I am so excited to begin writing about “The Three Pure Precepts” they are simple yet powerful maxims to live by. Robert Aitken in his book The Mind of Clover (1984) writes, “In Mahayana Buddhism, these lines underwent change reflecting a shift from the ideal of personal perfection to the ideal of oneness with all beings. The last line was dropped, and the third rewritten:
Renounce all evil;
Practice all good;
Keep your mind pure—
thus all the Buddhas taught.
Renounce all evil;
Practice all good;
Save the many beings (page 4).”
I’ll begin with the first verse. For each of us the word “evil” will mean something different. For some our religious beliefs say that consuming alcohol is evil and that a person who loves someone of the same sex is evil. Thus, is the conundrum: How do I define the word for myself and for others? How do I know it when I see it? How can I stop it when it is coming from and through me?
For some things the word “evil” is a little too strong and that may allow us to be rude, or critical, or thoughtless and still “believe” that we are upholding the Pure Precept of “renouncing all evil.” This happens because many times we are only willing to see it when it is coming from others but not from ourselves. For sure, evil is in the eye of the receiver. If you were the receiver of these words or actions how would you feel? What would you do? Since we are working toward being “one with all others” I imagine it might be very painful. If you are practicing mindfulness you will pause and listen to your thoughts and observe your behavior and then you can make the judgment as to whether or not these words or actions directed at the “other” might be considered “evil.” Being mindful gives you the opportunity to choose to either continue or to stop.
Another great way to “renounce all evil” is to practice the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When I read this in a Dharma talk by Roshi James Ismael it rang a bell for me and I thought, “What a great idea!” If I include this maxim in my life it will help me to pause when I think evil thoughts or are contemplating evil deeds. In that moment of pause I will be able to reflect upon my next words or actions and choose to renounce them and take a different path. If I start each morning with my mind set on being one with all sentient beings I would be kinder and gentler. Doing this just may help me be less critical at home or at work with myself and others.
To save the many beings may mean saving them from you with your negativity in behavior and thinking. It also may mean saving you from your own negative thinking and recriminations. This too is a part of the violation of the vow that we take to “renounce all evil” evil to self and others!
So this week our task is to begin working on The Three Pure Precepts beginning with #1.
Things to focus on this week:
1. Set your intention each morning to practice the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” live a life where being one with all others is reflected in your thoughts, words, and actions.
2. Define the word “evil” for yourself.
3. Be mindful throughout the day and listen to your thoughts and observe your behavior then determine if those words or actions directed at the “other” or at “yourself” might be considered “evil.”
4. Finally, keep a journal on this precept and make note of how learning to “renounce all evil” in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life.
 Reflections on the Three Pure Precepts
A Dharma talk by Roshi James Ishmael Ford, 3 June 2002
Henry Thoreau Sangha, Boundless Way Zen http://www.boundlesswayzen.org/teishos/threepureteisho.html