Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buddha on the Five Precepts


"When a lay follower possesses five things, he lives with confidence in his house, and he will find himself in heaven as sure as if he had been carried off and put there. What are the five? He abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sensual desires, from speaking falsehood, and from indulging in liquor, wine, and fermented brews."
(Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya 5:172-73, Tipitaka)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Five Precious Precepts

High Five for Five Precious Precepts

At the core of Buddha's teachings are the five precepts. These moral undertakings underpin Buddhist practice, giving meditative practices a sound ethical foundation upon which to build. Adhering to them leaves us without anything major to feel guilty about; we can rest easy not only at night but also when on the meditation cushion. Such peace of mind is crucial to meditation practice, for if we try to meditate with an agitated, guilt-ridden mind, we are bound to hit an almighty wall of resistance to any deep meditative progress. Our internal ghosts will come to haunt us sooner or later, causing inner strife and disharmony. 

Of course, turning attention around from the inner to the outer world will reveal much that is good about the five precepts that is to be lauded. Keeping them not only creates a healthier, happy inner world, but also helps to create a happier, healthier outer one, too. Our relationships with those that we come into contact with, both close relations and those we know less well will benefit profoundly. We will be a much nicer person to be around, and not only will we be happier in ourselves, but others will feel better too. So, what are these five precepts that Buddha gave us? Let's take a look:
  • Not to kill
  • Not to steal
  • Not to commit sexual misconduct
  • Not to lie
  • Not to take intoxicants
Now, several of the precepts may seem pretty straightforward, but it will help our investigation of them to explore exactly what each one entails so that we're clear on them before reflecting further on their implications. Not to kill doesn't just just include human beings, but, reflecting the Buddha's compassion for all suffering beings, it also covers taking the life of any sentient being. Now, what does Buddhism mean by a sentient being? Well, alongside humans and other animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish etc.), it also includes any creature with a brain (no matter how small that piece of 'grey matter' might be). So, insects and other tiny creatures are included, too. No deliberate killing of any sentient being whatsoever.

Not to steal covers not taking what clearly belongs to others, whether individuals or collectives such as companies or countries. It also means not taking what might belong to others; we should be clear in our mind that what we have wasn't stolen. Sexual misconduct in Buddhist understanding covers forced sex of any kind, sex with minors, those non compos mentis, animals and people that are already married or spoken for. It also includes people that are under the protection or guardianship of others, so sex with a young person living at home would come under this category too. Unless already married (or committed) to one another, only those free, adult, sane individuals are eligible for a sexual relationship, and even then, the relationship itself should be respectful and not abusive. 

Not to lie means either telling the truth, changing the subject, or keeping quiet. Bending the truth or telling half-truths is still lying, representing something as true when knowing that it is not. Doing this to protect others or oneself from danger is generally thought of as an acceptable alternative to allowing a worse thing to happen, but in general lying leads to a guilty mind in conflict with itself, and if we're not conscious if this before we take up meditation, we will be afterwards. Be warned! Not to take intoxicants means abstaining from alcohol and the recreational drugs. Medicinal drugs that have mind-altering side-effects are acceptable, as there's no need to neglect one's health for the sake of the fifth precept, but we must be clear to our motives for taking such substances, and not abuse them. Having a clear, sober mind helps us to maintain the the four precepts, as getting 'out of our heads' can easily lead to a breakdown in moral standards (as many of us are acutely aware!). It also assists clear, mindful seeing in both meditation and mindfulness practices.

These are just some of the advantages of keeping the five precepts, which not only help those that keep them, but also others that they come into contact with. This latter point hints at a broader application of the precepts at the level of society. Imagine if everyone kept the five precepts? No killing of people or animals; no stealing; no sexual abuse; no lying; and no drunken or drugged behavior. What a peaceful, safe society this would be. Furthermore, imagine countries abiding by the five precepts; no war, no deceptive diplomacy, no invading of another country's territory, no sexual mistreatment of foreigners. What a wonderful vision! Impossible? Perhaps. And yet, even if a minority of humanity keep the five precepts, they benefit both themselves and the world in so many priceless ways. Not following the harmful behavior of others, but by taking the lead and living by these five precious precepts that can help free us from the bondage of these suffering selves. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Buddha on the Path Leading to the Ending of Suffering

"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of the path leading to the ending of suffering (dukkha)?
It is the Noble Eightfold Path, namely, Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

And what, monks, is Right View? The understanding of suffering; the understanding of the cause of suffering; the understanding of the cessation of suffering; the understanding of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. This, monks, is called Right View.
And what, monks, is Right Thought? Thoughts directed to liberation from sensuality; thoughts free from ill-will; and thoughts free from cruelty. This, monks, is called Right Thought.
And what,monks, is Right Speech? Abstaining from lying, from tale-bearing, from abusive speech, and from vain and not beneficial talk. This, monks, is called Right Speech.
And what, monks, is Right Action? Abstaining from killing living beings,from stealing and from wrongful indulgence in sense pleasures. This, monks, is called Right Action.
And what, monks, is Right Livelihood? Here (in this teaching), monks, the noble disciple completely abstains from a wrong way of livelihood and makes his living by a right means of livelihood. This, monks, is called Right Livelihood.
And what, monks, is Right Effort? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to prevent the arising of evil, unwholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to abandon evil, unwholesome states of mind that have arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to attain wholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to maintain the wholesome states of mind that have arisen, to prevent their lapsing, to increase them, to cause them to grow, and to completely develop them. This, monks, is called Right Effort.
And what, monks, is Right Mindfulness? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple dwells perceiving again and again the body as just the body with diligence, clear understanding, and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world; he dwells perceiving again and again feelings as just feelings with diligence, clear understanding and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world, he dwells perceiving again and again the mind as just the mind with diligence, clear understanding, and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world; he dwells perceiving again and again mind-objects as just mind-objects with diligence, clear understanding and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world. This, monks, is called Right Mindfulness.
And what, monks, is Right Concentration? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple being detached from sensual desire and unwholesome states attains and dwells in the first absorption (jhana) which has applied and sustained thought; and rapture and happiness born of detachment (from the hindrances). With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought, a disciple attains and dwells in the second absorption, with internal tranquility and one-pointedness of mind, without applied and sustained thought, but with rapture and happiness born of concentration. Being without rapture, a disciple dwells in equanimity with mindfulness and clear understanding, and experiences happiness in mind and body. He attains and dwells in the third absorption; that which causes a person who attains it to be praised by the Noble Ones as one who has equanimity and mindfulness, one who abides in happiness. By becoming detached from both happiness and suffering and by the previous cessation of gladness and mental pain, a disciple attains and dwells in the fourth absorption, a state of pure mindfulness born of equanimity. This, monks, is called Right Concentration.
This, monks, is called the Noble Truth of the path leading to the ending of suffering."

(Digha Nikaya 22, Tipitaka)