There are two levels of keeping Sila (Moral Precepts) – one is real, and the other is forced, and imaginary (Not Manifest).
Ajarn Spencer has prepared a Casual 12 Minute Talk in Podcast to cover this topic, and hopefully reveal the difference between enforced rule keeping, and Manifest Virtue.
There is a big difference between Self Restraint (Enforced Rule Keeping), and Truly Manifest Virtue (Absence of Instincts wich need to be Restrained). With applied Kammathana practice, consciously noticing the relative presence or absence of auspicious and/or inauspicious instincts to act with or without Virtue, one can become aware of what is tainted (defiled) Instinct, and what is untainted (Undefiled) Instinct. Becoming Aware with Mindfulness is an important prerequisite to develping the qualities of mind necessary to be able to remove Non-Virtuous Instincts to Act (Purify the Heart of Defilement).
True Sīla is nothing to do with restraint. True Sīla, has no need to exercise restraint, because no defilement is present to restrain.
Sīla practice has therefore the first level of Restraint, and the Second level, which is Manifest Virtue, with no Defilement present in need of restraint. Such of course, would mean stream entry and beyond, and that one has attained purity.
Until we remove the defilement, we are not Virtuous. We are just Impure Unenlightened Beings, full of Defilement, but who are restraining themselves, by behaving. If the instinct to misbehave is still present, then we have not attained anything. We are just exercising restraint. It is necessary to see and recognise the presence of defilement, in order to be able to remove it.
One of the most Important aspects of Sīla practice, is to become aware of the fact that the heart is full of Non-Virtuous Intentions and Instincts, because it is only possible to get rid of a problem, if one becomes aware of the existence of the problem. With Sīla practice, one should notice consciously how much pure and impure elements of mind are present when putting oneself through self restraint, and concluding how far away one is in one’s practice, from truly manifest Sīla, and how much remains mere self restraint.
Mindfulness practice, is all about consciously noticing what is happening within and without. Being Awakened, is also about being Consciously Aware of within and without in the present moment. Vipassana Practice is designed to Awaken the Mind, and pull it out of the Dream-Thinking State.
If we look at the 5 Precepts in English we can see that the concept of Abstention is applied;
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing ;
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given;
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from sensual misconduct;
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech; and
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from liquors, wines, and other intoxicants, which are the basis for heedlessness.
If we are practicing Abstention, then this Implies that the desire to do the thing we are restraining ourself from, still exists. if there is no longer any desire to commit the act which is not within the Sīla, then no Abstention is necessary. A Cow does not Abstain from eating meat. A Cow is Vegetarian from birth, and so has no Virtue in not eating Meat, for their is no Merit of Effort in Abstention.
So, if we have attained purity by anihillating the Non-Virtuous Instincts and desire to Lie, Kill, Steal, Speak Ill of Others, Perversions, Intoxication etc, then we are no longer abstaining. We only need t abstain if we have the desire and intentions to perform actions which are not Auspicious.
In short, Sīla practice should not make you feel good that you are behaving well. It should make you aware of the fact that the only reason you are not making Inauspicious karma, is that you are exercising self restraint. One should become aware that one is Impure, and that should spur the disappointment with oneself, and the realisation that selfishness, is not something to nurture and cherish, rather, one’s own enemy, and must be removed and aihillated.
Until we develop the true need and will and desire to anihillate the false view of a self that is separate and the center of the universe, we will not stand a chance of Enlightenment. One has to develop the wish and the need and the will power to renounce Non-Virtuous Thoughts and Intentions.
To do this, one has to Understand the Nature of those Non-Virtuous Thoughts and Intentions, as Defilement which arises from Wrong View (Sakya Dhitti)