I want to bring up the importance of balance when working with the precepts. One friend wrote, with respect to non-harming, that we need to remember to include ourselves. If we’re taking care of others with so much energy and dedication that our own health fails, this would be an example of unbalanced action based on the first precept. There are lots of ways in which we harm ourselves that could be examined and either mitigated or stopped. Give a thought to whether or not you are harming yourself in some way – overwork, use of controlled (or un-) substances, dangerous driving, harsh internal judging? Compassion, the opposite of harming, needs to be applied to others AND to ourselves. We need to include ourselves in our circle of care and compassion.
One could also apply this concept of balance to the second precept regarding non-taking. It’s opposite is generosity. It’s easy to see how generosity could be overdone, too, isn’t it? There was an article in the New Yorker some years back about a fellow who had given away his considerable wealth and was struggling to find doctors willing to harvest organs from his living body to donate to strangers. His family wasn’t too happy with this scenario, and doubtless he had a mental illness that prevented his balancing his own (and his family’s) needs with those of others. But the principle is the same for people who lose control of their time. Becoming overcommitted to various obligations may start with purely generous intentions, but if the result is burnout or resentment, then things are out of balance. We need to cultivate appropriate giving – of our time and resources – and to guard against taking what is not expressly offered to us. It may take some effort to find the right balance, and to continuously re-balance, but it is an essential element of a beneficial outcome.
More on taking soon.