“Becoming aware of one’s True Nature, there is ultimately no need for external rules.”
- Jeffrey K. Mann, When Buddhists Attack
In the Zen tradition, there are no absolute guidelines because enlightened beings would not need them. Our compassionate nature showing up when we are awakened would not need to be told what to do, and would do the right choice always.
But until then, the tradition gives 5 ethical guidelines that we should follow. The first one, which is most respected by all Zen practioners, is that we shouldn’t hurt other living beings. This includes humans, in our daily interactions, as well as animals, that we shouldn’t mistreat and use for consumption, and even insects.
It is unrealistic to say that we will never hurt or cause death in our life – just walking we can step on many living beings. Sometimes even violence is viewed as having an effective impact on enlightenment: some Zen teachers use strikes with a kyosaku, a wooden stick, to bring the meditator in the right position. Zen practioners may also practice martial arts – it’s one of the arts of awareness in life, and I know from amateur fighting there is nothing like a punch to bring us in the moment. I’m right here and now for sure, and it hurts!
But we should strive for the minimum “negative impact” on the world. After all, we are all one, so when we hurt others we hurt ourselves, living beings would have the potential for enlightenment, and we are better to mind karma, the law of causation I often saw in action – when we do good or bad we harvest it back in one form or another.
The other precepts are not necessarily always respected, but they are good daily life guidance too. Those pillars are to abstain from stealing, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, and intoxication. It is understandable that those conducts can stray us from our True Nature. But again, we don’t absolutely need to be by the book! One consumption of alcohol isn’t harmful, but it can lead to a slippery road. It’s also easy to get lost in lust, but Zen practioners are allowed to be married. Dishonesty isn’t in accordance with truth, but sometimes the areas are gray. And stealing can be forgiven to feed the hungry.
Therefore, along with stepping lightly on this world we should aim for right livelihood, honesty and being in control of our life to let our True Nature shine forth.
- We may explore in our lives where we could apply the Zen guidelines. Where could we be more mindful of having a minimum hurtful impact on others and let our True Nature bring more of its light?
- We may start progressively, incorporating new habits one at a time, like eating less meat replacing it with vegetarian alternatives, then giving it up along with dairy products.
Have a nice Zen day!
Mary, Daily Zen Journey Newsletter
May we all be awake, blissful, and at peace in the world.
Thanks for reading! From Marie-Eve Boudreault, post Loving Guidelines – The Daily Zen Journey Newsletter