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Awakening Ethics and Morals

Awakening Ethics and Morals

Nisargadatta Maharaj once said, "Nothing ever goes wrong in my world", however most people don't have that experience of reality, and for them, things seem to go wrong quite often. The difference in perspectives can be so extreme that the one will say, "nothing is wrong", while the other says, "this is a catastrophe". When extreme differences in perceptions arise it can be challenging to make sense of a situation. 

The focus of awakening isn't about solving specific problems. Nevertheless perceptions of problems can sometimes be resolved. When people approach spiritual awakening they generally bring with them mental structures informed by moral standards and ethics, not to mention ingrained personal habits. If we are to embody awakening in every day life then it might be worth considering how morals and ethics relate to the ideal of spontaneous action of awakened awareness.


From an awakened perspective everything is arising as a divine spontaneous unfolding of creation. An individual's spontaneous action is ideally in harmony with whatever is arising in the mind and immediate environment, but this doesn't always appear to be so. However this is a very subtle point because in order for anything at all to appear to have an independent existence, it must be, at least ever-so-slightly, out of perfect harmony with its source and with everything else. For example, each branch of a tree is part of the same trunk, and when they grow from the trunk they appear to be seperate, and when the wind blows some might collide, yet they are one with each other and with the trunk. In order to exist they must sprout from and be slightly different from the trunk and each other.

The spontaneous conduct of an individual may or may not be in harmony with ethics or with the morals of a community. If it were so then there would be no need to embody one's awakening in everyday life, and spiritual realisation could become an easy excuse for inappropriate conduct.  As spontaneous conduct is not necessarily rational it is often generalised as either enlightened, genius, insane, or stupid.


Ethics seeks to determine the most appropriate conduct in a given situation through rational means. It investigates the question: "What ought I to do?" The answer can be unique for each given set of circumstances and for every human being who asks the question. You have most likely heard the term 'Code of Ethics' however this is an oxymoron because ethics, unlike morals or legislation, cannot be codified. Ethics explores one's conduct in relationship with one's self, with others, with creation, and it represents the highest rational standard for conduct. Ethics is universal, and an ethical person is one whose goal is to practice universally preferable behaviour. Nevertheless there are numerous situations where ethical conduct can conflict with moral standards or legislation.


Morals are too often confused with ethics however the distinction between ethics and morals is very important. Morals are local social and community standards of acceptable conduct. A capacity for subtle reflection and introspection is not required, as in the case of ethics, and moral standards can be easily copied and codified as behavioural norms. In one society it might be quite common for a man to have many wives while in another only one wife is permitted. In one community free sex is considered the norm while in another it is seen as repulsive behaviour. A moral human being is one whose personal conduct predominantly reflects the locally preferred social norms of behaviour. 


When people lose the capacity to think clearly about their relationships and conduct, uncertain of whether they are thinking about ethics or morals, unable to distinguish rhetoric from rational argument, unconscious of spontaneous tendencies, they run the risk of experiencing and causing confusion and mental suffering. Love, compassion and kindness are fundamental ingredients in dealing with complex realities. However, consider this little tale of misguided compassion from philosopher Alan Watts. "Oh dear!You're drowning!" said the monkey. "Let me kindly help you as he pulled the fish out of the water and placed it up a tree".  

In a time when mainstream media, news and advertising tries to influence your perceptions of reality, it is important to understand how your mind works, how you think, and more importantly, how to be free of thinking altogether. Particularly if you're starting to feel like a fish perched on a tree branch. And there is no shortage of those who will put you there if you allow them. 

Learning how to not think can seem a very attractive escape from a stressful reality. But oscillating between awakened awareness while on retreat and mental confusion while in the world is not an ideal situation. Not thinking is not just an escape into disempowered blankness. Meditation is much more than a rewarding period of rest. The non-thinking of awakened awareness is the field within which clear thinking blossoms. The question is to which thoughts will you pay attention? Will you allow your thoughts to come and go or will you act on some of them? To embody awakened awareness in everyday life is to express it not only through the body and the emotions, but also through compassionate and discriminating thought. 

You have in any moment the power and resources to steer a course, one of your choosing, away from a sea of conflicting thoughts and emotions to a place of calm and clarity, your most inner being, where there is no problem in your world.