In many Buddhist communities, ethics for lay people is equated with the Five Precepts - to refrain from killing, stealing, harmful sexual conduct, harmful speech and from taking intoxicants. Rob viewed these as a beautiful and necessary foundation for practice and for our lives. He noted that if you don’t have "a really rooted basis in the precepts, it [practice] is not going to fly. Things will break. The vessel, the ship will fall apart on the stormy oceans.”
And yet for Rob these precepts could only be a starting point. On their own, they are too simple, too limited and too limiting. They fall far short of what is needed as a framework for ethics that can address the complex conditions and challenges of living human lives in these times. “If you think you’ve found easy answers to ethics in your life, you’re just not really engaging it as fully as it might be engaged.” He felt that any mature exploration of ethics is unending and multi-dimensional, and should allow for complexity, tensions and uncertainty. Such an exploration of ethics should provide a basis and support for skilful and courageous action, rooted in a deep understanding and embodiment of values.
While Rob’s care about ethics was always clear - in his life, his actions and his teachings - its full flowering and articulation seems to have first required the birth and evolution of his Soulmaking Dharma. This rich framework (or logos) gave Rob the ground in which his exploration of ethics could take root and grow, and ultimately bear fruit in the form of two long series of talks on ethics - Sila and Soul and The Image of Ethics. In these talks, Rob reflects on the complex history of the West’s relationship to ethics and how that relationship has been affected and diminished by the one-dimensional scientific-materialist world view that most moderns now hold.
Rob felt strongly that the practice of Soulmaking Dharma - the actual experience of dimensionality that Soulmaking makes available - could provide a basis for ethics, for values, which encourages a way of looking and of acting that opens us to participating with the cosmos, and with a transcendent divine (Buddha-nature or God or...). As with all aspects of his teachings, Rob’s system of ethics is firmly rooted in his deep understanding of emptiness. While, like all phenomena, the divine that is experienced through soulmaking is not to be reified, soulmaking as 'way of looking' has profound effects. It enables us as humans to open to a feeling of the sacred in all things. Such seeing naturally gives rise to a sense of wholesome duty - to ourselves, to others and to our world. By responding to those sacred duties, it is possible to lead a deeply beautiful and meaningful life.
Please note that Rob wrote variously worded caveats that accompany all of his Soulmaking talks. These caveats are displayed above the audio bar of each Soulmaking talk (from the Path of the Imaginal course onwards) on the talks page of this website.
As an example, the wording below is for the Image of Ethics series of talks.
'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.'