During a phone-in your questions in Australia, a taxi driver called and addressed this one to a monk: “Mr. Monk, I’d like to ask you this question. I’m having an affair; my wife doesn’t know about it. Is it right?”
Rather than going into the philosophy of ethics, immediately Ajahn Brahm, the monk referred to, replied: “If it was right, you would not be ringing me up to ask.” The guy on the other end put the phone down immediately.
What he was actually phoning up for was to get an expert to tell him it was okay. He knew it was wrong, but he needed the expert to assuage his guilt or to convince him that it was right.
Otherwise, why would he ring up? If it was right, he would simply not have told anyone and carried on with the affair.
Anyhow, he realized that it was wrong and in fact, most people do. It’s just the peer pressure, and so we try and justify it. Why do we think or know it’s wrong? Because, it hurts another person.
One of the most important things in a relationship, as we all know, is trust. You want someone you can trust, who says something, and you can actually believe them. Because that’s so rare in our world to have trust, at least we want the person we commit to be our friend, our partner, a fellow companion along our journey through life – one person in life you can trust. You may not be able to trust anybody else, but at least you have that one person to lean on.
Without that trust, a relationship is so lonely. You can’t share.
So that’s why it’s a most terrible thing to breach that trust, cheating on your partner by taking another partner when you already got one, even temporarily.
It really hurts because it goes to the very essence of a relationship, and destroys it. This is why people react so fiercely if they find out that you’ve been seeing someone else. Why do they react that way or for that matter, why do we? Because, it is attacking something so beautiful and so spiritual and so wonderful, and desecrating it, that’s why.
So, we investigate and look deeply into its ‘why’, so we don’t just believe these precepts as rules, laid down by one man some 2,600 years ago, who probably didn’t understand modern life and that these precepts could now be well past their use today. But if you look at ethics that way, you’re missing a huge amount of truth.
Why does it hurt? What is it hurting when somebody messes around in a marriage or relationship? Why? You can see that it’s that deep sense of trust between two people, their intimacy and not simply sexually speaking, but between two people who get so close to each other, they open up their vulnerable part, so much can be hurt and you’re willing to take that risk with another person and be vulnerable.
Opening up and being vulnerable to someone else takes a huge amount of trust. And when that vulnerability is abused, it hurts so much more. You have taken off your armor in that relationship, all of the things that have protected you. This means you are so fragile and so easily hurt when someone takes advantage of that trust and hurts you in that way. If you’re going to have to use the word ‘bad’, then you know, this is it. It is unskillful, it is unwholesome, that it should never be done.
You only have to look at movies, or read books, and you only have to know from your own life what happens. Sometimes we in ethics, sometimes all these rules, I don’t just want to follow them literally, I want to ask why.
If it hurts, why does it hurt? Where is that pain coming from? You feel that hole, you feel that hurt, that deep pain.
And now you know why it’s a rule, why it’s a precept. You are just trying to protect people, that’s all. Just trying to stop the suffering and pain in life. Have a harmonious society and families where you can trust each other – an example for others to follow.
So at least two people, the one you choose to walk along with in this life, there is that one person that you can trust. Please, you be that person and please never let go that trust.
It’s so valuable because once you’ve been hurt so many times, it’s as if life loses its meaning, loses its beauty. That’s why it’s really, really important to keep your happiness and peace.
If you made a mistake, admit it. And please, don’t do it again. It hurts. If you have failed, you’ve only got seven out of ten. Please, try and make it better next time.
So if you have broken any of these precepts, whether it’s drinking, or adultery or whatever, there’s no punishment. Again, take away the punishment from these precepts. They are not rules where you get sort of whipped up, banished or executed.
In our philosophy, it’s not punishment but learning which is important.
That’s why we follow that AFL code. Acknowledge if you made that mistake. Be honest. Forgive and learn so you don’t have to do it again.
(Thanks to Ajahn Brahm who is the source of this wisdom inspired by the Buddha’s teachings. The above is an excerpt from one of his lectures and has been transcribed so that others may find solace and comfort in life, guided by this generosity of mind and spirit.
May all beings be happy and well. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.)