It seems a good time to review where we’ve been and look ahead to future topics. Please feel free to comment on any of these.
We started (as the Buddha does) with generosity – the foundation practice that supports all the ethical trainings offered by the Buddha. Next, there was a discussion of friendships and how they can bring out the best in us or drag us down.
Then, there was a review in depth of the five precepts, the five guidelines for action that the Buddha recommended to non-monastic followers over and over again. Because I think they’re so important, I’m going to list them again, and encourage you to find a way to remember them.
I undertake the training rule to refrain from harming living beings.
(I will care for living beings by protecting and helping them)
I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking what is not offered.
(I will develop generosity towards all living beings)
I undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual (sensual) misconduct.
(I will be clear and kind in managing my sexual energy)
I undertake the training rule to refrain from false speech.
(I will be truthful)
I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking intoxicants which cause heedlessness.
(I will take in only wholesome or helpful things)
Please understand that these are not rules to berate yourself about. We notice when our efforts go well and when they don’t. When it doesn’t we examine the action, its effect, and our intention, and we might resolve to do something differently the next time. When our efforts bring benefits, we can reflect with joy and continue. We start where we are and try to recognize and repair the roughest breaches, and then progress to more nuanced improvements. It’s a lifelong process, and the reward is in our everyday activity and its beneficial effects on ourselves and others.
It’s also really important not to use the precepts to judge others, especially harshly. Inevitably, we will notice the effects of keeping and breaking the precepts in the behavior of others. Some examples are so screamingly obvious that it can make our head spin. When we notice others breaking the precepts, we can check our own behavior and attitude to see if there’s some cleaning up needed in our own actions.
When we notice someone doing something particularly beautiful, we can feel inspired to action in a similar way. More about this later, but who we look up to, who we admire, can direct our own actions in subtle but deep ways.
A lot of confusion can be cleared up by remembering the five precepts. Is the action of our body, speech or mind harmful or beneficial? Whether its an action being contemplated, being done now, or done in the past, the reflection can be most useful.
Lastly, we had the reflection about livelihood and how to think about (and perhaps change) the routines of our lives to increase our awareness and kindness.
Because the subject of right speech seemed to hit a nerve, I’m planning to return to that in the future. Meanwhile, we’ll move on to the subject of recognizing and mitigating our own anger, and then explore the Buddha’s recommendations regarding specific relationships (from the Sigalovada Sutta). This might take us to the end of the year or so, after which I’m considering changing the format so that it’s easier for people to see each others’ comments, which have mostly been directed to me alone so far. If you have an opinion about any of this, please let me know!