Buddhist teacher Tara Brach wrote about “shifting-into-place,” in a blog when she described Zen teacher Ed Brown’s realization in his early years at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center that his biscuits were fine just as he was baking them. For years, he had been discouraged because, to him, those biscuits didn’t taste like the Pillsbury biscuits he’d “made” many years ago.
I think of all the years I have coped with the belief that I was not-good-enough, not in regard to biscuits because I don’t bake, but in regard to my essential self. On Wednesday, despite having the same history, scars, propensity for pettiness, and limitations, I suddenly didn’t see myself as a problem in need of fixing.
This shift doesn’t alter my intention to continue my weekly time with therapist, Jennifer. Neither do I plan to stop sitting meditation or to cease classes at the East Bay Meditation Center. And I will continue sharing not always attractive personal truths, although the motivation may no longer be to compensate for “not being enough.” I still want to be heard and more than ever I want to hear others tell their truths.
On Wednesday, I accepted just this: being as I am. At that moment, I felt myself at rest in reality. I was just as I was without further judgment of who or how I should be. From this shifted perspective, I now want my efforts to seek inner peace to be in service of all beings, to cause no harm. We are, after all, interconnected. Are we not?
I can’t say exactly why on Wednesday something shifted. Perhaps it was tied to the four-week course on Buddhist precepts that ended the night before. I had been profoundly moved by learning what it would be like to live the precepts day-to-day, how tightly tied was my behavior to the well-being of all the people with whom I would come in contact and whom they would someday meet.
Yet appreciating the precepts didn’t happen the first day I saw them written on flip chart paper and taped up at the East Bay Meditation Center. The teacher, Mushim Ikeda, had drawn a line down the center of the paper and introduced “Five Precepts in Simple Form” from the dual perspective of what one is not to do on the left side and what living them entails on the right side.
1. Not to kill but to cherish all life.
2. Not to lie but to tell the truth.
3. Not to steal but to respect the things of others.
4. Not to commit sexual misconduct but to respect the wholeness of relationship.
5. Not to misuse or deal in intoxicants but to practice clarity of mind.
Sort of do’s and don’ts if one were to see them as prescriptive like the Ten Commandments. But that is not, Mushim told us, the Buddhist way to work with precepts. I have to admit at first glance I was dismissive. Four weeks studying these? I thought what a waste of time.
I was wrong to underestimate the value of thinking about how to live. Consider the first precept: Cherish Life. This precept means cherishing one’s own, not just the life of a water buffalo or a dairy cow, a stray spider on the shower curtain or the ant infestation on a hot day. How do I actually live by this precept day after day? I thought of a time in the recent past when I did not cherish my life enough to tell someone clearly and simply, “This is not working for me.” That failure to speak up for myself resulted in hurt feelings and rancor I know did not add to the good of all beings.
Buddhist teacher Diane Eshin Rizzetto explores the precepts in her book Waking Up to What You Do. She reminds me that I will not suddenly rise to every occasion just by memorizing the precepts. Living with these aspirations needs an ongoing, active engagement with everyday choices. In the smallest moments I can apply the precepts by asking: “How do you choose to live your life?”
Ultimately, I find the precepts to be so profound that I vow to begin again and again, not to be deterred by my failures to apply them skillfully. Perhaps with practice, I can use the precepts to cause no harm. And should I cause harm unwittingly, I can intend to do better next time.