Sacred geometry

The Image of Ethics (Part 6 - An Inconclusive Conclusion, or A Prolegomenon)

CRUCIAL NOTE: It is highly unlikely that this talk will be properly or adequately understood without a prior very good working familiarity and competence – both in actual practice and conceptually – with Soulmaking Dharma teachings and practices, as well as with Insight Meditation. Without this background it may be that the talk will in fact be misunderstood, and it is unlikely that the talk will be helpful. Please note too that much of the material in this series of talks (In Psyche’s Orchard) is based on or continues explorations of material laid out in a particular previous series (Four Circles, Four Parables of Stone and Light). In Psyche’s Orchard was recorded by Rob at his home.
Date19th February 2020
Retreat/SeriesIn Psyche's Orchard


Okay. I think it may be wise, or certainly it may be helpful, in a number of ways and for a number of different reasons, to say a few more things after everything that we've said on ethics and soulmaking so far in the "Sila and Soul" talks and these "Image of Ethics" talks, and emphasis on those words: 'so far.' As I said, to me they're endless subjects, endless inquiries, and they really should be endless inquiries, an active process. So whatever I've said now, as I think I said right at the beginning of the "Image of Ethics" talks, just represents a snapshot of a process, an evolution which I hope that others can, when they've digested everything that's a sort of prerequisite up till now for Soulmaking Dharma, when they've digested Soulmaking Dharma and practice, and what's been said so far around ethics, then I hope that there may be some people who can then contribute in a very careful, and rigorous, and intelligent, and soulful way, with integrity, also moral integrity, can contribute to the further evolution of the whole Soulmaking Dharma logos and in particular the branch, the area, the domain around ethics and Soulmaking Dharma.

So what I'm going to say now is not really in conclusion; it's not really conclusive. In a way, you could say they're more preliminary remarks. You could hear this more as an introduction to the whole "Image of Ethics" talks. And some of what I'm going to say today is, in fact, just reminders of things that I've already said, but because there has been so much said, it's easy to lose a lot of that. And part of the reason for giving this little extra piece now is because some people may have listened to "Sila and Soul" and "The Image of Ethics" or other things in Soulmaking Dharma and feel quite confused or even concerned at what they are concluding are the implications or probabilities that come out of what's been said.

So I think it's worthwhile saying that, and also reminding you: when the talks get put up on Dharma Seed, there's usually a sort of caveat, a warning, a user guidelines sort of thing which says, "You know, it's probably really not a good idea to listen to this until you've really digested X, Y, and Z." In the case of these talks and the "Sila and Soul" talks, unless one has digested, really digested -- I mean not just intellectually, but in practice as well -- the principles of Soulmaking Dharma and the practices of Soulmaking Dharma (so not just played with them a little bit, but really had a sense of, "Oh, this is what the authentic imaginal is like. This is the sense of it. This is the terrain"), listening to many of these talks before that will highly likely only give a partial understanding -- probably misunderstandings, etc., and of course give rise to all kinds of concern, etc. Anyway, so we put these notes up, but I know for a fact that a good percentage of people just ignore them and go ahead and listen because it looks like an interesting title or whatever.

First thing to say is (and this is something I've said before; just to really stress it again): I believe that any ethical system will be incomplete. It will have its strengths, and it will have its weaknesses. But it will always have its shortcomings and its inadequacies. I think that applies to any ethical system that anyone, anywhere, in the history of humanity so far has offered or come up with or established or based their life on. And that includes whatever we've said so far about sensing with soul and Soulmaking Dharma practice as an approach to ethics, as forming a kind of ethical system. Any ethical system will be incomplete, will have its strengths and weaknesses, its places where it doesn't reach far enough or it's inadequate, and that includes Soulmaking Dharma approach to ethics. It includes the sensing with soul. So it's really, really important to understand that, not just about what's been offered, what I've said so far around ethics, but around any system, any ethical system -- and I include, absolutely, the Buddhist ethics, and particularly the Buddha's five precepts. It's wonderful, fantastic, and it has its shortcomings and inadequacies. It has its strengths and its weaknesses. And I would even extend that to where people keep more precepts -- ten precepts, or the monastic Vinaya with whatever they have, 236 precepts or whatever it is in the Theravādan monastic Vinaya. And still, with all those precepts, all those laws and rules that they can't break, all those guidelines, still there's the current -- it feels like a totally entrenched and unquestionable current of patriarchy there. You see that reflected in the whole battle around validating nun's ordination, the general tenor of patriarchal hierarchy, etc., that runs through that, and many other places, many other manifestations in the monastic life, in the monastic Saṅgha, despite all those precepts.

So it includes sensing with soul and Soulmaking Dharma and practice as an approach to ethics, as a system for ethics: it's not going to be perfect, but neither are the precepts and the approaches of Buddhadharma, I would say. And one of the issues with Buddhadharma, and the five precepts, and the idea of, "Well, we're just reducing suffering. As a Buddhist, I'm just interested in reducing suffering. That's what I care about. That's the primary thing. That's the orientation of my life. That's how we think about everything," it's actually, with those two things together -- the primacy of view that the primary intention is to reduce suffering, suffering of self and other, all beings, the bodhisattva vow and everything, that view and the five precepts -- it's very easy, then, to go into a kind of complacency, or for a kind of complacency to take over: "Oh. So it's sorted. The ethics is sorted because I've got the five precepts, and I've got this intention as a Buddhist to reduce suffering, and that's the most important thing." Very easy to kind of tick the box of ethics and sīla as done: "All I need to do is just take care that I'm keeping the precepts, and the whole philosophy of it is done. I don't really need to think about it much any more." And there's a kind of complacency, or there are kinds, plural, of complacency that come in there. Very, very dangerous. Very, very, I would say, common within the world of Buddhism.

So lots of issues with the five precepts as a kind of approach to ethics, lots of shortcomings. The shortcomings are not only in the fact that people interpret the precepts very differently -- hugely differently: the fifth precept, about substances, alcohol; the third precept about sexuality. Heaven knows what people do with the fourth precept on speech. This gets interpreted very, very differently -- vegetarianism, etc. So many different interpretations. Again, what does that show us? What does it imply, if there are all these different interpretations? And yet we feel secure in the notion of the five precepts, that we're on the right track ethically. And nor is it only because lots of so-called Buddhists break the precepts all the time, all the time or quite frequently. Nor is it only either because many Buddhists in power, as we've been hearing about and reading about in the news recently, has come to light, been exposed, many Buddhists in power are actually abusing their power and breaking the precepts in doing so.

That's not even the only issue with, that's not the only reason why we need to wake up a little bit and expand things around the whole conversation about ethics, why the five precepts are not enough. Nor is it only that (or even in addition that) something in the Buddhist precepts and, as I've talked about before, in the kind of archetypes that rule over and through Buddhism, but are not consciously recognized as archetypes and images that are ruling over Buddhism: equanimity, gentleness, non-harshness, that kind of kindness, all these kind of images of what awakening looks like, of what a good Buddhist looks like, that are often semi-conscious. Semi-conscious is the power of that typical Buddharūpa image: sitting cross-legged, meditatively, with his eyes shut, very still, very calm, very not engaged. We've talked about all this before.

And what that does together -- we've got the five precepts, and these kind of not really recognized in their power, in their pervasiveness, in what they do, images, archetypes, running through and ruling over Buddhadharma and its practitioners, and what comes out then sometimes is a sort of passive aggression, for instance, in speech, communication, because "actually good Buddhists don't get angry and raise their voices." But what comes out is plenty of room left there for passive-aggressive abuse of power, passive-aggressive communication, etc. Or when people are getting a little upset, kind of superciliously looking at them as if, "Well, you're not really practising well right now, because you're not being really equanimous and calm, etc."

But even all those put together, all those reasons -- people interpret precepts differently; they break precepts; Buddhists in power abuse precepts together with an abuse of their power; there's a kind of passive aggression that plenty of room, space is left for in a kind of Buddhist shadow -- not even all those together, important [as they are] -- and they are really important issues and questions -- but it's just the fact that the precepts are not enough as ethical ... I was going to say as ethical guidelines, but what I really mean is as an approach to ethics, as a way of thinking about ethics, as a way of taking care about ethics. They're just not enough, I would say. I certainly know one of my teachers would very much disagree. But I would say they're just not enough.

Thích Nhất Hạnh's addition to each of the five precepts of adding a kind of positive version -- not just to take what's not given, but to practise generosity; not just to not harm life, but to practise kindness, etc. -- this is really, really valuable, really valuable, really helpful, I think, in terms of opening things up further in a way that they need to be opened up. And for some people, that will be enough. That's enough, or that feels like it's enough. It's one approach to opening things up larger, but I still think, as I've [said] now -- I don't know how many hours with the "Sila and Soul" talk and the "Image of Ethics" -- but I still think there are larger questions here that need looking at, that need investigation.

Precepts are actually not values. We talk about them as training guidelines, and the actual Pali is, "I undertake the training guideline to refrain from ..." whatever it is. That's the translation of the Pali of the precepts: "I undertake the training guideline or the training rule to ... I try to do this as a training rule." So it's very different from "Thou shalt not ..." But I would say they're still not values. A precept formulated like that is not a value. It's not a commandment either. It's somewhere in between, but it's actually more like a rule or a commandment than it is like a value.

Now, certainly there are values wrapped up in, or implied, or suggested, or we bring a sense of what values may be wrapped up in or implied or suggested in any of those five precepts, but actually, it's not very clear. They're wrapped up in them, but if you think your way through -- I'm not going to unpack it for you -- think your way through this: yes, values are implied. What values? What values are implied? And what are the limitations, in terms of just connoting or pointing to that value just through the formulation of a precept? It's not clear. It's simply not clear. So I'll come back to this about the precepts. As I said, I don't think they're enough. And one of the indications that they're not enough, as I've started talking about in "The Meditator as Revolutionary" and "The Necessity of Fantasy," one of the indicators that they're not enough is just if we ask the question, "Why is it that Buddhists came so late to the party addressing climate change? Why so late?"

And I mean that as a real question. There's a real question there -- not just a criticism, "Why so late?" But really: why? What was it, or what is it in Buddhist practice, and teaching, and thinking, and formulations, and the way we think about ethics, and the way we frame ethics, and the limitations of the way we think about ethics, that meant that probably of all the major religions, it was contemporary Buddhism that was the latest in really stepping up? Thankfully, it's really beginning to change now, but it's taken quite a lot of work by a number of people. This is a real question: why? Why so late? Why were the Christians already there first, and others? What's going on?

I'm repeating myself now. What was going on? What was there in the way that we were thinking about ethics, and thinking about practice, and thinking about liberation, and thinking about the world, that actually that wasn't picked up? And some of the teachers, when interviewed, for example by David Loy here years ago, some of them, like Joseph, were just honest enough to really question himself: "Yeah, that's interesting. I don't know. Why haven't I thought about that?" And even then the galvanization, it's slow, slow. Even when it's pointed out, "Why are we not thinking about this?", even then, slow.

So there's a real question there, and this is part of my ... is it enough just to fall back on the five precepts, just to rest on the presumed safety the presumed laurels of the five precepts? Someone asked, "Why don't we have the five precepts as a ceremony when we begin soulmaking retreats? That would help me feel safe, etc." And I think this is something we really have to listen to, and hopefully in the future soulmaking retreats we can do that, and create a space at the beginning of retreats there for a ceremony to really invoke and establish the five precepts, and give them a really central and sacred place. I think that's important, and for some people it will help them feel safe, and that's important. It's important that people feel safe. But to me, there would be a grave, grave error, and a grave shortcoming, and a grave kind of disservice to both the Dharma and certainly to Soulmaking Dharma if we just stopped there and said, "Okay, that's the ethics piece that we're resting on." It's not enough.

So yes, I think it might be important to establish that as a ceremony. On future retreats, we can think about that. Sometimes there's so much to get through that it gets squeezed out. It's also the case, you know, at Gaia House, that we have a kind of legacy because of certain teachers since Gaia House was created -- there was a real kind of tenor of frowning on ceremonies, and not having any ceremonies for anything at all. So at Gaia House we're a little battling that history and legacy. So even to have the ceremonies that we do is already pushing the envelope. But I think that might be important, because it is important that people feel safe. However, it's not enough. It's really not enough. So I think if we do have a ceremony, it should be also seen that it's a preliminary.

And I was thinking recently, just in terms of how do people approach the area of ethics, and its relationship to Soulmaking Dharma and Soulmaking Dharma practice. So often with Buddhadharma, you get taught the ethics first. It's like, "Okay, let's agree to that, and then you practise. Ideally, that's what you do: here's the five precepts, and then you practise." And as I think I shared once, that's how it worked for me: I just heard them, first Dharma talk ever; it made complete sense. Just immediately took them on, changed my life quite drastically, and then got into meditation immediately after that. Now, for a lot of people, that isn't the case. But still, I think -- and I'm not sure if this is right, so I'm kind of thinking out loud here -- it might be that that is, for many people, the start of soulmaking practice. They come to soulmaking practice through other Dharma practice, and Soulmaking Dharma practice, just like other Dharma practice, should be resting on and should be really taking for granted the care for and the adherence to the five precepts. And I think I said that in a podcast interview maybe a couple of times with a couple of different interviewers.

