2022-11-13-JP: The Precepts, Part 1: The Three Poisons, Repentance, The Three Refuges, and The Three Pure Precepts
3:20PM Nov 16, 2022
Today is Sunday, November 13 2022, and in just 13 days, we'll be back here in the zendo. In the Zendo, or will be in the Buddha Hall. For Jukai for Jukai be in the Buddha Hall will be in the Buddha Hall for the Jukai ceremony that we have every fall on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And so I wanted today to, to have a chance to talk a little bit about Jukai, I'm going to talk about some elements of it, no way I can get through the whole thing. And there is a teisho another teisho on Saturday morning, where I'll have a chance to look into the 10 Cardinal precepts. But for today, I'm going to be talking about the earlier elements of the ceremony.
Just a little bit about Jukai itself. It's it's our Word for taking the precepts. They're kind of analogous to the moral commandments in Christianity. Best way to think of them is as a description of how we would be how we would behave, if we were fully enlightened, and living in that understanding. So they're, they're aspirational. It's what we aim for. And we'll talk about that some more. Traditionally, a in in Buddhism, taking the precepts means that you've entered the Buddha way. If you want to call yourself something, if you want to call yourself a Buddhist, well, if you do the ceremony, then you can don't give you an official label or anything. But it is it is, I remember the first time we ever did Jukai here at the center, long ago in the dark ages, Giants roamed the earth. And it was, for me doing it the first time it was it was really a powerful experience. I just felt washed clean. There's something about laying it out and saying, This is what I intend. This is my my highest aspiration, that the change is us. changes us but we're still we're still the same person. It's kind of mysterious. Here at the center, we treat this all a little differently than many other centers do. At some centers taking Jukai also means taking the Buddha's name and receiving a Rock Sioux, we've we've always kept it a little more straightforward and simpler. And so basically anyone there's no preparatory period, or any study that you need to do, anybody can come to Jukai you don't have to be a member of the center. I remember Roshi saying once somebody could be walking down Arnold Park, and if they found out and wanted to come, they could. So Invite your family and friends. And there's a lot of there's a lot of benefit to taking Jukai again and again over the years and of course many of us have done exactly that. So the ceremony itself, it's not terribly long. We'll start around 5pm on on that Saturday, two weeks from yesterday. And there is some chanting at the at the beginning. And then the ceremony itself consists of repentance recitation, the repentance gotta and then it's followed by 16 precepts, there are the three refuges or the three treasures. And then the three pure precepts are three general. What the other word for them is. Three Pure precepts anyway. Yeah, the three resolutions and then the 10 Cardinal precepts which we won't be able to get into today.
The precepts are part of one of the three foundations of Buddhist practice. They're in Sanskrit. It's Sheila, Deanna and prajna. Sheila means morality or upright conduct. It corresponds, I believe, to the first three of the steps of the eightfold path, which I'm not going to recite now. But the way I like to think about morality, or Sheila is something I got in a meeting a long time ago, someone brought up the topic of honesty, telling the truth, and some scruffy guy sitting, not too far from me, who I didn't have a really good impression of piped up. And he said, something that stuck with me since then, he says, I'm honest, because I like to travel light. The true of all these precepts, when we really are making a genuine effort to live up to them, things lightened for us. That's one of the reasons why morality is so important is one of the three main supports foundations of practice, it's because when we know we're doing our best, then it's easier for us to sink into our practice to sink into Zen. We don't have that sort of shakiness that, covering things up that in authenticity, that can make it hard to actually let go and sink into whatever it is that we're doing on the mat. Bowden Roshi is fond of explaining the precepts as simply a way of doing as little harm as possible. As we go through life. Anyone who's self reflective, has seen more than once, that we do a lot of harm, we hurt others through our our self partiality, our separation. The more we can live up to these precepts, the less harm we're likely to do.
I'm a little uncomfortable, just saying morality, because that has such a Western tone to it, my Christian tone. Another way to put it is awareness of cause and effect. In Buddhism, usually we don't say that's, that's evil, or that's degenerate. Say that's unskillful. When you act in this way, bad things happen to others into yourself.
