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THE SECOND PARAMITA
Robert Aitken, Roshi
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
Originally published in MOON MIND CIRCLE, Summer 1987 pp.1-5.
Copyrights (c) by Robert Aitken and Sydney Zen Center
251 Young St., Annandale, Sydney, NSW 2038, Australia.
Shila is the mnemonic listing of precepts, and by extension it is
Vinaya, the moral way. Vinaya is the first of the "Three Baskets" or
Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon, the others being Sutra and Abhidharma,
the teachings and the commentaries. Formally becoming a Buddhist is a
matter of accepting the precepts in the ceremony called Jukai. To
understand how morality and Buddhism go together, it is probably best to
review the Buddhist teaching itself briefly:
The basic teaching of the Buddha is that there is no abiding self. Our
being is made up of and constantly depends upon other people, animals,
plants, soil, water, air, the planet earth, the other planets, the sun,
moon and stars. Our very genes are programmes provided to us by our
ancestors and from unknown sources back to the earliest green slime and
before. Nothing is my own and everything makes me up: my parents,
grandparents - the birdsong, portraits by Rembrandt, the scent of the
Puakenikeni, and the laughter of a friend. Also forming my being are
death in the family, the danger of biological holocaust,
misunderstandings, and malicious gossip.
This formation that is me, flowing along, eating and adapting and
adopting, is the same formation that is you, with very small variations
in our combination of genes and experience that give us our uniqueness.
This uniqueness is our own personal potential, and we depend upon each
other for sustenance to fulfill it.
Each centre in our multi-centred universe is dependent in this way.
Nothing abides and we find that everything is fundamentally
insubstantial -- shunyata, emptiness. It is not a vacuum that we
perceive, but the absence of a fixed self in ourselves and in the
multitudinous things of the universe. With this perception, or with an
understanding that such an experience is possible, we glimpse the
Dharma: the peace of the fathomless void and the harmony of the many
centres as they flow about and through each other - out there and as
We also perceive misuse of harmony as habitats are destroyed, nations
threatened, childlren and spouses abused and friends slandered.
The Ten Grave Precepts, which make up Shila for the Zen student, are ten
ways to prompt our awareness of the Dharma, the peace and great harmony
of life and death that is our universe. They not only prompt our
awareness, they are expressions of perfection in the Dharma. Each
precept is a paramita.
The Ten Grave Precepts.
l. I take up the way of not killing. This First Precept echoes the
first of our Great Vows for All, "Though the many beings are numberless,
I vow to save them." The Precept is specific and negative in wording;
the Vow is universal and positive. The emphasis in the Precept is upon
protection and nurturing: the emphasis in the Vow is upon spiritual
encouragement. Both are expressions of perfections: both enhance the
process of perfection.
Usually, nurturing a specific being is clearly also a matter of saving
the universe, but sometimes options of abortion, spraying bugs, and
trapping rats seem to offer ways to keep the world organism thinned and
healthy. Such issues can becone agonizingly difficult, and it is
tempting to make decisions on the basis of persuasive arguments that are
over-simple and reductive. They are koans and must be faced with a
clear sense of proportion.
Decisions about the quantitatively larger issue of war and peace have
been clarified by the unprecedented technological capacity for killing
which science has achieved. There is no longer an argument for a "just
war", or for "mutually assured deterence". Incredibly murderous weapons
are prepared to destroy all human life and almost all animal and plant
life. The koan here is how to speak out appropriately and take action
that is instructive in opposition to such weapons and their so-called
Less obvious, but no less dangerous, is the probability of biological
disaster through the destruction of forests, meadows, wetlands, lakes,
rivers, seas, and the air. I vow to moderate my lifestyle and reduce
its demands, and to encourage you to do the same, for the protection of
all beings in their infinite variety.
2. I take up the way of not stealing. This and all the subsequent
Precepts are variants of the first, "Not Killing". "I take up the way
of not stealing" means I will respect the order of things - the paramita
Peasants who occupy unused private land in Central America are
demonstrating their view of the fundamental order. "We are taking what
is rightfully ours", they say. The landlords say they are stealing.
The question is, which view kills? Which view gives life?
3. I take up the way of not misusing sex. Sexual intercourse is
misused when it is an addiction rather than the peak experience of love
between a committed couple. All the Precepts point to addictive
behalviour, stealing, lying, using alcohol or drugs, slandering, even
killing. Addiction reveals a lack of confidence, a need for something
from others, the interdependence of all things inverted for just one
being. It is no good condemning promiscuity as immoral behaviour, for
it is only a symptom of general immaturity. Like anybody else, the
addict needs guidance to find a way to forget the self.
