted customs and norms.
These are the disciplines of ethical living and, yes, most of what you need to know you learned in kindergarten. Imagine a world in which we all practiced such good behavior. Our daily lives would be transformed. Since we have little control over the people around us. It’s up to each one of us to take responsibility.
In your journal:
- what do you remember of kindergarten?
- What did you watch on TV when you were a kid?
- What behavioral guidelines do you set for yourself? For others?
- How does reading this change the way you think of “discipline?”