The buddhist practice of sila is an evolution of being that was initiated in that first moment of insight or enlightenment when we realized that there was something more than getting, hanging on to, or defending against things of the world. And with the realization that the first paramita of dana, selfless giving, is just how things work when we let them. There is the experience of delight and freedom for ourselves as well as the receiver in the act of giving without expectation.And we naturally want more of that, not just because it feels good but because we know it is a true expression of goodness.
With the practice of contemplation and goodness we also may begin to notice that we have habitual ways of being that inhibit dana and the way of kindness, compassion and love and we naturally want to stop those behaviors. The buddha delineated the behaviors that interfere with goodness and suggests to us that seeing these habitual behaviors and what causes them would help us bring an end to them.
This is the practice of sila and the moral precepts of buddhism. They are not laws imposed from upon high, but discoveries that are made when we are generous with our lives and open to relinquishing the barriers of imprints and habits that imprison us. Barriers that also keep us from allowing others to show up in their complete goodness.
The buddhist moral precepts are not laid out as commandments or rigid laws that will make us perfect or holy. They are simply natural ways of being that show up on the path of goodness. Like dana, when we approach life with the intent to practice these precepts, we can experience more delight with life and living beings, and consequently we become delightful to others who we share this life with. Sila is like an invisible, silent virus of goodness that has no vaccine to prevent its spread.
Depending on the buddhist lineage there are from 5 – 16 or as I read in one sutra 84,000 (which means innumerable) moral precepts. There are five that are presented that are for those of us who have not renounced livelihoods, or family. In the zen soto tradition there are an additional six that are precursors to these five. When one becomes a renunciate, then one takes on the remaining five (or three in some lineages). For our study of sila we will explore the five that all lineages have in common. I will introduce them from the perspective of the soto zen tradition from Everyday Zen ( https://everydayzen.org/ ) because the emphasis is on the practices that generate goodness and result in the disabling of ways that inhibit goodness.
The five are:
I vow to cherish life, not to kill
I vow to accept gifts, not to steal.
I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality.
I vow to practice truthfulness, not to lie.
I vow to practice clarity, not to intoxicate the mind or body, of self or others.
Roshi Norm Fischer teaches that the practice of sila paramita is:
“easy going serene conduct, beautiful conduct…actively benefiting others…joyful, expansive effort to be of service.”1
May it be so.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all being
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 Please Note. We will be putting the afternoon practices on hold for a bit. We look forward to seeing you in the morning sessions!
Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to email@example.com
1 Norm Fischer Roshi “Sila Paramita”. Being a Good Non-Person. (The Six Perfections Part 5)” Upaya Zen Center. Copyright October 2023 URL.https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/norman-kathie-fischer-sila-paramita-six-perfections-part-5/