This is May 21 2023. And today's teisho will be on taking the precepts or Jukai. The ceremony which will take place next weekend as part of our Buddha's Birthday Celebration. Also known as Vesak. Buddhists around the world traditionally hold this celebration at the first full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesak, which usually falls in May or early June. But our center has always held it during Memorial Day weekend. out of convenience for Sangha members, some who travel from afar to attend, not to mention that the weather is more likely to be in our favor. To briefly review, the schedule, this coming Friday, we'll have temple night in the Buddha Hall starting at 7pm. And this is a period of unstructured sitting in devotions. And with the help of staff and volunteers, the Buddha Hall will be transformed into this beautiful and inspiring space, with several altars set up. And then later that same evening, at around nine o'clock, the taking of the precept ceremony will begin. And participating in this ceremony is a formal way of expressing our commitment to the path of Zen. It's an incredibly moving ceremony, in that we do it together, both in the Buddha Hall and on Zoom, to dedicate ourselves to embodying the precepts, integrating them into our everyday lives. And making the vows in unison is so much more impactful than just reading or reciting the precepts on our own. It goes without saying that it's important to give yourself time to sit before the ceremony so that your mind is all the more settled. And as Bowden Roshi would often encourage us to do, if possible, take a shower beforehand, perhaps do some cleaning in your home, you know, anything that is in a tangible way, expressing a genuine commitment to start fresh. For some people, this will be their first time doing the ceremony, while others have done it dozens and dozens of times. So wonderful way to hit the reset button on our practice. And at our center, we we traditionally do this ceremony of taking the precepts twice per year, during Buddha's birthday, and also during our ceremony of gratitude and thanksgiving traditions. And, and so it's important to recognize that there aren't any preconditions to participate in the ceremony. You need not be a member of the center, nor have even attended a workshop. A ceremony is open to all. And earlier in the afternoon, there's even a children's version of it for participants in our family and youth program. And then, of course, the next day on Saturday, we'll have some fun activities such as storytelling, parade down Arnold Park games, and a vegetarian potluck. The full schedule is on our website. All right, so for this teisho We're going to take a brief look at living the precepts. How do we manifest them in our day to day lives in our ordinary activities. It's worth noting that there are numerous podcasts of past TV shows about the past precepts from Bowdoin Roshi, and also John Sensei, some of which offer a very narrow focus from the vantage point of a extended look at a specific example, or context, and others offer a wider angle. And world will barely scratch the surface this morning. Morality or what it means to do good and avoid harm is incredibly complex. It can't be understood, apart from conditions, timing place degrees. So let's start though by looking at morality. In Zen in general, in all schools of Buddhism, morality is taught is integral. And in Zen, we consider it foundational because of its implications for Zen. If we do something that causes harm, for example, it's likely because our mind is turbid turbulent in that moment, we're obstructed, we're not seeing clearly. But instead, through the lens of delusion, kind of like seeing the world through cloudy or scratched up glasses.
And likewise, if our sitting practice isn't strong, maybe it's kind of sporadic or inconsistent, we're less likely to experience the benefits that come with it. Or that arise from it. Seeing ourselves in kinship with all beings and things, and acting less out of self interest, and more out of a genuine desire, desire to be of aid to others. Taken together, the 16 precepts, which we'll get to shortly, they represent our true nature in action. Living in accord with who we are fundamentally. In other words, how we would conduct ourselves if we were fully enlightened. full enlightenment takes lifetimes, upon lifetimes. So each one of us has a lot of work to do. Working on our mental habit forces, our attachments to ideas and things are our karma conditioning.
Going to read a short piece from finding your seat by Roshi Amala Wrightson, where she says something poignant about the spirit of working on the precepts. She says. Just as in our Zen, we start with learning good posture, how to sit up straight, and align the spine and the rest of the body. In our lives, we are also seeking alignment. We wish to align with the truth of the universe and to learn how to live harmlessly. Of course, it's not easy to rectify or straighten our mind because we come into this life conditioned in certain ways. So the first step is one of beginning to recognize our errors, whether there are thinking or speaking or acting. This really is to begin to see our suffering clearly. Our suffering can actually be a great help because it's like a big arrow, a big red arrow saying attachment here. That what that whatever is going on, we need to look right there, we also need to understand this universe that we are part of as a great round. So that whatever we send out, we eventually receive back. Of course, this is because it doesn't really go out. Since we are not truly separate from the world in which we live, whatever we send out, we send to ourselves. This is seen in Buddhism as the natural law.