4. I take up the way of not speaking falsely. Speaking falsely is also
killing, and specifically, killing the Dharmna. The lie is set up to
defend the idea of a fixed entity, a self image, a concept, or an
institution. I want to be known as warm and compassionate, so I deny
that I was cruel, even though somebody got hurt. Sometimes I must lie
to protect someone or large numbers of people, animals, plants and
things from getting hurt, or I believe I must. What is the big picture?
"Buddha nature pervades the whole universe." 1
5. I take up the way of not using drink or drugs. This can be extended
to anything that clouds the mind: silly conversation, noisy music, most
TV programmes. But Buddhism is not absolute. A little wine warms my
bones and relaxes my inhibitions, and casual conversation enhances my
humanity and the humanity of others. This Precept is warning against
addiction and dependency. When I am completely honest at the very source
of my thoughts, what is the path of the Buddha?
6. I take up the way of not discussing faults of others. Again, this
Precept too deals with an aspect of killing. More people get hurt by
gossip than by guns. The point is that nobody has a fixed character.
Everyone has tendencies, and those tendencies can be used or misused,
read or misread. The tendency to be accomodating can be seen negatively
as passivity, and positively as patience. Encourage the tendency, and it
will find its own perfection.
7. I take up the way of not praising myself while abusing others. The
reason I praise myself and abuse others is that I seek to justify and
defend myself as a certain kind of rather superior being.
Actually, I am not superior or inferior. My actions and words are
appropriate or inappropriate to the needs of people, animals, plants and
things, including myself. If I am authoritarian and put myself up and
others down, then I am not meeting their need to grow and mature or my
own to listen and learn. The Buddha Dharma is obscured. The world
8. I take up the way of not sparing the Dharma assets. The Dharma
assets are all phenomena in their precious uniqueness, the
interdependence of everything in perfect harmony, and the absence of any
abiding self. When I am not stingy with the Dharma assets, I conduct
myself and say things that enhance my own understanding of uniqueness,
harmony and peace - and understanding on the part of others, so that my
family members, friends and everyone and everything can maintain their
path of perfection. Another way to say this is: I conduct myself so
that the original perfection becomes more and more clear to all beings.
9. I take up the way of not indulging in anger. You and I have had the
experience in sesshin of bathing in anger. Something unreasonably tiny,
perhaps something you don't even notice, punctures a nasty bubble of
angry gas, and you sit there playing out scenarios of retribution.
Perhaps you blame yourself for this condition, but it is needless blame,
and it only adds to the confusion. Even such a nightmare of anger is not
a violation of this Precept, because if you are sincere, you return to
the practice whenever you possibly can. Anger itself is the field of
your practice, and you pursue the little puck Mu on that field.
Blake says, "the tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of
instruction." Kwan-yin hurls a thunderbolt of anger from time to time.
Indulgence in anger is the addiction, and it rests upon pain. What is
it that troubles you?
l0. I take up the way of not slandering the Three Treasures. The Three
Treasures are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These are
variously the Historical Buddha, his teaching, and the fellowship of his
followers - and realisation, the path to realisation, and the harmony of
all beings. Slandering such Treasures is belittling them, and the
grossest kind of belittling is conceptual analysis that reduces and
quantifies - obscuring the unknown and unknowable source, the marvellous
subtlety of the Buddha's words and the words of his great followers, the
synchronicity and symmetry of experience, and the precious nature and
aspiration of each individual person, animal or plant.
I take up the Ten Precepts of the disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, and I
invite you to join me.
THE TEN GRAVE PRECEPTS.
l. I take up the way of not killing.
2. I take up the way of not stealing.
3. I take up the way of not misusing sex.
4. I take up the way of not speaking falsely.
5. I take up the way of not using drink or drugs.
6. I take up the way of not discussing faults of others.
7. I take up the way of not praising myself while abusing others.
8. I take up the way of not sparing the Dharma assets.
9. I take up the way of not indulging in anger.
l0. I take up the way of not slandering the Three Treasures.
l. From the classical dedication of sutras, translated by Nakagawa Soen
Roshi, and used in the Diamond Sangha and at the Zen Center of L. A..
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