A virtuous life. Practice.

Mar 4, 2022 | Yoga

Perfections of the Heart: Morality
This perfection is our commitment to a virtuous life. It is reflected, with relative consistency, in virtually all spiritual practices. In yoga the moral principles are known as the Yamas. In Buddhism, the 5 precepts. In Judeo-Christian traditions, they are included in the 10 Commandments.

The practices are: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, restraint of power/ego/sexuality, and non-coveting.

It is the long-term effects of these practices that make them so exceptional. In the doing they don’t always result in immediate gratification like the practice of generosity (the first of our 10 perfections) might. Over the long-term however, they affirm an orientation towards the world that we want to manifest. They are truly the actualization of the Golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Any amount of effort is relevant here! Imagine the effect if everyone in the world exhibited just 1% more of these qualities. The world would be, indeed it is, transformed by our actions.

Mindfulness practice is the guide towards these virtues. It requires attention and insight to appreciate the more subtle movements of the mind and heart. We will come to better understand our impulses, habits, expectations, and, interconnectedness, when we pay closer attention.

Let’s consider each of the guidelines individually.

First, there is non-harming. This is beyond the more simple “do not kill” commandment. It asks us to consider and reduce ways in which we may not be supporting the potential for life to thrive. Orienting in this way may help us to pause before we act or speak, to ourselves, or to others, in ways that might be harmful. Simply pausing can be sufficient to stem the tide of destructive patterns. We don’t have to know yet what to “do” next.

Next is truthfulness. This too should be considered in both gross and subtle ways, in both words spoken aloud and thought, as directed towards others and ourselves. I have found it help to practice listening more intently and when compelled to speak, to ask (as often as possible) the following questions: Is what I am about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary at this time?

Non-stealing is just that. And, it may apply to ephemeral as well as tangible stuff. There may be instances when taking someone’s idea or taking on a responsibility that isn’t yours is just as harmful as taking something material that hasn’t been offered.

Protecting vital energy is another aspect of morality. Recognizing our power and not using it to overpower another is at the heart of this practice. It is often applied to sexuality but I think that it can also be useful to consider other ways in which we might use our procreative powers carefully. When might our ego, pace, or expectations get in the way of someone else’s process and potential? Here too if we practice paying attention to both what is surrounding and what is within, and, if we practice pausing before reacting, we might find ease.

Finally, there is non-grasping. We might also understand this as non-craving, or, not indulging cravings. In Buddhism and many other spiritual practices this translates to a commitment to not consume intoxicants. It is a commitment to keep the mind clear and available. It is a commitment to remain conscious.

These practices both support and are supported by each other. When we truly engage in non-harming and in truthfulness, intoxicants are easy to refuse. When we are free from intoxicants, the mind is more clear and we are more easily able to maintain clarity around commitments. Taken together, these moral guidelines provide us with the foundation upon which a life of joy, ease and true abundance may be built. It is not without choice.

To recognize choice, to turn towards intention, and, to practice non-harming, even as we acknowledge and attend to our own perceived shortcomings or failures, this is the way. Keep orienting to the destination and returning to the path… this is how we proceed.

May we be continue to practice in this way, to beautify the mind and heart, on behalf of all beings. Thank you.

Margi Clifford

Margi Clifford is an outdoor enthusiast and yoga teacher with more than 20 years of experience as a holistic healthcare provider and educator. She’s based in Anchorage, Alaska, and has traveled extensively hosting international yoga retreats, providing health education, speaking at wellness conventions, and offering mindfulness consultations for healthy workplaces.

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