Self-moralizing in Zen

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  • AlanLa
    Member
    • Mar 2008
    • 1405

    Self-moralizing in Zen

    I took Jukai over three years ago and ever since, if not before, I have incorporated the precepts into my daily practice, By that I mean not just the recitations, but an awareness of how I hold them, or how well, or not all, in my daily activities. I believe this has lead to significant and meaningful growth in my relationship to others and the world, and I will be forever grateful to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha for support in that unattainable Path that I continue to maintain.

    But as my self-awareness grows I have noticed that I can self-moralize about my upholding of the precepts. I am finding I get stuck in "shoulds," as in I should NOT do that, that is bad, and if I violate that precept that way then I am bad, too, and this particularly happens with some old bad habits precepts. I am getting so much better with these old bad habits, but I don't give myself much, if any, credit for that progress on the Path. My guess is this sounds familiar.

    I understand that according to Buddhist philosophy I am perfect already, though I could use some improvement, but moralizing does not seem the way to improvement. While I feel confident that I have improved, I have found that continued moralization just leads to more suffering. It's like I pile dukka on top of pre-existing dukka, and I am just now beginning to dig my way out of the crap heap, some of it self-imposed. Then again, maybe I have dug my way out enough that I now see some daylight. Anyway, my guess is this sounds familiar and I don't recall this as a specific topic, so let's give it a go.
    AL (Jigen) in:
    Faith/Trust
    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

    I sat today
  • Yugen

    #2
    Alan,
    You are not alone - I have had a relationship with the precepts that has been full of "shoulds" and "need to" and all that stuff. Considering that the Buddha way is "unattainable" that has been in my case a setup for consistent disappointment.

    Two notions have helped me begin to enter a better relationship with the precepts. The first is living with vow and repentance. Uchiyama talks about this beautifully in the last chapter of "Opening the Hand of Thought." Inherent in this is the idea that we live by vow and practice repentance on a daily basis to restore balance and humility to our practice. I think they are inseparable - they also acknowledge that our practice is a constant ebb and flow.

    The second is the idea that the precepts have a positive as well as proscriptive, or limiting side. In the example of not using faulty speech - one aspect is not to gossip or use negative words; there is also a positive aspect that my own self limiting perspective had closed my mind to for years (I think we took the precepts in the same "class") - how can speech be used to heal, or promote understanding, or express happiness and gratitude? How can speech be used to console, or clarify misunderstanding? I also excel at misusing speech when it is directed toward myself. When I drop something or bang my toe for example I will call myself all sorts of names and become quite upset. I have to remind myself of the positive aspect of the use of speech and try laughing at myself for being in such a hurry, and counseling myself to slow down and take care. I'd like to start laughing at myself at lot more.

    The notion of a positive aspect to each precept has helped me let go of the negativity, self - imposed, and self -defeating limitations I had created for myself in interpreting the precepts.

    The precept against stealing can be interpreted to mean "don't waste someone else's time, or don't waste your own time" - the positive aspect to this can be "how do I live my life in the present and use each moment fully? How do I give the person I am with my full attention rather than "stealing" or taking for granted their commitment of time and attention? By viewing the precepts from their positive aspects I am able to reflect in how I might use them to live more happily, as compared to the world of guilt and self-shaming I had created for myself. I have built the walls and bars of my own prison. It's time to start tearing it down. Problem is I was in for a life sentence!

    Thank you for sharing this Alan.

    Gassho
    Yugen
    Last edited by Guest; 06-23-2012, 03:48 AM.

    Comment

    • disastermouse

      #3
      Have you thought about approaching these aspects with a sense of curiosity more than rejection or self-chastisement?

      Comment

      • AlanLa
        Member
        • Mar 2008
        • 1405

        #4
        I need to think about Yugen's response for a while, but I do approach the precepts with curiosity, as in awareness, and I think that has helped me progress, but it's that just out out awareness moralizing that I am talking about. It's sort of like, "oh, that's interesting... but bad. You gotta stop that." Way over simplified, of course.
        AL (Jigen) in:
        Faith/Trust
        Courage/Love
        Awareness/Action!

        I sat today

        Comment

        • disastermouse

          #5
          Originally posted by Yugen
          Alan,
          You are not alone - I have had a relationship with the precepts that has been full of "shoulds" and "need to" and all that stuff. Considering that the Buddha way is "unattainable" that has been in my case a setup for consistent disappointment.

          Two notions have helped me begin to enter a better relationship with the precepts. The first is living with vow and repentance. Uchiyama talks about this beautifully in the last chapter of "Opening the Hand of Thought." Inherent in this is the idea that we live by vow and practice repentance on a daily basis to restore balance and humility to our practice. I think they are inseparable - they also acknowledge that our practice is a constant ebb and flow.
          If I may ask a question: How is repentance even remotely valuable? Why must humility be restored to one's practice? Isn't self-abnegation two steps too far? How can you TRULY forget the self if the self is always being summoned in order to be negated? Wasn't this way more than one question?

