2023-11-25-JP: The Precepts: Beyond Pride and Perfection
7:07PM Nov 30, 2023
This is Saturday, November 25 2023. And this morning, going to give teisho on the precepts. And of course this afternoon at five o'clock, we'll be taking the precepts out of the Buddha Hall.
In Buddhism that said that there are three foundations of Zen practice of training. In Sanskrit, the words are Sheila, samadhi, and prajna. Sheila means discipline or morality. It's really what we're doing when we take the precepts. committing ourselves to that discipline to that morality, to that care for others, for the greater good
committing ourselves to freeing ourselves from self centered delusion. The bias we all carry, for me Mr. Wonderful or Mr. Horrible, whatever exaggerated idea we have about ourselves. And the second Samadhi is absorption or concentration, oneness. Basically, forgetting our separation, our sense of separation, or illusory separation. Losing the illusory, separate self, in uniting with something with our practice what's right in front of us
and finally, prajna, wisdom, enlightenment, seeing into the emptiness of the self, seeing directly.
Always like to make the point that the precepts are somewhat different from the 10 commandments or other moral rules. Other religions may have understood properly, they're a description of how we would act if we acted through our own enlightened nature. If we knew ourselves to be Buddha's How are bodhisattva being a wisdom being literally a wisdom being would behave?
In this practice, we start small. Our aspiration may be great, but our understanding and our skill are not great. We start out from the beginning. All of us to one degree or another. We start small, but we grow forever. mastered, Dogan said, there is no beginning to practice or end to enlightenment. There is no beginning to enlightenment nor end to practice. These three Sheela Samadhi prajna they're both the seed and the fruit. The Buddha said, from morality comes wisdom. And from wisdom comes morality, like washing one hand with the other. So is morality washed around with wisdom and wisdom with morality.
Living living this sort of life, life of care for others. Life of Sheila helps us travel light removes many of the obstructions that make it hard to still the mind really liked the idea of traveling light. I ran into it and maybe the second a meeting I ever went to. told the story before came into the room and there was somebody slumped in the chair nearby. Clearly not paying attention had a few thoughts about what even doing in this room and when the topic of not lying but speaking the truth was brought up. He spoke said I'm honest, I tell the truth, because I like to travel white. So much of our deviousness so much of our manipulating other people is to try to get by with our transgressions try to hide our selfishness. When we truly commit, there's a freedom that comes. Remember, the first time I ever took the precepts back in I don't know 1968 1969 It was it was a feeling of being washed clean.
As much as we can commit changes us. It doesn't fix everything. And I certainly violated a lot of precepts after after that first Jukai know I'll violate a lot more. There's no doubt.
When you when you read the history of Zen, it's striking how many of the great Chinese masters began their career in the video school. This is the school that devoted itself I don't think it even exists. It may exist but certainly not in the in the numbers than it did back in ancient China. It devoted itself to the memorization and the application of all the monastic rules are far more elaborate than the 16 precepts that we'll take today.
And eventually, most of these masters felt something still was missing. Fulfilling the rules, however difficult it was, still left them short of really understanding who and what they were. And so they came in practice Zen, but I believe that that foundation is one of the reasons that these masters achieved what they did. They were able to travel light
the precepts are an easy way for us to see where we cause harm. See where our attachment to our small self, to me, leads us to hurt others. And of course, even ordinary practitioners like us can do good and minimize harm just by refraining from violating the 10 Cardinal precepts.
The precepts properly understood are not just prohibitions. It's just not a do not do this do not do that. They're also a description of our behavior when we've awakened. And when we can live out of that awakening to some far taller order. It's how we would behave if we were free of self and other. So all the precepts are phrased with what we won't do and what we will do. First precept of course is not to kill, but to cherish all life
There's a there's an interpretation report where reputedly came from the founder of Zen from Bodhidharma, the Bodhidharma precepts, which state them in the in the most in the purest form
totally beyond self another example, precept number five
get it exactly right.
