In Buddhism we are given a good reason to be good – it helps concentrate the mind in meditation. Morality (Sila) makes the mind happy, and happiness (the good kind) aids meditation. Conversely bad behaviour agitates the mind and makes it cloudy and harder to meditate.
If this teaching is true then we can expect the ‘good’ mind to be closer to our basic nature (Buddha nature?), and the ‘bad’ mind to be further from our basic nature.
Is this true? Do you think humans are at bottom good or bad ?
Lie detector tests would back up the idea we are basically good, since they measure stress and agitation caused from lieing. fMri Scans also show that telling lies involves a much wider kaleidoscope of cortex activity than the simple truth. So are people basically good, but deluded by evil? Or are we basically selfish gene machines out for ourselves without a religious teaching to prod us back on the straight and narrow?
Some researchers in England devised a (potientially expensive) test to find out. They deliberately left 20 pounds in cash machines at different locations to see if the following customer would pocket the money or try to return it. In almost every instance, the money was returned. The article, from the Guardian, is as amusing as it is interesting.
In the Greater Discourse to Malunkyaputta, M64, the Buddha advises that though he teaches the abandoning of the ‘fetters’ (samyojana) the question of the new born baby can be raised. Is not a baby free from self-view, sense desire, ill will etc.. ?
The answer goes that there is in fact a path. And if you have not taken that path you will not be free from the fetters, even if you are a baby – just like you can’t cut to the heartwood of a tree without cutting the bark first. The fetters it seems, are always lurking even in a new born, as ‘latent tendencies’. The same is true of any one moment you might experience. You might be free from lust, but the tendency is still there until you have removed it at the root.
The ‘Way’, the Buddha continues in the sutta, is to view all cognition, memory, liking/disliking, mental states and form as a painful dart. Then one directs the mind towards the ‘deathless element’ (amata) which is synonymous with the Unconditioned. Upon attaining to that Deathless, one sees “this is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all mental states (sankhara), the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving”
For our discussion on Buddha nature, we can see here that the Unconditioned is something always present, but only revealed when the mind stops still. Further it is something that you can direct your attention to, and something that is experienced as sublime even after all mental states have ceased. This is a very positive outlook on the Path, that does not involve 1000s of lifetimes of practise. Effectively, it is Buddha nature in its original guise in the Pali suttas.
And in the words of the sutta, it is readily available to one whose mind has confidence, steadiness and decision. Now, how to get those …..