June 2015: Everyday Precept Practice

The Seventh Grave Precept: Do Not Elevate Self and Blame Others

Mountains and Rivers Order

Realize self and other as one. Do not elevate the self and blame others.

In studying the Seventh Grave Precept, Refraining from Elevating Myself and Blaming Others, the key point is realizing that self and other are not separate. We can look at this from the perspective of our own lives and also from the perspective of larger world actions taken by groups and even by human beings as a species. We can look at this precept from the positive or active standpoint of how we realize and actualize self and other as one. We can also look at it from the passive or negative standpoint: how can we avoid elevating ourself and putting others down.

Zen Peacemaker Precept

I will speak what I perceive to be the truth. This is the practice of Not Elevating Myself and Blaming Others. I will not encourage others to elevate themselves and blame others. I will give my best effort and accept the results.

The Zen Peacemaker version of this precept contains three important ideas to help us embody this precept. First, is “I will speak what I perceive to be the truth.” This reminds us of our practice of Council, in which we practice speaking from the heart. Ordinarily, when we speak, we express what we believe to be true, we contrast it with other viewpoints that we believe to be not true or also true. In other words, we elevate our view point as being aligned with the “factual” truth and judge others as true or not according to how closely they align with our own view. We create a dichotomy in which one person has to be wrong in order for another to be right. When we speak in Council, however, we are encouraged to speak from the heart, to express what is true and alive for us at that moment. We are speaking in a no-dualistic language, by simply reporting our belief, view, idea, feeling or whatever at that moment (“I feel tired,” “I'm hungry,” “I think we are polluting the earth and I'm worried about being able to reverse the effects before it is too late,” etc.) It is not that we are supposed to have no opinions or viewpoints, rather we should state them as such, rather than as correct or true or right, which tacitly puts down others' views as only correct if they agree with ours. This, then, is a practice of realizing self and other as one,” even though some one else's view might be markedly different from our own. This way of speaking, by not elevating my view point as somehow more correct than yours, is practicing this precept with language.

We also work on using non-dualistic language in koan study, learning to express our understanding in many ways, including language. How do we use language in a non-dual way? The famous Chinese master Yunmen was especially skilled in this practice, using expressions that pierce through right and word, true or false. For example, when asked what the Buddha was, he swiftly replied “a shit stick (used as toilet paper in that time).” Not much to argue about there! We shouldn't think of practicing the language of non-duality as belonging only to some very skillful ancient masters, though. In fact, it is our everyday practice opportunity. I believe that if we are to come together to solve the many pressing issues and concerns facing the world today, we must increasingly learn to speak and listen in this way. Simply trading “I'm right, you're wrong” has not worked well as evidenced by the conflict all around us in the world. We need to listen to each other, hear what each is saying and weave it into helpful dialogue that can really lead to appropriate actions. Actually, we can greatly benefit from practicing this way of languaging and of understanding language in all of our relationships and encounters. As with all of the precepts, it does require attention and concentration, and self-reflection.

The second point in the ZPO version of the precept is “I will not encourage others to elevate themselves and blame others.” In elementary school, my children were encouraged to express their feelings with “I statements.” In other words, instead of saying “ You made me so angry when you borrowed my book and didn't return it,” we can say, “I felt so angry when you borrowed my book and didn't return it.” It may sound at first like a trivial difference, but what a difference it can make. The first statement elicits a defensive response, because we are accusing someone of having made us angry. We want to respond to this accusation by saying something like”oh come on, how could that make you angry, don't overreact!” On the other hand, in the second statement, we are stating how we felt when something happened (“I felt so angry when you borrowed the book and didn't return it”). When I reflect on how the second statement makes me feel, I would say it makes me want to help you. I think to myself that I can give the book back and try to remember next time, too. You haven't accused me of anything, just pointed out your experience. I don't feel defensive, instead, I'm on your team and I see how I can help. In the same way, when we blame and disparage others while holding ourselves up as beyond blame, we encourage others to do the same. If we are blaming the person we are speaking to, then we encourage them to retaliate by blaming us. Disparaging or blaming someone not present encourages the person we are speaking with to do the same. Again, it requires on-going vigilance on our part to avoid falling into the speech of blame and shame. It is a human habit not easily overcome, even when we can see how insidious and divisive this way of speaking can be. This precept is indeed a powerful lens through which to see our life and daily practice.

Stated in a positive way, genuinely speaking from the heart seems to open up the space for others to speak genuinely from the heart also. We are social beings and tend to follow each other's leads. We can inspire each other by our sincerity and truthfulness. Even one person's intention of sincerity and truthfulness can inspire the same in another. A safe and respectful communication environment is created. Perhaps most of us have experienced a meeting, a sharing, some communication in which this spaciousness has occurred and we have been able to reach a deeper connection through it. And what is connection at its essence? The actualization of self and other as one.

The third point in the ZPO precept is “I will give my best effort and accept the results.” My late Dharma sister Roshi Joko Beck of the Ordinary Mind Zen School used to say to us during sesshin “Do your best and no regrets.” When we do give our best effort, there is no self-and-other. In fact, we even have the expression “putting your whole self (or whole being) into it.” Interesting words! That's exactly what happens. We totally become what we are doing – or I should better say – we don't add a “me” to the doing. We don't add a “you” either. There is just the doing, complete in itself. When I put in that effort, I find that the results are satisfying, even if I don't achieve what I wanted, because the complete effort was really the reward or result itself.

It is when I don't put my full effort into something that I tend to look around for someone to blame for the inadequate results. For example: “If they weren't sneezing and coughing so much, I could sit better,” when in truth, if I were really concentrating on my sitting, their coughing would not be a problem. I would probably let them know it was OK to get up and get some water or take a cough drop during the walking meditation since I am in a leadership role in the zendo. Some people are bothered by the monitor shouting “wake up” in the zendo. I find that if I am putting my energy fully into sitting, the monitor's shouts do not bother me and are actually encouraging. I appreciate the energy they give to me with their efforts. I take it and use it.

