What is moral? Social morality is improving; at one time even slavery was acceptable, and child labor still is accepted in some countries. Even though political and social morality is still very limited, condemning morality amounts to "throwing out the baby with the bath water".Some political and social ideals promote needed social change, but such ideals can be compromised and confused by national and/or near-term issues. Nations still promote violence and even war in pursuing ideals, leading to great injustices in the name of progress, e.g., the genocide in Stalin's USSR and Nazi Germany, and more recently in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and SudanŐs Darfur region. Business, jobs, possessions, income, and money emphasize short-term means that neglect morality. Businesses cater to vices, e.g., addictions to cigarettes and liquor, and illegally to drugs, more generally selling us products and entertainment that are not good for us. The media caters to our craving for excitement and entertainment, (but on the other hand the media does keep selected inequities and worldwide problems "in our face").
The commandments or precepts represent religious guidelines for morality. The commandments and precepts are however rough cuts that appear incomplete and arbitrary; they are mostly negative or prohibitory, are limited in scope, and are open to misinterpretation. They do not address many issues that are addressed through mindfulness, attentiveness, compassion, and love. Hopefully, these help individuals address their own hatred, greed, and ignorance.
Buddha taught "do no harm, cultivate what is good and wholesome, and purify your heart and mind". For Christians, love, compassion, forgiveness, and clarity, and for Buddhists, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and joy-sharing, lead to mutually helpful behavior. Buddhism distinguishes three levels of giving; the highest is to inspire one not to fear, the next is to provide tools or teaching (dharma), and the least is to physically sustain or help someone. More specifically, Buddha's Four Noble Truths constitute a diagnosis of our human condition, and his Eight-fold Path constitutes a prescription for moral behavior, (see Buddhism in a Nutshell).
Even without guidelines for right and wrong, it seems natural to relate emotionally, with compassion and sympathy, to injustice and suffering, and to practice altruism (do unto others...). But many children have no natural altruistic sense of justice, or even of compassion, so it must be learned. More sophisticated moral behavior also appears to be learned, chiefly through religions, since the issues are very sensitive and easily distorted.
[My personal opinion is that individual morality consists in facing one's sins; I own up to my own hatred, anger, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, and ignorance.
In over seventy years of living, including forty years of Buddhist practice, I do not seem to be putting an end to these emotional sins,
(although practice may have greatly mitigated my tendencies toward negative actions over the years).
For example, walking through the mall on this spring day, my mind was interrupted
repeatedly by one sexy woman's appearance after another, and each new appearance
resonated with some strong sexual attraction in me, usually before my mind even recognized what was happening.
(Scientists say our instincts and brains are designed to react first in critical situations, e.g., prospects of procreation,
before considering the details, including morality.)
Mindfulness is my hope and prayer; not to diminish the attractions,
but to maintain equanimity, with morality.
Meditation seems to reach even through basic emotional dilemmas, and my meditations are occasionally gifted with grace.]
Back to Mind and Meditation