Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Question of Morality

I was recently asked:

Osu. I was thinking about what it means to be a vegetarian; how one might perfectly justify it. I was considering the idea of morals. "What is moral and immoral," and after thinking about it long enough, besides the obvious smoke exiting from my ear canal's, I felt like morals are largely built attachment. It seems that different people have different moral codes. What do you think about morality?


This was my reply:

Morality has only to do with one's personal memory and experience . We must first separate morality from ethics. While ethics are the rules of others, morality is our own rules. Ethics and morals from this stand point are two entirely different kinds of attachments. I am reminded of a story about a great teacher. However, that teacher decided to quit teaching. He came to the conclusion that the world was too attached to one way of living even in the practices of zen. Thus he became a beggar and lived under a bridge with a few homeless men.
At that time, a student from a far away land was coming to see him.  Upon arriving to the monastery where the teacher had previously resided, he learned that the master was no longer there.  He decided that he would search for him.  Long he looked, from temple to temple and could not find the master anywhere.  One day in the middle of winter, he walked by a bridge over a frozen stream and looked over the side and the master was there looking up at him.  The student waved and the master waved and walked back under the bridge.  The student followed him and then asked the master to teach him.  The master at first refused.  The student begged and pleaded with him to reconsider and finally, he relented by saying, "If you can live the way I live here for one week I will teach you."  The student was delighted.  The first thing they did was remove his robes and turned them into blankets.  The student was standing naked in the freezing winter.  He was then given some old rags to keep him warm when not under the blankets.  They slept that night and the student slept soundly with the satisfaction of finding the teacher.
The next day, they found a few places where garbage was regularly disposed and they made a meal of it.  The taste was foul and the portions small but the student choked it down happily knowing that the teacher would teach him.  The night was extremely cold.  They had their small tents but some of the men had fewer blankets.  They shared their blankets with the other men.  However, it didn't keep one of them from dying of hypothermia.  In the morning, they found the body and so, in the snow and ice, they dug for hours.  The student was exhausted but knew the funeral rites and this was the thing they had to do.  When they finally had finished the hole, the teacher stripped the body naked and put it in the grave (Note: Holes only become graves when bodies are in them, interesting.). The student was a taken aback when they put the body in the hole naked.  He felt strange about doing that to this man.  Then, when they had finished, they went back to the bridge.  The teacher went to the dead man's tent and got his food.  The dead man had had a small bit of chicken jerky.  Then he began to feed it to the student.  The student refused and decided to go hungry.  The teacher ate the jerky staring the student in the eye and the student began to cry.  "Leave! You haven't learned anything!"yelled the teacher.  The student went back to the temple in tears.

My question then to you is this.  What was the student's problem?  Clothes are to be worn, bodies are to be buried, food is to be eaten.  What is the moral imperative?  Also, then, why share the food with the other beggars?  These questions seem confusing initially but with a little time and meditation they become clear.

The student was morally opposed to disposing of a body without clothing.  To him it seemed cruel.  However, is it more cruel to deny those alive of a perfectly good thing to keep them warm that is free for the taking?  The answer here is of course!  Further more, the food was for eating.  The student saw it as belonging to this man.  However, that man was no longer there.  Had an animal found it, it would have eaten it.  What makes them different from the animals?  Ultimately nothing.  So eat it!  But morally, that is difficult because we find it to be stealing from the dead.  In this case, the morality is an attachment.

However, the harder question is the one about sharing.  Why share indeed?  The simple answer.  It is the right thing to do.  Morally?  Ethically?  No.  Universally the right thing to do.  Help those in need is not a moral imperative.  It is in fact, a way of letting go of the self and those moral attachments.  Help without fear of death, help without fear of starving, help without fear of wrong doing.  These actions lead to a peace beyond the self and has nothing to do with morality.  How interesting it is, though, that we lump the two together so frequently!  This is the reason the steam spewed from your ears.  You must learn to take things apart and look at them for what they are not for what they seem to be.  Morals are based on good ideas, but become too attached to them and they will lead you astray from reality.

What do I think of morality?
Live rightly, not morally.

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