There was one of those quirky “try this” posts on Facebook that sent me to three different websites from which I collected words and pictures that created the name of my band, its album title and cover. Silliness that distracted me from something in a long day. But I am intrigued that the band name is “Beacon Comm;” it was Beacon Communications which I thought sucked as a band name. The church made my eyebrow raise but the words I had to use for the cover song were interesting: a box where I hang my hat.
This sacred place as a box where I hang my hat. Fascinating. Especially when this random set of information kept resonating with conversations I found myself in over the week. Precepts, Mindfulness Trainings, Vows, Refuge, gravitas of commitment.
More than that, at dim sum lunch, a dharma friend and I puzzled over the reactivity we see in many people to the idea of taking precepts. Not keeping precepts, because most of us keep them in one form or another. Taking the precepts seems a huge breath-catching, show-stopper. Somewhere between the shrimp shui mai and the steamed rice cakes, we stopped being puzzled about the reactivity and started digging into what it meant to actually live the precepts.
In 2002, I excitedly took the Five Mindfulness Trainings at a retreat led by dharma teachers in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. Over the years of reciting the Mindfulness Trainings, I’ve develop a deep affection for them and perhaps less for the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings when I ordained later. Somehow the Fourteen seem just a bit more political and prone to a holier-than-thou attitude. But we recite them too and do our best with them. There are other sets of precepts one can commit to as well: Bhante Gunaratna transmits Eight Precepts – the standard five with three on speech. And of course, there are the 10 Grave Percepts of most Zen orders – it’s actually 16 because you have to add the Three Refuges and the Three Pure Precepts.
Ironically, I think I only really understood what I was getting into when I took the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Honestly, I can’t say I dug deep with the Fourteen MT’s. And I gave it the best shot I had at the time with jukai and the 16 Precepts.
I have to think about all this. It bothers me that we can’t separate the call to vow from a sense of belonging to a group. The taking on of a way of living becomes conflated with a social identity. Your mileage may vary and it likely has.
When I read this passage in Roshi Daido Loori’s Invoking Reality, I felt my discomfort articulated:
There are thousands of Zen practitioners in our country, many thousands who have received the precepts and taken refuge in the Three Treasures but who don’t really know what they’ve done. They have no idea what the precepts mean.
“Hello, I’m Genju and I’m a precepts-taking addict.”
Roshi Daido Loori continues:
There is so much to learn. The precepts are incredibly profound. Don’t take them lightly. They are direct. They are subtle. They are bottomless. Please use them. Press up to them. Push them. See where they take you. Make them your own. They are no small thing, by any measure. They nourish, they heal, and they give life to the Buddha.
It’s a start. It’s a box where I hang my hat.
Thank you for practising,
Just yesterday I was thinking about all the precepts I’ve taken, so many that I can’t even remember most of them, and wondering if I uphold them, or if they uphold me, or both, or neither. Thank you for your good questions.