I notice that when I merely consider taking a vow or taking on a precept, my thoughts wander, almost instantly, to the question “How will my freedom be limited by following this precept?” “What pleasure will I have to sacrifice in order to maintain this vow?” By noticing this, I realize that the practi ce is already working by revealing my habitual tendencies of clinging and aversion. This is prior to taking the vow. It will most likely get even juicier when taking on the precept. This may be part of what Norm Fischer means when he claims that taking the precepts is fun. The practice of taking on the moral precepts acts like a highly polished mirror reflecting the conscious and unconscious actions in this life that cause constrictions and suffering for self and others. Practicing the precepts, perhaps paradoxically, also creates space for flexibility and an expanded sense of freedom to engage joyfully with life.
Taking on moral precepts is kind of like asking to have the gutter bumpers put up in bowling. Until we develop the strength to swing and guide the heavy ball towards the pins instead of it swerving off into the gutter, we have the bumpers to keep the ball in the lane. Once strength, confidence and skill develops through practice the physical bumpers are dropped, but we maintain an inner sense of their presence and are able to direct the throw off the ball where we want it to go. Then we are freer to be fully and joyfully engaged in the game
I vow to practice clarity, to not intoxicate myself or others.
From Etymology on Line.1
-mid15c., “to poison” (obsolete), from Medieval Latin intoxicatus, past participle of intoxicare “to poison,” from in- “in” (from PIE root *en “in”) + Latin toxicare “to poison,” from toxicum “poison” (see toxic). Meaning “make drunk” first recorded 1570s (implied in intoxicated). Figurative sense “excite to a high pitch of feeling” is attested from 1590s.
From Sanskrit Dictionary2:
unmada . adjective.
mad, furious, drunk, intoxicated, intoxicating.
In some of the historical references to the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, intoxication from alcohol or opium may have been an issue for the community and that may have been what this precept was referring to. But, in these times there are innumerable forms of intoxicants beyond drugs and alcohol: internet, social media, video streaming, gambling, shopping, spirituality, money…
Reflecting on this life, where do we find our intoxicants? What do we do to “excite a high pitch feeling”? What do we consume to diminish clarity of mind? To excite our passions, avert from our suffering, or to enable numbness or delusion?
More importantly, how do we find ways of being that allow us to pierce the dense cloud of seductive intoxication that is so prevalent in these times? This is no small feat in a time when from first emergence to our funerals, we are subject to and are expected to subject each other to an inundation of diversions from just being; when even most spirituality seduces with promises of something beyond just this beingness. The simple act of being fully present with a clear and open mind takes significant effort, even though ultimately, when the magnetic field of intoxication finally dissipates as a result of our lack of attending to it… there is no doing being done.
From one line in the poem “Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage” by Shitou Xiquian3:
Turn around the light to shine within,
Then just return.
This practice of moral precepts is part of that turning around the light away from the seductive intoxications and toward the omnipresent true nature of beingness.
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 beings.
3. Shitou Xiqian (700 – 790 CE), Translated by. Kazuaki Tanahashi and Dan Leighton
Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage
I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared. Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.
The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between. Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live. Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.
Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?
Perishable or not, the original master is present, not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed. A shining window below the green pines —
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.
Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all. Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?
Turn around the light to shine within, then just return. The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut, Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.
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: Notice weekday morning sit time is changed to 6:30 instead of 6.
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 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