Q: What is the role of sila or morality in establishing a successful meditation practice?
BHANTE GUNARATANA: Think of a large tree. When you look at a tree, you can see the leaves, the canopy, the branches, the bark. Yet the whole tree stands on its roots buried in the ground. If the roots are very strong, deep and powerful, you can depend on a tree’s steady growth.
Similarly, deep roots are similar to ethical moral principles or wholesome spiritual habits. Some habits are called unskillful or akusala sila. Wholesome habits are called kusala sila. Everything depends on our moral principles just like the roots of that large tree.
For one who observes the precepts, the mind will not be shaken and full of regret and remorse. So, when you go to sleep you can sleep well and you get up well. At night, you will not have nightmares because your moral habits are good ones.
When you reflect on how you spend your day you have no regret. As a result, the next day you are full of joy. With joy, you live your daily life, observing the same moral, ethical principles. Then, you will be very calm, relaxed and peaceful. Tranquility will easily arise. It happens naturally, You don’t have to wish to be calm and relaxed.
That is the nature of Dhamma. When you have this calm, relaxed, peaceful joyful state then you become happy. Happiness arises naturally in a mind free from remorse.
We also should remember the difference between happiness and excitement. Some people equate the two. When excitement arises you will laugh and jump up and down. You win the lottery and get a lot of money and get excited. And you say, ‘I’m happy!’ But that is not happiness, that is excitement.
But when you experience happiness based on moral, ethical, wholesome habits, then your mind is very calm, relaxed and peaceful. There is nothing to agitate and excite you. When you are happy, you don’t have to strain to gain concentration. Buddha said the happy mind naturally gains concentration.
This all happens very naturally and you don’t have to wish for it to happen. You just have to take that first step. That is, undertaking moral ethical, wholesome skillful habits.
From a forthcoming books of questions and answers with Bhante Gunaratana, abbot of the Bhavana Society, a Theravadan Buddhist monastery and retreat center near High View, W.Va.