Just as church steeples or temple spires once symbolized the essence of what we cherished, these days, our tallest buildings tend to be commercial in nature – as if to signify the moral erosion of contemporary civilization. We are in a state of decline and those who believe that ethical living is supported by largely being carbon-neutral and environmentally-friendly fail to acknowledge this.
Their view would render purity of intention, action and expression – the true essentials for ethical living – as practically irrelevant. There are issues of greater urgency than eating organic vegetables, giving up meat, using fair trade produce and recycling waste. What comes out of our mouths and how we behave must take priority over concerns about the origin, quantity, and quality of what we consume.
We must care for the state of our minds where all conflict and unhappiness take root. This then will enable us to address the source of our dis-ease and so overcome the moral inertia that brings harm to ourselves and others – our mental and emotional addiction, aggression, instability and excess. And we accomplish this by applying moral principles even to the smallest details of our daily lives and relationships.
That requires sacrifice, but it is right sacrifice because it is fundamental. It assures a level of integrity that will automatically shoulder environmental responsibility whereas acting on the premise that protecting the earth is the ultimate good of human existence can never bring the security or happiness we seek. Nor will it foster peace between individuals, cultures, religions, and nations.
So, rather than composting the earth, the first step of ethical living is composting the heart. With a moral imperative to honour life, property, and the sanctity of our relationships, we nurture the trust on which peace depends.
Do this: just for one day, live honestly. Be scrupulous in every act. Treat everyone with kindness, even those you dislike or with whom you would not normally interact. Reach out to help if you can.
For one week, speak truthfully. Use no white lies or habitual excuses that avoid taking responsibility for shabby behaviour. Give value to every word and live up to it. Keep every promise you make.
Stop the tiniest pilfering from company stationery. Refuse the miscalculated extra change at the grocery store. Use legal software.
Don’t exploit the good nature of others – or make them feel beholden. Be loyal to friends and family. Refrain from unkind gossip.
Practically, we are human and imperfect. But if we understand the intrinsic value of these ethical practices, we create stability for what is true. We should never compromise that. Such moral compost safeguards our own well-being and that of everyone around us. This is the basis for a truly ethical life.
© Ayyā Medhānandī
This a post from Ayyā Medhānandī’s blog written while based in Penang. She draws on her experiences in a monastic community in England as a solitary nun in a coastal hamlet of New Zealand and as an urban nun perched in a ‘sky temple’ overlooking the Malacca Straits. Other posts from this blog can be found under “Penang’s Blog” topic category.