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Excerpted from An Open Heart by Dalai Lama. Copyright © 2001 by Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Co.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"It is these seemingly elementary meditation practices that are, I believe, the most effective way of bringing about the fundamental changes necessary in our quest for happiness."

  Dalai Lama, An Open Heart, Part 3

As we contemplate the way in which we project our judgments – whether positive or negative – upon people as well as objects and situations, we can begin to appreciate that more reasoned emotions and thoughts are more grounded in reality. This is because a more rational thought process is less likely to be influenced by projections. Such a mental state more closely reflects the way things actually are – the reality of the situation. I therefore believe that cultivating a correct understanding of the way things are is critical to our quest for happiness.

Let us explore how this can be applied to our spiritual practice. As we work at developing ethical discipline, for example, we must first understand the value of engaging in moral conduct. For Buddhists, ethical behavior means avoiding the ten nonvirtuous actions. There are three kinds of nonvirtuous actions: acts done by the body, actions expressed by speech, and nonvirtuous thoughts of the mind. We refrain from the three nonvirtuous actions of body: killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; the four nonvirtuous actions of speech: lying and divisive, offensive, and senseless speech; and the three nonvirtuous actions of mind: covetousness, malice, and wrong views.

We can appreciate that developing such restraint is only possible once we have recognized the consequences of these actions. For example, what is wrong with senseless speech? What are the consequences of indulging in it? We must first reflect upon the way idle gossip leads us to speak badly of others, wastes a lot of time, and leaves us unfulfilled. We then consider the attitude we have toward people who gossip, how we don’t really trust them and would not feel confident asking their advice or confiding in them. Perhaps you can think of other aspects of senseless speech that are unpleasant. Such reflection helps us restrain ourselves when we are tempted to gossip. It is these seemingly elementary meditation practices that are, I believe, the most effective way of bringing about the fundamental changes necessary in our quest for happiness.

The Three Jewels of Refuge

From the outset of the Buddhist path, the connection between our understanding of the way things are and our spiritual behavior is important. It is through this relationship that we establish that we are followers of the Buddha. A Buddhist is defined as one who seeks ultimate refuge in the Buddha, in his doctrine known as the Dharma, and in the Sangha, the spiritual community that practices according to that doctrine. These are known as the Three Jewels of Refuge. For us to have the will to seek ultimate refuge in the Three Jewels, we must initially acknowledge a dissatisfaction with our present predicament in life; we must recognize its miserable nature. Based on a true, profound recognition of this, we naturally wish to change our condition and end our suffering. We are then motivated to seek a method for bringing this about. Upon finding such a method, we view it as a haven or shelter from the misery we wish to escape. The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are seen to offer such shelter and are therefore apt providers of refuge from our suffering. It is in this spirit that a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Three Jewels.

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