Awakening Together with Integrity
BY LARRY YANG
Often when we speak of the term “Mindfulness” there is a key component missing among its usefulness. What is often not addressed or explored is the aspect of mindfulness that we call integrity or ethics.
We can be mindful of ANYTHING—of person, of activity, of thing or of object. While conventionally we discuss mindfulness as a path to freedom and happiness, we also can be mindful of how to achieve and succeed at the expense of others. We actually can be very mindful of how to do harm to others and while also being mindful of escaping any consequences of our actions. Without the component of ethical morality and integrity, mindfulness becomes only a technique that can be skillful or unskillful.
Mindfulness is only one fold of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path to liberation. It is not the only fold. The middle factors of the Eightfold Path are the factors of Integrity in wise action, wise speech, and wise livelihood. These factors of Integrity intimately link the factors of wisdom and intention to the meditation factors (wise effort, wise mindfulness, wise concentration). Thus, mindfulness alone can result in delusion, without ethics.
We see many forms of this lack of integrity present even with mindfulness. A more subtle form of this is our cultural conditioning in our market economy to get away with as much as we can, while giving as little as possible. Without a moral compass, we can be mindful to win at any cost, to hoard as much material wealth as possible, and to gain as much power as we can.
A more acute form of this dearth of morality is our ever-quickening evolution (or devolution) into a post-factual, post-ethical world, where truth is not respected and deliberately made to be confusing and obscure. When it is highly valued to be able to get away with saying or doing anything, in order to achieve your own ends. Where it is viewed as a skill to incur harm, and yet incur no consequences for your actions.
When there is less or zero external accountability in our larger culture, there emerges an indispensable spiritual imperative to redouble our internal efforts and concentration to have a moral barometer: this is the Integrity of Mindfulness—to be of benefit to our collective humanness, not simply to our personal being.
Even in the difficulties of confusion and delusion of our times, there is still wisdom that underlies our experience passed from generation to generation. One of these aphorisms state: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” I would broaden the scope of integrity:
- Integrity is doing the wise and compassionate action when no one agrees with us.
- Integrity is walking our highest path, even if it is painful and arduous and long.
- Integrity is acting on behalf of others when we do not have to because we have some benefit, privilege, power, or entitlement that protects us.
- Integrity is standing actively (and not “bystanding”) in solidarity with those whose voices and abilities have less volume or impact than yours.
- Integrity is being kind when everyone and everything around you is not kind.
- Integrity is loving when you do not feel loved yourself.
- Integrity is having ethics in unethical and amoral times—having a moral compass when others around you do not have a clue to what that means and/or disparage the very intentions of ethical behavior.
- Integrity is placing a higher value on the greater good of all, rather than the gain of an individual or selected individual groups.
- Integrity is holding to these principles, even when there are an infinite number of distractions, seductions, and judgments that seek to weaken and obliterate those principles.
Integrity is not just a personal practice but is a collective one that transforms our communities and our world. Where is your moment-to-moment practice of integrity in a world that wants us to compete primarily to benefit the gain of the privileged, the powerful, and the lucky few, instead of working for the equity and elevation of our human condition for the many?
Where do you stand when 21-billion-dollar walls of fear, fueled by racial bitterness, are being designed to separate nations, instead of creating bridges of understanding and actions fed by common human connection?
When 21 billion dollars can buy enough food to feed 7 billion starving mouths?
When 21 billion dollars can create more than twice the clean water for every person living on this planet?
When 21 billion dollars can buy more than eight month’s worth of medication for every HIV patient in the world?
When 21 billion dollars can compensate more than a half million public school teachers with a full year’s salary?
Integrity requires simple courage (etymologically deriving from the roots of the French couer and the Latin cor)—being there with all your heart to make it through difficult events, complex aspirations, and painful unconsciousness. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spoke: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but they must take it because conscience tells them it is right.”
Only in an ethically wholesome society can we create a healthy system of social, economic, and political justice, not to mention spiritual freedom. And since society is made up of each of us, because each of us are part of that experience of being human, that ethical transformation begins here, with all of us awakening together with integrity.
Adapted from a chapter of Larry’s forthcoming book, Awakening Together: The Practice of Inclusivity and Community, being released by Wisdom Publications in October 2017.
About the Author
Larry Yang, the 2016 San Francisco Pride Parade’s Community Grand Marshall, teaches meditation and mindfulness nationally for sitting groups, daylong retreats, and residential retreats. He provides special focus on multicultural populations, including communities of color, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer communities. In the Bay Area, he teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and the East Bay Meditation Center, and is on the Board of both organizations.
He has spent six months as a monastic in Thailand and is trained as a Dharma teacher by Jack Kornfield and Thai meditation master Ajahn Tong. He is part of the core teaching team of the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leaders Training Program which serves to train future Buddhist spiritual leaders nationally and internationally.
In addition, Larry is trained as a clinical social worker and as a psychotherapist. He is a consultant in cultural competency which he has taught at the UC Berekely graduate school of Social Welfare. Larry has worked in chemical dependency programs, hospice, community mental health, and at San Francisco General Hospital as the clinical social work supervisor for the outpatient psychotherapy clinic. He and his husband have two grandchildren and many conversations about how relationship practice is about spiritual practice. His website is: www.larryyang.org