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 Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Sun Dec 06, 2015 10:45 am

Given the recent discussion about eating meat and drinking alcohol, I thought it might be worthwhile to start a new discussion on the precepts.  Even the simple 5th precept about alcohol is actually not the simple in real life, in practice.  

The original Pali of the precept is -- I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness. Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.  So basically, I promise not / never to drink alcohol - because that gets you drunk and you become heedless.

And as Buddhism traveled, the precepts and rules changed, adapted, were re-translated.  Just do a google search on Buddhist precepts or precepts in Zen or Soto Zen and look at how different traditions / teachers translate and talk about the basic ten precepts.  

So with Kennett and her version of Soto Zen, it was "Do not sell the wine of delusion: There is nothing to be deluded about.  If we realize this, we are enlightenment itself."  - her translation of Keizan.  Other Soto Zen groups talk about "Do not become intoxicated" and then there is often a long commentary on what "intoxication" means, so it's not just liquor or drugs, but any activity that enchants or clouds the mind, like perhaps watching TV or internet addiction.  SF Zen Center's translation is "A disciple of Buddha does not intoxicate self or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity." In their commentary, the issue is abuse, excess, addiction, not casual drinking - or so it seems. 

Here is the version from Thich Nhat Hanh - which includes an unusual part of "betray my ancestors, parents, society" - which to me is guilt-inducing and a bit creepy.

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society, by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations.  I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations.  I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society."

So the original simple promise changes and in practical, real life situations, becomes more complex. Basically in Japan, they love alcohol and were not interested in any religion that would ban it.  Just like they weren't going to put up with a celibate priesthood.  So even if they took the precepts against drinking, most monks / priests just ignored it.  The same with any precepts against "sexual misconduct" - whatever that phrase means. But this isn't surprising is it? The devil can be in the details, especially with rules. You want to drink liquor, so you re-imagine "do not drink alcohol" to "do not sell the wine of delusion."  I still have no idea what that phrase means - seems like it's OK to "drink" the wine of delusion - just don't "sell" it?  "There is nothing to be deluded about" - well, sometimes there sure is.

So in Japan, heavy drinking was and is widespread in the Zen world, as far as we know.  We have ample evidence of this even with the few Japanese teachers here in the U.S. Some people here on the board were shocked that Kennett drank alcohol - as this came up around Mike Little's current profession.  

And as modern, American independent Dharma practitioners, we need to find our own way with these teachings. We certainly don't follow the old Indian rules. We can't be copying the feudal Buddhism of Japan or China, at least I have no interest in that. And promising to keep rules, and then secretly breaking them, only causes guilt and shame and weirdness.

A few other points. With some of the Tibetan groups, when you take the lay precepts, you can selectively take them.  In other words, if you want to continue drinking alcohol, you don't take that precept. They are very lawyerly like that. They have no problem with people only taking three or four precepts. Another odd example.  A friend of mine is a long-time Tibetan lama and he has taken the full monk vows - the Tibetan version of the Vinaya / Bhikkshu vows - including not touching money and not eating after twelve noon.  But i know this guy and he eats dinner and he has money in his wallet. So I asked him about that and he said, Oh, once a month, there is a ceremony where we confess our breakage of the rules, so I just confess these transgressions every time.  So in this scenario, you make promises which you know you will not keep and then keep confessing.  From their point of view, the old rules and practices cannot be changed, will never change, are written in stone, but adhering to them in the 21st century is impractical or near impossible - so that's the solution. He was quite honest about it, wasn't pretending to be holier than he was. 

The bigger problem comes when the teacher promotes certain rules but does not keep them him or herself - especially celibacy / physical purity, etc.  We have seen this with so many gurus / masters, haven't we.  Shimano, Sasaki, etc. So many rationalizations, secrets, excuses, abuses.. and it's not about breaking a particular rule but a general addiction to grandiosity and entitlement and using students as their dolls in their doll house. So, when they are found out, what's the response?  Some version of, well Sasaki wasn't a monk, so anything goes, and in any case, he's is a great master / living Buddha, so is beyond right and wrong, morality, normal behavior. 

I think that's selling the wine of delusion - but we don't have to buy it, do we?  