          The second is the idea that the precepts have a positive as well as proscriptive, or limiting side. In the example of not using faulty speech - one aspect is not to gossip or use negative words; there is also a positive aspect that my own self limiting perspective had closed my mind to for years (I think we took the precepts in the same "class") - how can speech be used to heal, or promote understanding, or express happiness and gratitude? How can speech be used to console, or clarify misunderstanding? I also excel at misusing speech when it is directed toward myself. When I drop something or bang my toe for example I will call myself all sorts of names and become quite upset. I have to remind myself of the positive aspect of the use of speech and try laughing at myself for being in such a hurry, and counseling myself to slow down and take care. I'd like to start laughing at myself at lot more.
          Wouldn't an intense inquiry into just who is both feeling pain and is upset about it be more revealing? Did the Buddha express limitless dharma by seeking to express the positive pole of negative emotions, or were these emotions simply not expressed because they couldn't stick to someone who had truly 'stopped'? You can tug the wheel of the dharma this way and that, good and bad, but you're still 'driving', aren't you?

          The notion of a positive aspect to each precept has helped me let go of the negativity, self - imposed, and self -defeating limitations I had created for myself in interpreting the precepts.

          The precept against stealing can be interpreted to mean "don't waste someone else's time, or don't waste your own time" - the positive aspect to this can be "how do I live my life in the present and use each moment fully? How do I give the person I am with my full attention rather than "stealing" or taking for granted their commitment of time and attention? By viewing the precepts from their positive aspects I am able to reflect in how I might use them to live more happily, as compared to the world of guilt and self-shaming I had created for myself. I have built the walls and bars of my own prison. It's time to start tearing it down. Problem is I was in for a life sentence!

          Thank you for sharing this Alan.

          Gassho
          Yugen
          I suspect that if you stop building the walls, they would not maintain themselves. Taking onto yourself the momentous task of tearing down something is shockingly ego-centric. It also conveniently puts 'waking up' off for some other lifetime.

          Just some thoughts I had.

          Chet

          Comment

          • disastermouse

            #6
            Originally posted by AlanLa
            I need to think about Yugen's response for a while, but I do approach the precepts with curiosity, as in awareness, and I think that has helped me progress, but it's that just out out awareness moralizing that I am talking about. It's sort of like, "oh, that's interesting... but bad. You gotta stop that." Way over simplified, of course.
            I don't think this has ever worked for anyone ever, Alan. I'm certainly not an expert, but any softening of my edges or kindness amplified in my heart has come about through a slow erosion of clinging and insisting that my views be honored, my whims be catered to, or my expectations fulfilled. Not because they don't 'deserve' to be fulfilled - that's hardly the point - but because they were based and are based on some fundamental errors in view on my part.

            Again, just this one's opinion.

            Chet

            Comment

            • Myoku
              Member
              • Jul 2010
              • 1487

              #7
              Thank you Alan,

              I feel that we're on a path, in a flow, a constant change. We carry some Karma with us, so I feel all we can do is what we do, and if what we do looks like a good path to us, thats wonderful and all whats possible. Still we might fall into either self-compacency or self-criticism as you describe. But I believe thats just our mind, our opinions and views tricking us the one or other way. Just continue your way.

              Thats my view,
              Gassho
              Myoku

              Comment

              • Heisoku
                Member
                • Jun 2010
                • 1338

                #8
                "Considering that the Buddha Way is 'unattainable' that has in my case been a set up for consistent disappointment."

                I have wondered about 'attainment' of the Way since I recite the four vows each day' and now think that 'attainable' is used in a different sense. We do not attain the Way since we are already part of it. We do not attain the Way as it is not a level of recognition or a qualification standard to be reached.
                However the precepts allow us to fall in synch with the Way to become ready to realise it and that realisation is a merging towards which we have to practice and let go of our judgements and conditioning. The precepts are a tool to evaluate ourselves and our actions which is kind of what most posts are saying but ultimately they help point us in the right direction in terms of the Noble Path towards a state of being which aligns with the Way and in one sense 'attain' realisation of it but still maintaining its non-attainability. Each precept is important but is not the be-all and end-all.
                Well I am of course wrong so it would be good to hear some more views on the matter. Gassho.
                Heisoku 平 息
                Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. (Basho)

                Comment

                • Jundo
                  Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                  • Apr 2006
                  • 39459

                  #9
                  Hi,

                  I think this another place where it is vital two see Buddhism as "talking out of both sides of its no sided mouth".

