This deeper look at the precepts of Buddhism strives to eliminate the misconception that Zen is just a form of meditation, putting it forward as a philosophy of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living. The book is fashioned like a primer, divided into logical bites and descriptions, first of the three treasures (the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha), then of the three pure precepts (not creating evil, practicing good, actualizing good for others) and then the 10 grave precepts (affirm life; be giving; honor the body; manifest truth; proceed clearly; see the perfection; realize self and other as one; give generously; actualize harmony; experience the intimacy of things). However, this book by Loori (The Zen of Creativity) is not exactly an introduction. The cadence, the language and the concepts all assume more than a cursory familiarity with the practice of Zen Buddhism. Ideas like gasso and the koan Mu, for instance, are mentioned but not defined. At times the book feels uneven; some grave precepts feel more rushed while others get noticeably longer treatment. Although the core argument—that Zen requires an ethical code of conduct as well as meditation practice—is certainly user-friendly, this book's presentation will make it most valuable for those who are already very familiar with Zen teachings. (June 12)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zenby John Daido Loori
There is a common misconception that to practice Zen is to practice meditation and nothing else. In truth, traditionally, the practice of meditation goes hand-in-hand with moral conduct. In Invoking Reality, John Daido Loori, one of the leading Zen teachers in America today, presents and explains the ethical precepts of Zen as essential aspects of Zen training and development.
The Buddhist teachings on morality—the precepts—predate Zen, going all the way back to the Buddha himself. They describe, in essence, how a buddha, or awakened person, lives his or her life in the world.
Loori provides a modern interpretation of the precepts and discusses the ethical significance of these vows as guidelines for living. "Zen is a practice that takes place within the world," he says, "based on moral and ethical teachings that have been handed down from generation to generation." In his view, the Buddhist precepts form one of the most vital areas of spiritual practice.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen
When Zen arrived and began to take root in this country, there arose a misconception about the role of morality and ethics in the practice of the Buddhadharma. Statements that Zen was beyond morality or that Zen was amoral were made by distinguished writers on Buddhism, and people assumed that this was correct. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. Enlightenment and morality are one. Enlightenment without morality is not true enlightenment. Morality without enlightenment is not complete morality. Zen is not beyond morality, but a practice that takes place within the world, based on moral and ethical teachings. Those moral and ethical teachings have been handed down with the mind-to-mind transmission from generation to generation.
The Buddhist precepts form one of the most vital areas of spiritual practice. In essence, the precepts are a definition of the life of a Buddha, of how a Buddha functions in the world. They are how enlightened beings live their lives, relate to other beings, make moral and ethical decisions, manifest wisdom and compassion in everyday life. The precepts provide a way to see how the moral and ethical teachings in Buddhism can come to life in the workplace, in relationships, in government, business, and ecology.
The first three precepts are vows to take refuge in the Three Treasures—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Buddha is the historical Buddha, but at the same time Buddha is each being, each creation. Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha, but at the same time Dharma is the whole phenomenal universe. And Sangha is the community of practitioners of the Buddha’s Dharma, but at the same time Sangha is all sentient beings, animate and inanimate.
The Three Pure Precepts are: “not creating evil,” “practicing good,” and “actualizing good for others.” The Pure Precepts define the harmony, the natural order, of things. If we eschew evil, practice good, and actualize good for others, we are in harmony with the natural order of all things.
Of course, it is one thing to acknowledge the Three Pure Precepts, but how can we practice them? How can we not create evil? How can we practice good? How can we actualize good for others? The way to do that is shown in the Ten Grave Precepts, which reveal the functioning of the Three Pure Precepts. The Ten Grave Precepts are: (1) Affirm life; do not kill, (2) Be giving; do not steal, (3) Honor the body; do not misuse sexuality, (4) Manifest truth; do not lie, (5) Proceed clearly; do not cloud the mind, (6) See the perfection; do not speak of others’ errors and faults, (7) Realize self and other as one; do not elevate the self and blame others, (8) Give generously; do not be withholding, (9) Actualize harmony; do not be angry, (10) Experience the intimacy of things; do not defile the Three Treasures.
The Sixteen Precepts—taking refuge in the Three Treasures, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Precepts—are not fixed rules of action or a code for moral behavior. They allow for changes in circumstances; for adjusting to the time, the particular place, your position, and the degree of action necessary in any given situation. When we don’t hold on to an idea of ourselves and a particular way we have to react, then we are free to respond openly, with reverence for all the life involved.
When we first begin Zen practice, we use the precepts as a guide for living our life as a Buddha. We want to know how to live in harmony with all beings, and we do not want to put it off until after we get enlightened. So, we practice the precepts. We practice them the same way we practice the breath, or the way we practice a koan. To practice means to do. We do the precepts. Once we are aware of the precepts, we become sensitive to the moments when we break them. When you break a precept, you acknowledge that, take responsibility for it, and come back to the precept again. It’s just like when you work with the breath in zazen. You sit down on your cushion and you vow to work with the breath, to be the breath. Within three breaths you find yourself thinking about something else, not being the breath at all. When that happens, you acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, let the thought go, and return to the breath. That is how you practice the breath, and that is how you practice the precepts. That is how you practice your life. Practice is not a process for getting someplace; it is not a process that gets us to enlightenment. Practice is, in itself, enlightenment.
It is one thing to study the precepts, but the real point of practice is to be the precepts through and through, to manifest them with our lives. The precepts are a sword that kills and a sword that gives life. The sword that kills is the absolute basis of reality, no-self. The sword that gives life is the compassion that comes out of that realization of no-self. The precepts are the sword of the realized mind.
The precepts need to be understood clearly from the literal point of view, from the perspective of compassion and reverence for life, and from the absolute, or “one-mind,” point of view. Their richness is wasted if we see them simplistically as a set of rules, a list of “dos and don’ts.” They are not meant to bind but to liberate. In fact, they define a life that is unhindered, complete, free. What the precepts do is to bring into consciousness that which is already there.
When one only reads about Buddhism, one can come to the conclusion that Zen is amoral, that it considers itself above morality and does not address itself to ethical teachings. That is the view of a person standing on the sidelines, only involved intellectually. Those who truly embrace this practice cannot help but see the intimacy between the Buddhadharma and a moral and ethical life. It is intrinsic to the teaching itself. The life of the Buddha is the manifestation of compassion, but if we do not engage it, it does nothing. It all depends on us. To stand on the sidelines merely thinking about practice is self-styled Zen. For the teachings to come alive, they have to be lived with the whole body and mind.
I feel that because we put such an emphasis on the precepts, we have a moral obligation to do something about that misconception concerning Zen and morality. 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.
Ask yourself what it means to take refuge in the Three Treasures. What is refuge? What, really, are the Three Treasures? We say “Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,” but what does that mean? Those are the words. What is the reality of Buddha, of being one with the Buddha, being one with the Dharma, being one with the Sangha? It is not some idea. It is a reality, a state of consciousness, a state of being. It is the state of being in harmony with the moral and ethical teachings.
We live in a time period of considerable moral crisis, with an erosion of values and a fragmentation of meaning prevalent throughout the fabric of the society. The crisis impacts on us personally, as a nation, and as a planet. The injuries that we inflict on each other and on our environment can only be healed by sound moral and ethical commitment. That doesn’t mean being puritanical. It doesn’t mean being “moralistic.” These precepts have a vitality that is unique in the great religions. They are alive, not fixed. They function broadly and deeply, taking into account the intricacies and subtleties of conditions encountered.
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 against 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.
Meet the Author
John Daido Loori (1931–2009) was one of the West's leading Zen masters. He was the founder and spiritual leader of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. His work has been most noted for its unique adaptation of traditional Asian Buddhism into an American context, particularly with regard to the arts, the environment, social action, and the use of modern media as a vehicle of spiritual training and social change. Loori was an award-winning photographer and videographer. His art and wildlife photography formed the core of a unique teaching program that integrated art and wilderness training by cultivating a deep appreciation of the relationship of Zen to our natural environment. He was a dharma heir of the influential Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi and he authored many books.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews