Here’s another jewel of a quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma. It’s been sitting in my inbox for a few days, and I have not been able to bring myself to delete it. Must mean I need to share it!
It’s a pretty good description of Buddhism’s precepts:
To be sure, as humans with a short life span, we cannot know the long-term results of our actions. But recognizing that what we say and do can have repercussions for months, years, or eons, and that we cannot know the “final” outcome of something we think, do or say, Buddhism, like all other major religions, has developed a set of precepts. The precepts have been compared to dikes in a rice field. They hold back and channel the rushing water of our passions so that our life is not flooded, so that smaller and more helpless creatures are not harmed and the harvest of our life’s efforts is not ruined. These precepts prohibit those actions that have a bad outcome and cause harm to ourselves or others almost all of the time.
– Jan Chozen Bays, “What the Buddha Said About Sexual Harassment”
I started taking a class on the precepts at Appamada Zen Center last year and was unable to complete the training due to family needs, but the precepts have stayed with me.
You can read what the late Robert Aitken Roshi said about them here.
I find that just being acquainted with the precepts begets self-inquiry and informs my decisions. A small example: last year I bought a fake leather jacket. I could have afforded a real leather jacket, but I thought about my relationship to the animals whose skins are used for leather and decided that if my purchase of a leather jacket encouraged people to slaughter animals for the economic value of their pelts, I could not feel any joy about buying leather products, and I probably won’t in the future.
Now I don’t really know that this jacket isn’t made of some petroleum-based product that involved some other method of harm to manufacture. It probably is. And I am not consistent about this — I own and wear leather shoes and boots and will continue to do so. I appreciate fine things, and sometimes they are made with leather.
But now I bring this precept into consideration when I make my own decisions, whereas I used to never think about it.
I cannot judge others’ decisions either. We all have our own paths in life. Serenity prayer: I change what I can, and usually that means me.
Having some familiarity with the precepts and examining my ethical beliefs and behaviors adds mindfulness to my life, deepens and enriches it, even as they call on me not to take the easy way out.