Not Taking That Which Is Not Given

Not Taking That Which Is Not Given

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 09, 2010 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, after our meditation, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Second Training. In the time of the Buddha it was a simple training: “not taking that which is not given” (In Pali, Adinn’adana). Most often it is translated as “not stealing.”

Underlying the training is the notion of personal property. People have possessions that they consider as belonging to them. They would feel deprived or violated if these possessions were taken by others. In the Buddha’s time it included such things as the vegetables in one’s garden, the clothes drying on the line, and the goats in the field. The training, even in the Buddha’s time, also extended to business: not to misuse weights and measures to one’s advantage, and not to be duplicitous in one’s transactions.

The training nourishes civility and inner peace. When we take only what is freely given, we show respect for others. We step out of our self-absorption and acknowledge our common desire to enjoy life and be from suffering.

For most of us, as mindfulness practitioners, following this training of taking only what is freely given seems natural and expected in our daily face-to-face interactions. We don’t shoplift from the grocery store, and we expect the grocery store to have honest scales and accurate labeling.

However, if we extend our awareness to where our products and our incomes come from, it becomes more complicated. We are inextricably part of a world in which many things come to us easily or cheaply because of the violence or exploitations suffered by other people (and other species), in this country and abroad, now and in the past.

We will begin our discussion of the second training with three questions:

  • Do I resist looking deeply into the roots of the products I consume and the life style I am able to live?
  • How do I feel when I resist looking and when I look deeply?
  • Are there concrete actions I have taken (or can take) that help me feel I am respecting other people and species and living in accord with the second training?

You are invited to be with us (and also to consider these questions on your own or with friends).

Below are the second mindfulness and reinterpreted for our times by Thich Nhat Hanh and also an excerpt on economic justice from Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai Buddhist social activist.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:35), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:50).

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Thich Nhat Hanh’s Second Mindfulness Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.

I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

Overturning the Structures
By Sulak Sivaraksa, from Seeds of Peace

The second precept is, "I vow to abstain from stealing." In the "World-Conqueror Scripture" (Cakkavatti Sabananda Sutta), the Buddha says that once a king allows poverty to arise in his nation, the people will always steal to survive. Economic justice is bound up with Right Livelihood. We must take great pains to be sure there are meaningful jobs for everyone able to work. And we must also take responsibility for the theft implicit in our economic systems. To live a life of Right Livelihood and voluntary simplicity out of compassion for all beings and to renounce fame, profit, and power as life goals are to set oneself against the structural violence of the oppressive status quo. But is it enough to live a life of voluntary simplicity without also working to overturn the structures that force so many people to live in involuntary poverty?

The establishment of a just international economic order is a necessary and interdependent part of building a peaceful world. Violence in all its forms – imperialist, civil, and interpersonal – is underpinned by collective drives for economic resources and political power. There is a story from the early scriptures that illustrates this. Five years after the Buddha gained enlightenment, he returned to his home village and found his mother’s tribe, the Koliyans, and his father’s tribe, the Sakyans, at war. The dispute had been triggered when Sakyan and Koliyan farmers could not decide which of them should divert the Rohini River into their rice fields. Both insisted that their crops would ripen with a single watering and then the other side could divert the river. The farmers began to insult each other, and, enraged by insults, the tribes’ warriors rushed out to avenge their honor. At this point Buddha intervened. The warriors dropped their weapons in embarrassment as their enlightened kinsman questioned them about the cause of the quarrel. When he discovered that the cause was water, he asked them if water was worth so much as the life of even a single human being. They answered that the life of a human being was beyond price, and the Buddha said, "it is not fitting, then, that because of a little water you should destroy warriors who are beyond price."


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 09, 2010


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