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Posts Tagged ‘The 10 Grave Precepts’

John Daido Loori has written the most wonderful book on Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment.  I am sharing with you two paragraphs from it on this Earth Day 2015.  I hope that his words will encourage you to be a proactive practitioner supporting the environment and this little blue dot in the universe on which we live, play, and love.  In gassho, Shokai

The Buddhist precepts are a teaching on how to live our lives in harmony with the totality of the universe.  When we look at the precepts, we normally think of them in terms of people.  Indeed, most of the moral and ethical teachings of the great religions address relationships among people.  But these precepts do not exclusively pertain to the human realm.  They are talking about the whole universe, and we need to see them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.

The Three Pure Precepts, Not creating evil, Practicing good, and Actualizing good for others, are a definition of harmony in an inherently perfect universe, a universe that is totally interpenetrated, codependent, and mutually arising.  But the question is: How do we accomplish that perfection? The Ten Grave Precepts point that out.  Looking at the Ten Grave Precepts in terms of how we relate to our environment is a step in the direction of appreciating the continuous, subtle, and vital role we play in the well-being of this planet–a beginning of taking responsibility for the whole catastrophe (pages 89-90).

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So let us refresh our memories of the three treasures: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  So when we look at the way we view the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, let us hold them as “one.”  As it says in Master Hakuin’s The Song of Zazen, “Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open.  Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.”

Our picture of the Buddha the man and the Buddha concept that we are all one and the same seems like an untruth.  How easy it is to stray into the negative or doubting place when we hear ourselves say harsh words, or gossip, or treat people unkindly.  We begin to think: HA I’m not the Buddha, look what I just said or did.  I am a mean, awful, untrustworthy person!  I am not like the Buddha at all!

But fortunately for us “straight ahead runs the Way.”  So if we fall the first thing we do is simply get up, and then we move forward putting one foot in front of the other.  We are now moving ahead in time and space, are we not?  So simply acknowledge your behavior and remember your vow to not disparage the three treasures and move on—quickly and quietly.  Remember the Buddha tried many things throughout his lifetime to find the way.  And in the end we need to return home to the oneness that we all are.

Peter Levitt in his wonderful book The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master (2013) quotes an excerpt from an Allen Ginsberg poem entitled “Song (page xv-xvi).”  And where Ginsberg uses the word “love” Peter says it could be replaced with other words such as wholeness, oneness, unity, and Self.

The opening lines:

Under the burden

Of solitude,

Under the burden

Of dissatisfaction

The weight,

The weight we carry is love.

The final lines:

Yes, yes,

That’s what

I wanted,

I always wanted,

I always wanted to return

To the body

Where I was born[1]

We too want to return to the oneness of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha where we have the opportunity to experience the oneness of all there is.  We do this through following the life example of the Buddha, the teachings, and the community where we sit together as one breath, one body, and one mind.  For me this is what I hear Allen Ginsberg saying in that last phrase this is to “return to the body where I was born.”

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by remembering the three treasures throughout the day.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before each possible encounter and after each slip and fall.
  • Step three: Remember this is a life journey not a destination..
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] K. Tanahashi, P. Levitt. (2013) The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala:  Boston, MA

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Hui-neng says: Even with a steadfast body you may be deluded and speak of the bad qualities of others as soon as you open your mouth, and thus behave in opposition to the Tao (page74).[1]

For me this one goes hand-in-hand with #6 “not discussing the faults of others” because invariably when you are elevating yourself it is usually in comparison with someone else.  Thus you end up putting the other person down, discussing his or her faults, or blaming him or her for something.

Robert Aitken writes:

If you cover your weaknesses and single out the weaknesses of others, then you are not practicing.  It is only when you can generously acknowledge your own dark side and the shining side of the other that you can be said to be truly on the path (page 76).”[2]

Each of us has special skills and talents.  Thank goodness we were not all created the same otherwise what a lopsided world we would have:

  •  Only vanilla ice cream (Ben&Jerry’s has 107 flavors, as of today!)
  • Only black cars (Henry Ford said, “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black.”)
  • Only Newtonian Physics (Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”)
  • Only men Nobel Prize winners (Madam Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 because a male mathematician insisted her name be included along with the two men she had worked with on the project.)