Resolve not to cause others to abuse alcohol or drugs or to do so myself, but to keep the mind clear. In Bodhidharma is version goes like this, in the intrinsically pure Dharma, not allowing the mind to become dark through ignorance is called the precepts of refraining from using intoxicants.
And the third precept I resolve not to misuse sexuality, but to be caring and responsible. Bodhidharma is version in the Dharma where there is nothing to grasp, not giving rise to attachment. It's called the precept of refraining from improper sex.
course there is a danger with those precepts, and usually they're taken up in Zen career and studied at the after one has had some sort of insight and work through many of the koans. And there's a danger of pretending to act out of a deeper understanding than we actually have. It's easy to think many people find it easy to think that they're They're selfish selfishness and separation have been banished, when in fact, they're still there, right under the surface. I remember saying something particularly self Abnegation once around Roshi, and he said, Look who's nothing?
Yeah, it's, it's a pretty high bar. And if you if you think that you've reached that high bar, then clearly you haven't. You really, really have to forget the self in Christian terms of the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
There are some American senators that have their own versions of the precepts and some of them have come up with some what I feel are uncomfortably ambiguous formulations. For instance, there's one senator for whom the the precept on not misusing sexuality is basically not to be greedy. And when you interpret them when you when you move away from the simplicity of don't mess with other people don't harm other people. And you start using you know what can become weasel words. I think these precepts really become can become cover for a lot of damage and certainly Zen has along with most other religions, a sorry history of people in positions of power taking advantage of others.
We want to we want to pay attention to the results of what we do. Really this The whole practice is studying ourselves, studying ourselves in a wordless way, but also looking at reflecting. You know, if I hadn't put it that way, maybe she wouldn't have been so upset. Reminds me of something that my friend Ernie Walker is actually the biological father of my son, Ivan. He had a long history of being in relationships and having his partner, the woman just get sick of him. And he said, I know it's something I do, because they all say the same thing. I love that because, you know, I mean, obviously, he hasn't figured out what it is yet, but he knows where to he knows there's something there. So many people are just in denial. You know, my motives are good. And what's wrong with people? Why do other people always have trouble with me? You know, there's so it's a really, really promising switch. When you say, I keep running into the same problem. There's something I'm doing what is it a
lot of people tackle the precepts in the spirit of renunciation of I know that's how I did it, certainly at first. With with various habits, I first with with smoking, I smoked for a while and quit and went back and quit and went back. And finally, I just said, Okay, I'm gonna do it. And I took a vow, I vowed to condone, I will never smoke again. And so far, so good. You know, that was a long time ago. Sometimes Sometimes that frontal approach can work, but often not so great. Often not so great. And, and especially I'm thinking about people trying to say renounce alcohol or drugs. The reason why the 12 step programs seem to work better than simple renunciation. I quit once, before I got into a I quit drinking for three years. I just, I had really gone off the rails done something I deeply regretted. And I told my wife not going to drink again for a long, long time. And I didn't, but I I eventually went back thinking that now I could probably do it much more skillfully. I'd be better at it. And I was for almost a year. And then and then I had to get serious. But I want to read something that Anthony de Mello said about renunciation the sort of frontal attack. He says, anytime you're practicing renunciation, you're deluded about that. You're deluded? What are you renouncing? Anytime you renounce something, you are tied forever to the thing you were announced. There's a guru in India who says, Every time a prostitute comes to me, she's talking about nothing but God. She says, I'm sick of this life that I'm living, I want God. But every time a priest comes to me, he's talking about nothing but sex. When you announce something, you're stuck to it forever. When you fight something, you're tied to it forever. As long as you're fighting it, you're giving it power. You give it as much power as you're using to fight it. This includes communism and everything else. So you must receive your demons. Because when you fight them, you empower them. It's nobody ever told you this. When you are not something you're tied to it. The only way to get out of this is to see through it. Don't renounce it, see through it. Understand his true value. And you won't need to renounce it, it will just drop from your hands. But of course, if you don't see that, if you're hypnotized into thinking that you won't be happy without this, that or the other thing, you're stuck. What we need to do for you is not what so called to spirituality attempts to do, namely to get you to make sacrifices to renounce things. That's useless. You're still asleep. What you need what We need to do is to help you understand, understand, understand, if you understood you'd simply drop the desire for it. This is another way of saying, If you woke up, you'd simply drop the desire for it. And we do wake up, sometimes in little ways, sometimes in big ways. Something that seemed essential into habits hooks into us, becomes lighter and drops away. Roshi Kapleau used to say, to people who were considering becoming vegetarian, don't give up meat, let meat give you up.
