This week Tesshin Roshi began instructions for our Jukai ceremony coming in the spring. He began by discussing the Three Pure Precepts. The first of these precepts is “Do No Evil.” This sounds very simple. It is unlikely that any student entering a zendo is contemplating which evil acts they will perform after Zazen! However, we must stop and ask ourselves what is really meant by the word “evil.” Roshi mentioned that in Buddhism evil is seen to be generated from the “Three Poisons” which include greed, ignorance, and hatred.
Roshi noted that to enter the first pure precept we are really committing to eliminate these poisons from our life. The first step in this process is to realize that nobody is free of these poisons. Believing that we are free them is a delusion which only leads to a cycle of evil in our lives. The second thing to realize is that our work in combating the poisons never really ends. We are all infected forever, but we continuously strive to remove them from our consciousness. This is why the precept is a lifelong commitment.
Go Roshi next told us that the best way to enter this commitment is with the vow of not doing evil to ourselves. We all come to practice with our own very specific “karmic package” of previous actions, thoughts, and decisions. We must realize that our past does not bind us. We always have the choice to let it go. We can put down the baggage of the past and be kind to ourselves. This is so essential to do if we are ever to extend the pledge of not doing evil to others. Roshi reminded us that in taking up the precept we must examine our life and karma carefully. Can we eliminate the poisons? Can we eliminate greed? Not just greed for material possessions, but greed for love, people, knowledge – even the Dharma! Can we eliminate ignorance in our life? This is seen as the ignorance of the great matter of life and death? Are you too distracted with trivial things? Lastly, can you eliminate hatred. This includes hatred of people and ideas that you do not agree with. We see so much hatred today and we see the karmic consequences of this hatred – yet we continue to hate. Our commitment with taking up the precept is to break the cycle of this hatred.
The next percept is to “Do Good.” Here Roshi was clear – it is not enough to simply eliminate the evil from our life. This would simply leave us in a neutral or inert state. We must be proactively good. Now, being good is not always so simple and easy. What does being “good” actually mean? Buddhism gives us some hints however by laying out the Eight-Fold Path to guide our actions. (Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.) Again, Roshi recommended that we start with ourselves. Doing good is being less cruel and critical of yourself. Recognize your karma and work to improve it step by step. There is magic in beginnings and this is one of the main powers of Jukai. We are taking a stand to shift our karma.
The last of the pure precepts is to “Actualize Good For Others.” Here the lens changes from personal to universal. We must ask why are we here – what is our purpose? This precept clearly tells us that we are here to save all beings and eliminate suffering. It is important to remember that our actions come out of the realization that we are all the same “thing” and reducing suffering is an end in itself. Because we are all connected every good action we do ripples throughout space and time and affects all beings.
The vow we will take in Jukai makes this commitment real and the center of our life’s mission. It is not a minor thing we are about to undertake. Roshi wrapped up by asking each of us to deeply contemplate the three core precepts and write how we will embody these vows in our life.