Tag Archives: Buddhist Precepts

The Golden Rule In Buddhism

By: Rev. David Shi Shen-Xi

The Buddhist precepts have over the years taken on a force of their own, it seems, as Western teachers work to creatively re-describe them in terms that their Western students can relate to. What makes the precepts a bit confusing perhaps is that the various Buddhist schools and traditions have different terminology for them that has been driven by past cultural expectations as Buddhism moved East out of India. A valid question may be, “Why are the precepts identified differently depending on what Buddhist books I read?” This is a fair question, and one that confused me many years ago too. The Buddhist precepts are moral and ethical guidelines and as such have evolved through the ages based on the realities of their day. Originally, they were developed by Siddhartha in order to foster harmony within those that lived together in the Sangha of his followers. In the beginning no precepts were needed, but as time went on the Buddha found it necessary to confront the inequities of human behavior and addressed disharmony by setting some “rules” for personal conduct. For this reason it is not surprising that the Ten Grave Precepts sound a lot like the Ten Commandments. In fact, you can find similarities in the precepts to the Golden Rule which is really the basis of the Buddhist Three Pure Precepts, when you think about it. Consider it like a ruler for drawing a straight line where this line is a path that helps prevent us from getting lost along the way of our practice. Precepts are not goals, but are realities that emerge from the Four Noble Truths. The precepts are like a mirror when held up to a mature practice reflects back these truths. They are something we undertake, not something we are given.

The Ten Grave Precepts are, in a way, another example of a Buddhist paradox. They can be viewed both as a negative and a positive. In fact, in older descriptions of the precepts they reflect what we should NOT DO. But as Western teachers engage them from a contemporary and pragmatic perspective, they are articulated in positive and useful language. In fact, we might consider them as seeds, that have been planted in the enriched soil of the Western culture that are producing a bumper crop of new plants that are better recognizable as something we can consume for nourishing the human spirit. Continue reading

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The Buddhist Precepts Drives Stability In Practice

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.

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Zen Priest: A Father’s Birth

We are pleased to post this series of articles written by our Sub-Prior, Shi Yao-Xin, on his experience of becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest perspective. Not all Zen monks are celibate either in the East or the West. This series is originally being published on the “Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun” website. The link is http://zatma.org/new-wp/?p=374. We are pleased to acknowledge their permission to use it on ours. Yao-Xin shares with us his memories, guts, and imagination as he learns what it means to balance the responsibilities of becoming a father with those of a Zen Priest.

A Father’s Birth

Part One : Grand-daddy owns a “Taverna” By: Shi Yao-Xin

The title may seem pedantic, and the subtitle a bit over-reaching; but my series will give you, I hope, a Zen look at giving birth and facing death in a very short life. Maybe these are just my views on “being and non-being” as seen through the astonishing image of giving birth from the “nothing important” act of just having sex.

It won’t be anything earth-shaking. I’ll try to present a series of small articles on moments shared with my wife and first boy.

This introduction will be a small episode in itself. It was inspired by an event I had in the Greek island of Crete in July 2014 when my wife was seven and a half months pregnant.

She puts more wood on the fire, and he serves me another glass of his home-made wine. “Kallo Krassi” (“the wine is good,” one the few things I know in Greek), I answered. Our hosts were the humble owners of a beautiful “Taverna,” a typical kind of cafe in the Cretan village of Rustika.

My wife and I chose the place for two reasons, first, it was recommended, second, it was the only one we could find. We were told the villages in the area were not that beautiful, but that the mountains were charming and very accessible. It looked fine to us. We didn’t want to spend our holiday in this part of the Mediterranean lying on beaches or sitting in night clubs.

No, we wanted to go high in the hills and visit monasteries and holy places. The atmosphere of Orthodox Easter coming a few days later was in the air, and in this very religious, spiritual region, we were absorbed into the atmosphere. Although it was late in her pregnancy, my wife was full of energy and looked forward to driving through the mountains to stop at holy places in our tiny rented car that seemed easily able to drive us anywhere. But this was, after all, our first baby, and despite the energy and the enthusiasm we felt visiting mountainous holy places, we both felt an increasing anxiety about the coming birth. Especially me. It’s scary when you know how many things can go wrong.

When we first entered the Taverna, a bearded old man was setting a fire in a big fireplace and his wife was cleaning tables. As the sun was setting, the place had a reddish and gold glow that made it feel cozy and friendly… and it was quite empty. We sat down and quickly understood that there was no menu and that couple’s English language skills were limited. But their words were said with simple and open smiling faces and we had no problems communicating. Continue reading

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The Social-Self: Ethics Without A Creed

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

When we speak about the Buddhist principle of non-self (anatman) we attempt to envision the notion of a self as expressing Universal realities without making the distinction that we are independent of all other Universal expressions.  Never an easy exercise.  One example of this would be that our human expression is only different from other animals simply by the complexity of our behavior — not just behavior, but our ability to reason.  Our ability to learn, gain knowledge that promotes wisdom, and thus act with reasoned intent, is what advanced human specie development.   In general, most individuals work to understand knowing something by penetrating what lies behind the appearance of things.  This approach is good enough most of the time perhaps, but considering how our mutual causal Universe expresses itself, we need to work hard to find the change that is presented in each moment’s situation in order to awaken to truthful-realities that consistently challenge the view we have of the world around us as having some kind of permanence.  Our quest for “truth” can never be fully realized when we ignore that change is always a factor in everything we encounter, so “truths” are only momentary, and a state of permanence is only an illusionary concept.

This brings to my mind several questions.  Is our knowledge of things sufficient to understand how they really are?  Is the language we use to describe how we are interconnected to things capable of fulfilling our needs as realistic as how they actually can?  Is our Buddhist practice, as manifest in our intentional actions, able to help us realize a better future for ourselves and others?   Is there such a thing as unconditional obligations in a Buddhist practice?   When considering ethics pragmatically, I have great doubt about the suggestion that anything is unconditional as the driving force of self-interest is a natural aspect of the human condition.  When we introduce the element of social relationships weighted against the distinction between routine and non-routine civil behavior as judged by cultural norms, we encounter possible inhibitors when we act from a feeling of what is natural to “us”,  but interpreted as unrealistic to others, even when we are both using the same set of ethical expectations.  These inhibitors come into play when our personal needs begin to clash with those of others.

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