Besides the difficulties we can get into if we just try to tackle the precepts head on and simply receipt right, achieve perfection by renouncing everything bad is that when we when we tackled virtue, that way, we take pride in our good works. We become we can become pigs, we become morally superior. It's really a danger. A lot of people look down on others who haven't given up what they've given up. Don't take the care that they take. feel pride in their own moral superiority and irritation at the unenlightened demands of others. Of course, Demello is pretty good for this too. What he points out that even if you're doing good, you're still selfish. It's still in service of self puts it this way. I'm not saying that there's no such thing. There's no such thing as pure motivation. I'm saying that. Ordinarily, everything we do, is in our self interest, everything. When you do something for the love of Christ, is that selfishness? Yes. When you're doing something for the love of anybody, it's in your self interest. I have to explain that. Suppose you happen to live in Phoenix, and you feel and you feed over 500 children a day. That gives you a good feeling? Well, you expect it to give you a bad feeling. But sometimes it does. And that is because there are some people who do things so that they won't have to have a bad feeling. And they call that charity. They act out of guilt. That isn't love. But thank God you do things for people and it's pleasurable, wonderful. You're a healthy individual because you're self interested. that's healthy. Let me summarize what I'm saying about selfless, selfless charity. I said there were two types of selfishness. Maybe I should have said three. First when I do something, or rather when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself. Second, when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing others. Don't take pride in that. Don't think you're a great person. You're a very ordinary person, but you've got refined tastes. Your taste is good, not the quality of your spirituality. When you were a child, you liked Coca Cola. Now you've grown older, and you appreciate chilled beer on a hot day. You've got better tastes now, when you were when you were a child, you love chocolates. Now you're older, you enjoy a symphony, you enjoy a poem. You've got better tastes, but you're getting your pleasure all the same, except now it's in the pleasure of pleasing others. Then you've got the third type, which is the worst. When you do something good so that you won't get a bad feeling. doesn't give you a good feeling to do it. It gives you a bad feeling to do it. You hate it. You're making loving sacrifices, but you're grumbling. how little you know of yourself. If you think you don't do things that way. If I had $1 for every time I did things that gave me a bad feeling. I'd be a millionaire by now. You know how it goes. Could we meet tonight, father? Yes. Come on in. I don't want to meet him. I hate meeting him. I want to watch that TV show tonight. But how do I say no. I don't have the guts to say no. Come on in. I'm thinking oh god, I've got to put up with this pain. It doesn't give me a good feeling to meet with him. It doesn't give me a good feeling to say no to him. So I choose the lesser of two evils and say okay, come on in. I'm going to be happy when this thing is over, I'll be able to take my smile off. But I start the session with him. How are you? Wonderful, he says, And he goes on about how he loves the workshop. And I'm thinking, oh God, when is he going to come to the point? Finally, he comes to the point. And I metaphorically slam him against the wall and say, well, any fool could solve that kind of problem. And I send him out. Got rid of him. And the next morning, have breakfast because I'm feeling I was so rude. I go up to him, and I say, How's life? And he answers pretty good. And he adds, you know what you said to me last night was a real help. Can I meet with you today after lunch? Oh, God.
