Posts Tagged ‘golden rule’

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:

 [Zen Buddhism-Dhammapada]

Renounce all evil;

Practice all good;

Keep your mind pure—

thus all the Buddhas taught.

                [Mahayana Buddhism]

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[1] 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.

[1] Reflections on the Three Pure Precepts
A Dharma talk by Roshi James Ishmael Ford, 3 June 2002
Henry Thoreau Sangha, Boundless Way Zen

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The late Rush Kidder wrote in his book How Good People Make Tough Choices, Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living (2003), “Ethics, after all, is all about the concept of “ought.”  It is not about what you have to do because regulation compels it (like paying to ride the train) or nature requires it (like eating and sleeping).  It’s about what you ought to do—have an obligation to do—because it is “right (page 153).”

Kidder tells us that there are three principles for resolving dilemmas. These principles can be used in our own lives, we can teach them to our students, children, extended family members, and maybe even our coworkers or employees.  They are as follows:

  1.  “Do what’s best for the greatest number of people (which we’ll refer to here as ends-based thinking).”
  2. “Follow your highest sense of principle” (or rule-based thinking).”
  3. “Do what you want others to do to you” (or care-based thinking) (page 152).”

The best way that I can see to do the teaching is by using these principles in our daily lives.  If we live these principles by our example we will be “teaching” others about what “ought” to be done in life.  We will be teaching without lecturing, or shouting, or having to say “I told you so.”

Our politicians are short on these principles in every corridor of government from the top down.  We find that to win an election they will say anything.  They will pander to one group and say one thing and then pander to another an hour later and say the exact opposite.  They will pit races, age groups, and the sexes against each other to garner votes.

Our police departments are going back to before the civil rights movement of the 60s and racially profiling everyone that is not white.  The Black community has something they call “driving while black” and the Hispanic community has something called “show me your papers.” And the women have something called “prove to me you’ve been raped.”  Do these policies fall into the three ways Kidder shows us to resolve dilemmas?  I don’t think so.

Would the people who are enforcing these three ideas want them done to them (#3), if they compared them to the “highest principles” they were taught in church or temple or at the mosque would they pass the smell test (#2)? Not as far as my little pug nose can tell.  And finally, if they asked them what is in the best interest of the greatest number of people would they pass the math test?  Maybe today, but in the very near future it would not (#1).

Fortunately, for us our children are growing up in integrated schools where they see people of all colors, sizes, shapes, and sexual preference.  They have the opportunity to have teachers that are young right out of college, grandmothers teaching for 20 years, gay and lesbians, Blacks, Hispanics, and republicans, democrats, and independents, and combinations of all of these put together.  Many of these people may even be living in the same households, no less be going to the same schools, or shopping in the same stores.

So when we are making decisions and solving problems for ourselves, our families, our jobs, and our communities it is imperative that we take advantage of the three decision making tools shared by Kidder.  One may be more appropriate than another depending upon the dilemma, but they are all based on one key idea “ought to do—because it is right to do.”

When the whites in South Africa stood up against apartheid they did not do it because it was easy—they did it because it was the “right” thing to do.  When the supreme Court decided to uphold the school children’s right to an equal education in Brown v Board of Education they did not do it because it was easy—but  because it was the “right” thing to do. When President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act on his first day in office to ensure equal pay for equal work for women he did it not because it was easy to do—but because it was the “right” thing to do.  It ought to have been done in the 1970s when women were fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution because it was the “right” thing to do—but it was not.  Ponder on that thought for a moment…

What “right” thing did you do today?  What right thing “ought” you have done today?  When will the two merge?  Soon I hope because our communities, our country, and our world are in grave danger if we don’t.




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