This week we read and discussed The Five Mindfulness Trainings. Thich Nhat Hahn’s modern translation of these ancient guidelines for ethical behavior are based upon the Buddha’s original lay precepts. But where the originals were simple prohibitions (do not kill, do not steal, do not misuse sexuality, do not lie, do not use intoxicants) Thay rewrote them as invitations to deepen our mindfulness.
I introduced our discussion by describing three ways to engage with the Mindfulness Trainings - as prohibitions, as experiments, and as invitations to joy.
Prohibitions: Sometimes I need help stopping my harmful behaviors. The habits that instigate my behaviors, whether personal, societal, or biological, are often so ingrained that I need strong medicine to change them. The intention that I create when I make a commitment to practicing the Mindfulness Trainings helps me stop. I may want to kill the spider in my bathtub (and feel justified in doing so) but when I remember my intention not to kill it gives me the energy to break the killing habit.
Experiment: The Buddha telling us not to do this or that isn’t enough. If we only follow rules, we miss the opportunity to see the benefits for ourselves. Thay encourages us to experiment with the Trainings. What happens when I kill? What lingers in my experience? How do I feel when I refrain from killing? Which seed do I choose to water? The key is awareness - no matter our behavior, we make the commitment to observe the effects without judgement. Awareness trains our hearts to be wise. Awareness turns our ethical lapses into compassion.
Joy: Experimenting with awareness transforms prohibition into joy. When we see for ourselves the negative effects of lying, stealing, killing, or any of the other prohibitions, we take joy in refraining from them. We know that transforming old negative habits makes us freer so we embrace ethical prohibitions as a path to freedom. It becomes a joy to release the mosquito from the window screen, to return the dropped dollar bill, or to truthfully admit our mistake. Joy is the fruit of The Five Mindfulness Trainings.
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence for Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking and in my way of life.
2. True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well- being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
3. True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.
4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
5. Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.