Further on, he says, I've made the point that everything we do is tainted with selfishness. That isn't so easy to hear. But think now for a minute, let's go a little deeper into that. If everything you do comes from self interest, enlightened or otherwise, how does that make you feel about all your charity and all your good deeds? What happens to those? Here's a little exercise for you. Think of all the good deeds you've done? Or if some of them because I'm only giving you a few seconds? Now understand that they really sprang from self interest, whether you knew it or not. What happens to your pride? What happens to your vanity? What happens to that good feeling? You gave yourself that pat on the back? Every time you did something that you thought was so charitable, gets flattened out? Doesn't it? What happens to that looking down your nose at your neighbor, who you thought was so selfish? The whole thing changes, doesn't it? Well, you say My neighbor has coarser tastes than I do. You're the more dangerous person you really are. Jesus Christ, seems to have had much less trouble with the other type than with your type. You ran into trouble with people who are really convinced they were good. Other types didn't seem to give them much trouble at all. The ones who are openly selfish and knew it. Can you see how liberating that is? Wake up. It's liberating. It's wonderful. Are you feeling depressed? Maybe you are? Isn't it wonderful to realize you're no better than anyone else in this world? Isn't it wonderful? Are you disappointed? Look what you've brought to light? What happens to your vanity? Look how we brought a fallacy to light. There's a famous phrase the irritability of saints. And it is it is true. Among people who are self consciously virtuous, there's often a real lack of empathy. It's kind of similar to the dynamic between people with power and people who don't have power. There's a lot of studies that show that rich people powerful people are less empathetic. And they did a study I've talked about this before. They took some students with a you know, clipboard notepad to a crosswalk where they stood and just noted the behavior of drivers when people were in the crosswalk who stopped and who didn't. And they found that the more expensive the car, the less likely they were to stop for for pedestrians. And someone said, Well, yeah, you know, rich people, of course. They're assholes. But I bet people with Priuses stopped. And they said, actually, they were the worst. Because now you got money, and self righteousness. We see it. We see it today and you know, our horribly divided political world. It's the intolerance of people who feel they're on the right side. And of course, both sides feel that both sides feel those people are intolerant, and they're wrong. And I'm just being truthful. I'm just pointing out the truth.
If practice brings us anything, it has to bring us humility has to bring us openness. After realize, as long as we cling to our imagined superiority we're problematic We're getting in the way we're trouble. We're all flawed. And we're all perfect. All of us.
Okay, so that's my rant about not getting too caught up in our sense of our own morality. And often it becomes more acute, the harder we work. So people who are really serious, are at risk for that. Anyway, I want to, at least in the few minutes that are left more than a few, just enough, I hope, just go over the ceremony for people who've never done it before, and for those of us who have it begins with repentance. And when you come into the Buddha Hall, there'll be somebody there, if you need it, they can give you the repentance gotta that we repeat. The good goes all harmful actions committed by me since time immemorial, I now repent having committed and we go through that several times. It's the basis for taking the precepts for taking a look first at our own shortcomings. If we feel a genuine remorse for our unconsciously hurting others, Every parent knows this. Everyone who cares about their friends knows this are clumsy. We're short sighted. We feel remorse, and a resolve to do better. Then we're ready to begin. We need to see our shadow side. We need to see what's wrong with us. Some people may have such a negative attitude towards themselves that they don't want to see that side. It's just going to be too soul crushing. But really, it's just joining the human race. Joining the Sangha a Henry David Thoreau said, Make the most of your regrets. Never smother your sorrow but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. to regret deeply is to live afresh. The repentance ceremony is then followed with the three refuges we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We go through that three times. And then we move on to the three general resolutions, resolve to do no harm, or resolve to do good or resolve to liberate all living beings or all sentient beings. Go through those three times.
used to say I avoid to I vowed to avoid evil. And then later I think Roshi changed it to I avoid I vow to avoid wrong and finally I think he finally hit on the best way of putting it. I have resolved to do no harm. It's all to do good. It's aspiration. It's when we really have that internalized that our heart is in the right place. Not overconfident. We're not puffed up. Just want to see what we can do. It reminds me of Tongan Roshi. When he was a young man, he came up with this idea that he wanted to be like a chair. So the chair doesn't care who sits in it. It just supports them doesn't care if it's pushed in a corner doesn't brag just wants to be of service and he Tongan Roshi made an effort to do good to help other people and not have them know it.
