Practicing for whom?

Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of persons found existing in the world. What four? (1) One who is practicing for his own welfare but not for the welfare of others; (2) one who is practicing for the welfare of others but not for his own welfare; (3) one who is practicing neither for his own welfare nor for the welfare of others; and (4) one who is practicing both for his own welfare and for the welfare of others.

(1) And how, bhikkhus, is a person practicing for his own welfare but not for the welfare of others? Here, some person himself abstains from the destruction of life but does not encourage others to abstain from the destruction of life. He himself abstains from taking what is not given but does not encourage others to abstain from taking what is not given. He himself abstains from sexual misconduct but does not encourage others to abstain from sexual misconduct. He himself abstains from false speech but does not encourage others to abstain from false speech. He himself abstains from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness, but does not encourage others to abstain from them. It is in this way that a person is practicing for his own welfare but not for the welfare of others.
… (to be continued)
These, bhikkhus, are the four kinds of persons found existing in the world.

AN4.99 translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This sutta brings up the question of why we might undertake the training precepts. What is our primary motivation? For most of us, the likely motive is to decrease our own level of suffering — nothing wrong with that as a starting point. As we progress on the path, we start to understand that our actions (and refraining from certain actions) affect those around us. Perhaps others think we are weird, but it’s also possible that we make them wonder about their own actions.

What does the Buddha mean when he suggests that we could encourage others to live in accordance with the precepts? Obviously, preaching and nagging are ineffective encouragements, so how might we go about it? In my experience, the best teacher is simply behaving and speaking in a way that embodies harmlessness, respect for the belongings of others, modesty, truthfulness and sobriety. This how we might show others (possibly) a better way of doing things. Certainly with our children or grandchildren, we can only ask them to be as ethical as we are ourselves. If someone asks why we did a particular thing, we can tell them.

At a lovely party in a beautiful home, one of the hosts was offering champagne around. When I declined the flute, he asked why. I thought for a moment and then said, “Because I find that it doesn’t improve me.” This answer was both honest and kind; it was about me and not him; but it made him stop and think.

Another example might be when people offer information about how to download music or videos for free from an unauthorized site, we can just say, “It’s not something I do.” If there’s an honor system, we honor it.

Rarely, there is an opportunity to present, in a more formal way, the ethical teachings of the Buddha. In those cases, we can clearly point out the benefits.

In essence, we can encourage others to practice in line with the the Buddha’s advice in whatever way presents itself to us.

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Filed under General, Harmlessness, Intoxicants, Non-taking, Precepts, Sex, Speech

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