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Morality as taught by way of rules is extremely powerful and valuable in the development of practice. It must be remembered that it, like all the techniques in meditation, is merely a tool to enable one to eventually get to that place of unselfishness where morality and wisdom flow naturally. In the West, there’s a myth that freedom means free expression–that to follow all desires wherever they take one is true freedom. In fact, as one serves the mind, one sees that following desires, attractions, repulsions is not at all freedom, but is a kind of bondage. A mind filled with desires and grasping inevitably entails great suffering. Freedom is not to be gained through the ability to perform certain external actions. True freedom is an inward state of being. Once it is attained, no situation in the world can bind one or limit one’s freedom. It is in this context that we must understand moral precepts and moral rules.
Normally, we spend our time simply reacting to stimuli in ways in which we have been conditioned. Often this conditioning is quite strong and brings about situations in which we act out our selfishness in ways that hurt or infringe upon those around us. By observing moral precepts we begin to set limits on how much we will follow our conditioned reactions and our desires. We stop identifying so strongly with them and say: “Wait, I’m going to stop a minute and simply watch the nature of this process,” rather than blindly follow all the desires and impulses that come. It is this stopping, observing, and not being caught in the web of reaction that will lead us to freedom.

— Jack Kornfield – Living Buddhist Masters – p. 302

What is the function of restraint in spiritual practice?

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