A big day at the Zen center today: twenty-five practitioners formally entered the stream of the Buddha’s path by receiving the precepts from the roshi. There’s much to say about these 16 intentions which each person publicly vowed to live by. As it’s late in the day and as there’s still an evening class to come, I’ll briefly mention the First Pure Precept. It is phrased differently in various traditions, but comes down to the same thing: To do No Harm. Other translations, handed down from the historic teacher called “Buddha” through 84 generations of teachers over 2500+ years, are “not doing evil” or “not creating evil.” I think the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath also contains this phrase.
What appeals to me in this vow to do no harm –neither myself, any being, all of Nature–is that it just about covers every ethical dilemma, every decision point in everyday life. Be it large or small, intentional or automatic, any thought, action, or intention grounded in this precept will be “right.” The word right is often used in Buddhist language not as opposite to wrong, but to mean honourable, non-harming, respectful, kind, or loving. Think about the brilliance and far-reaching wisdom in a four-word phrase! Imagine what it would be like to live with ourselves, with our loved ones, our neighbours, strangers, so-called enemies … if we were to reflect on this precept before acting and re-acting?