January 12, 2006

Buddhist Precepts

This weekend I'm attending a three-day Zen retreat. It will consist mainly of zazen (a type of sitting meditation), probably averaging eight hours a day, but the intent is to stay mindful of the present moment for the full three days. I'll also be participating in a Precepts ceremony, in which I will vow to follow the five Precepts. The first four precepts are pretty easy for me, but I was a bit challenged by the fifth one for a while. But I finally decided to take the plunge with that one too. The precepts aren't like the Ten Commandments. My teacher explained them as a "guiding light" to help us notice when we're veering off the path. If you break one, it's not a big deal, you should just notice when it happens, and think about the choices you made that led up to that. In a nutshell, the precepts are:

1) Don't kill anything. Respect all life, the environment, and this world we live in.
No problem, I've been a vegetarian for around five years. I have always loved nature. I drive an environmentally friendly car. I try to eat organic food whenever possible to prevent seepage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides into streams. I try to save energy, conserve resources, recycle, pick up litter when I see it, and all that PC crap.

2) Behave responsibly with regard to sexual relationships
I'm a happily married man.

3) Right speech - don't lie, gossip, insult, etc. and listen carefully to others
I tend to keep my mouth shut more often that not anyway, though I could be a better listener.

4) Treat others' property with respect
I think this is one we learn pretty early in today's society, but it also kind of goes along with the first precept.

5) Avoid intoxication in all its forms, and be mindful of what you put in your body.
This one was tricky for me, especially in the particular wording my teacher uses. I think it's a good idea to be mindful of the food you eat (which goes along with the first precept too), but the rest of it seemed a little off. The particular wording my teacher uses mentions avoiding the 'toxins' in certain movies and magazines, and that one shound never take any intoxicants at all. Alcohol is so prevalent in our society, it's hard to avoid it altogether. My parents and mother-in-law drink daily. My dad uses the word "teetotaler" to refer to non-drinkers. And I really enjoy having a glass of wine with my parents, or a couple beers with friends. It's a part of my social life.

The first four precepts are already well-integrated into my life, vowing to follow them was a no-brainer. The fifth one represents a significant change in my behavior. I'm not a heavy drinker or anything, maybe a couple drinks a week on average. But those drinks are usually taken with friends or family who have some expectations about drinking together every once in a while.

Now, on one hand, I'm interested in Buddhism because there are things about my life I'm not happy with. There are things about this life that I don't understand, questions I want resolved, and I think Buddhism's got the best shot at resolving them. So I recognize that I'm going to have to make some changes. But on the other hand, I'm very skeptical of trying to live up to other people's ideals. I am who I am, and I'm not going to try to change unless I can see the reasoning underlying the change and see how it will make me a better person.

I had trouble with the fifth precept because I thought it was about cultivating an aversion to alcohol and other intoxicants, trash TV, violent movies, gossip magazines, porn, and all that stuff. Now, I've always thought of all that stuff as pretty harmless compared with all the other 'real' problems out there in this world (war, violent crime, poverty, pollution, discrimination, etc.). I'm not sure I like the wording of saying that certain movies and such contain 'toxins.' And I didn't see the benefit in avoiding all of it. Mostly I thought of alcohol as kind of social thing, something to help one relax and enjoy other people's company more. I've always been pretty anti-censorship. So following the fifth precept didn't sit well with me.

I think all that stuff about avoiding movies and magazines is probably mostly referring to porn or stuff that really has no artistic value at all. Stuff that was never really intended to be anything other than a sort of intoxicant. So I'm OK with avoiding that stuff.

But I have given it a lot of thought, and now I think that it's not about cultivating an aversion to anything. It's about learning to cherish clarity. Now that's something that I think might be a really good learning experience for me.


At January 29, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

thank you

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