And with Kennett, those last years when I was there, she certainly was teaching and promoting confusion and self-glorification and I did not want to buy the wine she was selling - which was far more mind-cloudng than a few glasses of Pinot Grigio.
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Sun Dec 06, 2015 3:12 pm

Very interesting and useful commentary, Josh.

JK's translation of the precept about drinking alcohol has always seemed helpful to me. The wine of delusion will get you every time.

Some examples --

Larissa MacFarquhar, Strangers Drowning is an anecdotal and thoughtful study of people who apparently sacrifice their own health, family, and comfort to help strangers in need. These people often go to extremes. The author looks into how to balance the happiness and safety of yourself and your family against the needs of others. The moral of the story seems to be Don't Sell the Wine of Delusion to yourself or others.

Also just read Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heretic.The Jihadists and so-called radical Muslims seem to be selling the wine of delusion to themselves to the detriment of the rest of us.
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tufsoft



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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Sun Dec 06, 2015 7:50 pm

Thanks for this. The whole business about “precepts” is very strange indeed.


My parents were intellectuals and I was brought up as an atheist and I've never felt any serious temptation to relabel myself. But where I grew up, in Yorkshire, almost everyone around me was Christian. I remember one day going home from school and three older girls taunting me because I hadn't been christened. “Mr no-name, mr no-name”, until I lost my temper and flew at them and scratched their faces. It did not happen again.


But I always used to wonder what it would be like to be a Christian, to always turn the other cheek, to be unconcerned about possessions, to love one's enemy as oneself, to be chaste before marriage and faithful after it, and all the wonderful things they had to do. It was only quite late on in my life that I discovered they behaved no better than anyone else, and often far, far worse.


I tend to think that people will behave well if they want to and otherwise they won't and that precepts don't really come into it. In modern developed post-industrial societies we have laws against theft and violence and cruelty to children and animals and probably those are enough. My brother won't eat meat because he feels repugnance at the idea of eating something that, as he says, “once had a face”. But it has nothing to do with precepts. There's no free pass for him if he goes out of town.


The kind of behaviour you describe is beyond hypocritical, in the situations that you describe here, and that we see manifested in the case of Mr Shimano, a cool Oriental religion is being imported and advertised and sold as one thing when in fact it's just a facade.


There was an article posted on here a few days ago from The Guardian about the fall in numbers in the Buddhist priesthood in Japan, where I am at the moment. This happens, of course, because Buddhist priests fulfill a social function and as less people buy their functions, less of them are needed. I'm not well enough versed in Japanese language and culture to be able to an opinion on whether that might be a bad thing or not.


What always strikes me when I read western Buddhist bulletin boards, or articles or sometimes books, is that everything seems to be about ME, my enlightenment, which “master” should I follow to get my kensho, which precepts should I follow, which precepts can I ignore, can I have sex, please, pretty please, or would that make me a disgusting person? I don't know how, but somewhere somehow I formed the erroneous impression that Buddhists were supposed to believe in the transcendence of egoism, and yet they do precisely the opposite. I read the other day a quote from a gentleman who describes himself as a “certified spiritual advisor”. Excuse me if I laugh, but what is a “certified spiritual advisor” ? I make no remark as to the personal qualities of the gentleman concerned, but the idea is ludicrous beyond belief. In fact it's so ludicrous that I did a bit of research and came up with the shocking fact that Gandhi never obtained such a certificate. Should I expect British tanks to roll into India forthwith?


So why do I stay interested in Buddhism, why did I practice zazen in my youth, why did I read DT Suzuki, why did I visit Thrush Hall, why did I go and live in the Shaolin Temple for two months? It's because what interested me about Zen in my youth was the aesthetic of it and in particular the idea of the monastery, the monastery as a place where people go not to “perfect” themselves but to live in silence and harmony with the seasons, and most importantly a place where living is itself the reason for living and there is no “instrumental” reason for action, that is, we are not doing something to make money or to get a certificate or to get an enlightement, we are living like children, with curiosity about what's hiding under every stone. And when we get tired of it we can go back and be pop stars, or better parents, or whatever we want to be in the world of time and space and motives.