                  Thus, I see nothing wrong with having moral and ethical "shoulds" about our behavior, regrets for past misbehavior, promises to do better next time (attainable or not!), reflection on our actions, repentance and atonement. If we act badly, we carry that heavy Karma and should do what we can to wash it away.

                  But, on the other "one hand" (), no shoulds, no regrets and no past, no next time and no future, just a clear mirror reflecting all without judgment or reproach ... "at-one-ment" rather than "atonement". All Karma washed clean from the start.

                  All at once, as one.

                  Sure, we should feel bad if we do bad. Sure, we should try not to do it again. However, the real "evil doer" is greed, anger and ignorance, and we should do what we can to be free of that (even though ... from the other side of the mouth ... we always have been! )

                  Here is a little talk on the subject of "ATONEMENT" and "AT-ONE-MENT" ....

                  We all make mistakes ... big and small. Perhaps when we are all Buddhas, we will be beyond bad choices and harmful acts ... but now we are each just fallible human beings, Bodhisattvas living in this tricky Saha world, hopefully doing the best we can. Human beings will make mistakes. However, what we do with those mistakes ..


                  Gassho, J
                  Last edited by Jundo; 06-23-2012, 08:59 AM.
                  ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                  Comment

                  • Khalil Bodhi
                    Member
                    • Apr 2012
                    • 317

                    #10
                    Alan et al,

                    I hope you won't mind if I chip in with my two cents as informed by the Pali cannon (I'm just not yet knowledgeable enough yet with Zen scriptures). In the suttas the Buddha describes hiri-ottappa as the guardians of the world. In short, these two qualities of mind are shame over moral transgressions and fear of the results of wrongdoing. Ven. Bodhi expresses this much more clearly than I do here:

                    The Buddha points to two mental qualities as the underlying safeguards of morality, thus as the protectors of both the individual and society as a whole. These two qualities are called in Pali hiri and ottappa. Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing. The Buddha calls these two states the bright guardians of the world (sukka lokapala). He gives them this designation because as long as these two states prevail in people's hearts the moral standards of the world remain intact, while when their influence wanes the human world falls into unabashed promiscuity and violence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the animal realm (Itiv. 42).

                    While moral shame and fear of wrongdoing are united in the common task of protecting the mind from moral defilement, they differ in their individual characteristics and modes of operation. Hiri, the sense of shame, has an internal reference; it is rooted in self-respect and induces us to shrink from wrongdoing out of a feeling of personal honor. Ottappa, fear of wrongdoing, has an external orientation. It is the voice of conscience that warns us of the dire consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds, the impediment to our desire for liberation from suffering. Acariya Buddhaghosa illustrates the difference between the two with the simile of an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a glow at the other end: hiri is like one's disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is like one's fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red hot.

                    In the present-day world, with its secularization of all values, such notions as shame and fear of wrong are bound to appear antiquated, relics from a puritanical past when superstition and dogma manacled our rights to uninhibited self-expression. Yet the Buddha's stress on the importance of hiri and ottappa was based on a deep insight into the different potentialities of human nature. He saw that the path to deliverance is a struggle against the current, and that if we are to unfold the mind's capacities for wisdom, purity and peace, then we need to keep the powderkeg of the defilements under the watchful eyes of diligent sentinels.
                    Anyway, in preparation for jukai I have read both the Mind of Clover and am working my way Reb Anderson's Being Upright and find the same sentiment expressed in both although not quite as forcefully. In fact, the fifth chapter of Being Upright is devoted to the idea of confessing one's twisted karma in order to purify ones mind. Rev. Ansderson states that confession "entails elements of regret and remorse...[and] you feel that you have made a mistake, wish that you had not committed the action, and sincerely intend to refrain from doing so again." That, to me, seems to be exactly what the Buddha meant by hiri-ottappa and I think your self-evaluation, when done gently and mindfully may not be such a bad thing after all.

                    Forgive me if I'm being too forward but I always fear people will throw out the baby with the bathwater when we attempt to dispense with the conventional level of truth too soon in favor of the ultimate. But, then again, maybe its just me. May you enjoy every good blessing! Mettaya.

                    Gassho,

                    Mike
                    To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
                    -Dhp. 183
                    My Practice Blog

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39459

                      #11
                      Hi Mike,

                      Thank you. I believe that what is expressed there is just common sense. There is nothing wrong ... and, as a matter of fact, society would quickly fall into chaos ... if we were completely freed of states such as shame, regret, guilt, moral dread. There would be raping, plundering, pillaging in the streets.

                      The Mahayana may offer, though, a couple of additional takes, to wit, even as one may feel shame, regret, guilt, moral dread ... do not be a prisoner of such mind states to a degree undeserved. To give a quick example, my policeman friend mentioned on another thread does feel great sorrow, regret and responsibility for a killing by him in the line of duty, although fully justified. However, his Buddhist Practice might provide him with tools to not be trapped in the "mind theatre" of excess self-punishing. I mean, I think we all know people we meet every day who fall into and WALLOW in self-flagellation and guilt far far in excess of small bad acts they committed. This Practice lets us learn to recognize more and more "mind theatre" as it plays its games.