So how do we go about integrating the precepts into our lives? First, it's important to point out that there's a great risk of interpreting the precepts in one or two extremes, either too rigidly or too loosely. If we adopt an overly strict or self righteous, even attitude about our vow to uphold any one or more precepts, we're likely going to get caught up in judging ourselves and others we won't measure up will also fail to see the inevitable nuances and subtleties. The complexity of moral conduct.
Just as an example, we can consider the precept about not to lie, but to speak the truth. That's the fourth precept. If we take a hard, unyielding stance, we might end up actually causing harm, and not recognizing that there are some unique situations where not disclosing information, or even making fabrications, is called for. And this is something that I've come to appreciate in interacting with and caring for my 91 year old father, who has moderate to severe dementia is clarity of mind comes and goes. And lying to someone who has significant memory loss, or dementia can actually be the most compassionate thing to do. In that correcting them can cause a great deal of distress, confusion, anxiety. My father will often say to me, and sometimes he doesn't know who I am that I'm his daughter. But sometimes he'll say to me, can you take me home? I need to get a ride back to Staten Island. And if I say, Dad, you are home. This is your home. You've been living here for more than 15 years. What are you talking about? If I were to say that he would become extremely distressed and agitated. But if instead I say, Sure, I can take you there. But you know what? It's kind of late. It's too late to leave now. Why don't we wait until the morning and leave after breakfast? Then he looks at me and smiles. He said yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. Everything de escalates and he drops it. And because of his condition, he doesn't remember it in the morning. And this lying which I do all the time. Kind of going with the flow really helps us to connect in that moment. And it helps him to stay calm and relaxed. Another example of the nuances of the precepts Is it in the first precept to cherish all life? Should we take that literally. If an animal, say perhaps your pet, dog or cat is seriously injured, or in a great deal of pain, because of a terminal illness, euthanasia might be the right thing to do to free them from suffering. But then again, when we look at human behavior, we can get into more more thorny terrain, such as in the case of how to respond to acts of gun violence, terrorism, genocide, and any number of harmful acts or or atrocities that we humans are capable of carrying out. How do we cherish life in those circumstances? There is no one way there's no formula each each situation is different. But without having clarity of mind, we run the risk of causing more harm, if we respond out of hatred or aversion. So taking the precepts too rigidly is a pitfall. But so is allowing for too much slack. Some of us might be inclined to treat the precepts as not so important to practice, perhaps even telling ourselves that morality and standards, they're just empty. After all, everything's empty. Well, yeah, in the absolute sense. There's no birth or death, nothing to steal, nothing to disparage, or defile. From the very beginning, nothing to transgress. Nothing to harm. But that's just one side of the coin. On the other side is the relative, the realm of differentiation, that gives rise to our experience of being and acting in the world. If we overemphasize, emphasize or cling to the emptiness side, we're failing to see how our thoughts speech, and the actions have consequences for our relationships to others, and to the planet. So instead, we need to work on them in a more balanced way, the Middle Way, avoiding the two extremes while exploring how to adapt them to the life that we're living.
In and although we might like to have a how to manual, there aren't any fixed rules. But they do point us in the direction of living compassionately, and harmoniously. And what that looks like, in practice is going to vary from person to person and situation to situation. We won't all have the same interpretation of a given preset, and how we understand them, in one circumstance might change in another. They're shaped by causes and conditions, just like we are
so old, ultimately, the spirit of upholding the precepts is it's just to aspire to move through this world the best that we can, without causing unnecessary harm or pain. There is intention there. There's our speech and our conduct that's an in accordance with that intention. The intention to live a life in service to all beings
Another complexity, though is, is that sometimes we're just not aware that our speech or our conduct causes harm. And an example of this is accidentally misgendering, someone that is not in a malicious kind of way, but due to a slip up. If you're cisgender, and you've been alive, long enough to have been subjected to years and years, of being socially conditioned, to see gender as merely binary, and not the spectrum that it actually is, then there's a learning curve there. Even with our best intentions. Each one of us has to work with mental constructs that were introduced to us in our formative years, and have hardened over time, not just our ideas about social differences and identities. But the very notion of self and other itself. The notion that there are two and not one.
Invariably, despite our best efforts, we need to make peace with the fact that we're not going to live up to our aspirations. And we will make lots and lots of mistakes, some, some of which may cause harm to ourselves or others. And noticing, and owning up to that harm. And making ourselves vulnerable in that way allows us to feel heartfelt remorse, which then we can transform into speech and action. Upholding the precepts just the best that we can. That's all that's required of us the best that we can, helps to deepen our faith in our Buddha nature of ourselves and others, and to loosen the hold of our habit forces. There's another thing I want to point out. And that it's, it's a real misunderstanding to not participate in the taking the precept ceremony. Just because you think that you're not going to be able to successfully uphold them. And you probably won't. But there is a difference between breaking a precept after after having done the sweat ceremony versus not and from my own experience, in doing the ceremony many many times you're more likely to be aware of it and and to recognize it as an opportunity to renew your efforts and that's the real spirit of participating in the ceremony to commit and recommit ourselves to practice which is which is an unending journey
the ceremony starts with the repentance gotta recited three times. And we we recite it three times as we do with many other verses. Because it in a practice in a practical sense, it makes it more likely that will express it wholeheartedly. By the third time. All harmful actions committed by me since time immemorial, stemming from greed, anger and delusion, arising from body speech and mind. I now repent having committed in reciting this we're Recognizing openly our past wrongdoings and making a vow to do better moving forward. We can't undo what was said and done in the past. But we can sweep away our mental obstructions including our clinging to self judgments, and guilt. And, and vocalizing the verse aloud and wholeheartedly with others, allows us to experience a real visceral release of whatever is weighing upon us.
And then we recite the three refuges. And there are the first three of the 16 precepts. Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. To take refuge is to place our faith in. To give ourselves over to, to find our home and
to take refuge in Buddha, is to give ourselves over to our Buddha nature that lacks nothing. And is none other than who we already are.
To take refuge in Dharma is to give ourselves to this truth. The truth of seeing things just how they just how they are.
To embody it. And to take refuge in Sangha is to give ourselves to our community, the our community of Zen practitioners, and that includes the mutual support that we give and receive, just by working on the precepts doing Zen, going beyond our differences, and we can also conceive Sangha, of course, in the wider sense of all beings.
And then we turn to the three general resolutions, which are also known as the pure precepts. And these, again, are aspirational vows that reflect how would how we would act in the world if we were fully enlightened.
I resolve to do no harm
we can understand this vow as a resolve to not allow ourselves to be deceived by delusion, by our thoughts of separation from other people, from other beings and things. Also, not separated from the earth that we stand on.
I really resolve to do good in other words, to speak and act without greed, ill will or anger without delusive thinking and instead with with openness, kindness, empathy, again with the understanding that self and other are not too and then the third, I resolved to liberate all living beings do that is simply to manifests a mind of love and compassion and to act in ways that respect the interconnection of all life.
doing no harm, doing good, liberating all living beings, a foundation to that is ours Zen.
And then there's the 10 Cardinal precepts. And while we can look at one individually, on its own, we can also see them as overlapping and an in relationship. And one of the more obvious examples is if, if we abused alcohol, we're, we're likely to not only break the fifth precept about keeping the mind clear, but but also other precepts such as not lying, not misusing sexuality, not indulging in anger, and so on, because our judgment becomes clouded, and our emotions unstable.
Also note that it's just not possible. As we look at some examples like this in one teisho, it's just not possible to represent fully all the ways we can interpret a precept. So so the best I can offer. And the time that we have is just just a little glimpse of each one just from the vantage point of my experience.
So the first Cardinal precept is I resolved not to kill, but to cherish our life. This is about living in a way that cultivates and nourishes life. And we need not limit our understanding to the literal sense of not killing or not harming others, but also see it as simply not separating ourselves from life. So when our mind is undivided, we're cherishing life a lot of people wonder Oh, if I'm if I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, am I breaking this precept? Well, keep in mind that in order to survive, we humans require nutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, letter carbohydrates, we need them in order to survive in order for our bodies to function. The same thing with other other animals cats, dogs, raccoons, hawks, frogs to some degree or another. We're all engaging in some killing. But that's where mindfulness and gratitude comes in. And having an undivided mind just having that awareness an awareness of all all the beings and things that make it possible for our bodies to be nourished.
And, you know, we can also say the word life isn't limited to people, animals and plants. Life also includes inanimate things like the care we give to library books, tea cups, and cars.
Okay, second, I resolved not to take What is not given, but to respect for things of others. stealing money and material things, or possessions are obvious examples of taking what is not given, also cheating and plagiarizing, taking credit for other people's ideas or accomplishments.
We could also look at the context of avoiding wasting or exploit exploiting the Earth's natural resources. And this can be as simple as not letting a faucet run unnecessarily long or not leaving the lights on when they don't need to be not taking what is not given. Third, eye resolve not to misuse sexuality, but to be caring and responsible. This is in part about maintaining honesty and compassion in intimate relationships, being open and faithful in our intentions, and also not taking what is not given. And when it comes to relationships of power, in the context of an institution or even just society at large, when it comes to sexuality, that which may appear to be given cannot necessarily be understood as such, we can ignore that what may constitute a consensual and mutually supportive relationship in one context, isn't in another. So this is also this precept is also about not abusing authority, and not causing harm, also through inappropriate or degrading language.
