Five Precepts in a modern world

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Pannapetar » Fri May 21, 2010 4:51 am

Dear friends,

I've been wondering: five precepts shouldn't be that hard to remember. Compare that to the patimokkha containing 227 (or respectively 331) rules, including some really arcane, such as the ones about travelling with a bikkhuni on a boat: ok when crossing, bad when going downstream, but ok without appointment. :shrug: Unlike the patimokkha, the difficulty with the five precepts, or rather their traditional phrasing, is that they are somewhat compendious which - although good for easy memorisation- leaves some room for interpretation. This is probably intended, since an overly meticulous phrasing might lead to lengthy text involving paragraphs about bikkhunis on boats, which would be self-defeating. Still, some people such as myself who are a little bit thick, occasionally wish for a more fleshed out version, especially an interprtation that has direct relevance to modern life.

Thich Nath Hanh has attempted this by phrasing the so-called "five mindfulness trainings" that are patterned after the first five precepts. I have reproduced them below. I found Thich Nath Hanh's phrasing immensely helpful, as it provides not only concrete guidelines, but also offers some reflection on the larger ethical context of the precepts. I haven't come across any comparable "exegesis" within the Theravada until now, which may well be due to not looking hard enough. So my question is: did you? Are there any adaptations of the five precepts to modern life that contemporary Theravada schools teach? Comments and suggestions by recognised teachers? I'd be interested in hearing them. Perhaps we can collect them here. Thank you.

Cheers, Thomas

The Five Mindfulness Trainings according to Thich Nath Hanh wrote:-First Training-

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning 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, and in my way of life.

-Second Training-

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am committed 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.

-Third Training-

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed 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 prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

-Fourth Training-

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed 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 am committed 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 criticise 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.

-Fifth Training-

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed 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 foods 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 practising 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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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby retrofuturist » Fri May 21, 2010 5:02 am

Greetings Pannapetar,

For the most part, I find such reworkings of the five precepts a bit unnecessary as I think the originals are already very clear as it is and no exegesis is required.

The only exception to that is the issue of copyright (which didn't exist back in the day) and how 'taking that which is not given' relates to matters of intellectual property. That issue been discussed here a few times before at Dhamma Wheel already.

It's worth noting that this list from certainly Thich Nath Hanh isn't a 1:1 relationship to the five precepts. Things like "ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations" fit better with the precept about entertainments, which isn't part of the 5, but is part of the 8.

I'm not saying there is anything inherently wrong in what Thich Nath Hanh is endorsing here... simply that it's not what the Buddha taught and that such adaptation is not necessary.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Anicca » Fri May 21, 2010 5:10 am

I prefer the closest translation of the closest actual words of the Buddha.

retrofuturist wrote:I'm not saying there is anything inherently wrong in what Thich Nath Hanh is endorsing here... simply that it's not what the Buddha taught.


:anjali:

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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Wind » Fri May 21, 2010 5:45 am

Pannapetar wrote:
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning 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, and in my way of life.



plants and minerals? I know for Bhikkhus, plants are off-limits. But for lay people, plants is essential for survival.
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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby appicchato » Fri May 21, 2010 7:23 am

...reworkings of the five precepts (are) a bit unnecessary as...the originals are already very clear...and no exegesis is required.

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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Pannapetar » Fri May 21, 2010 8:33 am

retrofuturist wrote:For the most part, I find such reworkings of the five precepts a bit unnecessary as I think the originals are already very clear as it is and no exegesis is required.


I am a little in doubt about this.

For example, there is the 10th precept which does not allow one to accept gold and silver. This is usually only observed by monks. Most monks understand this to mean money, but some monks may be clever and say: we accept Master and Visa (it's only plastic!). Many monks (at least here in Thailand) have stewards for treasurers, but they still manage donation funds and transactions indirectly.

Just a few days ago, we had someone on this discussion board asking whether making out with a prostitute violates the third precept. Judging from the responses there was no unanimous consensus about it, which shows that even here -within a community of practicing Buddhists- opinions about the exegesis of the third precept diverge.

Then there is the whole complex of ecological soundness of one's actions, which is a topic that wasn't even conceived of at the Buddha's time. This involves questions about wholesome and unwholesome actions with regard to the environment. We are pretty much left to guess what the Buddha would have thought about environmental degradation, species extinction, industry, and modern consumer habits.