And beyond just not doing harm, it's our aspiration to be of service to others. To live up to the four vows. Live liberate all sentient beings. There's a concept people have probably heard of most people called bodhichitta. It's the wakening of the aspiration to awaken for the sake of all beings. The essence of the bodhisattva vow
it comes out of this insight that we're all in this together. The more clear sighted we are the more we see our own shortcomings. The more we realize we're all in the boat together.
And we draw power, we draw strength from our vow To dedicate ourselves to making things better.
So we all have good intentions, I think pretty much everyone in this room, everyone listening online. What is it that gets in the way? Well, there's a formulation for that in Buddhism, it's called the three poisons, greed, hatred, and ignorance are sometimes called delusion. If you ever see a painting, or a hanging of the wheel of life, the sort of Buddhist cosmology that divides all existence up into this six different realms, we're living in one of them, which is the human realm. At the center of those drawings, there's a circle, with a rooster, a snake, and a pig. And they're all biting each other in sort of a circle. And the rooster represents greed, the snake hatred or aversion, and the pig ignorance. I always thought the pig represented greed. But I guess the the Oriental meanings are a little different, I think the most, the deviling of the three poisons is ignorance. Because it's because we're ignorant of our true self. Because we don't actually know who or what we are. It's because of that, that we live in this world of separation. We see ourselves as here and the rest of the world outside us. And we spend our lives trying to manipulate what's outside of us. So that things don't go too bad for us. That that basic ignorance, not understanding that it's all one we're all in it together. It's what allows us to, to succumb to greed, and succumb to anger.
We have to recognize we have to face up to the overwhelming power of habit in our life, and only the habits of our actions, but the habits of our thinking, the habits of the way we instinctively see things. Even someone who's had some sort of awakening experience, still going to fall back into self another, still gonna see things outside. Long, long, long journey to see things as a Buddha would see them.
One of the wonderful things about Zen is we get to see the workings of the mind. We're just looking, no agenda, just the koan, just the breath, all of our manipulation and selfishness is there it's visible. It's not buried, comes to the surface, sometimes in painful ways. And as we uncover more and more, things lighten. It's not a quick process. To throw out a slogan from a slow growth is good growth.
The antidote to being controlled by our habits. Is other habits really, the most important one is the habit of awareness. There's something wonderful about just noticing, going through life aware of what's going on in the body. Noticing when you're wincing a little bit. Noticing when you're impatient, noticing when anger starts to rise. noticing what you do that makes you happy. And what is it you do that makes you miserable
seeing other people, not skipping over anything, that habit of awareness, everything slows down. All the sudden, what was a struggle? Constantly being interrupted and frustrated, becomes more like a banquet. Life is so rich, so fortunate to be here found this practice
we have to be okay with where we're at. To see where we're at, we have to notice what's going on. We have to be okay with it. That's the way it is. Right now it's like this. Notice without wallowing in guilt. Guilt means solidifying our sense of a separate self, instead of simply regretting the action, feeling remorse for the effects of what we've done, or what we've said. We're now thinking about ourselves as a thing. And labeling I am on time just worthless, I'm a hopeless or maybe worse, it's not my fault.
Remorse is actually a purifying emotion. It comes with it comes the the desire to put things right.
