It is important to understand that the moral precepts are vows one takes for themself. These are not commandments that we follow and then, from a self righteous seat, judge everyone who has not taken them or who is acting in ways that are opposed to these precepts. The moral precepts appear in sutras written about when the Buddha was asked about how one would join a sangha of practitioners or when he was asked what practices will bring one to “ the other shore” and what practices keep me on “the near shore”. (“The other shore” is the non regressing realization of intrinsic goodness of the totality. “The near shore” is the suffering that is the result of living in ignorance of that reality). In the Jannusoni suttas1 Buddha talks about the moral precepts as principles that will lead to good results and that principles that are in opposition to these moral precepts will lead to bad results. Whatever one does, says, or thinks will lead to results. It is that simple.
Throughout the sutras there are references to effects that may come about as a result of one’s way of being, but these effects are not imposed or inflicted by another, a judge, or a god, as reward or punishment. They are merely the result of an individual’s actions, words, or thoughts. As a result of actions we may end up having experiences that are like hell or heaven but, from this perspective, no one sends us there. We are there as a direct result of our way of being.
I vow to receive gifts, not to steal.
Stated simply in the Janussoni sutta:
“Stealing is the near shore, and not stealing is the far shore.”
The first step to stealing is taken based on the assumption that something can be possessed. The assumption that something can be owned is based on the assumption that a thing can be permanent and that the owner is somehow permanent. I have read about colonizers meeting indigenous peoples and wanting to trade, but that the native peoples did not have this concept of mine and yours and found the idea that something could be owned as preposterous. Things might be passed from hand to hand but ultimately all things are of the earth and sky and so are people, so both will inevitably return to earth and sky.
This is similar to the Buddhist insights on impermanence. Ultimately all things, ideas, human creations will pass away. When this is known and experienced as the nature of all of reality, the idea of ownership is eradicated and as a result, the motivation to steal or take what is not offered freely doesn’t occur. It seems that stealing is an action taken as the result of a belief in permanence or not understanding that there is only impermanence. When I think that there is something that is fixed and unchanging that leads me to believe that it can be owned, or kept; that it can be mine or theirs. These ideas lead to attachment and greed, which inevitably lead to a desire to take what is not mine or what has not been offered.
The hellish world that we seem to be experiencing in these times is a result of the belief in permanence. My things, my house, my land, my spouse, my children, my thoughts, my legacy, my country, my religion, my earth; all impermanent, all destined to return to earth and sky and ultimately forgotten.
Taking this knowledge to heart, we can practice receiving gifts, offering gifts, not stealing and knowing that ultimately, nothing is there to be stolen.
Practicing this will result in crossing to “the other shore”.
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 throughout all times and in all directions.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org