For fourth, I resolved not to lie, but this but to speak the truth.
So this involves cultivating transparent transparency, and clarity, avoiding deceit. When we lie to others, we're also lying to ourself, and vice versa. And yet earlier I mentioned, there are situations where lying or not fully disclosing disclosing something is called for, it might be the most compassionate thing to do.
An example of that. Another kind of example of that would be we're engaging in gossip or haphazard conversation about others, that takes away their need for privacy.
precept, I resolve not to cause others to abuse alcohol or drugs, nor to do so myself, but to keep the mind clear.
We can see this precept as addressing the harms of addiction, but also recreational or occasional use of alcohol and drugs, which, if not used in moderation, dulls the mind and compromises our capacity for clear and compassionate speech and action can also harm our physical bodies and our relationships to others. But we can also look at other kinds of potential intoxicants caffeine, nicotine, sugar, video games, social media, cell phones themselves. So how we work on this precept really depends in part on whether or not we're or the people were the people who are close to us are prone to addictive behavior. We all have attachments and as for prescribed drugs, that's a whole kind of separate category because that's, that's between you and your, your doctor in the context of medicine, medicine you need to heal or simply to function on a daily basis.
I resolve not to speak of the faults of others but to be understanding and sympathetic. So not not speaking ill of someone's identity, their personality or their their character. When wrongdoings or mistakes, or misunderstandings happen. We need to address what was said or what was done and not who the person is fundamentally.
And we need to have awareness of mind to see what's going on in our own mind in order to be skillful in not speaking of the faults of others, but being understanding and sympathetic. So if we see somebody that's acting irritably are impatient or is really distracted, instead of assuming the worst in them not not judging them. But just meeting them where they are. Me Maybe they had a really bad night's sleep or maybe on their way to work on their drive to work. They almost hit a deer. We don't know.
There's a line. I recall. It comes from a bumper sticker that Bucha and Roshi used to have on this car I mean people are suffering.
seven, I resolved not to praise myself and disparage others, but to overcome my own shortcomings. Maintaining humility, not seeking personal attention or gain in our relationships and interactions, working on our own deficiencies, our own flaws, our own biases, which Zen helps us to become more aware of. It's a lot easier to assign blame to others, to fall back on our strongest opinions, assumptions than it is to own up to our own mistakes, our own foibles and misunderstandings. Number eight, I resolved not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give them freely where needed. This is just freely giving ourselves to whatever's needed. Not clinging to our likes and dislikes, nor our material possessions, being generous with our attention with our time, our talents, abilities, and resources to support others and to support the earth we walk on. And attending sitting itself just coming to a sitting at the center or orange Zoom is a form of spiritual aid. We all experience our practice being strengthened by sitting with others. Ninth, I resolve not to indulge in anger, but to practice forbearance to restrain ourselves from unhealthy expressions of Anger is what this precept is about. I say unhealthy because anger is actually a normal, natural human emotion. There are constructive and unconstructive ways of communicating anger. If we hold on to it, we can see it as a form of lying, of not being honest and authentic. And if we hold on to it, it can lead to passive aggression, which is, can be really corrosive to our relationships with others. And fortunately, through practice, we have this opportunity to work on noticing what's going on in our mind, in our emotions or thoughts, bodily tension as well. And to strive to express anger in a constructive way, simply saying, you know, I'm feeling angry, because fill in the blank, rather than holding on to it until the kettle boils over.
And when we share our anger in this way, go right into the anger, don't dodge it. We ended up becoming closer to people, we end up going beyond conflict. And then the 10th precept I resolve not to revile the three treasures, but to cherish and uphold them. And put simply, we're resolving to respect the Buddha nature in each one of us, and do our part in embodying the Dharma, and nourishing the Sangha. Again, and again and again.
So this, I'm afraid, barely scratches the surface, of how the precepts matter, in our day to day lives. When it comes to morality, there are so many areas of ambiguity that we encounter. But through ongoing practice, we do develop new insights, and how how to integrate them into our lives. The the most important takeaway is to recognize that the precepts support our sitting practice, and our sitting practice supports our precepts work. They're one in the same. And it's through practicing through sitting faithfully. That we come to see life as one whole. And it's out of that direct experience that we can can naturally naturally we want to live in harmony with beings with all beings and things as they are, and to refrain from causing harm just arises out of doings Zen both on and off the mat, bringing it into the world.
As Zen master Erdogan wrote, when we do Zen, what precept is not observed? What merit is not actualized.
When we do Zen, what precept is not observed, what merit is not actualized.