Monday, October 31, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh on 'The Five Precepts'

One commentator observed that a fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism lies in the nature of their respective proscriptions. Christianity has the famous "Thou Shalt Nots" of the Ten Commandments, whereas Buddhism has the "Refrain Froms" or the "Avoids" of the Five Precepts that constitute Right Action. The defiant streak in human nature, the commentator pointed out, makes it tough for us to avoid the wrong actions covered by the Ten Commandments (or, at least, the milder of them). One might also point out that violation of the Ten Commandments can allegedly end one up in Hell, while it is through non-observance of the Five Precepts that we create a hell on Earth.

One of the most comprehensive and astute renderings of the Five Precepts (avoid or refrain from killing, from taking what is not freely given, from sexual impropriety, from harmful speech, and from taking intoxicants) is set out in the following "Five Mindfulness Trainings" recommended by Thich Nhat Hanh in his helpful book "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames," (Appendix B) pp. 209-212:

"The First Mindfulness Training:
Reverence for Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.
The Second Mindfulness Training:
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving-kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth.
The Third Mindfulness Training:
Sexual Responsibility
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training:
Deep Listening and Loving Speech
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training:
Mindful Consumption
 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society."

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