Reverence for Life

Reverence for Life is the first of the Five Mindfulness Trainings authored by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (known as “Thay” by his followers.) In the time of the Buddha it was known as the first precept and, in fact, at that time, all of the precepts were simple statements like, “Not to kill,” “Not to steal,” “Not to lie,” “Not to have inappropriate sex,” and “Not to get intoxicated.”

However in this modern-day life with technology, they have been translated into modern language in such a way as to turn things around as positive statements so that we can understand it for our lives right now. As Thay wrote, “I have translated these precepts for modern times, because mindfulness is at the foundation of each one of them.”

Last night in our Mindfulness In Healing sangha, we started reading the Five Mindfulness Trainings in a new way and what we discovered was the richness of the text and how many teachings of the Buddha are incorporated in each training. I had all the sangha members open the page on the Plum Village website on their smart phones and only one person had to share with someone else!

I read the two introductions on the Plum Village website and had a member read the first training:

Photo by Jerome Freedman

Plum Village, 2000, Photo by Jerome Freedman

“Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.”

After the sentence was read I asked if there were any questions or comments about the passage after explaining the way the precepts were spoken at the time of the Buddha. Our only millennial member, Andrew, asked, “What is interbeing?” So I gave a little talk about that in terms of how a piece of paper contains the sky, the sun, the cloud, the rain, the trees, the forest, all the way down to the sales person and all the other elements that make a piece of paper. All the elements of the piece of paper interdepend (inter-are) with one another.

We went on to discuss the nature of killing and talked about it with respect to a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet or eating meat. I told a story about how I was with Dr. Kern, a naturopathic doctor in Chicago decades ago. At that time, we were pretty much on a  macrobiotic diet and she told me to go out and have a hamburger. That was really something to hear and it turns out that there are certain properties of meat that I need to eat once in a while.

Then another member read the second sentence,

” I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.”

We continued our discussion of killing in regards to human rights and social justice, especially in connection with thinking about killing someone in our minds but never really wanting to do anything about it.

Finally, the third sentence was read by another member,

“Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.”

This rekindled a lot of discussion around the election which we had had on November 9 and social and economic issues we had discussed previously. Our discussion of non-attachment to views was especially lively, as we recognized the impasse between the right and the left, the Trump supporter and the Clinton supporter, and people with views other than our own. I have been watching the Netflix special on The Crown and talked about the suffering that Queen Elizabeth, her sister Margaret and Margaret’s “boyfriend” had because Elizabeth had to decide between the happiness of her sister and the brules (bulls**t rules) of the Anglican church and the cabinet of Great Brittan. You’ll have to watch the series or google the history for her decision :)!

I also taught that anger, fear, greed, and intolerance are another expression of the three poisons of greed, aggression and delusion as taught by the Buddha. This brought on another lively discussion about anger.

By this time, we were at the end of our evening and had to do our closing bows with the knowledge that we only had 18 more mindfulness trainings (including the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing) to go through in a similar fashion. Everyone left in a happy mood because of the teachings incorporated in the sentences we read.

Do you want to know how I came up with this way of rendering the Five Mindfulness Trainings? Sign up to learn more…

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