The practice of moral discipline in general terms is refraining from engaging in negativities and choosing to engage in virtue. In the lamrim, the practice of moral discipline is categorized into the moral discipline of restraint, the moral discipline of gathering virtuous Dharmas and the moral discipline of benefiting living beings. Since most of our tendencies are currently negative, from a practical point of view the practice of moral discipline for us is refraining from following the bad advice of our delusions by understanding they are deceiving us. Simply refraining from negativities is not the practice of moral discipline, because even babies do that all of the time. Rather, we have to understand the karmic costs and benefits of different actions, and understanding these choose to refrain from engaging in negative actions – we basically realize it is not karmically worth it. We do this by attacking the question both from the side of the karmic costs of engaging in the action in comparison with the karmic benefits of refraining from that action (and ideally practicing the opposing good action). For the costs, we can first consider how the delusion is deceptive. All of our delusions promise us great rewards, but when we follow them they not only fail to deliver the promised rewards but they result in us creating the cause for future suffering. We can also consider how the different negativities result in different negative karmic suffering in the future. For the benefits, we consider how engaging in the opposite virtuous action lessons the hold delusions have over us. It likewise gives us all the karmic benefits of engaging in that virtue.
Most importantly, the practice of moral discipline is the cause of higher rebirth. The highest rebirth of all is that of a Buddha. So our practice of moral discipline directly takes us to have the body of a Buddha. The perfection of this meditation is considering how the practice of moral discipline helps us create the causes to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. This is the ultimate benefit that so overwhelmingly outweighs any perceived benefit from following the delusion that there is just no way the bodhisattva would ever engage in negativity and lose out on this supreme benefit!
Ideally, we want our practice of moral discipline to revolve around our training in maintaining the different vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism. These act like an interlocking net that subsumes and prevents any negative action. Instead of evaluating every situation from the myriad of different perspectives possible, we evaluate every choice through the lens of considering the implications of the action on our vows. The vows are generally divided into our refuge, pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows. Unfortunately, we frequently neglect to even learn our vows and commitments, much less keep them. For this reason, Venerable Geshe-la has tried to simplify things down to a few basic principles that we can keep in mind. For the pratimoksha vows, the basic principle is don’t harm yourself or others. For the bodhisattva vows, the basic principle is put the interests of others ahead of your own. For the tantric vows, the basic principle is view everything as pure. These we can remember and try practice in our daily lives. This is, in my view, the essence of our practice of moral discipline.
The ultimate perfection of the practice of moral discipline is engaging in the practice of moral discipline understanding emptiness. If we truly understand emptiness, namely that all beings are just different appearances of waves on the ocean of our mind, then negativity becomes an absurd possibility. If I kick the dog, I am kicking myself. If I steal from the tax man, I am stealing from myself. I lack nothing because I have everything. I don’t need to put others down to get ahead because I am already fully accomplished. Of course I will not harm others, because doing so harms myself. Of course I will put others first because they are “more of me.” Of course I will view everything as pure because I am seeing their emptiness. The more we realize that everything is created by our mind yet remains of our mind, the more negativity becomes unthinkable and virtue becomes obvious.