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Conduct & No-Self [Week 1]

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(@aditir)
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Joined: 4 months ago

Thank you touching base on conduct, and ethics. I am wondering, if there is no self, then who is the one that conducts itself in a certain manner? And who makes judgements of right and wrong (ethics and morality)? 

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Posts: 13
(@alexlitrisoglio)
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Joined: 7 years ago

Hi Aditi, this is the same question as The story of when Rinpoche teased a monk in Thailand (as told in Vancouver 2024), where Rinpoche offers alms and then asks the monk:

"Well, if anatta is truth and there is no self, that means your self is not there, and my self is not there. So who is accumulating the merit? What is merit? Who is gaining the merit?"

After telling this story, Rinpoche explained the two truths (ultimate truth and relative truth) using the example of a nightmare of falling from a cliff. I'd encourage you to re-read this part of the teaching, and we will cover this topic of the two truths in future weeks. Very briefly, the question of whether or not the self truly exists (the first part of your question) is a question about ultimate truth, and the question of how we might judge conduct as right/wrong (the second part of your question) is a question about relative truth. When you combine ultimate and relative in the same sentence as you have done, it quickly gives rise to paradox and confusion (just like Rinpoche teasing the monk). So the "answer" is to understand that while they are always in union, our limited dualistic minds have to choose which "one" we are going to talk about in any given sentence.

Of course, once we have transcended dualistic thinking, none of this will be a problem 🙂

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Posts: 4
Topic starter
(@aditir)
Active Member
Joined: 4 months ago

Thank you Alex! So based on my limited perception, I have seen that lama’s who have transcended dualistic thinking, still follow ethics and morality. Would that be a display as a teaching for the students? Lama’s still seem to conduct themselves in a certain way, such as playing a role of a teacher. If they were not a teacher under the public eye, would they perhaps behave differently? The main question I’m asking is whether everyone is playing a role in some way, which changes depending on the context? And if it is important even when one is enlightened to still not conduct harm to others? 

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Posts: 13
(@alexlitrisoglio)
Member
Joined: 7 years ago

Yes I suppose you could say "everyone is playing a role", in the sense that the enlightened beings are all seeking to teach and benefit beings in whatever "language" (which can include words, symbols, appearances, action, all kinds of manifestations) will best benefit each type of being (with teaching the Dharma being the highest benefit). This is in verse 18, which we'll come to in Week 4:

[18] In the language of the gods, nāgas, and yakṣas,
In the language of demons and of humans too,
In however many kinds of speech there may be—
I shall proclaim the Dharma in the language of all!

As Rinpoche once said, if beings on Jupiter show loving-kindness by punching each other on the nose, then we will have to learn this way of manifesting/behaving if we are bodhisattvas that aspire to benefit the beings on Jupiter. And since we are aspiring to benefit all sentient beings, then this includes us! Yes you could say this is "playing a role" or perhaps more straightforwardly that you are manifesting/behaving in whatever way will best benefit beings. And yes, since in our relative world we still relate to conventional ideas of "good" and "bad" (even if those are different on Jupiter), the teacher or bodhisattva still needs to follow ethics/morality.

And at the same time we always aspire to go beyond conventional ethics/morality (even though we still want to manifest it as explained above). Rinpoche loves to quote verse 6:42 from Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara, which he paraphrases as:

“Those who are ignorant engage in bad deeds and go to hell.
Those who ignorant engage in good deeds and go to heaven.
Those who are wise go beyond good and bad and attain liberation.”

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