I watched as a disciple–a mature, educated man– took the ten Zen precepts. A disciple is none other than one who has taken to a discipline. It is a scary word to westerners: discipline. It conjures up vague ideas of Catholic school oppression, drudgery and repression. But discipline is none other than that which is studied and practiced by a disciple. Most simply stated, it is to be a student.
But moreover, it is to commit oneself to transformation. And from the perspective of the east, it isn’t scary at all. It’s exciting. It’s liberating. The difference is due to the different values we hold. Because we value individualism and the freedom to do what we want, anything that seems to stifle that freedom is seen as oppressive. And controlling one’s behavior in accordance with a set of vows seems to imply wimpiness. But what if self-control was seen as a sign of strength instead of weakness?
What if it was seen as the key to liberation?
His vows were my vows. To what kind of life did he commit?
Not to kill
Not to steal
Not to misuse sexuality
Not to lie
Not to intoxicate oneself
Not to speak of others’ faults
Not to praise self at the expense of others
Not to be possessive
Not to harbor anger
Not to do anything to diminish the Three Treasures
These ten vows may be broken, but it will for to him to pick up the oars and paddle again. No one will punish us when we fail. But our broken actions will serve as reminders that we have strayed from the kind of life that promotes inner peace. From a limited perspective, for example, the vow not to intoxicate oneself may be seen as restrictive, but from a wider one, it may be seen as a reminder to be present. If we’re accustomed to turning to distractions, drugs and junk TV –for, those are all “intoxicants”–as temporary panacea, we never learn to tune-in and we end up living in a constant state of dependency. Worse, we end up absent from the very life we live.