So, in my understanding there is a lot of ground that isn't covered, because we live in the 21st century, and because things have changed since the time of the Buddha.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby retrofuturist » Fri May 21, 2010 8:46 am

Greetings Pannepetar,

If someone develops an eisegesis along the lines of what you suggest, some people will go on to lock it in stone as "this is how it should be - this is how it is", regardless of the fact that it was not spoken by the Buddha and that it is merely one person's interpretation of what the Buddha said, what the Buddha meant and what he might have thought had he existed in the 21st century. Once it becomes established as such, it starts denying the right of other people to find out what he said for themselves before that additional filter was superimposed over the top.

Sure, you can act how you like personally, in accord with whatever morality you like. You can even extrapolate beyond the Dhamma for your own personal use, but we really do not need any more eisegesis, we certainly do not need Thich Nath Hanh to replace the five precepts, and we do not need to smuggle our personal preferences and worldly agendas into the Dhamma.

'The Blessed One is an Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One, perfect in knowledge and conduct, the Happy One, the knower of the world, the paramount trainer of beings, the teacher of gods and men, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.'

:buddha2:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri May 21, 2010 8:49 am

Nothing essential has changed..human nature has not changed in a brief 2500 years. Sentient life is still known by the Three Signs of Being. The Four Noble Truths are still relevant , The Eightfold Noble Path is still the only way to end suffering.
The precepts are still as germane as ever.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby mikenz66 » Fri May 21, 2010 9:04 am

Hi Pannapetar,
Pannapetar wrote:So, in my understanding there is a lot of ground that isn't covered, because we live in the 21st century, and because things have changed since the time of the Buddha.

I agree and disagree at the same time.

The way I see it, the 5 precepts are a sila 101. The bare minimum to keep restrain us from unwholesome behaviour. So I agree with you that aspiring to a higher level, such as your quote from TNH, or cultivating the positive aspect of each precept (harmlessness and kindness, not just not killing, etc.).

I think that discussions about whether X is a violation of precepts often overlook this point that precepts are just very basic training rules. They are not some unique, complicated, Buddhist concept like anatta or dependent origination. My advice is that if one suspects that some action will violate a precept (e.g. that an unauthorised download will violate the second precept), then one should just stop doing it. I.e. if you have to ask whether something violates a precept you probably already know the answer, but just don't want to admit it...

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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Pannapetar » Fri May 21, 2010 9:07 am

Sanghamitta wrote:The precepts are still as germane as ever.


Aw come on, Sanghamitta... it's ok to dump 100 liter waste oil into the toilet, but woe betide you if you sleep on a high bed?

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby retrofuturist » Fri May 21, 2010 9:10 am

Greetings,

mikenz66 wrote:I think that discussions about whether X is a violation of precepts often overlook this point that precepts are just very basic training rules.

This is an excellent point, Mike.

SN 45.8 wrote:"There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort."

AN 2.19 wrote:"Abandon what is unskillful, monks. It is possible to abandon what is unskillful. If it were not possible to abandon what is unskillful, I would not say to you, 'Abandon what is unskillful.' But because it is possible to abandon what is unskillful, I say to you, 'Abandon what is unskillful.' If this abandoning of what is unskillful were conducive to harm and pain, I would not say to you, 'Abandon what is unskillful.' But because this abandoning of what is unskillful is conducive to benefit and pleasure, I say to you, 'Abandon what is unskillful.'

"Develop what is skillful, monks. It is possible to develop what is skillful. If it were not possible to develop what is skillful, I would not say to you, 'Develop what is skillful.' But because it is possible to develop what is skillful, I say to you, 'Develop what is skillful.' If this development of what is skillful were conducive to harm and pain, I would not say to you, 'Develop what is skillful.' But because this development of what is skillful is conducive to benefit and pleasure, I say to you, 'Develop what is skillful.'"

We don't need someone else to define these modern morality challenges for us - we need to look into the mirror and work it out for ourselves.

MN 61 wrote:What do you think, Rahula: What is a mirror for?"

"For reflection, sir."

"In the same way, Rahula, bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions are to be done with repeated reflection.

"Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any bodily action of that sort is fit for you to do.

"While you are doing a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.

"Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.

"Whenever you want to do a verbal action, you should reflect on it: 'This verbal action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then any verbal action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful verbal action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any verbal action of that sort is fit for you to do.

"While you are doing a verbal action, you should reflect on it: 'This verbal action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.

"Having done a verbal action, you should reflect on it: 'This verbal action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful verbal action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.

"Whenever you want to do a mental action, you should reflect on it: 'This mental action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful mental action with painful consequences, painful results, then any mental action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful mental action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any mental action of that sort is fit for you to do.

"While you are doing a mental action, you should reflect on it: 'This mental action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.

"Having done a mental action, you should reflect on it: 'This mental action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful mental action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should feel distressed, ashamed, & disgusted with it. Feeling distressed, ashamed, & disgusted with it, you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful mental action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.

"Rahula, all those brahmans & contemplatives in the course of the past who purified their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions, did it through repeated reflection on their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions in just this way.

"All those brahmans & contemplatives in the course of the future who will purify their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions, will do it through repeated reflection on their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions in just this way.

"All those brahmans & contemplatives at present who purify their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions, do it through repeated reflection on their bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions in just this way.

"Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself: 'I will purify my bodily actions through repeated reflection. I will purify my verbal actions through repeated reflection. I will purify my mental actions through repeated reflection.' That's how you should train yourself."

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Ven. Rahula delighted in the Blessed One's words.


The Dhamma truly is timeless.

:buddha2:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri May 21, 2010 9:27 am

Pannapetar wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:The precepts are still as germane as ever.


Aw come on, Sanghamitta... it's ok to dump 100 liter waste oil into the toilet, but woe betide you if you sleep on a high bed?

Cheers, Thomas

The title of this thread is The Five Precepts...high beds have nothing to do with it. The goalposts have been moved.
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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Ben » Fri May 21, 2010 10:50 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Pannapetar,
Pannapetar wrote:So, in my understanding there is a lot of ground that isn't covered, because we live in the 21st century, and because things have changed since the time of the Buddha.

I agree and disagree at the same time.

The way I see it, the 5 precepts are a sila 101. The bare minimum to keep restrain us from unwholesome behaviour. So I agree with you that aspiring to a higher level, such as your quote from TNH, or cultivating the positive aspect of each precept (harmlessness and kindness, not just not killing, etc.).

I think that discussions about whether X is a violation of precepts often overlook this point that precepts are just very basic training rules. They are not some unique, complicated, Buddhist concept like anatta or dependent origination. My advice is that if one suspects that some action will violate a precept (e.g. that an unauthorised download will violate the second precept), then one should just stop doing it. I.e. if you have to ask whether something violates a precept you probably already know the answer, but just don't want to admit it...

Mike


Well said, Mike.
I think there is a certain common sense and sensitivity that comes with practice. In a great many situations, the ethical course of action appears to be so much clearer.
kind regards

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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby bodom » Fri May 21, 2010 2:21 pm

The Five Precepts and the Five Enoblers by Prince Vajirananavarorasa is a modern day "exegesis" on the Five Precepts. Bhikkhu Bodhi often cites this book extensively in some of his other works. Good luck finding a copy though.

Also see Bhikkhu Bodhi's Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el282.html

Buddhist Ethics by Hammalawa Saddhatissa is also a classic.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/pages/display ... n=&image=1

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Five Precepts in a modern world

Postby Pannapetar » Fri May 21, 2010 2:39 pm

retrofuturist wrote:The Dhamma truly is timeless.


Yes, it is. While most of us are likely to agree with this statement, I am not so sure about the language of the canon (such as the one you cited). To say it with Bikkhu Bodhi's words, there is a cognitive dissonance between the mindset of the culture in which the canon was written and the current postmodern mindset. There is also a long-standing tradition of commentaries which figures like Ajahn Buddhadasa have continued into our time that has produced explanations and renderings of the dhamma in the terms of its contemporaries. I was just wondering if something in view of the five precepts existed that can be considered a good contemporary interpretation.

mikenz66 wrote:The way I see it, the 5 precepts are a sila 101. [...] I think that discussions about whether X is a violation of precepts often overlook this point that precepts are just very basic training rules.


"Sila 101" describes it well. The point is: it is very important to get the basics right. If one cannot get the basics right, one cannot get much else right, can one? Since the five precepts have such a great importance for the laity, some elucidation in contemporary terms would probably not hurt. Ben said that common sense and sensitivity come with practice. Yet if I look around me, I have to ask: what practice? I mean, in this country more than 90% of the population professes to be Buddhist. If you ask how many people can actually itemise the eightfold path or (Buddha forbid) enumerate the 12 nidanas, the figure would quickly fall to one-digit percentages.

It seems that at this moment, some people in Thailand even have difficulties to stop killing each other. A little sila exegesis (perhaps in the context of what constitutes proper political action) would not hurt at all.

bodom wrote:The Five Precepts and the Five Enoblers by Prince Vajirananavarorasa is a modern day "exegesis"...


Thank you, Bodom, for these valuable references. That's what I was looking for.

Cheers, Thomas
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