When we elevate ourselves and blame others we may be injuring another who might be a ground breaking inventor, scientist, business leader, artist, or musician.  He or she may have submerged his or her talents because of your words, deeds, or actions. Your words can be like a boomerang and then what happens is you lose your ability to grow and develop and become the person who manifests his or her dreams in life.

For a beautiful guide to living The Grave Precept #7 live a life as described by Torei Zenji in his Bodhisattva’s Vow:

 I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas, I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata’s never-failing essence.  Each particle of matter, each moment, is no other than the Tathagata’s inexpressible radiance.

With this realization, our virtuous ancestors, with compassionate minds and hearts, gave tender care to beasts and birds. Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life: food, drink, and clothing!  Though they are inanimate things, they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.

All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people, particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language.  That very abuse conveys the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness.  It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginning-less past.

With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves and the most profound and pure faith arises.  At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens; and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha.  Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty.  We see fully the Tathagata’s radiant light right where we are.

May we train this mind and extend it throughout the world so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha’s wisdom.

A vow to practice, remember, and share…In Gassho, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will completely relinquish yourself to the life of the Bodhisattva in thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Step two: Set your intention to be mindful of words of harm to self or others.
  • Step three: Accept the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness in each situation.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clovers Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY , NY

[2] Ibid.

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These two simple words “not killing” provide us with ample opportunity to think about their meaning and their purpose as we work on Grave Precept #1.  There is no measure long enough to take us to the end of the ideas that have been written on this subject.  Throughout antiquity all religions and philosophies have grappled with it.  But that will not stop us from embarking on this challenge for a week and seeing where it leads us.

Of course, we do not want to kill anyone or anything—that is a given.  But how does “not killing” work when we kill bugs in the house or the garden.  How does it work when we take the weeds from that same garden?  Does the precept cover killing people with our angry and hateful words and leaving them feeling as though they have been “sliced into bits” by our tongue?  Have your thoughts about yourself killed your ambition, your love for another, your attitude about life?  Does that violate the precept of “not killing”?

Some take on a life of vegetarianism because of this precept.  However, there are many sides to this precept of which we may not be aware. “The Buddha did not prescribe vegetarianism.   Buddhist monks are permitted to eat meat, for example, if it is put in their alms bowl by a lay supporter.  They are not permitted, however, to eat an animal that has been killed on their behalf.[1]  For some this may sound like splitting hairs, that’s for sure, but it is true.

So, to help us out let’s go to our wonderful teacher Robert Aitken’s book, The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (1984), and let’s see the light that he sheds on this subject.

There are three elements that the Zen teacher uses in conveying the precepts: the literal, the compassionate, and the essential, or, as they are more technically termed: the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Buddha-nature views. 

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page16).[2]

So it seems that the Jain faith’s influence on Buddhism took them to a very extreme “literal” interpretation of this precept.  So how about the “compassionate” view of this subject?  What would that look like?  Is it compassionate to kill, let’s say, ants when they are taking over your kitchen?

Some years ago I went to see a monk from the Self-realization Fellowship speak in Miami.  He was a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and during his talk he took questions from the audience and so, of course, someone asked about the idea of “not killing.”  He shared a story with us about going down early one morning to prepare breakfast for the monks and all over the counter were ants.  So he chanted and he prayed and nothing worked.  He did not want to prepare the food and get ants into it so he said his last resort was the ant spray.  He illustrated what he did by making believe he had a large can of ant spray in his hand spraying it across the counter as he chanted: Ohm, ohm—You  are now going to your next level of higher consciousness—ohm …ohm.  Everyone laughed and we all got the point.  He went beyond the literal interpretation and somewhere between the compassionate (for the monks) and an essential teaching of Buddha and eating meat if offered as an Alm.

Where will you take your thoughts and practice this week on the idea of “not killing”? For some you may want to focus some time on not killing your own motivation and self-esteem, others may want to be careful of their words and actions that may be directed toward others that kills their love and affection, some may want to focus on food, and yet others may want to concentrate on working with groups that focus on getting rid of the death penalty or stopping wars and the like.  But whatever you choose be aware of what you say, do, and think on all three levels: literal, compassionate, and essential.  Keep asking yourself, “What would the Buddha say or do in this situation?”

And may the “force” be with you on your path of “not killing”!

Things to focus on this week:

Step one: Begin by deciding which area of “not killing” you will focus on first.

Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.

Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.

Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle of “not killing.”

Step five: Finally, keep a journal on the precept of “not killing” and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[2] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press, NY

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