Dear Still Water Friends,

Several weeks ago we began our intermittent exploration of the Six Paramitas, six traditionally revered ways of practicing which help us move from suffering to ease. This week, after our meditation, we will address the second of the Six Paramitas (sila in Pali, shila in Sanskrit) variously translated as morality, mindfulness trainings, precepts, or discipline.

For many of us in the West, words such as morality, precepts, and discipline have a negative connotation. Especially in "progressive" circles, conventional morality is often interpreted as socially sanctioned justifications used by those in power to control the lives, thoughts, actions, and bodies of those with less power, especially women, oppressed minorities, children, and the economically or socially marginalized.

Modern Buddhist writers, on the other hand, have sought to give a different meaning to morality, mindfulness trainings, precepts, and discipline. Drawing on the original conceptions of the Buddha, morality is seen as a self-chosen discipline that allows our deepest aspirations to flourish. A moral life is seen as one which is lived in accord with the interbeingness of the universe.

Santikaro Bhikku, an American born Thai monk, writes that Buddhist morality and rules of conduct "are expressions of the wisdom that sees the world as it is and the compassion that motivates us to live in it without causing suffering." It is:

the way serious Buddhist practitioners arrange, organize, and structure their lives in order to support Dhamma study, practice, realization, and service. This covers all physical and verbal actions. It involves all forms of relationships: interpersonal, social, economic, political, ecological, as well as with one's own body.

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings Thich Nhat Hanh notes that: 

The practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a form of love, and a form of giving. It assures the good health and protection of our family and society. Shila paramita is a great gift that we can make to our society, our family, and to those we love.

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron understands sila/discipline to be a "process that supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitual patterns." She notes that:

Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess. It provides the encouragement to step further into groundlessness.


You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation period and our program. Our discussion will begin with two questions:

The above short quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron were extracted from passages  provided below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


From Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart Of The Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy, And Liberation.

The second practice is the perfection of the precepts, or mindfulness trainings, shila paramita. The Five Mindfulness Trainings help protect our body, mind, family, and society. . . .

The practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a form of love, and a form of giving. It assures the good health and protection of our family and society. Shila paramita is a great gift that we can make to our society, our family, and to those we love. The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we protect ourselves and the people we love. When we practice shila paramita, we offer the precious gift of life.

Let us look deeply together into the causes of our suffering, individually and collectively. If we do, I am confident we will see that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the correct medicine for the malaise of our times. Every tradition has the equivalent of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Every time I see someone receive and practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings, I feel so happy - for him, his family, and also for myself - because I know that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We need a Sangha around us in order to practice them deeply.
 

From Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times 

To dissolve the causes of aggression takes discipline, gentle yet precise discipline. Without the paramita of discipline, we simply don't have the support we need to evolve. . . .


I remember the first retreat I led after The Wisdom of No Escape had been published. Most people came to the retreat because they were inspired by the notion of maitri that permeates that book. About the third day of the program, we were all sitting there meditating when one woman suddenly stood up, stretched a bit, and lay down on the floor. When I asked her about it later, she said, "Well, I felt so tired that I thought I'd be kind to myself and give myself a break." It was then that I realized I needed to talk about the magic of discipline and not being swayed by moods. . . .

What we discipline is not our "badness" or our "wrongness." What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In other words, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment.

What makes this discipline free from severity is prajna. It's not the same as being told not to enjoy anything pleasurable or to control ourselves at any cost. Instead, this journey of discipline provides the encouragement that allows us to let go. It's a sort of undoing process that supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitual patterns.
At the outer level, we could think of discipline as a structure, like a thirty-minute meditation period or a two-hour class on the dharma. Probably the best example is the meditation technique. We sit down in a certain position and are as faithful to the technique as possible. We simply put light attention on the out-breath over and over through mood swings, through memories, through dramas and boredom. This simple repetitive process is like inviting that basic richness into our lives. So we follow the instruction just as centuries of meditators have done before.

Within this structure, we proceed with compassion. So on the inner level, the discipline is to return to gentleness, to honesty, to letting go. At the inner level, the discipline is to find the balance between not too tight and not too loose --between not too laid-back and not too rigid.

Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess. It provides the encouragement to step further into groundlessness.