Refining Our Lives

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday (at Crossings) and Sunday (in Columbia), after our meditation, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Fifth Training, Nourishment and Healing.

In the original Pali text, the Fifth Training is about abstaining or refraining from fermented beverages that contribute to carelessness, indolence, or remissness. The Pali word translated as abstaining or refraining is veramani. It is derived from a verb, ramati, which means to to enjoy oneself or to delight in, and the prefix vi, which is often used to reverse the verb. Literally, it might means something like "not enjoying oneself with," or "not delighting in." In other words, ceasing or renouncing something one enjoys doing.

The underlying message might be phrased as: Do not do this thing (drinking fermented beverages) that brings you enjoyment or delight when doing so will result in outcomes that do not contribute to your well-being and the well-being of others.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s expansion of the trainings begins with a positive spin. “I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.” However the underlying message is the same: don’t do these things (among them, gambling, use of alcohol and drugs, irresponsible use of technology, and unmindful consumption) when the outcome will be carelessness, negligence, indolence, or remissness toward oneself, others, or the environment.

It seems that at the time of the Buddha, and today, we humans are tempted by things that make us feel good, yet lead to results that are not beneficial to ourselves and others. If we get hooked by always wanting that good feeling, our lives become narrow with little deep or lasting joy. As I understand the Fifth Training, it is about recognizing temptation and taking a stance: I will be mindful of my desires and urges, I will look deeply into the consequences of my actions, and, as best as I am able, I will refrain from acting in ways that create suffering for myself and others.

It is easy to place all this in the Western moral framework of right and wrong and God-given commandments. But we don’t have to go there. We can simply see it as technique, as skillful means, as when we bake a pie. When we bake the pie at a certain temperature range, the results are pleasing. When the oven is too hot or not hot enough, the results are less pleasing. The training is about learning how to refine our lives.

You are invited to join us this Thursday or this Sunday. We will begin our discussion by exploring our edges. Are there things that we enjoy in the moment that lead to consequences which are not pleasing to us? How do we work with them? How does mindfulness practice help?

The full text of the Fifth training is below, along with a related excerpt by Thich Nhat Hanh from For a Future to Be Possible.

Also, at the beginning of 2011, as in past years, the Still Water community will join with other mindfulness communities in the Washington area for a Five Mindfulness Training Transmission Ceremony on Saturday, January 8. 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 know in person. If you wish, we will pair you with an experienced practitioner who can answer questions, address concerns, and help prepare you for the transmission ceremony.

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 on January 8 is available on our web site. The new version of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is also available on our web site.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


The Fifth Training: Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain web sites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

Mindful Consumption
by Thich Nhat Hanh
excerpts from For a Future to Be Possible

Practicing a diet is the essence of this training. Wars and bombs are the products of our consciousness individually and collectively. Our collective consciousness has so much violence, fear, craving, and hatred in it, it can manifest in wars and bombs. The bombs are the product of our fear. Because others have powerful bombs, we try to make bombs even more powerful. Then the other nations hear that we have powerful bombs, and they try to make even more powerful bombs. Removing the bombs is not enough. Even if we could transport all the bombs to a distant planet, we would still not be safe, because the roots of the wars and the bombs are still intact in our collective consciousness. Transforming the toxins in our collective consciousness is the true way to uproot war. . . .

Consuming mindfully is the intelligent way to stop ingesting toxins into our consciousness and prevent the malaise from becoming overwhelming. Learning the art of touching and ingesting refreshing, nourishing, and healing elements is the way to restore our balance and transform the pain and loneliness that are already in us. To do this, we have to practice together. The practice of mindful consuming should become a national policy. It should be considered true peace education. . . .

The practice of mindfulness helps us be aware of what is going on. Once we are able to see deeply the suffering and the roots of the suffering, we will be motivated to act, to practice. The energy we need is not fear or anger; it is the energy of understanding and compassion. There is no need to blame or condemn. Those who are destroying themselves, their families, and their society by intoxicating themselves are not doing it intentionally. Their pain and loneliness are overwhelming, and they want to escape. They need to be helped, not punished. Only understanding and compassion on a collective level can liberate us. The practice of the Five Wonderful Precepts is the practice of mindfulness and compassion. For a future to be possible for our children and their children, we have to practice.