In this third section of his essay, Chapple examines the similarities between the Buddhist and Classical Yoga traditions – and points out how these ethical principles are shared with the Jain tradition as well. He argues that the intent of ethical practice is constant across these three yogic cultures: release from suffering. I think this is an important, and often over-looked point. The ethical teachings and practice across the board of all yogic traditions is not about simply being a “good” person; it’s not about following some external code. Rather, all yogic ethical teaching has moksha, freedom as its purpose. In this sense, yogic ethics are ‘transcendental’ and purpose driven; in a sense ‘teleological’ or ‘soteriological.’
An interesting point of distinction between Buddhist Yoga and Classical Yoga and Jainism is the emphasis in Buddhism on “non-intoxication” rather than “nonpossession” or, as I prefer, “non-grasping.” Of course one can “stretch” the implications of “non-intoxication” to include “non-grasping:” in intoxication, we grasp after another way of perceiving, experiencing and being. However, the purpose of including “non-intoxication” as an ethical principle both high-lights the emphasis on maintaining clarity of mind that is paramount in the Buddhist tradition, as well as the understanding that the other ethical principles are more likely to be broken while in an intoxicated state, so by maintaining sobriety, we are more likely to successfully practice non-harm, non-stealing, sexual responsibility and truthfulness. A final point that is necessary to understand is that we should not fall into the trap of thinking of intoxication as being only about drugs. We can easily – all too easily! – intoxicate ourselves with television, gossip, Facebook, novels, exercise, yoga-practice, and even meditation! As Thich Nhat Hanh says, if we meditate to avoid our suffering, then we are using it like a drug.
I am less interested in Chapple’s attempt to parallel the six paramitas with the niyama. Overall, it seems like a bit of a forced stretch, though I can understand how some might find it interesting.
One of our correspondents commented on her wish for more practical applications of the concepts Chapple writes about in this chapter. The next section of Chapple’s essay is entitled “Practice,” and I will save comment about it till tomorrow.