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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 56 that springs from it, offered a huge breakthrough in human consciousness—a transcendence of the principle of preserv- ing one’s tribe, which is the source of so many ethical codes. Today we’re finding that it’s more relevant than ever as we’re becoming so aware of our interconnectedness. The highest alignment within our hearts is to understand our intercon- nectedness and appreciate that we really want to protect and try to enhance the life of every sentient being. NormaN Fischer: That is what our morality is based on in the biggest context, but there’s also a narrow context. In a training situation, practitioners often practice according to a rule. That rule can be very specific and strict, particularly in monastic contexts. If you’re following the traditional Vinaya as a Theravada monk, you take a vow to live by these rules as an integral part of your commitment to being trained together with others. In that sense, Vinaya rules are instrumental. Not eating after noon is not a universal moral rule of kindness. It’s a rule you undertake for the benefit of your training. There’s still a place for those rules, and I’ve felt great admi- ration for those who have adopted those rules, particularly Western monks who are taking a great cultural leap. It’s pre- serving something very ancient for a beneficial purpose, but they also would recognize that there’s a Buddhist morality that is a valid way of acting with integrity that doesn’t depend on following the 250 rules. In Zen, we have sixteen bodhisattva precepts, which are in a way the opposite of Vinaya in the sense that they’re very broad and they’re understood in Zen as koans—not so much specific rules as deep reflections about our conduct. So, we have two poles in our practice of sila: very specific training rules and a much wider sense of ethical principles. aNdrew oleNdzki: The Theravada tradition has always employed a two-part system: very strict rules for monks and nuns as an integral part of their training and very broad pre- cepts for laypeople. The good part of that broadness is that it leaves you a lot of personal responsibility for how you’re going to define not killing and not harming. But that is often frustrating for people. Some just want to be told what is right and wrong, so they don’t have to figure out whether walking on grass violates the first precept because there are bound to be bugs in there. But that’s the first noble truth: we live in a flawed system. [Laughter] Everybody is kind of left to their own devices in figuring out where to draw the lines. For some Buddhists vegetarian- ism is an important expression of that, but most Buddhists of course are not vegetarian, and neither was the Buddha. On almost any matter we can think of there’s a personal engage- ment of one’s own understanding about right conduct. There is also some natural growth and evolution in how to apply guidelines as one’s understanding deepens. lama PaldeN: There are core rules in the Vinaya that deeply reflect and reinforce the principles we’ve been talking about, A Beginner’s Mind is An ethicAl Mind in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, suzuki roshi explains how we naturally uphold the precepts when our actions arise from original, nondualistic mind. In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind. For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dual- istic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self-sufficient. If we lose our original self-sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves. From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 40th Anniversary Edition, forthcoming from Shambhala Publications in November (Facing page) Touching Ground, 1997 by Arlene Shechet