Dharma Topic: To Love is to Protect

Dharma Topic: To Love is to Protect

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 09, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we willrecite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussionon the underlying orientation or spirit with which we commit tospiritual guidelines. 

For many Westerners the idea of mindfulness trainings bringsto mind unpleasant early life experiences with vows andcommandments. Perhaps we felt we were manipulated orpressured to take on the traditional oaths or covenants. Perhapswe were young rebels, labeling adherence to spiritually basedcommitments as archaic and irrelevant. 

The five mindfulness trainings offer us a chance to look againat spiritually-based commitments. We may see that rather than justconstraining us, they also can liberate us, helping us holdtrue to our deepest aspirations when momentary conditionsencourage self-centeredness or cold-heartedness.

In For a Future to Be Possible, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the trainings, then called precepts: 

The Five Wonderful Precepts are love itself. To love is to understand,protect, and bring well-being to the object of our love. The practiceof the precepts accomplishes this. We protect ourselves and we protecteach other.

You are invited to join with us this Thursday evening for our meditation, recitation, and discussion.

Also, there will be an opportunity to formally receive the ThreeRefuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings on Saturday, January 6. Ifyou would like to explore receiving the trainings with others from theStill Water Mindfulness Practice Center, please email us atinfo@StillWaterMPC.org.

Warm Wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


Introduction, from For a Future to be Possible by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, 1993)

I have been in the West for twenty-seven years, and for the past ten Ihave been leading mindfulness retreats in Europe, Australia, and NorthAmerica. During these retreats, my students and I have heard manystories of suffering, and we have been dismayed to learn how much ofthis suffering is the result of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse,and similar behaviors that have been passed down from generation togeneration.

There is a deep malaise in society. When we put a young person in thissociety without trying to protect him, he receives violence, hatred,fear, and insecurity every day, and eventually he gets sick. Ourconversations, TV programs, advertisements, newspapers, and magazinesall water the seeds of suffering in young people, and in not-so-youngpeople as well. We feel a kind of vacuum in ourselves, and we try tofill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV,going to the movies, or even overworking. Taking refuge in these thingsonly make us feel hungrier and less satisfied, and we want to ingesteven more. We need some guidelines, some preventive medicine, toprotect ourselves, so we can become healthy again. We have to find acure for our illness. We have to find something that is good,beautiful, and true in which we can take refuge.

When we drive a car, we are expected to observe certain rules so thatwe do not have an accident. Two thousand five years ago, the Buddhaoffered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them livepeaceful, wholesome, and happy lives. They were the Five WonderfulPrecepts, and at the foundation of each of these precepts ismindfulness. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in ourbodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harmto ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families, and oursociety, and ensures a safe and happy present and a safe and happyfuture.

In Buddhism, precepts, concentration, and insight always go together.It is impossible to speak of one without the other two. This is calledthe Threefold Training–sila, the practice of the precepts; samathi,the practice of concentration; and praj~na, the practice of insight.Precepts, concentration, and insight “inter-are.” Practicing theprecepts brings about concentration, and concentration is needed forinsight. Mindfulness is the ground for concentration, concentrationallows us to look deeply, and insight is the fruit of looking deeply.When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing “this,”we prevent “that” from happening. This kind of insight is not imposedon us by an outside authority. It is the fruit of our own observation.Practicing the precepts, therefore, helps us be more calm andconcentrated and brings more insight and enlightenment, which makes ourpractice of the precepts more solid. The three are intertwined; eachhelps other two, and all three bring us closer to final liberation –the end of “leaking.” They prevent us from falling back into illusionand suffering. When we are able to step out of the stream of suffering,it is called anasvara, “to stop leaking.” As long as we continue toleak, we are like a vessel with a crack, and inevitably we will fallinto suffering, sorrow, and delusion.

The Five Wonderful Precepts are love itself. To love is to understand,protect, and bring well-being to the object of our love. The practiceof the precepts accomplishes this. We protect ourselves and we protecteach other.

The translation of the Five Wonderful Precepts presented in this bookis new. It is the result of insights gained from practicing together asa community. A spiritual tradition is like a tree. It needs to bewatered in order to spring forth new leaves and branches, so it cancontinue to be a living reality. We help the tree of Buddhism grow byliving deeply the essence of reality, the practice of precepts,concentration, and insight. If we continue to practice the preceptsdeeply, in relation to our society and culture, I am confident that ourchildren and their children will have an even better understanding ofthe Five Precepts and will obtain even deeper peace and joy.

In Buddhist circles, one of the first expressions of our desire topractice the way of understanding and love is to formally receive theFive Wonderful Precepts from a teacher. During the ceremony, theteacher reads each precept, and then the student repeats it and vows tostudy, practice, and observe the precept read. It is remarkable to seethe peace and happiness in someone the moment she receives theprecepts. Before making the decision to receive them, she may have feltconfused, but with the decision to practice the precepts, many bonds ofattachment and confusion are cut. After the ceremony is over, you cansee in her face that she has been liberated to a great extent.

When you vow to observe even one precept, that strong decision arisingfrom your insight leads to real freedom and happiness. The community isthere to support you and to witness the birth of your insight anddetermination. A precepts ceremony has the power of cutting through,liberating, and building. After the ceremony, if you continue topractice the precepts, looking deeply in order to have deeper insightconcerning reality, your peace and liberation will increase. The wayyou practice the precepts reveals the depth of your peace and the depthof your insight.

Whenever someone formally vows to study, practice, and observe the FiveWonderful Precepts, he also takes refuge in the Three Jewels-Buddha,Dharma, and Sangha. Practicing the Five Wonderful Precepts is aconcrete expression of our appreciation and trust in these ThreeJewels. The Buddha is mindfulness itself; the Dharma is the way ofunderstanding and love; and the Sangha is the community that supportsour practice.

The Five Precepts and the Three Jewels are worthy objects for ourfaith. They are not at all abstract-we can learn, practice, explore,extend, and check them against our own experience. To study andpractice them will surely bring peace and happiness to ourselves, ourcommunity, and our society. We human beings need something to believein, something that is good, beautiful, and true, something that we cantouch. Faith in the practice of mindfulness–in the Five WonderfulPrecepts and the Three Jewels-is something anyone can discover,appreciate, and integrate into his or her daily life.

The Five Wonderful Precepts and the Three Jewels have their equivalentsin all spiritual traditions. They come from deep within us andpracticing them helps us be more rooted in our own tradition. After youstudy the Five Wonderful Precepts and the Three Jewels, I hope you willgo back to your own tradition and shed light on the jewels that arealready there. The Five Precepts are medicine for our time. I urge youto practice them the way they are presented here or as they are taughtin your own tradition.

What is the best way to practice the precepts? I do not know. I amstill learning, along with you. I appreciate the phrase that is used inthe Five Precepts: to “learn ways.” We do not know everything. But wecan minimize our ignorance. Confucius said, “To know that you don’tknow is the beginning of knowing.” I think this is the way to practice.We should be modest and open so we can learn together. We need aSangha, a community, to support us, and we need to stay in close touchwith our society to practice the precepts well. Many of today’sproblems did not exist at the time of the Buddha. Therefore, we have tolook deeply together in order to develop the insights that will help usand our children find better ways to live wholesome, happy, and healthylives.

When someone asks, “Do you care?” Do you care about me? Do you careabout life? Do you care about the Earth?”, the best way to answer is topractice the Five Precepts. This is to teach with your actions and notjust with words. If you really care, please practice these precepts foryour own protection and for the protection of other people and species.If we do our best to practice, a future will be possible for us, ourchildren, and their children.

Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 09, 2006


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