But labeling labeling ourselves good or bad, not so helpful, not so skillful. Want to touch on one aspect of committing oneself to right action. And that is the danger of what we could call spiritual inflation. Everybody is sort of programmed to be aware of our own good intentions, we know we're trying. And we also notice the failings of others. And we don't always see that they're trying. People generally think they're better than others. On the whole, if you if you ask Americans, you know, for instance, do you think you're a better driver than average, vast majority of Americans are better drivers than average. It's when you see somebody do something wrong. You always attribute it to bad motives. It's like, you know, how could they do that? You know, just what would callousness what disrespect. But when we ourselves do the exact same action, we know, oh, I screwed up. Didn't mean to do that. Forgive me and give me another chance. But we don't give other people another chance. It's the danger of a rigid moral compass, is that we can begin to sort of unload on others. So one antidote to that, are the teachings of Anthony de Mello. For people who haven't heard me give a talk, it's, it's not unusual for me to bring him into the mix. Just because it's just just because I like it. So I'm just going to read a little section here. It's talking about this whole issue of selfishness. He says, I made the point that everything we do is tainted with selfishness. That isn't 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. So even if you're enlightened, it's still self interest. How does that make you feel about all your charity, and all those good deeds? What happens to those? Here's a little exercise for you. Think of all the good deeds you've done or have 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. I'm very familiar with the habit of patting oneself on the back. Actually, sometimes Errol does it for me when I get going. What happens to that it gets flattened out, doesn't it? What happens to 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. And of course, Anthony de Mello is a Jesuit priest. So he's pretty familiar with Jesus, Jesus Christ seems to have had less trouble with the other type than with your type, much less trouble. 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 were openly selfish and knew it. Can you see how liberating that is? Hey, 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 the world? Isn't it wonderful? Are you disappointed? Look what we've brought to light. What happens to your vanity, you'd like to give yourself a good feeling that you're better than others. But look how we brought a fallacy to light
goes on and just a little more a little further on. He says what does this do to your relationship with people? What are you complaining about? A young man came to complain that his girlfriend let him down. That she played false. What are you complaining about? Did you expect any better? expect the worst. You're dealing with selfish people. You're the idiot. You glorified her, didn't you? You thought she was a princess. You thought people were nice. They're not. They're not nice. There's they're as bad as you are. Bad you understand? They're asleep like you. And what do you think they're going to seek their own self interest? Exactly. Like you know, difference? Can you imagine how liberating it is that you'll never be disillusioned again. Never be disappointed again. You'll never feel that down. Again, never feel rejected. Want to wake up. You want happiness, you want freedom? Here it is. Drop your false ideas. See through people. If you see through yourself, you will see through everyone, then you will love them. Otherwise, you spend the whole time grappling with your wrong notions of them with your illusions that are constantly crashing against reality.
Think of how many times I've gone into a little thought train about the shortcomings of Donald Trump. Everybody just is what they are. Everybody there's a story behind every person we disapprove of. There's a saying everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. When we see that, and then we're then we're one with other people, then we can be in the mix. And we're not you know, many people want to become some sort of spiritual hero so we can come down and save others. It's not like that.
Somewhere the great Zen master Joe Chu, Chinese named Joe Joe said that when he was young, he wanted to become enlightened in order to help others said now I find I'm merely a fool.
When we really do good, it's done through us. It's not intentional. It's not planned
but hopefully, we can walk this path without getting puffed up too much. So so much. So many times you see the irritability, the rigidity, the lack of empathy, in people who are self consciously virtuous, really feeling the virtue is very similar to a feeling of power. All sorts of studies have been done that show that people who feel more powerful are less aware of other people's emotions. Let's consider it of other people's emotions. I've talked before about the the experiment that was done. People standing at a crosswalk and watching which kind of cars would stop for people going across. And the basic rule of thumb was the more expensive the car, the less likely they're going to stop. And somebody questioned that and said, Well, yeah, but I bet people in a Prius would stop. And the experimenters that will actually, they were the worst. So they've got money, and they're virtuous, bad combination. Self consciously virtuous. The real way forward is openness, openness, non separation, abiding nowhere. Nothing to defend. No one to impress. Seeing what needs to be done and doing it, noticing and responding. Is Roshi. So fun to say. But people don't like seeing their own shortcomings. It feels like bad news. But really we're seeing what's already been there
since I've tried it out Anthony de Mello, I think I'll try it out just a short paragraph from JOCO, back. Zen teacher from San Diego dead now but she says people often say to me Joko, why do you make practice so hard? Why don't you hold out any cookies at all. But from the point of view of the small self practice can only be hard practice annihilates the small self and the small self isn't interested in that one bit. It can't be expected to greet this annihilation with joy. So there is no cookie that can be held out for the small self unless we want to be dishonest. There is another side to practice however, as our small self dies are angry, demanding complaining maneuvering manipulative self, a real cookie appears joy and genuine self confidence, we begin to taste what it feels like to care about someone else without expecting anything in return. And this is true compassion. How much we have it depends on the rate at which the small self dies as it dies, here and there we have moments when we see what life is sometimes we can act spontaneously and serve others. With this growth always comes repentance when we realize that we have almost constantly hurt ourselves and others we repent and this repentance is itself pure joy
so feeling of confidence, it's not the confidence of the self struggling against the world. It's the confidence of flowing into the right stream knowing that we're going in the right direction willing to take the journey so I'm going to move now into the ceremony itself. Take a look at some of the pieces. So the structure is that we begin with a repentance ceremony. And then not not a full ceremony but we take we recite the repentance gotta 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 go through that three times, I think three times Three. And it really is a perfect way to start the ceremony of Jukai. Washing the slate clean. From there we go into the three refuges, also called the three treasures. That's Buddha, Dharma and Sangha be talking about that. And then the three pure precepts which is I resolve to do no harm. Sometimes it's I resolve to avoid evil or I resolve to avoid harm. We sort of have gone made changes over the years. And I think recently, we've settled on a resolve to do no harm. Does that sound right to you guys? Yes. Thumbs up from Donna Sensei.
