Moving into That Which is Immovable

I recently took part in a ceremony that is celebrated annually in our Sangha. It’s called “Receiving the Mindfulness Trainings“, or “Receiving the Precepts”.  This is a formal ceremony that dates back some 2500 years to the time of the Buddha and his original followers . The Precepts (or Trainings) are defined as “…a broad category of moral conduct that has been codified throughout the history of Buddhism.” In our particular tradition, which was instituted by Thich Nhat Hanh, they’re called “Trainings”, and it’s easy to be misled by what they call for. We try to focus on the awareness of what this code of behavior is asking, and the effects of missing the mark.

Just to be clear, no one has ever – to my knowledge, or anyone I’ve talked to – hit these marks perfectly. They’re purposely set high and just out of range, letting the individual work their way through the maze of diversions and distractions that cause us grief, pain, and suffering. However, in missing the mark and being aware of the consequences, a natural correction occurs. The process as well as the outcome is called conscience. The core concepts of the Precepts are found in all religions, and have been seen as universal guidelines for millenia.

During preparation for this ceremony, it was asked “Once I receive these Trainings, does it mean that I’m a Buddhist?“. The answer was clear and simple: “No.” That’s interesting, and it leaves room for many more questions.

First and foremost, one does not convert to Buddhism. One realizes Buddhism, one acknowledges Buddhism, one embraces Buddhism.  Buddhist principles are often realized as already existing inside one’s psyche, becoming codified when they are first read or encountered. Buddhism does not ask that one do anything, it does not ask that one not do anything. We are invited to focus on the awareness of doing exactly what one does, and the effects therein. These effects would be directly experienced by the individual, or indirectly experienced by observation of the effects on others. One can easily be a Christian, Muslim, or whatever – and still be a Buddhist.

So, for the sake of edification, here are the Trainings in brief, as we incorporate them:

  1. Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life…
  2. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression…
  3. Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct…
  4. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others…
  5. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption…

This is the Buddhist Ideal, at the core of the canon, the Buddhist vision of harmony among humans. It’s the Immovable North Star, upon which all direction is based. One becomes a Buddhist by practicing these Buddhist Principles.

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