My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, used to tell us that if we really pour our effort into our zazen in the first few days, then the rest of sesshin will be fruitful. If we hold back or make a lukewarm effort in the early days of sesshin, then the result will be lukewarm. Of course when we haven't given our best effort, we often tend to also blame ourselves – make ourself an “other.”

Bodhidharma's One Mind Precept

Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous.
In the undifferentiated Dharma,
Not speaking of self-and-other
Is called the precept of refraining from praising yourself and downgrading others.

I can remember very clearly from childhood the first time I left the state of Maryland to visit relatives in Pennsylvania. Since this was a different state, I expected things to look different immediately after crossing the border. I even thought there might be a dotted line as I had seen on maps. Yet when the moment arrived when we crossed over into Pennsylvania, I found that nothing was different. There was no dotted line, no change of scenery. I remember feeling surprised and a little shocked. The separation between “Maryland” or “Pennsylvania” was just an idea, just a creation. Useful for various purposes, no doubt, but still, just an idea, a concept.

Bodhidharma's One Mind Precept emphasizes our original “undifferentiated” nature. In the undifferentiated Dharma, there is no separate self to begin with. We are the ones who create and stick to the idea of a separate “me” and “you,” When we work together cooperatively, as one group or body, there is harmony. People perform different roles according to their needs and abilities. However, when we begin to assert our right to have what we want without considering the needs of others, difficulties emerge. We see others as beings out there who are trying to take our share, with whom we need to compete. We operate from the basis that our wants and needs are more important, a higher priority than those of others. Even as a species, much of Western civilization has for so many thousands of years adopted an anthropocentric view that our needs as humans are top priority with the needs of all other earthly beings subservient to them. As 17th Century philosopher John Locke declared in his famous Second Treatise: “The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being.” Faced with the inevitable and potentially drastic consequences of our unbounded greed and shortsightedness as a result of this attitude, most of us are only now recognizing that such a view is unsustainable. Instead, living in a way that upholds the unique contribution made by each species on the earth is not only a good idea, but crucial. We are connected and interdependent whether we realize it or not and future survival depends on protecting all life on the planet.

One of the most heinous manifestations of Elevating Ourself and Blaming Others as a world community is the phenomenon of genocide. It is hard to even think of the horrors of genocide. But it occurs and has occurred in the world with such frequency and intensity that we need to look carefully at it. We need to bear witness to it and the profound suffering it causes and learn from it. And we need to recognize the impulses within ourselves, which, although unlikely to lead us to a personal campaign of mass murder nevertheless set the stage of self-centered preoccupation and divisiveness that allow it to occur in our communities and world.

According to historical sociologist Daniel Chirot and psychologist Clark McCauley:

“...genocidal mass murder is politically motivated violence that directly or indirectly kills a substantial portion of a targeted population, combatants and noncombatants alike, regardless of their age or gender.”

Civilians flee the fighting, like this girl outside Kigali, Rwanda (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

Genocide represents an extreme view of a group elevating themselves as somehow more right, more valuable, more worthy of existence than another group, an “other.” The group holds this view so extremely and absolutely that they feel it necessary to actually eliminate the other group. And why? Chirot and McCauley cite four main motivations:

Convenience: rather than try to deal with resistance from various members of other groups, it is easier to just kill them off.

Revenge: remembering past actions, humiliations, hurt pride, the perpetrating group seeks revenge. This was, in the authors' opinions the reason that rape and sexual torture and violence against Tutsi women played a large part in the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago. Tutsi women were seen as humiliating to Hutu men for a variety of reasons and the sexual violence occurring during the genocide was seen as revenge for their past actions and associations.

Simple fear: a group feels they must try to eliminate another group through mass murder out of fear that they will themselves be killed by that group if they don't.

Fear of pollution: This was, according to the authors, Hitler's motivation. He was afraid that “blood mixture” between Jews and the Aryan race would ultimately corrupt the Aryan race, leaving no “pure race.” Sadly, it must also be said that certain Buddhists in Myanmar feel their position as part of a Buddhist majority will be undermined by the Muslim Rohinga population and have taken cruel action against the minority Rohinga Muslims, despite the Buddhist teaching of non-harming (ahimsa).

These motivations in extreme have led to the horrific events of genocide around the world. The same motivations, in a different more personal scale, manifest in each of us:

-feeling that my needs are most important and I do not want to deal with others who get in the way,

-feeling that if my pride is attacked by others, I must attack back to defend it,

-fear that unless I assert myself, I will be overtaken or harmed by others

-belief that I embody what is correct, pure and noble and that I must defend it against the influence of others.

We will be ineffective in addressing the shadow behaviors of the world if we cannot acknowledge and work with our own shadows. This precept can help us to see how we seek to promote and defend a view of ourselves as separate and better from some “other” in our daily lives so that we can let this go.

Dogen Zenji's Kyojukaimon

Buddhas and Ancestors have realized the emptiness of the vast sky and the great earth. When they manifest as the great-body, they are like the sky, without inside or outside. When they manifest as the Dharmakaya, there is not even an inch of earth on which to lay hold.

“Above the heavens and below the heavens, I alone am the World Honored One.” This is what all ancestors have realized. It is not that there are no others, but that the others are the self. It is not that there is no self, just that it manifests as all beings, without exception. To realize this is to uphold this and every precept. How hard, it is, though, to not raise the self-and-other mind. How do we talk to others, serve others, without raising the self-and-other mind? This is the koan of our everyday lives, the Genjo Koan.

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