Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Renewal of the Buddhist Precepts

Long seeking it through others,
I was far from reaching it.
Now I go by myself;
I meet it everywhere.
It is just I myself,
And I am not itself.
Understanding this way,
I can be as I am.


I joined our current jukai group last night for a study of the Ten Grave Precepts. Often misunderstood by outsiders, and some insiders, as being literal commandments, the precepts are one of the main bases of ethics found in the Buddhist tradition, and they operate on different levels in our lives.

For example, the first precept is Taking up the way of not killing." You can examine the ways you kill and don't kill in your literally, and this is fruitful if not taken to an extreme. (In other words, be wary if your thoughts and behaviors start to look Jainist because that's too strict according to Buddhist teachings.) A second way of examining the precept is from the compassionate or relative level. For example, you consider that in the context of being a person with a body, you need to eat in order to live. And eating involves killing, even if you're vegan. A third way you can approach the precept is to contemplate the ultimate truth level.

Bodhidharma, for example, said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the everlasting Dharma, not giving rise to concepts of killing is called the Precept of Not Killing."

The ultimate level is tricky to work with, and history is filled with examples of abuse of the ultimate truth, such as the samuaris who defended killings using the doctrine of emptiness. However, it's vitally important at some point to deeply consider the ultimate level when facing the precepts, otherwise you're just skimming along the surface.

For some reason, the poem from Tozan feels like a wonderful precepts teaching for me. If anything, it's a reminder that ethics aren't an "outside job," and that until you've incubated and sprouted them in your life, they are just nice ideas you follow. Now, following along isn't a terrible thing. It's more that the precepts are calling us to do more than follow along, and to recognize following along as a step, not a final destination.

This is my third class studying the precepts. It's been about once every three years. It never gets old. They always look slightly different. In fact, last night I felt myself drawn to Bodhidharma's take in a way I've never felt before. So, we'll see where that goes. I'll let you know if anything comes of it :)

Take care and be well.

1 comment:

Algernon said...

The precepts really do offer a lifetime of interesting and surprising examination, I'm convinced.