I would just love to see someone talk about creating a monastery like this, no “flawless master” no sworn to celibacy priesthood but always a few people there receiving a stipend for keeping the monastery running and keeping it a good place to experience stillness and even slowly come out of the cocoons that separate us from the one that comes from nowhere but from which everything comes. There's no reason to stay in a place like that a second longer than you want to, there's no learning curve, all you have to do is learn to shut your mouth and you're there. I thought Throssel Hole might be that place but I was disappointed, I don't think a monastery run along those lines could ever have much appeal for English people, it might serve a niche market and there might be some requirement for it, but we desperately need something that can reach out to ordinary people who don't want to take precepts and shave their heads but who want a different life experience for a few months or years. When I was growing up I had lots of interesting experiences, I spent five years doing odd labouring jobs, I lived in the London squats for five years, I worked in the peace movement for 3 years, which is where I came into contact with these people


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nipponzan-My%C5%8Dh%C5%8Dji-Daisanga


they had some monks in Comiso where we were protesting about the missile base, and they are still active, I saw this guy in Shibuya, Tokyo about a month ago.


[url=http://www.tufsoft.com/pdf/peace monk.JPG]http://www.tufsoft.com/pdf/peace%20monk.JPG[/url]


they are dedicated, they are relentless, they appear to be totally uninterested in themselves, they did a three day hunger and thirst strike in the town center in Comiso with the sun blazing down, one girl got sick and had to give up. They never, ever, ever, talked about “Buddha, Dharma” or anything like that, because if they had a Dharma, they were living it. There were a lot of religious people in the peace movement but the leaders often were atheists, like Bertrand Russell in the beginning and later my father who travelled all over Europe talking to meetings and who probably lost several years of his life as a result. The religious and the atheists all worked together and nobody ever talked about religion, there was a sense of urgency about what we were doing and I think we had some success, the cruise missiles never went to Comiso, and they were withdrawn from Britain, then the Berlin wall came down which I personally think had a lot to do with the fact that the Russians could see that not everyone in Europe wanted to blow them off the face of the Earth. But I could be wrong about that, history is a tricky business. Bruce Kent was a Catholic priest and a Monsignor to boot but he never, ever talked about his religion and eventually he got so sick of the Church's attitude to the peace movement that he resigned from the priesthood. He is now over 80 and running a campaign to end war from a tiny apartment in North London.


A good monastery where people could go and spend a year or two after they finished university or even as an alternative to university would be a great thing that the Buddhist community could do for the rest of us. As I said earlier, I had lots of opportunities to explore and I've never stopped exploring, I've always managed to find another door to walk through and another planet to land on but it seems to me that young people these days are increasingly boxed in the the chances of trying another lifestyle are vanishing faster than polar bears and orchids, the squats are being closed down, property prices are astronomical, kids have nowhere to go and be alive, really. The challenge would be to design a monastery which was not cultish but actually looked like a good idea to normal sane educated people, so that after a few years it would even be a good thing to put on your CV and people would understand that having been in that place was a thing of good report. Everyone should study something (everyone in the Shaolin Temple has to study something, it's a regulation, and I think it's a good one), but the study should be skill based and not dogma based (skills: eg yoga, martial arts, language, music instruments even, woodwork, dogma: history, politics, religious studies etc).


I think “enlightenment” is a curious concept in any case, and a dangerous concept. From my experience I've found that some people are definitely more “enlightened” than others so to that extent I believe in it, but I don' believe it's something you can just “get” by following a prescribed course of meditation or training. Training might be useful sometimes, but it would be one of the tools you used along the way. ST Suzuki goes into this very thoroughly in “The Zen Doctrine of No-mind”, which every Zen student reads of course. Psychiatrists always work hard to discover their own blind spots and the psychological blind spot is a recognised occupational hazard for them. Before I leave Japan I plan to visit the 枯れ山水 at the Ryoan-ji, because I've always wanted to see it. There are fifteen stones in the garden but there is no place from where you can see all the stones. There is a subtle message in that, I think.


