Extract of the Hippocratic Oath in Latin and Greek, 1588 (Vellum)
Extract of the Hippocratic Oath

Spiritual Ethics

In Western philosophy the questions ethics ask are generally pretty abstract: what would you do in such and such a complicated situation? In contrast, practical ethics starts at home with right action, right speech and right thought.

H.H. the Dalai Lama discusses ethics from this perspective in his book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.

Ethics are controversial in many circles. Why would I refrain from doing what I please, is a question I have heard very often. The main answer is: because it hurts not merely others, but also yourself to cross the line. However, perhaps Good and Evil are not useful categories? I think one of the issues is that evil is such an absolute category.

One of the issues is: does it help to have ideals, because we can observe in day to day life that ideals themselves often don't lead to better behavior.

Similarly: to what extent should we take responsibility for our lives?

From the traditional Buddhist perspective, right action is simply a way of keeping yourself emotionally healthy. Not killing for instance protects people from the guilt of having caused someone to die. Soldiers often experience post-traumatic-stress because of the deaths they saw and caused. The violence gets embedded in their systems so deeply they have trouble functioning peacefully after they get home. They experience fear and anxiety and can lash out over nothing.

Next up is Right Speech. Once people restrain themselves from physical violence, verbal violence and deceit become the main problems. However, religions have also consistently warned against gossip. Modern psychology has a forgiving perspective on gossip.

Next up on the traditional list is 'right thought'. This is where meditation comes in. 

In Mahayana Buddhist meditation we go two steps beyond merely avoiding harm to others and ourselves. We train also in not only kindness and compassion towards all beings, but the very attempt to devote ourselves to others' wellfare untill all beings have reached enlightenment: the Bodhisattva motivation.

The ethics of how we treat our pets

From Buddha's World:

From Frequently Asked Questions: