It isn't often that I actually post about the Buddhist side of things on what is purportedly a Buddhist blog. I feel there's more to the doing of the Buddhist bits than the telling of it, and the doing doesn't go so well at times. Nobody wants to hear about how I suck at zazen or can't explain this fantastic insight I had the other day, so typically I leave such things to my own life. Unless I get really frustrated, then I vent.
It is tough to be Buddhist. Why? Because most people who come to it from a Western background are looking for a replacement for their religion or the thing that answers those questions that whatever they formerly believed in no longer does. We want a church that isn't a church because we didn't like the message there. But when we're handed the 8 precepts and told to go drink tea we stare at what we're holding and sometimes don't comprehend that truly it is that simple.
I will cop to the fact that right now, in this very instant, if someone pulled a gun on me and told me to recite the 8 precepts or die, I would die. I know some of them. No drinking. No dancing. Abstain from sexual behaviours -some take this to mean don't have sex, others take this to mean don't be a nympho, and others take this to mean that you shouldn't do the kinky shit or get fixated on it- and do not harm another living thing. My stint in to vegetarianism, which was enjoyed but short-lived, was a nod to this.
To add to the confusion, for some there are only FIVE precepts. Several people just don't include the one about not dancing, because it doesn't really pertain to a modern life.
Some people take these to be like the 10 commandments, which if you line them up, are eerily similar. In fact, let's compare.
The 8 precepts (I can cheat off this later if the gunman shows up):
~I will abstain from being harmful to living beings
~I will abstain from stealing.
~I will abstain from all sexual practices. (some translations say "sexual misconduct")
A note is included here on the page that I am pulling these from that states "Beware: "When we only deal with the five precepts, the 3rd thus becomes:
I will abstain from all inconvenient sexual practices
That is to say: I will not commit adultery, I will not indulge into any illegal sexual relationship, neither through prostitution, etc." (and this fits in more with the Western take on things)
~I will abstain from uttering lies.
~I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. (You can't tell me Richard Gere doesn't have wine every now and then)
~I will abstain from eating after noon time. (This is also ignored by the Western world, although not a bad idea, really, for those attempting to get control of their weight or blood sugar levels. There is more explanation of it on the Dhammadana site
~I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments. (This is a necessary part of existance for women dressing in a work environment, at least for the jewelry and ornaments. Music, songs, wearing flowers? All horrible distractions. Yet I love music above most things. Does this make me horrid??)
~I will refrain from lining or seating on high and luxurious places. (This is actually a cultural precept, in that gods and "saints" were placed on daises above others to show their importance. Sitting on a high seat might accidentally place you above them, and be misinterpreted as thinking highly of one's self - among other interpretations.)
The list is actually rather familiar to most. Don't lie. Don't steal. Dont' cheat. Don't speak ill of another person... there are several different interpretations of this, as many of these as there are versions of the Bible. When you're dealing with teachings that went through 4 other languages first before being translated in to English, and being of an esoteric and not necessarily directly translatable idea, there opens the door to confusion.
These things aside, how different are they from the 10 commandments? Well...
First off, we once again run in to the issue of which 10 commandments to address. Wikipedia, that fine and beloved storehouse for the common knowledge of the world, lists no less than three different interpretations of the 10 commandments based on which religious text is referenced.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: (I could actually name all of these from memory, amusingly)
~Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
~Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.
~Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
~Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
~Honour thy father and thy mother.
~Thou shalt not kill. (we have a match!)
~Neither shalt thou commit adultery. (and again, whether you take with the 5 or 8 precepts)
~Neither shalt thou steal. (And again!)
~Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. (We're on a roll!)
~Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidsevant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's. (and once again, this ties in to stealing, as well as to hurting another living thing. If you covet something, you're doing harm to yourself in the wasted energy, and potential harm to the thing you are coveting by being obessed by it. It all ties in.)
So the first 5 are more concerned with setting up ways in which you would honor and obey Jehovah, Or YHWH as they would've called him. But following this setup, we begin to see the basis of almost every moral code I've come across, which is "be excellent to each other."
Crazy 90's movie quotes aside, it's very true. The Golden Rule is at the base of this... do unto others as you'd have done unto you. Nobody likes being stolen from or lied about.
Let's take this one step further, though, and tread back in to the territory of Buddha.
The Golden rule immediately invokes something that is touted as being the way to enlightenment; compassion and empathy. We all know what it was like to be deceived. We've all lost something or had it stolen. The Golden Rule invites us to stop and put the world of another in the perspective of our own existence, then turn outwards to another in order to understand them. Having empathy for another is the beginning of treating everyone well. We see this in the 10 Commandments and the 8 Precepts as well, since nobody really wants their ass coveted.
So we have these rules, and we have variations on these rules, be it cultural, interpretative, or "updating" them for modern times. Isn't it fantastic to have a guidebook to tell you where to go and what to do?
Perhaps, but if you're Buddhist, then you would actually do better to toss all of these aside. Why? Because these are stones to cling to as you walk your path, and in the slavish carrying of them they actually deter your growth. You can abstain from sex until the cows come home and never touch a drop of alcohol or a sniff of cocaine, and even so you will never know what enlightenment is about.
Here's the sketchy part, because I'm not going to pretend that I'm enlightened. This is actually just me being loud and tossing my opinion about, and it needs to be taken for what it is - that of a layperson without a lot of formal study in the matter. You have been warned.
First and foremost, I still think I actually exist as a being and a person, and that who I am is static. As much as I've tried to work my way out of this, I'm pretty sure in my mind that I exist as a preconceived set of "Helenisms". That very idea keeps me from enlightenment, though I've tried to get around it.
Going along with this sticky bit is looking for rules to help you out. Just following them because they're there without questioning if they are indeed right for you is tantamount to deciding that you exist and everything around you is static. It's a totally alien concept for those of us borne out of a non-mystical tradition where science showed us we have DNA that tells us what we'll look like and even how we'll act. There's barely room in our "knowledge" for anything else. It isn't even something so deep as Fate, it's biology. We all agree we will be a certain way some day and head for it because we've been taught that's what we do. We need to be somebody, though that somebody is an amalgamation of expectations that were taught or learned or sold to us. We follow rules handed to us because we want the guidelines.
I'm actually going to split this up in to 3 parts so people don't go blind reading. Here ends Part One.