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The Value of Integrity

October 6, 2013

Q: A reader asks, “We don’t want to look stupid, or unskilled, so we rather pretend to be smart and this is how we suffer. I think it is time to grow up and become honest. Could you please speak on how it is better to chose for integrity, so that we can understand and make this hard choice?”

The Arahant: Integrity is not a luxury; integrity and the trust it enables are absolute necessities, without which it is impossible to live as a human being. Both integrity and trust are conditioned by morality, and morality is supported by religion, as a condition of entering a higher state of being in the next life. The danger is that if religion becomes corrupt, morality, integrity and trust in society can collapse, and then civilized human life becomes impossible.

Unfortunately, this is the condition in the world right now. All the major religions are corrupted by politics and sectarian squabbling. Thus large numbers of people are becoming agnostic or atheistic. Because of this faithlessness, morality, ethics and truthfulness have broken down. Distrust, backstabbing, deceit and lies have become the default. The leaders have lost their morality, and this cheating mood is propagating among the people.

Without a background of trust, there can be no love, no safe space to exchange admiration and affection without danger of being betrayed; and without love, survival is reduced, life is experienced as unpleasant, and people become like animals competing for scarce resources.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is a great need in the world today for a scientific religion, one that points out that the mechanism of karma and morality is not external, does not require an imaginary infrastructure of omnipresent and omnipotent gods. Morality and integrity are part of the Dhamma, the laws of the universe. We simply remember how we have acted in the past, and judge for ourselves what kind of future embodiment we think we deserve.

The whole mechanism of religion and morality is internal. We ourselves are the witness, judge and bailiff when we appear before of the court of conscience in the hall of silence deep within the heart. We discover all this when we sit and concentrate our minds in meditation. No external church or power structure is needed; each man is—or can be and should be—his own religion, morality and justice.

This great truth was discovered in the west by the existentialists, but it was misinterpreted and misused to oppress and enslave the people instead of freeing them. Freedom is natural when people follow morality, when trust and respect become the normal social condition. But for this to occur, there must be sufficient knowledge, time and opportunity for introspection, concentration and meditation.

Instead, the leaders of the world, in their insecurity due to their deep dishonesty, have instituted a system of schooling that punishes introspection and cultivates compulsive extroversion. The long-term result of this is immorality, because no one has the time or skill to consult their own conscience. Justice is only external and reactive, because no one is trained to consult their conscience before acting. This is a recipe for moral chaos in society.

The Buddha advised his son Rāhul:

“Whenever you want to do a verbal action, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then any verbal action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction… it would be a skillful verbal action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any verbal action of that sort is fit for you to do.” — Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta (MN 61)

The same, of course, is true of mental and physical action. This kind of proactive introspection comes naturally to one who is mindful; the problem is that unmindfulness, the blind pursuit of desire, has become institutionalized in the present society, even a matter of government policy.

It is time for Buddhism to come forward as a scientific spiritual culture with the wisdom to counteract the present moral malaise in society. We should not be drawn along with the crowd, but take a stand for integrity, truthfulness, ethics and morality. We should show a fine example of keeping our word, so that others may see that it is possible. And we should give the Buddha credit for understanding the real value and function of integrity and morality.

“Monks, for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken, eleven benefits can be expected. Which eleven?

“One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One’s mind gains concentration quickly. One’s complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and — if penetrating no higher — is headed for the Brahma worlds.

“These are the eleven benefits that can be expected for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken.” — Mettanisamsa Sutta (AN 11.16)

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