August 5, 2013

Virtue, the Hitler ‘Stache & Other Things We Need to Reclaim. ~ Mallory Hubl

Cornered by limitations of the English language.

Last week, I led a discussion in my Wednesday morning meditation group on the topic of virtue. It was inspired by a dharma talk from Upasaka Culadasa. He noted that despite many individual’s comfort with meditation—surely there are plenty of benefits to sitting on the floor and directing your attention—not so many people are as comfortable with the concept of virtue. The very foundation of the path of meditation, however, is made of virtue.

So, just as Culadasa did in his dharma talk, I laid out definitions of morality, ethics and virtue, explaining the subtle differences of each.

Morality can be understood as a guide of right and wrong that has been handed down from a greater power (God and the 10 Commandments, for example). Ethics were defined as a more rational directive of right and wrong in society: with so many people living together, what rules can we set in place so as not to kill each other?

Virtue, however, is a bit different. Virtue comes from within. In the context of Buddhism, virtue can be seen as a characteristic of someone who acts in such a way that will minimize suffering for him or herself and others. On your path of awakening, it is your personal compass.

Seems simple enough, right? Wrong.

When I mentioned that slimy “virtue” word at 6:30 in the damn morning, I had no idea what I was asking for.

One of my peers even cringed. She said that the concept of virtue has been “hijacked by the Christian right.” Whenever she thinks of virtue she thinks of politics? What?!

A man in the group kept using the term virtuous, “a virtuous person,” which made me think that I was supposed to be riding around on a white horse saving people from worldly sins in order to consider myself virtuous.

There we were, in this very funny situation, cornered by limitations of the English language. Just 10 minutes earlier I was sure that virtue had to do with the feeling that swells up in your heart when you do something nice for someone you love, and smelling the roses, and bubbles. Now I’m realizing that all English speakers have their own preconceptions attached to the word.

Why do we allow ourselves to be stripped of our own positivity simply because somebody else has a different opinion?

This is where my friend Xian steps in. A few months back, I made my way to his town for a visit, and what is the first thing I noticed when I looked at his face? A Hitler mustache!

“You’re kidding me,” I said. “Did you lose a bet? It’s okay, I’ll help you cut it.” I was so opposed to him sporting the look that I mentioned he should cut it off at every opportunity I had. Why on earth would anyone want to rock the same look as one of the most delusional criminal war mongers in the history of mankind? I didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until it was too late, until he had already cut it (to look ‘appropriate’ for his new job) that it dawned on me: He was taking it back! And he did a damn fine job of it too.

Certainly not a supporter of genocide, xenophobia, or the Third Reich, I assumed Xian was looking for attention. Looking deeper, though, he let people say whatever they wanted, he let them vent, then he went on his merry way—and the look suited him, too.

Whether his intention was attention or to take it back is entirely irrelevant, he was taking it back.

Virtue, I think, is just like the mini-‘stache, is just like ideas of feminism, is just like porch monkey (see the Clerks 2 reference below), is just like anything we have opinions about.


There are going to be some issues when your view or definition is different from another person’s. If it feels right to you, then there is no good reason to abandon your ground.

As long as you are willing to communicate clearly, allow others to question, and build a foundation of shared definitions, then you will see that we are all on the same path.


Like elephant journal on Facebook.


Asst. Ed: Moira Madden/Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Pinterest}

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Mallory Hubl