9 Week Study Course for
"Ethics For the New Millennium"

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Study Guide Week Four
• Chapter 6
• Chapter 7

Chapter 6 - The Ethic of Restraint

Key Concepts
Developing compassion requires a two-pronged approach of 1) cultivating factors conducive to compassion – love, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility and so on – and 2) simultaneously cultivating restraint relative to those factors which inhibit compassion and transforming our habits and dispositions to perfect our overall state of heart and mind.

Cultivating a habit of inner discipline is not just a matter of suppressing or denying negative thoughts and emotion or obeying laws and precepts. Insight into the destructive nature of afflictive emotions is necessary. True inner discipline is grounded in a voluntary and deliberate effort to understand ourselves, our emotions and our impact on others and out of that understanding to consciously choose our response with discipline and restraint.

Nature of emotions and mind/consciousness. As a metaphor for the nature of the mind, the Dalai Lama describes the water in a lake: “When the water is stirred up by a storm, The mud from the lake’s bottom clouds it, making it appear opaque. But the nature of the water is not dirty. When the storm passes, the mud settles and the water is left clear once again.” This observation that emotions and consciousness are not the same thing tells us that we do not have to be controlled by our thoughts and emotions. Prior to our every action, there must be a mental and emotional event to which we are more or less free to respond, though it may be true that until we have learned to discipline our mind, we will have difficulty in exercising this freedom. The mind is like the president or monarch and the emotions like cabinet ministers, some of whom give good advice and some bad. The job of the main consciousness – the leader – is to determine which subordinate gives good advice and act on it and which gives bad advice and not act on it.

Ordinary vs. negative emotions.
The primary attribute that distinguishes ordinary emotions from those which undermine peace is a negative cognitive component. A moment of sorrow does not become disabling grief unless we hold on to it and add negative thoughts and imaginings. It is the stories we tell ourselves about an event that undermine our basic serenity. Rational fear may be very helpful in heightening our awareness and giving us energy to flee
or protect ourselves. The more dangerous and negative fear is one that our thoughts embellish to the point of unreasonableness and which can totally overwhelm and paralyze us.

Nature of afflictive emotions.
All those thoughts, emotions and mental events which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind undermine our experience of inner peace. They are the source of unethical conduct and the basis of anxiety, depression, confusion and stress, all features of our life today.

Causes of afflictive emotions include the habit of thinking of ourselves before others, our tendency to project characteristics onto things and events above and beyond what actually is there and the seemingly unexplainable triggering that happens to us in the course of life.

Afflictive emotions rob us of our discriminative awareness, impairing our capacity to judge between right and wrong and to discern the likely outcome of our actions.

Afflictive emotions deceive us, seeming to offer satisfaction, e.g. of revenge or protection, but they do not provide true, lasting satisfaction. More often than not anger is an indication of weakness rather than of strength.

Afflictive emotions have an irrational dimension when our passions, strongly aroused, go to extremes and, for example, the individual once idolized now seems despicable and hateful, though of course it is the same person throughout.

Afflictive emotions are useless: the more we give in to them, the less room we have for our good qualities – kindness and compassion – and the less able we are to solve our problems. Negative thoughts and emotions undermine the very causes of peace and happiness. Consider the case of anger. As we become angry and think about the righteousness of our anger, we stop being compassionate, loving, generous, forgiving, tolerant and patient, depriving ourselves of the very things that happiness consists in. And anger tends towards rage, spite, hatred and malice, each of which is a direct cause of harm to others. When we become angry we lose all inner peace and, if it becomes habitual, others will simply avoid us.

Impact of negative, selfish actions. Negative actions produce a negative reputation, which makes others apprehensive and suspicious towards us, and eventually lead to the tendency to become quite lonely and miserable. When we act under the influence of negative thoughts and emotions we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others. They are thus the cause of our destructive behavior both toward others and to ourselves. Our failure to check our response to the afflictive emotions opens the door to suffering for both self and others.

Process for countering negative thoughts and emotions:
1. First we must build our capacity to recognize afflictive emotions when they arise in us by paying close attention to our body sensations, thoughts and feelings, words and actions.
2. Next we must recognize the situations, activities and conditions which trigger these afflictive emotions and consider staying away from them until we can build up our inner resources and ability to restrain our thoughts and actions.
3. Then it is important to gain insight into our own negativity. This is a lifelong task, but unless we undertake it, we will be unable to see where to make the necessary changes. Continually ask yourself such questions as, Am I happier when my thoughts and emotions are negative and destructive or when they are wholesome? What triggered afflictive emotions for me today? Wholesome thoughts and emotions? Be like a scientist investigating how your mind works, and drawing the appropriate conclusions.
4. Finally, we must cultivate a strong habit of restraint in response to afflictive emotions. Keep in mind here the Dalai Lama is not suggesting denial of these feelings, but restraint. Restraint is a deliberate and voluntarily adopted discipline based on an appreciation of the benefits of doing so. This is very different than denial that suppresses emotions such as anger with a façade of self-control or out of fear of what others may think. Such behavior is like closing a wound that is still infected.

Ethical restraint consists in acts which take others’ well-being into account. When we fail to restrain our response to afflictive emotions, our actions become unethical and obstruct our happiness. Ethical restraint recognizes that our interests and future happiness are closely connected to others’ and asks us to learn to act accordingly.


Discussion Questions
1. The Dalai Lama provides two metaphors, lake with a muddy bottom and president with cabinet ministers, to distinguish mind/consciousness and emotions. What did you take away from these metaphors and how are they useful in understanding the ethic of restraint?

2. The Dalai Lama suggests the difference between ordinary emotions and afflictive emotions is a negative cognitive component. What do you think of this assertion?

3. Review the material on the nature of afflictive emotions and share what struck you, and/or what memories it sparked regarding your experience with such emotions.

4. What is your current state of personal insight and reflection in relation to afflictive emotions? What situations tend to trigger your negativity and how do you tend to respond – body sensations, thoughts, words and actions?

5. How is your inner discipline with respect to responding to negative thoughts and emotions? What habits and practices have helped you get this far in cultivating restraint?

6. What do you make of the Dalai Lama’s distinction between denial of emotion and an ethic of restraint? Why is it important?

Practice Exercises
1. Make a list of those situations that tend to trigger your negative emotions and thoughts. Identify which ones you might remove yourself from as you build your inner resources for discipline and restraint.

2. On a daily basis, ask yourself the questions from the summary above to help you gain a greater understanding of your own experience of afflictive emotions.


Chapter 7 - The Ethic of Virtue

Key Concepts

An ethic of virtue is necessary to allow us to cultivate genuine happiness and inner peace. There is a saying in Tibet that the practice of virtue is as hard as driving a donkey uphill, whereas engaging in destructive activities is as easy as rolling boulders downhill. Through constant practice and familiarization, the experience of virtue becomes spontaneous and habitual.

An ethic of virtue requires consciously, actively and continuously cultivating and reinforcing our positive qualities, namely basic human, or spiritual, qualities. After compassion itself, the chief of these is denoted by the Tibetan word so pa.

So pa. Often translated as patience or forbearance, at a deeper level it implies courage, composure and being unperturbed in the face of adversity. It points to a deliberate, reasoned response to strong negative thoughts and emotions. So pa provides us with the strength to resist suffering and protects us from losing compassion even for those who would harm us. It involves a determination to not give into negative impulses and not return harm for harm. It is the means by which we practice true non-violence.

So pa should not be confused with mere passivity. When harsh words, strong stands or countermeasures are called for, so pa prevents negative thoughts and emotions from taking hold of us. It safeguards our inner composure so we can choose an appropriately non-violent response. We remain firm and courageous even if we are afraid. Thus our conduct is rendered ethically wholesome.

Cultivating so pa: In order to be able to access patience in difficult situations, one must practice it on a daily basis. One powerful way to practice is to reflect on the benefits of patience, which include:
• Reserving judgment, enabling compassion and giving rise to forgiveness;
• A developed reserve of calmness and tranquility that fosters relationships;
• Being better grounded emotionally which improves our physical health;
• The most powerful antidote to the affliction of anger (see other antidotes below).

It may also help to think of adversity not so much as a threat to our peace of mind but rather as the means by which patience is attained. Those who would harm us are our teachers of so pa.

Antidotes to afflictive emotions. An ethic of virtue also includes cultivating antidotes to afflictive emotions simultaneously with restraining our response to those afflictive emotions. The antidote for each afflictive emotion is its direct opposite:

• Patience opposes anger
• Humility opposes pride
• Contentment opposes greed
• Perseverance opposes indolence
• Spirituality and asking for help oppose helplessness and despair
• Giving opposes miserliness

An ethic of virtue requires we put the pursuit of virtue at the heart of our daily lives so that our actions become spontaneously ethical. We must habituate ourselves to the opposites of afflictive emotions even before those emotions arise. It is important to be generous, to be humble, to rejoice in others’ good fortunes, to overcome our habitual tendency to laziness, and, when our actions fall short of our ideals, to maintain an attitude of regret (not guilt) with resolve for repentance.

Helpful daily practices include making a habit of concern for others’ well-being, a short morning reflection on the value of conducting our lives in an ethically disciplined manner, and/or a short evening reflection on how we conducted our day.

If we truly desire to be happy, there is no other way to proceed but by way of virtue: it is the method by which happiness is achieved. And, we might add, that the basis of virtue, its ground, is ethical discipline.


Discussion Questions
1. Think of an example of so pa from the last six months. Share the story and how it relates to the definition and practice as outlined in the chapter.

2. Discuss your reaction to the suggestion that patience must be a daily practice to be available spontaneously in difficult situations.

3. What has helped you develop a practice of patience or so pa in the face of negative thoughts and emotions?

4. How have you proactively countered negative emotions with their antidote? What helps/hinders you from doing this on a daily basis?

5. Describe the qualitative difference for you between “giving to get” and “giving without attachment”.

6. In what way does humility have positive or negative connotations in your life, your community, at work? What do you see as the impact on us and our ethics?

Practice Exercises

1. On a daily basis, pause and reflect on others and how you can and do contribute to their well-being.

2. Practice the antidotes daily. Choose one for each month as a focus.

3. Reflect daily on your conduct. In what way was/wasn’t it ethically disciplined?



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