Our Own Spiritual Authority
When faced with a task or goal to reach, it is common for people to want to know what the best course of action is. What are the rules, and how do I undertake this in a way that will maximize my results? Do this and don’t do that, and you’ll reach your goal. This paradigm is found throughout our society. It’s how many of us progressed through education, how we tend to develop our careers, and even how we become a good person and avoid being a bad person. While there is nothing inherently wrong or bad with this approach, it doesn’t translate so well with developing the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s path to freedom from suffering.
As with all aspects of the Eightfold Path, the ethical conduct section (the part that includes the 5 Precepts and relates to how we move through this world) is about experimentation and discovery. Not blindly following some set of rules that has been laid down by some spiritual authority. As we continue to pay closer and closer attention to our speech and actions, and the effect that they have on ourselves and others, we see that some speech and actions make us feel better and others don’t. With this information, we may begin to make different choices about what we say and do. Not because someone is telling us to, but because we see, in our own experience, that making this or that change would be for our well being and for the well being of others.
In addition, what now may feel like the best way to speak and act in any given situation, will most likely change over time. This is due to the increasing sensitivity of heart and mind that the practice fosters. So, how we relate to the precepts is not something static that we adhere to. It’s a living, dynamic exploration that evolves along with the evolution of our heart and mind. In this way, we increasingly become our own spiritual authority. We know how it is that is best for us to speak and act. Not because some spiritual book or being says so, but from our own experience. We feel the suffering that certain speech and action gives rise to, and we feel the joy that other speech and action give rise to. In this way, it is our own hearts and minds that guide us along the Noble Eightfold Path.