A well-trained mind develops ethical behavior, not out of imposition, indoctrination or superstitious fear, but as a natural consequence of seeing things for what they are, i.e. as profound insights into causal mechanisms operating in the totality of the structures of life. The ethos derived from such wisdom steers life in a way that is conducive to the elimination of suffering.
The importance of cultivating the ethical dimension of our personality to make sound progress in our spiritual path cannot be emphasized enough. Any action of body, speech and mind volitionally introduced into the fabric of the universe will bring back an equivalent response when the conditions make it possible.
This simple rule of cause and effect -popularly known as karma- must be observed with fine attention if we do not want to be overwhelmed by all kind of difficulties, both external and internal, that affect our physical and mental health. The path is already difficult enough without the extra problems caused by unskillfully dealing with karma. Awakening does not mean complete elimination of karma, but thoroughly understanding its functioning.
Our recent history on the teaching of meditation for westerners has already left us with very revealing aspects to how this should be, or at least how it should not be, conducted. In the 60s and 70s, many westerners used the writings of D. T. Suzuki to justify a way of life diametrically opposed to the one envisaged by him. In talking about how to ‘uninstall’ the ego, Suzuki took for granted that the Dao would manifest, whereas it was the uninhibited assertion of self-willed instincts that occurred.
Zen expects that one must be rooted in virtue. This assumption might have been present in the social elite of some eastern societies, but not necessarily in western ones. Therefore, any responsible teaching about meditation must include virtue as an integral aspect of the practice.
Positive thinking is a subject that has gained popularity recently, yet it is an old and well-known spiritual technique. The emphasis in the embracing and holistic intention of traditional forms marks the main difference between a genuine spiritual approach and the more self-centered one of modern motivational methods.
The typical modern objective of positive thinking could be formulated in terms of boosting one’s attitude and of promoting self growth. This promotion and reinforcement of the self is also the main goal of modern psychotherapy. There is nothing wrong with this approach when it is targeted to the mentally disturbed, who may be lacking self esteem or be prone to apathy, but it should be noted that, for real growth, such approach is limited since it lacks a genuine spiritual dimension.
Therefore, an authentic positive mind must be imbued with wholesome thoughts that anticipate happiness, joy, health and a successful outcome of every situation and action, not only for the sake of oneself but for all living beings.