Obviously a remarkable remarkable man. For those who don't know, Tangen-roshi was the head monk when Roshi Kapleau went spent three years in the monastery Hoshido Shinji studying under her to Roshi. And really he was a second teacher for Roshi.
So just to briefly go through the 10 Cardinal precepts, which is the final step of Jukai. The first is a resolve not to kill, but to cherish all life. Of course, there are a lot of different ways that we can kill. And there are a lot of times when we actually have to kill Roshi Kapleau used to give the example of a rabid dog
sometimes there are pests that need to be killed think there was my camera what it was scorpions, flies, whatever somebody asked Tangen-roshi you know, should I kill it? And he said, Well, if you can kill it without hatred, then go ahead
the problem with killing of course, is that separation self and other
includes suicide. Probably
the saddest thing see your own self as other the harm this causes to loved ones, everyone who's left behind. It's really tragic. And so sad. Many people get to the point where they consider taking their own lives. A lot of people have considered that this is a this is a tough road we're on. But people also come out from it
becomes just this dream.
When they do, we can be so much help to others.
Anything we go through, it's painful. We can go through it. do our best to weather the storm. We come out of it with the ability to help others go through the same. We become useful.
The second precept is I resolved not to take what is not given, but to respect the things of others. And of course, this doesn't just refer to stealing. It's really so many things that we take all of us. Good example is hogging the credit for something. Or in a conversation among friends dominating the conversation. It's our stories that get told nobody else can get a word in edgewise. To respect the things of others, becomes possible when we're content with what we have which is really the fruit of practice to begin to understand that really we have everything we need. The philosopher Immanuel Kant said a man is not rich by what he has. But what by but by what he can do without with dignity told that Immanuel Immanuel Kant never traveled more than 25 miles from where he was born in Germany. The third precept I resolved not to misuse sexuality, but to be caring and responsible. talked about this a little bit already. There's so much damage that can be done.
There are centers, Zen centers, Tibetan centers, Christian churches. So many people have left because of the misuse of sexuality. It isn't just with religion, it's anywhere there's a power imbalance that happens teachers and students, people in business even if there's not a power imbalance, just the dangers of objectifying The other, of missing their humaneness.
To be caring and responsible means to find our intimacy with other people to become 1/4 precept, resolved not to lie, but to speak the truth.
There are lies of omission as well as lies of direct commission. There are times when, of course, we have to maybe soften the blow. There are such things as white lies, which we may still sometimes feel we have to deploy. But if we're if we're lying, just to save our own skin, then we're violating the precept. And if we're always brutally honest, we don't care where the chips may fly, then we're also not really keeping this precept or not in the spirit of this precept, which is to, through our speech, be of use to other people. The Buddha had a long, long list of things to consider, before we say anything. Maybe it wasn't so long, it was actually fairly simple. Is it useful? Is it harmful? Some people like myself tend to speak really quickly. And sometimes that works out well. But often, we heard other people not even realizing
it's good to take a little bit of time.
