Every faith includes teachings on what adherents must do, whether it be on ethical issues such as abortion, or religious practices such as worship. What would you estimate as the percentage of your faith's adherents who wholeheartedly follow those teachings? How important is it that they do so?

"Do good. Refrain from doing harm. Purify the heart". These are the teachings of the Buddhas. I really don't know how many in the Buddhist faith wholeheartedly follow these simple suggestions.

As for ethical decisions we try to make these by referring to several moral principals and using them as our guidelines for action, speech and thought. "I undertake the precept to refrain from harming living creatures" This, the first precept of Buddhism, is obviously very broad but within that guideline each individual tries to decide a course that causes the least amount of harm for oneself and others. There will certainly be complexities and conflicts that the precept won't cover but if the general principal is honoured there is the possibility of a reasonable decision in an imperfect world. This encourages wise reflection based on personal responsibility. Compassion is strengthened and cruelty weakened. All of these are very important to the Buddhist path.

There are other general principals that are used in the same way. The idea in Buddhism is not to create moral absolutes nor to fall into a trap of moral relativism but develop an inner world free from delusion so that ethical decisions can arise from wisdom and compassion. These ethical guidelines when wisely used as a system of training in body, speech and mind lay the foundation for meditation. Meditation sets the stage for deeper understanding. Deeper understanding liberates the mind from ignorance and culminates in enlightenment.

Finally to the question of religious practices such as worship, these are optional. Over the last 2500 years Buddhist rites and rituals have evolved in different cultural settings. The important thing here is not the observance but the attitude that informs the observance. If rituals foster wholesome states of mind then use them. If not then don't.

Ajahn Viradhammo

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