I'm afraid that a lot of the talk I see about training and enlightenment is actually double-speak for “perfection”, and as Jung pointed out, “perfection is a dangerous illusion”.
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tufsoft



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PostSubject: peace monk   Sun Dec 06, 2015 7:52 pm

sorry the peace monk URL got scrambled somewhere

http://www.tufsoft.com/pdf/peace%20monk.JPG
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Sun Dec 06, 2015 10:41 pm

Thanks, Tufsoft, for giving us your history and your ideas. The idea that Buddhism is based on no-self has always interested me also. What I learned at Shasta and North Cascades is the no-self means giving up your own opinions and ideas about things and following what the master tells you to do. No-self can mean a lot of things, but it's a misconception to think that it means following another "self" and discrediting your own "self."

Your thoughts on the peace movement are interesting also. The Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter have filled a similar space for another generation here in the US. The peace movement is quiescent now, probably because people are afraid due to the terrorist attacks. Here in the US the real fight is for gun control. How could the jihadists who killed all those people in California have obtained assault rifles and mega-ammunition clips? The answer is that our Congress is afraid of the National Rifle Association and refused to pass even minimal gun control measures.

But this is off the subject of Buddhist training -- or is it??? We were taught at North Cascades that doing good in the world or working for peace were activities that we could do OUTSIDE the monastery. Maybe so,but it seems to me that such activities are an outward expression of enlightenment.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 4:56 am

Well the latest round of bombings and localised shootings in Santa Barbara  Paris Rssian airplane and London are rather relevant.
My favourite response to the London knifing incident  over the week end is when the police had subdued the attacker who shouted out 'This is for Syria' is someone at the station shouted out 'You aint no Muslim bruv' This is a clear statement of the obvious the guy is breaking the precepts of life its not rocket science every body knows that killing is wrong the vast majority of people get on with their lives in a normal way and the precepts are not an issue they lead good lives.
I was overwelmed at the weekend as my sister was collecting food for the local food bank for struggling families, I stood by her in the local supermarket and every 30 seconds someone came up with something, All everyday people naturally responding and being generous. Another larger than life friend of mine who is a boxing coach in Florida flew to Pittsburg over the weekend to run a weekend called get your kids off the street and did a week end of boxing coaching. Everyday people; the coach eats meat and drinks the odd beer but leads a good christian life,it seems the normal straight people are not so messed up but the religious teachers are carrying around enough issues for all of us
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 10:46 am

chisanmichaelhughes wrote:
Well the latest round of bombings and localised shootings in Santa Barbara,  Paris, Russian airplane and London are rather relevant.

Thanks for the examples of love and generosity Mike.  It's always good to be reminded.  By the way it's important to note that the latest shooting in California happened in the city of San Bernardino and not Santa Barbara.  I wouldn't want someone to think that there had been yet another shooting here.
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 11:25 am

Nice to hear @chisanmichaelhughes


We've offered a suite in our home to the immigrant services for a family from the 25,000 Syrian refugees headed our way. They thanked us, saying they would drop by to inspect it but also advised us that they have already been overwhelmed by similar offers.

Makes a nice counter balance to all the noicy spouters of fear out there.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 11:58 am

Well done to you Howard,for me that is an excellent way to live, and encompasses the best of what I have been trying to say and do, completely take my hat off to you 

Bull and frog
share the same meal to the sound
of people laughing
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 12:11 pm

Isan thank you for your post and thank you for correcting me, I read on the forum  about George and Joanne Singer living in Santa Barbara the name must have stuck. Hope you are well
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Mon Dec 07, 2015 5:10 pm

"It seems the normal straight people are not so messed up but the religious teachers are carrying around enough issues for all of us."

Thanks, once again, Michael, for your wisdom. Thanks to everyone for your examples of generosity that we see around us every day. We don't need to live in a monestary to practice generosity.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Tue Dec 08, 2015 2:19 am

And we dont need to live in a monastary Carol to live or be a Buddhist or have a spiritual life.
 
For what it is worth I feel you are a lady of high integrity, strong, thoughtful and kind, the relevance of our practice is to trust and follow something very deep within us it will be there when we need it  and without question will know the right way to go
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Tue Dec 08, 2015 2:17 pm

Michael, you're an inspiration!!
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PostSubject: Re: Precepts -- with the ideal comes the actual and inconvenient truths   Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:40 am

Such a good reply Carol I read it 3 times!
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