So it rests on the five precepts, absolutely, and maybe we should make that a little more clear. That's a beginning, and then one already has a basis in the five precepts, and a basis in everything else that we usually ask for before people come on Soulmaking Dharma retreats: mindfulness, insight meditation, samādhi, some understanding of emptiness, certainly mettā and things like that, and energy body awareness, etc. Then one begins practising and developing one's soulmaking practice, one's imaginal practice. And then one starts to see, "Oh, soulmaking practice, because values are one of the elements of the imaginal, they are actually implied and involved, inextricably, in any imaginal practice, in any sense of soulmaking." Even if it's a so-called extrapsychic image, a sensing with soul with a tree, or with a landscape, or whatever it is, an animal -- ethics are involved. Again, with the elements, it's almost sometimes you have to notice them: "Oh, I didn't even notice that at first, that element." It's like your eyes getting used to the dark: "Oh, there's that there as well." I don't notice that I'm being loved or whatever it is.

So these elements, it's like one really has to get used to the terrain of soul, the landscapes of soul, and the landscapes of the imaginal, and then one starts to realize not only are values there, but actually, inevitably, soulmaking practice will start expanding -- not contracting, not contracting the range of ethics and the care for ethics, but actually expanding it, making it larger, more, certainly deeper and richer, but also wider, a greater range. I've talked about this before. Where are the gaps in just the five precepts? And start expanding the whole notion of what an awakened being looks like and talks like, what are the dominant archetypes that are operating, and running things, and ruling things, and sending things only down certain channels, and expressions, and activism, only down certain channels of "This is what they look like. This is the tone. This is what we do, etc. This is what we don't do."

It starts to wake up to that and expand the range there. More becomes permissible in one's ethical stance, in one's ethical response, in one's ethical actions. And also the whole nature of the world -- that starts to expand: "Oh, maybe I'm responsible for more ethically here," because the whole nature of the world comes alive. So that may be a second stage. A first stage is, yeah, just the five precepts, as usual, alongside your regular insight meditation practice and what you know from there. Those are two platforms. You start practising, and through the practice itself -- I mean through having proper, genuinely imaginal experiences, and working with that, and grappling with that, and listening to teachings, and trying to understand, having a range of sensing with soul experiences and all that -- then you will see something expands. It doesn't contract; it expands. It's more demanding ethically. There's a greater range.

So that would be the second stage. And then at a third stage, at some point, with enough practice, through lots and lots of practice experience with sensing with soul and imaginal and Soulmaking Dharma, and lots and lots and more thorough and deep understanding -- so both practice experiences and understanding -- we start to, I think, inevitably, we will reach a point where we trust enough in Soulmaking Dharma and practice, that we trust that the sensing with soul can actually become a basis for ethics, through, as I've described in this "Image of Ethics" talk, through a sensing with soul with regard to values, to virtues, to ethical choices and situations.

So there are three stages there. We're not starting with the third stage of asking someone to buy into some whole ethical system that might sound very odd or strange or might raise some concerns. So you're not asking them to buy into that before these other stages. I don't know; as I said, I'm thinking out loud here, and wondering about order, what the order is. People often ask me: "Just in what order should I listen to talks in? And what order should I ...?" So I'm thinking out loud. I don't know what the order is for sensing with soul practice, for Soulmaking Dharma, but that might be one way of thinking about it, these three stages -- very different from putting the ethics, in a Soulmaking Dharma sort of understanding of ethics, putting that first. That would be kind of ridiculous, because people wouldn't really have an ability to do that, or know what we're talking about, and would easily be misunderstood, misinterpreted -- all kinds of things.

There are lots of questions about this: what's the order? What's a prerequisite for Soulmaking Dharma practice? And so one question we still have -- I don't think it's quite resolved yet -- is exactly how much real understanding of emptiness should a person have before they really get into Soulmaking Dharma? I've said just briefly, as sort of secondary comments, you know, I'm not sure yet. I'm not sure yet, but in several conversations, there are people who think, I think, you know, one really needs to have quite a deep understanding of emptiness, or quite a sure understanding of emptiness. And I mean emptiness as I teach it, that really thorough emptiness, not just a little bit about whatever it is, "emptiness is impermanence or aggregates in time." That's also a question. It's a parallel question: how much emptiness practice and understanding do people have, should we stipulate, or even demand that people have before they do soulmaking practice -- maybe before they're even allowed to hear soulmaking teachings? I don't know. These are all open questions. I'm really not sure yet.

