Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skillful Means and the Precepts

Apologies to all who looked for the missing post.  I guess I lost it. This is another try.
So, the Precepts point the way.  First we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  We join the Buddha-mind in which no killing, no stealing, no lying, etc. takes place.  We join the Dharma, the reality of all things, free from delusion.  We join the Sangha of all beings in complete harmony with no separate self getting in the way.  That is our intention.
Then we formulate that intention in the Pure Precepts; to do good, to avoid evil, to save all beings. Sounds simple, right? But Robert Aitken tells a little story in Taking The Path Of Zen .It's a little conversation between PoChu-i, the governor of the province and Bird's Nest Roshi who practices zazen sitting in a tree.
 PoChu-i calls up to Bird's Nest,"Oh, Bird's Nest, you look very insecure to me up there."
Bird's Nest replies, "Oh, Governor, you look very insecure to me down there".   Meaning that a political position was just about as insecure as sitting in a tree.
Then PoChu-i asked, "What is it that all the Buddhas taught". and Bird's Nest replied,
     "Never do evil;
       always do good;
       keep your mind pure--thus all the Buddhas taught.".
PoChu-i wasn't impressed, he said he had know that since he was three.
Bird's Nest said, "Yes, a three year old child can know it but even and 80 yr. old man cannot put it into practice."  Maybe not, but we can sure work on it.  We can refine our practice day by day.  And that is where the Ten Grave Precepts and Skillful Means comes in.
The Grave precepts give some specificity to the Pure Precepts but don't guide us in what to do moment by moment.  That is up to us.  That is why we sit zazen, in order to study the self. Then, as Dogen says, we can forget the self and bring forth the ten thousand things.  Be one with everything with no self boundary.  Yes but we practice on and off the cushion.  We study the self in every situation to see where we are deluded and self involved and not in line with reality.  Then as we met the situations of our day we know were our hang-ups are, our blind spots and we can correct for those.
When we practice Skillful Means we study ourselves and the situation of the moment. We try to see as clearly as we can, past our everyday delusions, into the situation. Then  we can try our best to do good, not do evil, and free beings.  We try to do nothing that would hinder beings from attaining the freedom of enlightenment.
Remember, Dogen says that practice and enlightenment are one.  when we practice the precepts we are practicing our enlightened self and helping to ''take self and others across.''
Skillful Means are the way we bring harmony to the sangha, the way we meet the dharma, the way we become Buddha's way.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a story about skillful means:

    During the civil wars in feudal Japan an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before they arrived....everyone except the Zen master.

    Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.

    "You fool", he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!"

    But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.

    "And do you realize", the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"