The Precepts As Commitments

During this dialogue, Peter reviewed previous dialogues on The Power Of Commitment and the Five Precepts, hoping to foster a different perspective on the precepts.  In the history of Buddhism, the precepts are worded as “abstentions”, that is, behaviors that are to be avoided.  In this rendering, we are asked to consider positive aspects of them as commitments to manifest clear awareness (Right Understanding) and benevolent intentions (Right intentions).  In the course of the dialogue, participants were urged to realize that regular meditation practice is essential for the cultivation of the virtues that the precepts represent.  A one page summary reviewing the usefulness of working with the precepts as commitments is posted on the site for review.  Next week, the dialogue will begin to explore the practice of Right Mindfulness, which include the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana).

See also accompanying text: A New Approach to Fostering Buddhist Principles

First Night: Precepts and Retreat Perspectives

During this first Dhamma talk of the one-week retreat, Robert reviewed the five Precepts: Avoiding hurting others, avoiding hurtful speech, avoiding dishonesty and theft, avoiding hurtful speech avoiding hurtful sexual behavior, and avoiding dulling the mind with intoxicants.  He also talked of the three Refuges: Buddha (the potential for all of us to wake up from our delusions), Dhamma (the ways and means for waking up) and Sangha (the supportive community of like-minded people).  Then Peter talked of the progressive course of training during the week, that is, increasing concentration and tranquility, then the practice of vipassana, often called insight.  He also described two stages of development: first, that of the integration of self-states, then, when the personality is more integrated, the development of spiritual transcendence.

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Empirical Ethics

Peter continues discussion on “evidence-based” precepts. The Kalama Sutta reminds us that in order for the precepts to have an impact on our life, they must be validated within our personal experience. Peter encourages us to look closer at the concept of “doing harm” within our daily routine.

Evidence Based Precepts

Beginning with a long excerpt from the Kalama Sutta, Peter emphasized the Buddha’s teaching on personal validation of the concepts within Buddhism.  The Kalamas were a tribe of critical thinkers who enjoyed challenging priests and philosophers regarding their presentations to the tribe.  The Buddha exhorted them to not take anything on face value, but instead to validate or invalidate a particular self-state through mindfulness, organized around the ethics described in the Five Precepts: not to kill, steal, misbehave sexually, speak deceptively or hurtfully, and to not intoxicate the body/mind.  The group was challenged to examine carefully how they can assess in their own experience how, for example, hostility toward an insect might be acceptable–but then, where does one draw the line?  What is it about your direct, immediate experience that forms your response?  The dialogue was so engaging and lively that it was agreed to continue the discussion at the next meeting.