Some may have heard, in the totality of the ethics talks so far, the "Sila and Soul" and "The Image of Ethics," "Well, I hear this thing about hierarchies of values, for instance, and I don't like the idea of lower versus higher." So a few things about that. Remember -- perhaps I didn't make this sufficiently clear at all in the "Sila and Soul" talks, but Hartmann was really addressing a different question than, say, Kant. And we are prone these days, as I'm trying to make very clear in the "Image of Ethics" talks, we are prone these days to approach ethics with immediately the question of "What's right? What's wrong? This is what I want from an ethical system. I want a stipulation about what's right and what's wrong." And Hartmann actually said no, the fundamental question is: what is of value? And that's a bigger question: what is really Good, with a capital G? What is the Good, as the ancients used to talk about? What is a life that's really worthwhile? What is the beautiful life? And that's a bigger question than what's right and what's wrong.

In other words, before you can answer the question, "What's right and wrong? What should I do? What ought I to do in this or that situation?", you have to actually answer and look at the larger question of what is of value. It's not so much replacing one question with another, but providing a ground, a wider and deeper ground for the question "What ought I to do?", with the wider and deeper question, "What is of value?" And then this whole question, or this whole exploration of a hierarchy of values, is necessarily called in when we ask that bigger question. And the question of what's right and what's wrong sits within that bigger question. I hope that's something that the "Image of Ethics" talks make clear. And the fact is we do have hierarchies of values. We have them anyway. So again, a bit like the Soulmaking Dharma and practice, it's just making clear what goes on for us as human beings anyway -- Soulmaking Dharma, or in relation to eros, when we really love something, and in relation to ethics, when we make ethical choices, when we're arguing with someone about right and wrong and it's just stuck, the argument. We actually have hierarchies anyway. So in a way, we're exposing something. We need to talk about this, because it's already there, and we need to talk about it because actually we need to expand the conversation, the range of conversation: what are we trying to ask and address and inquire into? What's the fundamental question here?

So a person says, "I don't like this idea of a hierarchy of values." Okay, well, think back, for example, to Augustine's hierarchy, and the example he used, or the example we used of an example he used: justice compared to gold. He said these are both wonderful things. They both have value. They're both part of God's creation, and as such, both of them should be loved. But for Augustine, it's clear there's a hierarchy here. Justice has a higher value than gold, and we should orient that way. We should appreciate the hierarchy of values, and love justice and gold according to their place in that hierarchy. In other words, we should love justice more than gold, personal profit. And then one could say, "Well, I could use that personal profit for justice." Okay, but the point he's making here is for personally used material gain. So if you think you don't like hierarchies of values, then just use St Augustine's example. Do you really disapprove of the idea that it's better to love justice over your personal profit that you would use for your personal use? Most of us, even if we find it hard to live up to sometimes, would say justice is the higher value. There's a hierarchy there. And we would agree with Augustine, maybe, that we should love according to that hierarchy -- we should love justice over our love and our desire for gold.

So this is the kind of thing that's being pointed to, and to ask yourself if you've had this objection to a sense of hierarchy: do you object to that hierarchy? Or to take another example from Nicolai Hartmann, he has two values: the value of altruism and the value of egoism, of selfish interest, selfishness of interest. So they're in a hierarchical relationship to each other. Altruism is the higher value. It's higher than selfishness of interest. Selfishness of interest is still a value. Egoism is still a value. We need to take care of ourselves and our own needs, but how do we know there's a hierarchy there? Or how can you sense if you already feel there's a hierarchy there? That's the more important question. How does your heart respond to stories of altruism, or when you witness great altruism? Are you not moved and impressed? And how does your heart respond when you see someone just taking care of their own needs? It may not even be at the obvious expense of anyone else, but the way these things touch our heart and impress on our heart, the way our heart responds when we witness altruism compared to when we witness egoism is already implying that we sense a hierarchy there. Now, of course you may not, but I think a lot of people -- maybe it's universal; maybe it's just a cultural thing that's come post-Christianity, but my point is more for you to introspect a little bit here, and just see: is your heart not more impressed upon, more moved, are you not more impressed when you witness altruism compared to when you witness just some example of someone taking care of their own interests, egoism?

And Hartmann added to that: yes, there's a hierarchy here, but if it's completely, utterly lopsided, and there's way too much altruism and almost no selfish interest, it's so imbalanced between those two hierarchies that it borders on stupidity, dysfunction. So yes, there's a hierarchy, but still there's a qualification that one is not at the complete expense of the other. Altruism is not at the complete expense of selfishness of interest, of taking care of oneself, of egoism. There's a hierarchy, but it's got other considerations that are woven into the sense of that hierarchy if we want a kind of wisdom with regard to the hierarchy.

