Friday, December 10, 2010

For One's Own Good

(Back from two and a half week retreat with Ruth Denison, at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, I am devoting the next few weeks to sharing Ruth's wonderful teachings.)

I used to look down on the precepts, so seemingly simple, and close to the canned morality from my Catholic upbringing.  During the retreat with Ruth, two things happened that made me change my mind. 

First, was Ruth's insistence that we make room in our lives for taking the precepts often. I remember entire evenings devoted to reciting the five precepts, over and over again, and Ruth smiling while we all dozed off and secretly begged to be freed. "Now, one more time . . . " Ruth's favorite version of the precepts is borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh's 'Five Mindfulness Trainings'. Here it is, in abbreviated version:

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, plants, animals, and minerals.

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, plants, animals, and minerals.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relive others of their suffering. I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, consuming. 

Second, was my own concurrent experience throughout the retreat. Sitting, walking, in silence for extended periods, brought me face to face with the hindrances, and more importantly, the fuel that kept them going. At the root of troublesome mind states, I often found a prior failure to follow one of the precepts. Words wrongly spoken and coming back to haunt me with their possible karmic consequences. Or wrongful actions taken out of anger or excessive self-preoccupation . . . Fueling the fire of anxiety.

I came to seeing the precepts as a necessary safeguard against the mind's natural tendency to stray and produce unnecessary suffering for oneself, and others. Ruth was making sense, once more. 

4 comments:

  1. "I remember entire evenings devoted to reciting the five precepts, over and over again, and Ruth smiling while we all dozed off and secretly begged to be freed. "Now, one more time . . . ""

    This is hilarious. What a great sense of humor she has, which is a mark of a good teacher for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love this expanded version of the precepts! I have not seen it before. And I like this insight that more karma and the turbulence of mind are the result of not following the precepts. I have observed the lingering regret of poorly chosen words or words spoken in anger and the karmic residue but didn't make the next leap to the precepts. Thanks for this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Nathan, and congratulations on the Award!

    Yes, Ruth is the best . . . I hope she can teach for many more years to come :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Carol, I hadn't made the connection either, until this retreat, where it became so clear:

    wrong action=fuel for hindrance

    Given the mind's tendency to stray, it is not wonder one needs to recite the precepts often.

    Ruth used the words 'keeping safe' when talking about the precepts. She also talked about the need to have compassion for those who do not have the safeguard from the precepts.

    ReplyDelete

Loading...