By: David Xi-Ken Shi
We can look at the precepts in simple terms, their meaning can be considered broadly as encompassing the skills in positive communication that promotes social harmony, ethical and moral behavior that promotes human flourishing, respect for social justice that promotes how we awaken to our responsibility to cultural expectations that helps us to understand our “connectiveness” to all things, the importance for displaying civilized manners, and the critical characteristic that values stability in body-mind engagement in the world round us.
The whole meaning of these precepts are summed up in the Three Pure Precepts which, along with the 10 grave precepts, are undertaken to live a life of honor, duty and dedication that has the potential for us to awaken to the significant of our universal expressions. Living a life guided by these expectations will deliver us from the uncertainties and cares that are relevant to a life of suffering that are expressed in the Four Noble Truths. They demand no less than complete self-transformation. They embrace the whole life of those that have vowed to have them reflected in their actions, and are undertaken with a singular completeness.
One of the most significant of these vows is the vow of stability. This is the underlying meaning of the precept that honors the Three Jewels. Stability is the underpinnings of all that we undertake in a Buddhist practice. Stability is the richest ingredient in intentional thoughts and actions. Without a stable practice it is impossible to create a worldview by which we live and thrive. It is important too because of the limitations inherent in how and what we learn as we engage Buddhist thought, how we interact within our communities, and the vary nature of how a 21st century demands unnecessary emphasis on perfection. To bring stability into our practice implies a deep act of trust and the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with, provided we can devote ourselves to a contemplative life, enjoying a certain amount of silence, solitude, work that involves more then mental activity alone, respect for life-long-learning, and above all learning how to express compassion that is not just about emotional reaction to what is sad or unjust. A Buddhist practice that is void of social engagement does not challenge us to live a life under the guidance of the precepts. An exception to this many be a decision to live a life of a hermit perhaps.
Stability becomes difficult for a man whose “practice ideal” contains predominant notions of the extraordinary. You see, all of us as human expressions are just ordinary beings. Our ordinariness is one of our greatest blessings. The exterior monotony of regular everyday life activities often prevents us from exploring the richness of our interior contemplative potential. So we are challenged to build both an exterior personality and internal enrichment under the influence of our understanding of the precepts we vow to uphold, in order to achieve our awakened to how we are when we strip away extraordinary and unnecessary dispositions.
But for me, the vow of stability has been the belly of the whale, like a Jonas. I have always felt a great attraction to the life of solitude, which is in direct challenge with the importance of a social-self as an agent for change . It is an attraction I shall probably never entirely lose as I live a Buddhist practice as defined by my monastic vows. You might find too that your previous notions of what the spiritual means can not be completely irrelevant in how you approach your Buddhist practice driven by perceptual vows as you bring them into your developing new worldview. All this could move us toward our reality like being in the belly of a paradox. Our Buddhist practice, if it is to be a serious, stable and devoted one, will constantly reveal to us that it is also a life full of paradox. Our challenge in understanding and refining the language of the precepts we vow to undertake, must give recognition to that vary fact. You may not understand what I am talking about now, but as you gain experience as to what living by vows means, you will. Another awakened reality.