And there may have been things, for instance, in the "Sila and Soul" talks, or even in the "Image of Ethics" talks, where I talk about a certain value, and it just doesn't resonate for some people -- of course not. So again, maybe I just didn't make this clear enough, but if certain values don't resonate, you know, they're just rarer values, and they're not for everyone. So for example, what Hartmann calls the value of nobility, noble-mindedness in his sense of the word, a very particular usage he has of that word, in an ethical context and the context of values and virtues that we talked about in "Sila and Soul," and it really means for him the opening up of the vision or sensibility or realizational capacities of the culture at any time, opening up the focus of the telescope lens wider as it looks on the firmament of values. Remember, every culture, every person has limited scope, and the noble-minded, nobility with regard to values actually stretches that scope. Such a person begins to discern new values that the culture at that time hasn't sensed yet. Their antennae are more receptive. They're ahead of their time, in a way.

In much the same way that Christianity itself now has become such entrenched values -- even if one isn't a Christian, or isn't religious, or objects to our inheritance from Christianity, and all the wrong that's been done, and this and that, we've still absorbed so much from Christian morality. At its time, though, it was a novel value -- novel and noble, in the sense that Jesus and the first apostles and disciples were really feeling into the ether, into the firmament of values, and picking up on a new set of values, or a stretching of the values: love over law, the value of love over the value of biblical law, of Moses's law. So at that point, those who were sensible to that and preached that were embodying, manifesting the value, the virtue of nobility in Hartmann's sense. Now, of course, it's just totally old hat, as I said. But there's a value in nobility, and some people have that calling, and some people just don't relate to that at all.

And again, if we talk about higher values, or if we use that language, it does not mean a higher value is at the complete expense of a lower value. So, for example, we were talking about love of the remote. 'Love of the remote' really means love of those in the future, but those most excellent in the future, those most likely able to offer something really beautiful to the world and really valuable to the world in the future, and caring for those people who one doesn't even know or meet, or we might not even be sure if they get the message, etc. And then comparing that or contrasting that with love of one's neighbour, which is those around one, the everyday sort of interactions. Some people, like Nietzsche, almost discovering the love of the remote and prioritizing that to the complete expense of love of his neighbour -- I don't know, he eventually went mad, but it was probably a biological thing, an illness, a physical illness that affected his brain. But anyway, it was a mistake, you know?

And sometimes, as Hartmann points out, sometimes people discovering new things get a little extreme at times. They're out in territory where no one else goes, exploring ideas or creative projects, and it's all a little bonkers. And I think I know that territory a little bit -- periods in my life, creative projects that one feels very alone with, and gets a little mad. Anyway, the point is, if we make a hierarchy between those values, love of the remote is not, absolutely not, at the complete expense of love of neighbour, and to prioritize it completely over that would be a mistake. And secondly, it's not for everyone, that one (and we could talk about other values). They're just not for everyone. It's fine. We're just talking about things that, for some people, it might make more sense of "Why do I feel like I can't quite fit into the sort of taken-for-granted ethical system? I seem to be caring about something else, but I can't quite articulate it." So putting out a teaching like that may be helpful for those people who will almost certainly be in a minority, but who have been grappling with trying to make sense of their own life and their choices, and they seem to be not completely doing what the standard ethics would suggest that they do. It's like, "Oh, okay. We need to expand our thinking here." And it's not for everyone, so if it's not for you, just leave it. We could give lots of different examples here.

But even more importantly, I think, now, from the "Image of Ethics" talks, it should be clear that it's not in the thing itself, and eventually we can just use the soulmaking sense as your guide. So it's not intrinsically, so to speak, for example, if we take the example that the love of the remote is higher than love of one's neighbour or whatever -- it's not intrinsically in the thing itself, right? We've emphasized this several times when we talked about the ontology of values in the "Image of Ethics" talk. It's more that if I personally or you personally have developed your soulmaking practice, you start to get a sense of "Is this or that value soulmaking to you?" Some people will hear about certain values, it just doesn't resonate, and it never will resonate. And for other people, they start to really get a sense of the soul is really called in a certain direction. And again, even if it is, it doesn't mean to follow that call or to prioritize that call at the complete expense and at the total disregard of another value that might seem lower in your personal soulmaking sense of the hierarchy there. So this is really important.

But eventually, one can use one's own personal soulmaking sense, and that's different than decreeing that this is, for everyone, a so-called higher value, and that is, for everyone, a so-called lower value. And again, I'll be repeating, but I'd say if that sounds alarming, and you think, "Oh, so it can just be anything you like, any whim? You can decide what's higher or lower value," then, if one thinks that at this point, you haven't understood yet the discipline and the demands of soulmaking practice and understanding, the discipline and demands of a disciplined eros, disciplined sensing with soul.

And again, to repeat: we're putting out, exploring, unfolding, supporting ethics with a different ontology and a different epistemology, different than Hartmann's, and different than usual ontologies and epistemologies that we're used to; certainly different than the usual one of modernity, or of postmodernity, or of premodernity. We've gone into this before. But as I said, even that might sound alarming to people. Let it go for now if it sounds alarming. It's really important to trust your concerns and leave what sounds alarming or what you don't like -- or better: discuss it with others. Really discuss it. And it might be that you leave that part alone, just leave it, just go back to what you feel comfortable with ethically, [or] what makes sense, actually, what really makes sense to you -- more than feel comfortable. It's like, we need to be stretched and challenged with ethics, and not necessarily comfortable, but I mean what feels that you can trust ethically. Leave it, and if you're still really attracted to soulmaking practice, get into the soulmaking practice, and it's probable that that evolution that I was talking about before, those three stages, you'll start to realize, "Oh, now this soulmaking business is opening up my whole ethical outlook, and questioning, and sensibility, and the ethical demands on me, and the range of that, and the range of expressions, and all that."

And then, eventually, it will mature even more, and you will feel that you can trust your soulmaking sense with regard to ethics. And you will feel a hierarchy of values, but it's your personal hierarchy of values, and you will feel that you can trust that. There's no danger, again, as I said, "Oh, everyone can decide for themselves, so this mass murderer could just decide that this is how ..." We've been through all that. But if it's alarming for you now, it just means you're not ready for it. Just leave it. Put it down. Come back to what you feel you can trust, both ethically and in terms of practice. And if you feel drawn to Soulmaking Dharma, just get into it, and if you really develop it, if you put the time in, and you love it, and it develops, at some point there will be these stages of evolution that will open up and transform your relationship with ethics and ethical questions and ethical issues.

So really important, I think, to establish the imaginal practice first, practising with the imaginal, the soulmaking, sensing with soul practice first, if you want to, if you feel called that way. And so establish that first, before you can really even properly, I think, for most people, probably even assess these whole teachings about ethics now. And I really mean imaginal practice. I don't just mean the use of the imagination in meditation. And I mean more than just, you know, some images coming, or working with some images in meditation, or in therapy, or somewhere else, where that image has felt very healing (perhaps psychologically or whatever). I really mean imaginal, in the sense we're trying to outline -- the aspects, the elements of the authentically, the genuinely imaginal, with all the elements, and with all the ways it spreads, and all that business.

So really establish that first, and really get, as I said, familiar with that whole landscape of the imaginal. Then we see, "Oh, yeah, there are values implicit there." And some of them, just the fact of what values are implicit, are actually expanding and making demands and stretching your ethical range and sensibility and inquiry. And there's the fullness of intention there. It's not that we're in the grip of some selfish intention. With the fullness of intention, there's an ethical safeguard that goes with it. And there's the imaginal Middle Way: we're not reifying. We're not concretizing, mistaking images for reality, and acting on them sort of indiscriminately. And there's the distinction between eros and craving. Craving always wants to possess its objects, always needs to have more, and that 'more' spreads horizontally, as we've been talking about: "I want to possess more and more objects, more and more experiences, at the risk of disregarding ethical concerns. I don't care." And it's not even I think I don't care; I just don't see. This is what craving does when it's not allowed to become eros.

Eros, as we've talked about, opens up the imaginal and the vertical dimensions. It can get the 'more' it wants in this endless opening up of one image. It doesn't need to have more objects, possess them concretely. It's getting what it wants through that opening up. And the duty -- again, it's not literal, but it's refracted, refracted into life. So even the dark images, if there are images of killing, and sacrifice, and drinking blood, and rampage, whatever it is, they're refracted into act or speech. They're metaphor. The image can stay what it is, but it refracts into something that ostensibly doesn't even look like it. So I can see all those soldier/warrior images that I used to have, how they have been refracted into my life through my teachings. My teachings have been, one could say, from a certain point, warrior-like, etc. I'm certainly not going to join the army, get a sword, hurt anyone physically or anything like that.

So, touching on something I said before, there's been a question with the whole soulmaking teachings, really almost from the beginning -- not quite, but almost from the beginning. I somehow felt a duty. When I started teaching soulmaking and imaginal stuff, I somehow felt a duty in putting it out there in the Dharma context, and shaking things up, and asking questions, and expanding things. I felt a duty in doing that, a soul-duty in doing that. But quite quickly, there came a question, and Catherine and I return to this question quite regularly: should these teachings be freely available? I'm talking about the whole Soulmaking Dharma teachings, the imaginal teaching. They're just there on Dharma Seed, literally freely available. Anyone can listen. It's just open on the internet. You don't need to do anything. You just need to click on a button and you can hear all this stuff. And is that appropriate? There are a number of reasons to ask: is it appropriate? Should they be freely available, or should there be a whole series of preliminary stages that we demand, require people to go through? Not even just suggest they go through, as we sometimes do, but demand that they go through before they can even listen to any teachings, qualifications that they need to have, to have access to the teachings and the practices -- like it used to be in, for example, Tibetan Tantric teachings, and is much less so these days, but still a little bit so -- before you can hear certain teachings, before you have access to the teacher, before you know, are given any practice instructions whatsoever. So that's still an ongoing question. I'm not sure. I don't know. But I'm just sharing that this is a question that has been around for a while now and that we take very seriously as a real, ongoing question.

And historically, the same thing with regard to emptiness teachings, and I think I shared this: if you look at the old Mahāyāna texts, it says don't teach emptiness to someone who's not excited about it, to someone who's not ready for it, etc. We do that these days, or certainly I do that. But I can see the wisdom in that teaching. What a difficulty it is when the person is not ready, and when they're not excited, and when they jump to all kinds of conclusions just from hearing the emptiness teachings. I'm not even talking about ethics teachings; I'm talking about emptiness teachings. And one of the things they jump to is what I shared a couple of times in this series of talks: what does it imply about ethics? Or they hear about where emptiness might go, and then, "Oh, that means I'm not going to care about anything. It means nothing matters. It means I'm not going to care about ethics, because ethics must be empty, or blah blah blah." And as we said, no, no, no, no, no. Don't start at the end; start at the beginning.

And the beginning is just these ideas about the flexibility of ways of looking, and there's this notion of fabrication. Both of them can start as really simple ideas: papañca is more fabricated than a normal consciousness. Ways of looking, it's like, okay, just compare mindfulness to non-mindfulness. Just compare a way of looking that's come out of just some mettā practice compared to a regular way of looking, or when you're feeling grumpy or angry or whatever -- just really, really simple, and take it from there. Take these two concepts, take these strands of inquiry -- ways of looking, fabrication -- take them for a ride, and eventually see what they imply about ethics. In that way of doing it, as we've said several times now, the ethics is woven in from the beginning. You can't not see it. It's unavoidable. It's inextricably woven in. And in that way of approaching the emptiness, there's never a division, a separation between so-called relative and absolute, relative truth and absolute truth. In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna teaching, they talk about the union of the two truths -- conventional and relative truth, and ultimate truth. In this way of practising emptiness, it's entirely obvious, as I said, inescapable, central at every level of the exploration of emptiness using that approach, the ways of looking/fabrication approach.

So there's never any danger from the insights that come from that approach. There's never any danger of choosing the absolute over the relative, so to speak, or trying to justify some behaviour or action or speech or whatever through an appeal to the deeper truth of the absolute, of the emptiness or whatever it is, or the oneness. If we approach in other ways emptiness, or have different understandings of emptiness -- "It means everything exists in the mind," or "It means all is one" -- then there's danger that can creep in there. If everything is one, "It's no problem. It doesn't matter" -- I've talked about this before -- "It doesn't matter if even this person dies, or if this person is miserable, or that whole ecosystem disappears. It's all one. You can't take away anything from the one. The one is infinitely one no matter what disappears." Or it's all in the mind -- it means it's not a real thing in that sense.

So there are issues around emptiness, but I think this way of teaching it has a really good safeguard, because the ethics is integrated from the beginning. But again, just to say: these are questions, and they're questions with some history if we look at the relationship of Buddhism and Buddhist teachers to teaching emptiness. We see that, as I said, even in -- I think, if I remember -- Prajñāpāramitā texts, core Buddhist texts, but certainly in lots of other texts, and I'm pretty sure Prajñāpāramitā texts. It's there with emptiness, and now we have the same kinds of question in terms of who to teach Soulmaking Dharma. Should this material just be freely available, with all the instructions, and the examples, and the Dharma ideas, and philosophy, and now this business? Should it just be freely available? I don't know. I mean, at the moment, it is, but as I said, it's an ongoing question, and so it's something we take very seriously. There's lots in process now, and there's lots that we're debating and thinking about as well. I just wanted to share this, as I said at the beginning -- not conclusive remarks, in conclusion, but more open-ended remarks, questions, and also, in a way, preliminary remarks. But I hope that that's in some way helpful.

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry