Let us continue -
So do I completely deny the need for the precepts? Nope, not at all. I deny the need to blindly follow them. Let's take a look at them again:
~I will abstain from being harmful to living things.
This is an interesting one. Some traditions believe that we are reincarnated over and over again until we reach enlightenment, and therefore by eating or striking or killing another living thing, you might be hurting soemthing that was human in another life.
Another take on this, and one that fits a bit more in my own cosmology, is that since we do not exist as a "self", we are part of everything. In killing another thing needlessly, in hurting someones else, you are doing damage to the greater body of your being. Modern physics bares out that molecules have been recycled so many times, that each of us contains part of something that belonged to something else at some point. Part of us was a fern, or a T-Rex, or the great Devonian oceans crawling with trilobites. We have been all of these things on a molecular level. In damaging what you see in front of you in the here and now, you're not only damaging the greater self, but you are damaging something that will become something else later on. The ants you step on today might become part of the roses you give to your girlfriend, or later on part of the stones of your house, or the mountain pushing up from the seabed today. Everything is connected whether we want it to be or not because we live in a closed system. There is no physical way out of this.
A third take on this, and one that is more new age-y, is that if we create suffering, we will consume suffering. This diminishes our quality of life. If you eat beef from a cow that stood in shit its entire life and never saw natural grasslands or got to lie down, then died in terror, that is recorded in the beef steak you chow down on at Outback. I also hold with this one.
Since I have been striving to not do harm to others, I have found that my compassion has surged. I feel bad for cutting earthworms in half with my spade, so now I dig holes for plants with my fingers if I can. The worms get to dig through and aerate the soil for my plants without pain that way, we are both served in the exchange. By not eating beef from a stockyard I know that something didn't suffer to sustain me, and I feel more peaceful knowing that the resources were not spent to sustain that suffering. In general, it's led to a more peaceful and happier me, which will give me time to be less distracted by things that agitate me. This is all good.
~I will abstain from stealing.
So why bother with this one? A few thoughts on this as well.
Even with the Golden Rule aside, there are a few things that must be going on before you steal. You have to be in a mentalilty of "lack", which usually leads to some horrible scrabbly feelings that most people don't like. You don't have something. You want something. Someone else has it. So you take it.
Except that in so doing, you have fallen immediately in to dukkha, or attachment and suffering. You want, and you have already failed. Because it isn't just the 8 precepts that Buddhists follow, but also the Four Noble Truths. Those fit in neatly here, so let's bring them in to the spotlight.
~Suffering exists. -also refered to as The Nature of Suffering(dukkha)
~There is a cause to suffering. This is craving. - Suffering's Origin
~It is possible to have a cessation to suffering. -Suffering's Cessation (nirvana)
~There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering. - "The Path"
These are acknowledged by every Buddhist, and form the basis for following the Buddha's teachings. The Buddha was pretty damned serious about these. To quote him as directly as possible on the subject:
"These Four Noble Truths, monks, are actual, unerring, not otherwise. Therefore, they are called noble truths... .because it is beneficial, it belongs to the fundamentals of the holy life, it leads to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation of suffering, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana. That is why I have declared it."
It's not a suggestion or a good idea, it's the way things are. That is how serious he is about these. It is, in fact, the only thing in Buddhism that can be claimed to completely true and unwavering. All else is open to personal interpretation.
So back to not stealing (remember how we were talking about that? Yeah.) If you are in a mentality of "not having" or "wanting" or "needing", you are already in the midst of dukkha. You are craving something. It is that craving which is causing you pain, and in stealing something you have gotten away from the suffering caused by this craving. But then what you have done is only given yourself a temporary reprieve. There will be something else you crave later, and the feeling will return. Your urge to steal will return. And then you have simply begun the cycle of craving, fixating and comforting yourself all over again. You will continue to be displeased with your existence and what you have for the rest of your life.
In addition, this steps back on not harming any living thing. By taking something from another, you cause them pain as well. You transfer your lack of something to another and pass off that pain. It is a very selfish thing to do, and denotes a lack of empathy or compassion for others. So if you steal, you are not practicing compassion and you are not fully understanding the Four Noble Truths. You're not doing so well as a Buddhist, my friend.
~I will abstain from all sexual practices/"sexual misconduct".
Ohhh my, the debate I've come across on this one. Does one not have sex at all? Does one get rid of their whips and chains? Or is the Buddha outright saying that homosexuality is wrong?
There are many treatises out there on the whole subject, since sexuality is a huge part of who we are and what we do. It sort of continues our species, after all, and even Buddha had to admit that the body had its needs and biological drives.
The generally accepted precept is that of the sexual misconduct, based on the Buddha's teachings to not be hurtful towards other living beings. Sex in and of itself can be a nurturing act, and can lead to enlightenment in some cases when properly practiced. Therefore, if it is said that you shouldn't be having sex, it's because of two possibilities.
First, the thought of it is a distraction and gets in the way of meditation and enlightenment. Most monks and some nuns take a vow of chastity so that they don't have to focus on that part of their biology and are free to only follow the teachings of the Buddha, freeing them from spring break at the Jersey Shore and the huge distractions it could lead to. If you're not trying to hook up, after all, that energy can go towards reading and meditation.
The second is that as with stealing, the want for sex or the excess of it in one's life is a form of craving. It's possible to become addicted. When that is the case you are once more trapped by dukkha and not clear-minded in your perception of the world or what's going on. If everything you do is about hooking up, you'll never be out of that same cycle of wanting, obtaining, comforting, then back to wanting again.
In this case, sex between spouses or loving couples is not a breaking of this precept. Sex out of boredom, that is harmful, that is based on lies, that is used as a weapon somehow against another, is what does it. Most people agree that rape, molestation and prostitution/paying for sex are among the realms of "misconduct" because they involve hurting the other party, OR patronizing something that is fixated on a pleasurable thing that could become an obsession. Cheating on one's spouse is included here because of the pain it would cause the spouse. Homosexuality is included in a few branches of Buddhism here, but the same can be said of any major religion; some believe it's fine, some think it's evil.
For the record, I think if it's consensual and both sides get something out of it, the Buddha probably wouldn't have minded. So long as it didn't become something to crave or something to obsess over, then it is not misconduct. Take it or leave it.
~I will abstain from uttering lies. (this is sometimes tied in with "Right Speech" with the Noble Eightfold Path)
Another big one, this includes speaking angrily against others (sometimes), gossiping, or generally being that person at work that everyone hates because they know you'll bitch behind their backs about something. In general, you come across as a miserable example of the human race with no ability to see the positive.
I've got many examples of this. I've sat next to an elderly woman on an airplane who did nothing but bitch about her seat (she had the window, I was stuck in the middle), the air being stale, the drinks, you name it. All she did was complain, and at the time I was young and did not know about the teachings of the Buddha. What I did have, though, was an ear infection. When the plane took off I was in so much pain that I dropped the pen I'd been writing with and clasped both sides of my head, grimacing in agony as my ear drum fought not to burst.
The woman next to me who had nothing nice to say came alive, wriggling in her seat, asking me hundreds of questions, wanting me to agree that the flight was awful, seeing that I was in pain and somehow I knew in my small teenage way that the bitch was feeding off of my agony in that moment. I was utterly disgusted with her, and wanted to turn and rip her head off and tell her to back the fuck off, because she smelled and tasted of vultures rushing a corpse. Her energy was awful and made my stomach turn. Mystical experiences in economy class aside, I knew that the answer was NOT to respond to her in kind, as it would then give her leave to be nasty the rest of the flight, and also bolster her power.
Instead, I said very calmly and quietly "Huh, it seems the antibiotics haven't kicked in yet. Oh well, they will by the end of the flight, we've got 5 hours."
And she died in her seat. Shrank away, even. Stared at me. I then did what came to me naturally, and did the exact opposite of what she wanted (because I was and am still a shit) and smiled, saying "It's going to be really good to see my family again. The antibiotics are so I can have a good time. I'm really looking forward to it."
And that ended all over comments from Elderly Bitchy Woman next to me.
As I look back on the incident, there are a few things to take from this. One, that the woman was unhappy, and she probably wasn't unhappy about the flight, really. She was probably frustrated from the long lines out of Sea-Tac, the confusing gate setup, the construction going on that caused so much confusion, and of course the lovely screening process -this was pre-911. She already knew getting on the plane that she was going to be uncomfortable for 5 hours, and it's enough to make anyone cranky. So even if she was not an overly negative person to start with, that was enough to switch her over. By not snapping at her angrily, by taking in Right Speech, I completely disarmed her. I may have even given her something to think about and focus on that was positive. At the time my goal was just to shut her up, but in hindsight the interaction did a lot more for me. I learned the fine technique of not speaking ill towards another person or about another person. Well, except for the fact that 15 years later I'm bitching about her on my blog, but we'll pretend it's entirely to make a point.
Not lying, the more obvious part of the precept should be, well, obvious. Don't lie. It's that simple. Why would you, anyway? Lying causes pain to another person. Do you want to be lied to? As it is, we have such a tentative grasp on what we ~think~ reality is, that supplying incorrect information about it just adds to the confusion. Confusion leads to misunderstanding and pain. Be plain in your speech, say what you mean, and your life will be easier. You won't run the risk of getting fired for inflating all the naughty things a coworker did and gossiping about it. You won't lose the trust of your friends.
Not lying also means not having to maintain the lie. Putting extra energy in to maintaining something that is not the truth begins to lead to suffering and fear on your part. Even if you aren't striving for enlightenment, what a pain in the ass to have to spin the world wider and wider around the white lie you told! Then comes the fear, the fixation on making sure you aren't found out, the fallout when you are... and all of this takes away from just living. So... just don't lie. Seriously, it isn't worth the energy that goes in to it. People will respect you for your honesty and forthrightness, and know that you're the one to trust with things. That can't hurt in the workplace or with friends.
~I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
This one is one that is probably ignored at least a little by most Western Buddhists, probably some Eastern ones as well (as evidenced by the wall o' whiskey available in most convenience stores in Japan).
This one's a good one. Why? Because it acknowledges the fact that human beings are human, and do stupid stuff under the affect of liquid courage. So while you might not have meant to be brash and insulting at the night club while under the influence of 3 martinis, your friend's new girlfriend might not have known that. Now there's stress between you and her, and because of this between you and your friend. Your other friends, naturally, will be drawn in to it to. So one moment of carelessness brought on by being high or drunk can cause a lot of dukkha, a lot of pain, amongst friends and people you just run in to.
Add to this that one can't perceive the true nature of reality while completely shitfaced, and it's just a "no duh" scenario. You can't drive a car on a solid, paved road and both items are tangible and familiar. How on earth do you expect to direct your mind to nirvana?
Since we are at all times striving to be mindful and in the moment, even taking 5 minutes out to drink can take away from that. When you actively take a drink, you're saying "I can't see the moment and do not want to be fully aware of it". This removes you from a meditative mind.
Even though I acknowledge this truth and understand it, I would be remiss in not saying that I had two glasses of wine last night, which I enjoyed. It was not to the point of palpable intoxication, but even in taking the drink the words echoed in my head that one should not. I excused myself with the clever thought that I wasn't going to be enlightened right then anyway, and proceeded; the mere act of that, however, was a self-fulfilling prophecy and a denunciation of the mind's ability to open up and perceive reality at any point if we only let go of our preconceptions. So big fail on my part.
In this case, it's pretty obvious also that drinking and drugs can lead to dukkha pretty quickly, especially if someone overindulges and becomes addicted. When your focus is on getting more liquor, you've stuck yourself right in the cycle of suffering pretty squarely. There are websites out there on this that are good even if not from a Buddhist perspective, and I shall leave the cycle of addiction to them. You see the point by now.
At this point that's the end of the 5 precepts most people undertake, and the ones that I usually actively work for. The following 3 are of a more unusual nature, and more culturally incited, not so at home in the West.
~I will abstain from eating after noon time.
Many monks will do this, and many will only eat solid food before noon. Liquids, teas, honey, all appear to be okay.
To quote Dhammadana once more, "That is to say: I will never consume any solid foods after the solar noon (which, in Paris, befalls around 1:30 P.M. during the summer time, and around 12:30 A.M. during the winter time) and this, until the following dawn. During this period, I will no even drink milk, which is considered as a solid food, as it is very nourishing. In case of severe hunger or a great lack of energy, honey, molasses, liquid sugars, oil and butter are also authorised."
So if you're having low blood sugar, it's okay to partake of honey, molasses or butter. Being a dead Buddhist keeps you from attaining enlightenment, and so that is not a good thing.
By only taking your meals before noon, this also means that you are not fixated on what's for dinner, and can focus on doing your meditations or chores for the day. The body can actually process carbohydrates and other things earlier in the day than later, as well, so this makes sense biologically. Our Western idea to eat a large dinner is somewhat counter-intuitive to what our bodies desire... that is, to break the fast with a meal to fuel our day, and just sustain it with smaller meals from there on out.
I don't follow this for my own health and cultural reasons; once hypoglycemic, I needed to be able to partake of fruits and proteins in the evening to keep from passing out occasionally. Now that I am taking medication, I need to be able to consume food in the evenings to ease a queasy stomach, acting as if I am diabetic per the medication's direction. Many small meals, in this case. Others don't because it doesn't fit in the way our society is formed and if there is one thing that is incredibly difficult to do, it is go against cultural expectations. We've built our lives around 3 meals a day. Not doing so makes you weird, and gets difficult to follow. Who wants to be the person the office whispers about because you eat a tiny lunch and will only drink tea the rest of the day? That's the kind of crap cultural pressure will do to you. Health reasons aside, keeping a mind that isn't drowsy from a body digesting high fats and sugars in the afternoon, or distracted by needing to shove something down its throat leads to a more awake and mindful individual.
~I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments.
This comes back to being distracted again. Music and songs (and some say dancing fits in here) are all part of being distracted. By singing and making merry you're once again not being mindful and in the moment. At least, the usual atmosphere where you find these things is not one conducive to being so. MTV's spring break doesn't really seem like a contemplative paradise, does it? That's because blasting music and hanging out is a mild form of escapism, and of the same ilk as taking drugs and drinking. In fact, you find the 3 together VERY often.
This one is hard, because I adore music. I adore singing and playing musical instruments and I adore listening. But it is understandable how this can fit in to distractions in one's daily life that keep one from being in the moment.
It is entirely possible to be one with the moment when playing an instrument. Most musicians know of being in "the zone" where there's no wrong way to play the note, no bad tempo, nothing but them and the instrument and it seems like there's no space in between. In that space one can become so mindful of what is going on that they seem to perceive how to operate with the instrument on an almost preternatural level. This is not being distracted, this is being meditative. But if you are going to a party to dance and be loud, and it is not intended as a place to be mindful of what's going on, then it's all merely noise and distraction.
To this I add: I freakin' hate parties and large groups of people. It's always seemed like lots of sound and fury signifying nothing. Probably why I'm no fun at big gatherings, I see no point in hanging out, drinking and listening to music. It's been this way since I was a pre-teen, it isn't some Buddhist mentality I've picked up so to an end, my perceptions fit nicely in here. I won't give up my music collection, though, as I love the beautiful things mankind can create when given freedom. I'll simply strive to be more mindful about the consumption.
In regard to flowers and ornaments and jewellry(sic), these are more of the same. They're merely pretty things to delight you for a short while with their colors and shiny-ness before the delight of them fades away. It could lead to buying more jewelry because the old stuff is out of style or not impressive enough anymore, or being sad that the flowers died and wishing they hadn't. Just lots and lots of opportunity for dukkha to settle in and dump you in to a cycle of unhappiness.
I don't tend to wear jewelry because I forget. I have pieces, and when the time calls for it, then I pull them out and put them on. But in general they're tools for an occasion, to portray an image I wish others to perceive. I just don't do shiny things for the sake of shiny things. Hell, I barely do makeup. I am a lazy adherent of this whole thing, you might say.
~I will refrain from lying or seating on high and luxurious places.
The high seating was already explained, but why is luxurious thrown in there? Yep, back to dukkha.
You have a seat. You should be happy to be able to sit. If you are, it means you aren't working, or you're at a job that you can. To wit, it also means you have a job, period, to be sitting at or resting from, but I digress.
Longing for a better seat, or being distracted by the uber-comfiness of a great chair, as has often been stated, will get in the way of mindfulness. Being able to sit on anything, no matter what, is just fine. Forgetting about the appropriateness of a milk crate versus a $500 reclinable office chair, it is still a seat. What seat you should have in a certain situation is artificial, anyway. We have gravity, and we have a floor or ground. Anything else besides that is nice and probably a bit more comfortable. In life, though, we can get along without chairs if we have to.
I could go off on a dissertation about how the mere act of sitting is taken for granted, but I'll spare folks. Perhaps another time. :)
Anyway... as mentioned, most people keep the first 5, some keep the last 3. And some slavishly follow all of them to the letter as best as they can, while flagellating themselves if they overstep the line at some point, or don't seem to be "doing it right". Which is silly, as these are not commandments, they're just suggestions.
Why bother with outlining all of this? So we can move on to part 3 with an understanding of what is being talked about and the thought process behind most suggestions in Buddhism.
Here ends Part Two.