Message from Henry: Sila

…the practice makes us stand for various things, two of which fall under this second paramita – namely, truth (so far as it can be ascertained) and kindness.

The second paramita is sila – ethical living, practicing restraint, especially refraining from the five grave errors, namely killing, stealing, lying, misusing sex, and intoxication.

Politics, naturally, are an aspect of ethics. Although in the zendo our primary concern is helping people along a path of unification with the Great Way, and we therefore welcome people of all political persuasions, at the same time the practice makes us stand for various things, two of which fall under this second paramita – namely, truth (so far as it can be ascertained) and kindness. If we are actively suppressing known facts and promoting falsehoods, for example, that’s no good. That would be breaking the third precept, to refrain from lying. As practitioners we need to stand up for what we believe to be the facts, taking our guidance from the precepts, and endeavouring to fulfill this paramita.

The gathering together of these five as the “grave precepts,” is interesting. From time working in prison I learnt how often intoxication can facilitate other errors. The “grave errors” interact with one another. If we’re lying it surely means we’ve done something we don’t want others to know about, which likely means we’ve broken some other aspect of our integrity already. Otherwise, why lie? And to lie is to further violate our integrity.

The most common, domestic form of this might be the lying that goes along with sexual misconduct. Promises broken, vows not upheld, persuading others to break vows – often this is accompanied both by intoxication and by lying.

Stealing and lying also often go together.

Physical harm, taking life – when we look at the circumstances under which these happen most commonly, likewise they are often associated with intoxication, and with stealing. Something is stolen, whether property or land or some key relationship – and harm follows.

Helen is “stolen” by Paris, and ten years of slaughter follow, in the literary tradition. An occupying nation seizes land, then lies about it, claiming no occupation is going on, building new settlements on land not theirs, and killing citizens who object, and not allowing journalists in to record what is happening. This is typical of how the precepts both mutually support one another, and when broken, have a tendency to topple one another like dominoes.

Anyway – enough, I hope to show the interrelatedness of the five major errors.

So when we find ourselves contemplating breaking one of the precepts, it can help to check whether other precepts are also in line to be broken.

Message from Henry is from our March 14, 2017 newsletter.
Image by Rosa Bellino, used with her permission.

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