Our usual way of being is to live in accordance with the rules and regulations set down by others. To play other people's games. They tell us what is right and what is wrong, and most importantly, how we should behave. This is simply conditioning by our parents, our educational system and society in general. At a very early age we learn that certain modes of behaviour are either acceptable or not. We loose spontaneous action, because in our mind we always trapped by this conditioning.

A student of mine telephoned me one day to ask a question.
She had been in a relationship with a man which had ended and was now seeing someone else. The first man had met her unexpectedly one day, and expressed the desire to rekindle their involvement with each other. However, there was a condition. She had to stop seeing the other man. He told her that she must choose, one or the other.
My friend was confused. She liked them both, what should she do?
I told her that she didn't have to do anything. Making a choice between the two men in her life was someone else's game, and she didn't have to play. If she wanted to see one, or the other, or neither or both, that was a choice that she could make. There was no need for her to feel forced into situation by the demands of someone else. She was free to make her own decision. To live her own life.

This is how it is for most of us. We find ourselves and dragged into playing other people's games. Even if we don't want to, because of our past conditioning, we find it hard to resist and therefore live our life according to the demands of others. We never fully experience a sense of freedom, because of continual external pressure from parents, friends, family and the rest of society. They all know how we should be and if we resist their view of life, they turn up the pressure.

Conforming makes everyone's life more comfortable.

To live a spiritual life means to stop playing this game. To be your own person. It does not mean however, that we just become more selfish and self-centred completely disregarding the feelings of others. On the contrary, through the investigation of mind and body we develop and then continue to develop, a less selfish view of ourselves in the world that we live in. We become more open and harmonious to the feelings of others. But, from the position of selflessness and balance, we can see impartially what needs to be done and what needs to be left undone. We are no longer swayed by opinion. We do what is right to do.

In order to reach this stage of being we have to let go of our usual and habitual need to see ourselves, and be seen by others, in a certain light. To continually reinforce the idea that we are nice people, and therefore only capable of good actions. We have to learn to be open to ourselves, however, we are.
With this comes confidence, not conceit. Not the idea that only we know what is best for everyone, but the knowledge that each must make their own way in the world as is appropriate for them. We can help of course, be of service, but never be compromised by the opinion of others. This means that what others think of us means nothing. Everyone is criticised from time to time. Look at the lives of Jesus and the Buddha. Both were enlightened and both were subject to many criticisms from the unenlightened. However, the opinions of others did not concern them. Their only concern was the truth, and how to express it best.

When we embark upon a spiritual life we have to develop purity. This is what the spiritual life truly means, a pure life. However, at the beginning we may need to follow certain rules of training, guidelines that will help us cultivate this purity.
These rules are fundamental to progress along the spiritual path and discourage killing or inflicting pain or harm on other beings, stealing, using our speech in wrong and harmful ways, sexual misconduct and the use of drinks and drugs that tend to cloud the mind.

But these guidelines should not be seen as acts of repression. We have to investigate and understand the outcome of such acts and realise that not only do the victim suffer, but that we also suffer.
All breaches of morality stem from ego, from the desire to create and maintain perfect conditions of life for ourselves. It is exactly this motivation that we have to let go of.
Our morality must be a natural morality, arising from a pure heart, a pure centre. This can only happen when our intention is to train ourselves in the way of an enlightened being.
It is said that the moral training of the Buddhist is simply the way an enlightened being behaves naturally in the world. We act as though we are already enlightened in harmony with all beings.

One time, when I was in India, staying in the small town of Banda, I was asked about killing mosquitoes.
Now I, like everyone else, do not like mosquitoes very much. I don't like them on me and I certainly do not like them to bite me. However, the desire to kill them simply does not arise. I will blow them off gently or brush them off with my hand, but in my heart, I wish them no harm.

To live in harmony with the things that we don't like is truly a blessing, for ourselves, the planet and all other beings. It is not necessary to kill or destroy that which we don't like.

When we act from purity, the need to defend or explain our actions does not arise. If there is no self, no ego performing, who is there to explain anything?

It is the ego, the delusion that we are someone and something that always needs to be defended and that can always justify and explain every deed we perform.
It is the ego that needs to be accepted by others, praised and given a ‘pat on the back’. When this aspect of us acts, it is always with an ulterior motive. Self-promotion.

Now try this experiment for a week. Don't defend yourself.
If you do something wrong, apologise and let it go. Don't attempt to justify or explain it. Don't demand that others see your point of view or understand you. Just let it go. Don't feed the ego!

When Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and attendant for twenty five years, was wrongly accused of misconduct, he simply answered his accusers by saying, ‘In my heart I did no wrong, but if you say I did, I apologise’.

No explanation, no justification, no defence. Only an answer coming from the purity of being.

And if you perform an act of kindness, stay quiet. Again, there is no need to explain why you did what you did. It is done, gone, finished. Let it go.

The purpose of spiritual training is to assist the forces of ego and conceit to die out, and to allow the pure mind to manifest. This mind simply is. When this mind is present, where are you? Where is ego?
Pure mind and ego are like light and darkness. They cannot exist in the same place in the same moment. When the pure mind is not present, there you are with all your views, opinions beliefs and conceit. A bundle of delusion, making its way in the world, causing chaos for all concerned.

Every moment we are awake is a moment to be. A moment to let this pure mind manifest by not allowing the influences of ego and self-preservation come to the fore. When the mind pulls in the direction of ego, simply see it for what it is and let it go.
You are not your mind, and you are not your body.
There is nothing that you really are, and no mould that you have to fit. Be yourself. Act from a position of egolessness. Set yourself free.

I am turning on the light – where does the darkness go?

Author's Bio: 

Michael Kewley is the former Buddhist monk Paññadipa, who is now an internationally acclaimed Master of Dhamma, presenting courses and meditation retreats throughout the world. For many years he was the guiding teacher at the International Meditation Centre, Budh Gaya, India and is the founder of the Pure Dhamma tradition of spiritual awakening and the Being Awake meditation group network.

A disciple of the late Sayadaw Rewata Dhamma, he teaches solely on the instruction of his own Master; to share the Dhamma, in the spirit of the Buddha, so that all beings might benefit. On 26th May 2002, during a special ceremony at the Dhamma Talaka Temple in England, he was awarded the title of Dhammachariya.

A full biography of Michael Kewley, including videos and Dhamma talk extracts, can be found at: www.puredhamma.org