The Precepts (written 2010)
The snow is gone, except for a few unnatural clumps fallen from work vehicles onto the grass and bits of ice caught like crystal ornaments in the the upturned candles of the mugo pines. The rabbits come out at dusk and I invaded their space tonight, hugging the fence as I walked Providence's grounds until I found the secret wooded corner I discovered when I was here last summer. Lost count at six or eight bunnies, though I may have counted some twice after that because they bounce and leap away when I approach, as many as three to a group.
This walking in nature is one of my strategies addressing immediate needs. How to cultivate virtue and lay the hindrances to rest and to be mindful off the cushion. Today I studied the Five Remembrances, recalling them to memory where bits had grown vague or ragged. Another reminder: wake up. Do not waste time. We will age, we will sicken, we will die, and we will be parted from what we hold dear. Facts we mortals strive to ignore. But the fifth is the balance to this. What we do matters. Our decisions, our actions, our speech. We create karma with the choices we make.
Then in tonight's Dhamma talk Bhante gives a list of the Five Spiritual Faculties: Faith, Energy, Mindfulness, Concentration, Wisdom. Mndfulness the pivotal point and the others balancing. Reminding us of the urgency of spiritual practice, balanced by the serene confidence that this path carries us in the right direction.
He tells the story of a learned master who was asked if he has anger anymore. “Yes” the master answered, “but I do not pick it up.” Another metaphor: If a pot is heated over a fire and then water droplets are sprinkled on its heated surface, they will dance and disappear. So, too, seeds of anger (or desire or...) will evaporate in the heat of the well-trained mind. OK...I wish it were as easy as lighting a match!
As we leave tomorrow, Bhante will offer the Five Precepts for daily living. And I feel moved, this time, to take them formally. I've seen a variety of wordings, but the ones in the chant book we're using here lists them like this:
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking the life of any living creature.
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
I undertake the precept to refrain from false or harmful speech.
I undertake the precept to refrain from consuming intoxicating drink and drugs that lead to carelessness.
They seem so straightforward and the way I want to live anyway. This commitment will be a support to the mindfulness I am cultivating day by day. I think of the bug in the sink, washed down the drain rather than carried outdoors. I'm inconsistent. The extra box of licorice I gave away without consulting my husband. The wine I like with dinner. The uneasy laughter provoked by a joke or caricature aimed at someone not present. A tendency to sarcasm learned in childhood. What degree of success can I expect? Is intention enough?
When Bhante gives the precepts he reminds us that they are to be taken seriously, but as guidelines, as trainings, not commands. There is value in such a core commitment to the development of virtue. But the commitment is balanced with wisdom and a compassionate heart. As I work to honor my commitment, I have compassion for this less than perfect human being intending to live in a way that is harmless, kind and aware.