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The Ten Pillars of Buddhism

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by Sangharakshita

161: The Ten Pillars of Buddhism

Transcription taken from the Windhorse Publications book of the same title FOREWORD As the opening passage of this book makes clear, the paper reproduced here was first delivered to a gathering of members of the Western Buddhist Order, in London, in April 1984.

The occasion marked the celebration of the Order's sixteenth anniversary, and the theme of the paper was one of fundamental importance to all those present: the Ten Precepts.

These Precepts are the ten ethical principles that Order members `receive' at the time of their ordination, and which they undertake subsequently to observe as a spiritually potent aspect of their everyday lives.

The theme was therefore a very basic and seemingly down-to-earth one, but here, as he is wont to do, Sangharakshita demonstrated that no theme is so `basic' that it can be taken for granted.

As a communication from the Enlightened mind, the various formulations and expressions of the Buddha's teaching can be turned to again and again; their freshness and relevance can never be exhausted.

As he spoke, it was clear that Sangharakshita was addressing a far larger audience than that which was present at the time. The relevance of his material extended of course to those Order members, present and future, who could not be there on that occasion. But it reached out further than that, to the entire, wider `Buddhist world', and still further, to all those who, whether Buddhist or not, seek guidance and insights in their quest for ethical standards by which to live.

In the hope, therefore, that it will reach at least some more members of that vast audience, we are very happy to publish that paper in the form of this book.

Perhaps the central point to emerge in Part 1, where Sangharakshita is addressing himself to a more decidedly Buddhist audience, is that the list of Ten Precepts being examined is not to be regarded as simply one more list - and a rather short one at that - among the many other lists. It is qualitatively different. It is a list which addresses itself to acts of body, speech, and mind, thus providing a formula that has reference to the whole being of man. Other traditional lists, most of which are much longer, may indeed work out and emphasize certain matters of detail that fall within their scope, but none of them offer the same comprehensiveness. Because of this unique comprehensiveness, the Ten Precepts can be said to contain a fundamental set of ethical principles for the spiritual life: a mula pratimoksa.

In expounding this set of precepts, Sangharakshita is offering for the consideration of the entire Buddhist Sangha a formula for ethical life that cuts through the layers of often lifeless formalism and legalistic detail that have not only sapped the life from other formulations, but which have also been used all too often as agents in the disunification of the Buddhist Spiritual Community.

This offer is made along with the plea that the precepts - in no matter what formulation - should never be regarded as more than expressions of what is in fact the highest common factor of Buddhism: the Going for Refuge. It is only out of a fundamental commitment to higher levels of being that higher values and therefore ethical precepts can evolve.

In this section Sangharakshita is therefore offering to all schools and sects of the Buddhist Sangha a key to unity, a key to the experience of `Mahasangha'. Those who assume that such a key could only be turned at the price of a weakening of spiritual commitment and integrity may be heartened to find that the precise opposite is the case.

Western Buddhists, Eastern Buddhists, and non-Buddhists alike will find a wealth of day-to-day, practical value in Part 2. Here, Sangharakshita explores each of the Ten Precepts in turn, asking us to turn the lens of moral vision on to one aspect of our lives after another. Dwelling as much on their `positive' formulations as on the more often quoted `negative' ones, he helps us to discover the precepts for what they are, not dry rules, but challenging reflexes of a genuine commitment to the spiritual life and spiritual values.

As we follow him along the way we may be surprised to find ourselves surrounded, not by walls, fences, and narrow tracks, but by ten great pillars, each one brilliant and sparkling with precious stones and gems, together supporting the sky-like majesty of the spiritual life.

Nagabodhi Sukhavati 20 June 1984 THE TEN PRECEPTS I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from killing living beings.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from taking the not-given.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from sexual misconduct.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from false speech.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from harsh speech.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from frivolous speech.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from slanderous speech.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from covetousness.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from hatred.

I undertake the item of training which consists in abstention from false views.

THE TEN POSITIVE PRECEPTS With deeds of loving-kindness I purify my body.

With open-handed generosity I purify my body.

With stillness, simplicity, and contentment I purify my body.

With truthful communication I purify my speech.

With words kindly and gracious I purify my speech.

With utterance helpful and harmonious I purify my speech.

Abandoning covetousness for tranquillity I purify my mind.

Changing hatred into compassion I purify my mind.

Transforming ignorance into wisdom I purify my mind.

INTRODUCTION The Western Buddhist Order (known in India as the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha) was founded in London in 1968. Today we meet to celebrate its sixteenth anniversary - or sixteenth birthday, as one might say. Without being over fanciful one might, perhaps, attach a special significance to the fact that the Order has now attained this particular number of years. Sixteen is twice eight, or four times four, and both four and eight are traditionally regarded as numbers indicative of `squareness' and stability. It is also the sum of ten and six, both of which numbers have their own symbolical associations. In pre-Buddhist Indian tradition groups of sixteen, or sixteenfold divisions of things, are extremely common. One of the commonest is that of the sixteen `digits' of the moon. Sixteenth parts are also referred to in Buddhist literature. Thus in the Itivuttaka the Buddha declares: Monks, whatsoever grounds there be for good works undertaken with a view to rebirth, all of them are not worth one sixteenth part of that goodwill [i.e. metta] which is the heart's release; goodwill alone, which is the heart's release, shines and burns and flashes forth in surpassing them. Just as, monks, the radiance of all the starry bodies is not worth one sixteenth part of the moon's radiance, but the moon's radiance shines and burns and flashes forth, even so, monks, goodwill ... flashes forth in surpassing good works undertaken with a view to rebirth.1 Perhaps the best-known group of sixteen in Buddhism is that of the sixteen Arhants - mysterious personages who exist from age to age and periodically reinvigorate the Sasana.

For many people in the FWBO, however, whether Order members, Mitras, or Friends, the most familiar association of the figure sixteen - the one that springs most readily to mind - is with the `archetypal' Bodhisattvas. Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and the rest, are all described in the literature, and depicted in the visual arts, of Buddhism, as appearing in the surpassingly beautiful form of Indian princes, clad in rich silks and adorned with jewels, and sixteen years old. They are sixteen because sixteen is the age at which a youth is considered, in India, to have attained to the full development of his faculties, both physical and mental, to be in the full bloom of masculine strength and beauty, and to be ready for the duties and responsibilities of adult life. In Western terms, at sixteen one reaches the years of discretion, one grows up, one passes from immaturity to maturity. The sixteenth birthday therefore has, for Indian tradition, something of the significance that the twenty-first birthday has in the West, the five-year difference between them no doubt being attributable to the fact that in Europe and North America human beings mature later than they do in warmer climes.

In celebrating its sixteenth birthday the Order is therefore celebrating, i.e. we as Order members are celebrating, the attainment of our `collective' majority as a Spiritual Community. We have reached the age of discretion. We have grown up. We have passed - collectively, at least - from immaturity to maturity. We now have our own front door key, and are free to come and go as we please. In celebrating the attainment of our majority, however, we must not forget that although we are Buddhists we are, most of us, also Westerners, and that it may take us a few more years to achieve, as an Order, the kind of spiritual maturity that is symbolized by the physical and mental maturity of the sixteen-year-old Indian youth. It may not be until our twenty-first birthday that the Order will, in fact, be a recognizable reflection, on the mundane level, of the thousand-armed and thousand-eyed sixteen-year-old Avalokitesvara.

None the less, today is our sixteenth birthday, and therefore the day on which we celebrate the attainment of our `official' majority, even though we may be a ...

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