I resolved to do good, that's the second and I resolved to liberate all sentient beings. And then we go into the 10 Cardinal precepts, we do those only once. And then that's it. We're all members of the Buddha's family. Let's go back.
And talk a little bit first about repentance, we have to see what we have to repent of. We used to do a number of we haven't done so many at the center, but we used to do a repentance ceremony fairly frequently. Now we do it as part of our New Year's celebrations. But it was interesting. judging others, seeing how many people really didn't have much they could think of to repent. And so sometimes you need to, to really, really look hard. And if you do, all of a sudden, you're gonna uncover quite a lot. It's like the like the chant we do before meals. defilements are many and exertions week. It's just the fact of life.
You have to notice, and we have to want to bring it into the open. You know, our normal or normal impulse is anything we do that's off the mark. Want to bury that quickly? Get that buried, so nobody digs it up. Don't show it. But practice is different. We want to see it. Almost welcome seeing it. And when we see it, and we feel genuine remorse, then we begin to change. Change in a way that we're not in charge of real change, organic change. Henry David Thoreau said, Make the most of your regrets. Never smother your sorrow but tanned and cherish it until it comes to have a separate and integral interest to regret deeply is to live a fresh it's it's it's really a program of ego attrition. To quote Anthony de Mello, one more time, I'm an ass, you're an ass. After the repentance ceremony, we go into the three refuges. And I want to read something from a guy I'd never heard of him before. I found this article from a publication called grassroots theology. It's something evidently something of the Unitarian Universalist Church and this guy is himself a psychotherapist, a student of Buddhist meditation, and a Unitarian Universalist minister. There are a lot of those around lately. Apparently, we're compatible. We in the US. I can't read the whole article, of course, so I'm just going to plunge in here.
He says he begins this way, the phrase taking refuge does not fit comfortably on the English speaking tongue. We don't use the phrase often. There was a study done he says hear of phrases most often used in Hollywood movies. The most common phrase is let's get out of here. He says Getting out of here is the opposite of taking refuge, getting out his escape. Taking refuge is going to a place of shelter, comfort, restoration. And even though we don't use the phrase much we do it in our action. For example, He says, on Friday evenings I often feel tired from the week. I'd like to spend time with my family but don't have much energy to put into it. So we go to the movies where I can relax from the strain of doing anything meaningful. It's comfortable and enjoyable. It is a refuge. You mentioned a few others including hostess snowballs. Apparently, they're a big thing for him as a kid, and he says we can take refuge in almost anything. Some people take refuge in their work, others in weekends or vacations. Some look for security and money and political beliefs. Some turned to religion, some to gardening, aerobics, or meditation. It's a natural human instinct. When we are tired, frightened, lonely or stressed. We look for something to give us relief.
He says I can take refuge in overeating. But my stuffed belly is really not comfortable. The low GI feeling in my mind isn't great. And the long term health effects are bad. He talks about taking refuge and anger and revenge. The question really isn't do I seek refuge we do it all the time. The question is, what do I seek refuge in? And there he brings up the three refuges in the Buddhist tradition says the first refuge is the Buddha. When I first heard about this some two decades ago, I thought, Oh, this sounds like a cult, but taking refuge in the Buddha. Actually we don't even say the Buddha we say I haven't take refuge in Buddha. We'll talk about that more. Taking refuge in the Buddha does not mean accepting Buddha as your Savior as a Southern Baptist might turn to Jesus. Shortly after his enlightenment Siddhartha Gautama who was known as the Buddha was walking down a road, a group of Yogi's saw him and were taken by the compassion and clarity he emanated. They could feel by his presence that he had accomplished something remarkable. They asked who are you? What has happened to you? He replied, I woke up using the Sanskrit word Buddha, or one who has awakened. So taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge in our own Buddha nature in our essential aliveness and clarity. What a Christian might call taking refuge in the Christ within you the opposite of Calvinism, Calvin saw humans as essentially depraved. He said, our only hope was intervention of external divine powers. Kelvin said we are all wretches, Siddhartha Gautama said, we are all Buddhas. We may not feel it, but we can rely on it, we can take refuge in it
it's taking refuge in our natural mind, the mind that hears and sees effortlessly some mind of no contrivance.
Taking refuge in the fact that from the very beginning, all beings are Buddha. Just as we chatted in our koans chanting praises Zen. But he asks, if we're already enlightened, Why meditate? Why work on ourselves? Can we just sit back and enjoy the ride? says if we knew our true nature through and through, we would just save her life but we don't really get it. And then he turns to an episode in Star Trek. This is the trifecta today, Anthony de Mello Joko Beck and Captain Kirk says the series featured Captain Kirk a human and his first officer Mr. Spock who was half human half Vulcan. Most people probably are familiar with this, but If not just bear with me. Vulcans always practice logic, cultivating their intellects and suppressing their emotions. And in this episode, Kirk and Spock get caught in an alien force field that makes a barrier around them. When they relax, the field grows weak and transparent. If they push against it gets stronger. If they throw themselves against it, it gets dense and powerful. Finally, they realize that their prison is only as strong as their efforts to escape it. If they know they are free, they can move out without effort. But if they have even a flicker of doubt, the force field will hold them prisoner. Kirk can't get out. He intellectually understands that they are free, but still desires to get away from the alien apparatus. He thinks he will be freer if he can get out of here. That hedging is enough to keep him trapped Spock, with his greater internal discipline. Harbor has no doubts about their freedom. Unlike Kirk e simply walks out. This is exactly our situation. We are free. We are enlightened. We have Buddha nature. God dwells within us however you want to put it. Of course, the only place that can be experienced is in this moment. This moment is the only place we can experience anything. But when we think about Buddha nature, we think about the future we think will be freer, happier, more peaceful in a future moment, after doing some more spiritual growth. We're trying to get out of here. He says it's a ghastly, wonderful paradox. Knowing we're free is not enough. We have to experience it. This is not a word trick. It's how life works. Before we can feel liberated, we have to feel liberated. In order to be free, we have to know we're already free. But since we're we equivocate, we need help. And that takes them into I take refuge in Dharma.
Taking refuge in Dharma means taking refuge in the truth of how things are.
We may not always see clearly, we may not know the truth, but we can take refuge in knowing that whatever the truth is, it will serve our highest best interest to kind of reverse paranoia. The universe is not out to get us but out to support us. Of course, going back to Joe go back from the standpoint of the small self, the universe is pretty threatening. But in terms of our spiritual growth, in terms of our health, or in terms of our aspiration, the universe is exactly what we need. He says Buddhists don't see truth as something obscure are hidden, like a relic buried in the wilderness waiting for us to dig it out. Truth is out in the open before us all the time. Buddha said Our problem is ignorance. In his language, the word does not have the negative connotations. English gives it the root word, the root word is ignore. The truth is before our eyes and we ignore it. Or we could just say we don't see it.
Taking refuge in the Dharma implies a commitment to being as mindful as we can, being humble enough to keep looking with fresh eyes. Coming back and again, again and again to our our beginner's mind. Realizing that we don't know that mind of not knowing, sense of wonder. Faith that what we're looking for is here. When you're truly convinced, it's here it's right in front of me. Mind opens, see more. than then it makes sense to take refuge in Dharma. Because Dharma can also mean the Buddhist teachings but really, it's not a set of beliefs. As he says, it's not a Contract with America. It's not a new age metaphysic. It's not the same as the way a good Catholic accepts the teachings of the Holy Church. He says here, when asked how he achieved enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama said, This is what I did. But if it doesn't help you with your problem, you have to see it for yourself. He cautioned against accepting anybody's beliefs, including his beliefs are pale and feeble, compared to seeing you can believe the grass is green. But once you see the grass, the belief has no more use, you know.
Says later on, sometimes a therapy client will tell me, I don't want to look at those feelings, let's not go there. If he or she is deeply committed to growth, I say what you want is not relevant. The only important thing is what is true.
Finally, we have taking refuge in Sangha literally means the monastic community, a gathering of monks. But Lu more loosely translated, we could say, those who are working consciously on their spirituality, whether they're Buddhist or not, anybody who's on the journey of self completion, is part of the Sangha. And you can even expand it beyond that, I think, really anybody is part of the Sangha because everyone, whether they know it or not, whether it's conscious or not, is on this journey. But in some ways, Sangha is kind of richer when we realize that we have this, we can benefit so much from Association from being shoulder to shoulder with other people who are doing what we're doing.
We're social creatures. were affected, we're so affected by the people we hang out with. Remember learning at some point that a bigger influence on children than their parents is their peers. Finding the right companions, so important in life, and in spiritual practice. There's a story of the Buddha and a Nanda. Nanda was his attendant lifelong attendant, and says On one occasion, the Venerable Ananda came to the Buddha and said that in his view, half the spiritual life revolves around spiritual friendship. The Buddha immediately corrected him and said, Do not say this and Nanda did not say this Ananda. spiritual friendship is not half the spiritual life. It is the entire spiritual life.
So Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
As is my want, I see I'm using up my time.
But I want to also cover the three pure precepts or the three resolutions. So to go over them again, I resolved to do no harm. I resolved to do good. And I resolved to liberate all sentient beings. How do we do no harm
we need to see the truth. We need not to be deceived by the habit of separation.
And then it's just a question of course correction. doing the best we can.
For repentance and remorse, and atonement. When we do the repentance ceremony, we ask people not only to make a statement of whatever they repent of, but Also their intention not to do that action or how do they hope to remediate what they've done? Notice and respond. Second is a resolve to do good. Pretty simple. I resolved the third I resolved to liberate all sentient beings do it for doing it for the sake of others. These three pure precepts are really sort of an editing of something in the Dhammapada.
To avoid evil to do good to hell help others it's pretty simple. A lot of people probably find this a little pedestrian. There's a story. Some of you may have heard this before. So sub master in China, ancient China. Master Chan mastered Tao Lin, and he was well known because he would sit in a tree is known as the bird's nest master. And the story goes one day the literary giant, because a great poet by Zhu by Zhu Yi paid a visit to Chan master Dabolim. He saw the Chan master sitting upright in a magpies nest. He said, John master, living in a tree is too dangerous. The master replied magistrate, it is your situation that is extremely dangerous. By Zhu Yi heard this, and taking exception said, I'm an important official in this imperial court. What danger is there? And the master said, the torches handed from one to another, people follow their own inclinations without and how can you say it's not dangerous? The meaning there is that in officialdom, there are rises and falls and people are scheming against one another. Dangerous right before your eyes, and by Zhu Yi seemed to have come to some understanding, changing the subject he then asked, what is the essential teaching of the Dharma? And the master replied, commit no evil, do good deeds. Hearing this by DJI thought the Chan ma Chan Master would instruct him with some profound concept that they were just ordinary words. Feeling very disappointed. He said. Even a three year old child knows this concept. And the master said, although a three year old child can say it, an 80 year old man cannot do it.
It's what our practice is. Zen master Dobyns said it's a practice of continual failure
try and fail. try and fail. Try harder. fail better.
Okay, our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows