Last word on non-taking

Two friends shared thoughts with me that I’d like to pass on for your consideration. They are quite different in nature, so, as with all my posts, please use what you can and just pass over the rest.

Ayya Khema was a very strong, articulate, and wise Buddhist nun in the 20th century. German by birth, she taught around the world, and still has many who consider her a primary teacher. A local friend told me that Ayya Khema once gave a specific example of taking what isn’t offered. He quoted her as saying that if you are in someone’s home and an interesting object catches your attention, if you pick it up to examine it without asking permission, this would contradict the second precept. We talked about why it might be, and came up with a couple of thoughts. For one thing, it might be a fragile or precious object and the owner might become nervous with your handling it. Another thought is that you might be demonstrating a subtle desire to have the object, possibly fishing for a spontaneous gift. I can see that this sort of thing depends on a deep integration of the principle of not taking something that hasn’t been offered, and that there might be other opportunities for my understanding to deepen.

From another angle, a different friend pointed out a 2008 article in the NY Times called “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler”. You can see it here:

I talked a little about whether or not meat eating is a form of harming or killing in the context of the first precept, but this article presents the same question through the lens of the non-taking idea, essentially: Is it fair for people in rich countries to eat so much meat when it uses up so much land that could otherwise be farmed or left as forest, and pollutes the earth in such a damaging way? The author is not recommending vegetarianism per se, but a slowing down of our consumption, which by the way, makes nutritional sense as well. Very interesting perspective.

Seriously, next up: sex.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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One Response to Last word on non-taking

  1. I thought I was familiar with all of Ayya Khema’s teachings, having read all of her books (there are several that are short little dana books she brought with her to retreats) and having gone on a retreat she held in California.

    But this is a little gem of a teaching on non-taking, if not just to watch ourselves in the very situation she spoke of, but also to remind us that there may be many ways of “taking what is not freely given” that are subtle and not so obvious as actions, and so she challenges us to watch our intentions and actions very carefully.

    Thanks for this.

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