Guidelines for Living: The Third Training

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Dear Still Water Friends,

For 2500 years mindfulness practitioners have voluntarily committed themselves to five training rules as a way of reducing the suffering they might bring to themselves and others, and also as a way of acknowledging their entry into the spiritual community. The training rules are seen as guidelines, not laws or divine commandments. They are reminders of our aspirations, and also a counter-force to being caught up in the emotions of a situation and engaging in behavior that in the long run harms ourselves and others.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In our discussion we will focus especially on the Third Training, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls True Love.

The Buddha’s original wording of the Third Training is usually translated as: “I undertake the rule of training to abstain from s-xual misconduct.” The key words in Pali are “kamesu micchacara.Kamesu refers generically to sense pleasure and especially s-xual pleasure. Micchacara means “the wrong way.” In other words, the practitioner is stating the intention not to obtain s-xual pleasure the wrong way. (Note: I’m using “s-x” in an afford to avoid spam filters. In the past we have had problems with emails about this training.)

However, what is the “wrong way”? The Buddha understood “wrong way” primarily in terms of inappropriate partners. In the Saleyyaka Sutra, for example, he explained that abstaining from s-xual misconduct meant that a layman:

does not have intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, or with those already engaged” (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation).

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his formulation of the Third Training, is especially concerned with the inner attitude and the quality and durability of the relationship.

Knowing that s-xual desire is not love, and that s-xual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in s-xual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends.

In the November, 2011, issue of Tricycle Magazine, Zen teacher Pat Enkyo O’Hara offers another perspective on the “wrong way.”

What we do with our bodies, and with whom, is not a question of external rules, but one of acting from our intimate connection to another, without harm or disrespect. Seen in this way, there can be no uncertainty about reconciling the third precept with marriage, homosexuality, or nontraditional relationships. What, then, constitutes “s-xual misconduct”? It is any act that causes harm. … Skillful s-x is not using another, nor allowing another to use you, in a harmful way. Skillful s-x is not about a denial of the senses, but it is about avoiding attachment to the senses, thereby harming ourselves or others.

You are invited to join us this Thursday. In our discussion we will explore what “wrong way” means to us. If we were asked to advise a young person, or write a training rule about mindful s-xual conduct, what would we advise or include? What are the implicit guidelines we actually follow?

The full text of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Third Training is below along with a related excerpt from a Question and Answer session.

Also, please note that on Saturday, January 7, 2012, the Still Water community will join with other mindfulness communities in the Washington area for a Five Mindfulness Training Transmission Ceremony. If you are, or might be, interested in taking one or more of the trainings through the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, please send an email to or let me (Mitchell) know in person. Even if you are not receiving the trainings this year, we invite you to attend the ceremony to nourish your seeds of spiritual commitment and to offer support to those who will be receiving the trainings. Details about the transmission ceremony, and the full text of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, are available on our web site,

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner


Thich Nhat Hanh’s Third Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by s-xual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.

Knowing that s-xual desire is not love, and that s-xual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in s-xual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from s-xual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by s-xual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my s-xual energy. I will cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Empty S-x,

by Thich Nhat Hanh, From a Question and Answer session on July 27, 1998.

“Empty s-x” means s-x without love, without commitment, without communion or mutual understanding between the two parties. In our modern society sometimes very young people, twelve or thirteen, fourteen years old are already having s-x. It seems to me that this is very dangerous, because that s-x may be described as “empty s-x.” Once empty s-x has been experienced, the chance of having deep communication, deep engagement, will be rare. . . .

There is a tendency to believe that the feeling of loneliness in you can only be dissolved when you come together very close in a s-xual relationship. I have even heard one person say that the best way to know a person is to have s-x with him or her. When there is no sharing about deepest concerns, when there is no real communication, no mutual understanding of each other, and no serious commitment, I believe that s-x is something very destructive. . . .

The s-xual act can be very sacred, very beautiful, and also very spiritual, if it goes together with deep understanding, deep aspiration.

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