The fifth is resolved not to cause others to abuse alcohol or drugs, or to do so myself. But to keep the mind clear. Obviously, many people in the Sangha many teachers drink a little alcohol. I don't just because of my own track record. And because it's easier, I like to travel light. But the main thing is to not to abuse alcohol or drugs and to keep the mind clear, and this can be a problem even for people who think they drink under control. If every evening ends in a little bit of a haze, you know, you're not hurting anybody and you're not falling down. You're just sort of taking the edge off and then going to bed. That that that can diminish your life, something to look at. I've often said that the people who don't really go off the deep end are the ones who are in the greatest danger. I'm always impressed with the physicist Richard Feynman, who didn't really have a drinking problem, by any definition. But here's the story. On an ordinary afternoon in 1949, Fineman was going about his business as he felt a pull to have a drink. Not an intense craving by any means. But still, it was a disconcerting desire for some alcohol on the spot. Fineman gave up drinking right then and there. He didn't want anything to have that kind of power over him. And also read about that. He had such you valued his mental powers so highly. Such a brilliant man. Nothing, nothing came before that. For those of us on a spiritual path, something to look at there's also the A phrase from Carl Jung, an honest drink would no man forbid. No man deny. So we have to find our own way with that, no Roshi says he'll drink half a beer or so. But when the mind begins to cloud, there's a bit of a problem there. And when it goes farther, and we start hurting our friends or getting into other addictive behaviors, then clearly we need to find a way to stop. The sixth precept by resolved not to speak on the faults of others, too, but to be understanding and sympathetic, think maybe this is the hardest of all the precepts. So hard not to notice what other people are doing wrong, and then find a way, directly or indirectly, to bring it out. The Sixth Patriarch went on said, I see, but I do not see. Someone asked him What do you mean by I see, but I do not see. Why Nanga said, seeing I constantly see the errors and faults of my own mind not seeing I do not see other people's rights and wrongs, goodness and evil. It's just a question of minding your own business, keeping your side of the street clean. Everybody is like us. Just as bad as we are. Were just as bad as they are. To focus on their faults is definitely short sighted. It's easy and relieves our feelings of inferiority. It's a way of alleviating the inpatients we feel sort of a relief valve to talk about others faults, and I find myself doing it. In cases where there is no justification.
To be understanding and sympathetic for coming from that mindset, then we're far less likely to bring up unnecessarily bring up the faults of others. Something we have to work on for a long, long time. This precept the sixth is kind of linked to the seventh, resolve not to praise myself and disparage others, but to overcome my own shortcomings. The Buddha said, Do not give your attention to what others do. But give your attention to what you do, or fail to do. Which is exactly what way nung said. The eighth precept I resolved not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give them freely were needed. Since every kind of help, effort, time attention, of course money when it's called for and to give praise and to give thanks mean so much. It changes. It changes our relations to people when we find ways to thank them. Sometimes write a note phone call. We just forget to do it. It seems like it's such a little thing. And it really really makes a difference.
I was reading something about this guy Fetterman the senator from from Pennsylvania he was there was another political guy in Pennsylvania. I don't know if he was the other senator. Somebody in the state government or whatever that was politically at odds with Fetterman. They weren't not. They weren't on good terms. And this guy was Jewish. And at some point there was people may remember it. There was a horrible attack on a synagogue and in Pittsburgh, and it was near right in veterans neighborhood and he found out about it way before anyone else. And he called this guy and just said, just wanted to give you a heads up there's some really tragic bad news about to come out. And just doing that created a bond between these two enemies. The guy said Fetterman is really a match. Veteran said well I hope that's a good thing.
Little little words. You know in Zen, there's a tendency not to, especially for the teacher, not to praise too much because we don't want the student to become complacent? But I think a lot of times we tend to err on the side of no praise. Yeah, yeah
the ninth precept I resolved not to indulge in anger, but to practice forbearance. It's a tough one. talked about this a lot in the past. It's not a question of whether our anger is justified or not. It's a question of whether we're in touch with ourselves or not. Do we know what's going on? Do we know what's skillful I
think over time we get better at this if we really work on it. Even when we when we can't keep ourselves from flaring up, just at least to know that we're doing it. The more we can watch ourselves and be realistic about what we've done what we haven't done, be willing to see where we're going wrong astray. Eventually it will drop away. Eventually, we will understand. Don't give up. Finally, the 10th precept, I resolved not to revile the three treasures, but to cherish and uphold them. Buddha Dharma Sangha really this means respecting ourselves and our potential. Having gratitude for this teaching and gratitude for everyone who does this work? gave more than used up my time. Stop now and recite the Four Vows