                      Furthermore, the Mahayana offers yet another perspective ... simultaneously true, another side of the no sided coin ... free of all shame, regret, guilt, moral dread ... no "harm" possible from the first.

                      In our Zen Practice, we learn to live seeing life out of all those ways of seeing ... separate and at once.

                      Gassho, J
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Khalil Bodhi
                        Member
                        • Apr 2012
                        • 317

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Jundo
                        Hi Mike,

                        Thank you. I believe that what is expressed there is just common sense. There is nothing wrong ... and, as a matter of fact, society would quickly fall into chaos ... if we were completely freed of states such as shame, regret, guilt, moral dread. There would be raping, plundering, pillaging in the streets.

                        The Mahayana may offer, though, a couple of additional takes, to wit, even as one may feel shame, regret, guilt, moral dread ... do not be a prisoner of such mind states to a degree undeserved. To give a quick example, my policeman friend mentioned on another thread does feel great sorrow, regret and responsibility for a killing by him in the line of duty, although fully justified. However, his Buddhist Practice might provide him with tools to not be trapped in the "mind theatre" of excess self-punishing. I mean, I think we all know people we meet every day who fall into and WALLOW in self-flagellation and guilt far far in excess of small bad acts they committed. This Practice lets us learn to recognize more and more "mind theatre" as it plays its games.

                        Furthermore, the Mahayana offers yet another perspective ... simultaneously true, another side of the no sided coin ... free of all shame, regret, guilt, moral dread ... no "harm" possible from the first.

                        In our Zen Practice, we learn to live seeing life out of all those ways of seeing ... separate and at once.

                        Gassho, J
                        Thank you Rev. Jundo.

                        Gassho,

                        __/\__Mike
                        To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
                        -Dhp. 183
                        My Practice Blog

                        Comment

                        • Jinyo
                          Member
                          • Jan 2012
                          • 1957

                          #13
                          Every spiritual practice has underlying precepts - as does secular societies. Without these pointers chaos unfolds. I haven't yet detected any difference between the Buddhist precepts and those I was brought up with within a Christain environment. But my children also have this code of ethics and they did not have a religious upbringing. Shame, regret,the desire to make amends, the desire to do better seem to be a natural part of evolving as caring human beings.
                          I think we know when we hurt others by our behaviour and are much more likely to be able to change this if we understand the workings of our own minds - why we get upset, why we lash out, etc. Just trying to follow a code of practice won't necessarily change our behaviour - but will only intensify feelings of guilt/shame when we fail.
                          I'm not sure the belief that we are already perfect helps with the above - but I think this is a separate topic - something I'm struggling with just now. I'll start a new thread on this when I've clarified my thoughts a bit more.
                          On this topic - every day is a new day - try a little harder and don't get upset if we fall off the bike and have to get back on again. Bruised knees all the way - c'est la vie ....

                          Gassho

                          Willow

                          Comment

                          • Yugen

                            #14
                            Chet,
                            The encouragement to approach the precepts, like our practice, with curiosity is wonderful. Thanks for raising this.

                            Willow,
                            A beautiful post. I am continually moved by your sensitivity and thoughtfulness. I always look forward to your posts. Thank you.

                            Gassho
                            Yugen

                            Comment

                            • RichardH
                              Member
                              • Nov 2011
                              • 2800

                              #15
                              I took the precepts in 1997.. with very serious intent. Then.. I fell on my face. It isn't that I cannot keep the precepts. I'm a better person. Some precepts are easy, like not misusing sexuality and not stealing, or killing, except mosquitoes (sorry). But others not so much.. like those little things people do involving impatient speech, sharp words, and a kind of fed-up retreat into selfishness from time to time.

                              Over time my attitude toward these precepts have changed. In the same way the sharp corners of a bar of soap wear down and become smooth and rounded with use. It isn't a matter of giving license to my imperfections... just an awareness that greed hatred and delusion are as old as humanity.. and as Kant said .."Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made". There is some real compassion in that ... in forgiving myself and others over and over again.. while doing my best. I do not know what the equivalent of "conscience" is in Buddhism or if there is one, but my conscience is unerring, and will not let things slide. If there is a "gap" between conscience and conduct/speech "just being with that" won't do alone, it is time for hands on. IMHO.

                              Now I will be taking the precepts again here at treeleaf.. a chance to begin again, renew. Maybe that renewal will help me be more skillful in minding the precepts.

                              Gassho,kojip
                              Last edited by RichardH; 06-23-2012, 04:36 PM.

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