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precepts & intentions

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Among its many features, Buddhist practice offers guidance on how to be in relationship with others … including desire and sexual conduct (see yesterday’s post). Therefore, by voluntarily undertaking to live according to the Precepts, my intention is to refrain from …  

  1. harming living beings … and instead practicing loving kindness;
  2. taking what belongs to others … and instead practicing generosity;
  3. committing sexual misconduct … and instead  practicing contentment;
  4. false speech … and instead practicing truthful communication. 

These four are interrelated. Paying attention to precepts number 1, 2, and 4 takes care of number 3. If, for example, I find myself sexually attracted and sense doubts on how to proceed, the precepts help me view such attraction through a lens that’s clearer than my immediate desire.

Here are some questions to consider: Would anyone be harmed if I gave in to desire? Would I be taking what is not mine / not freely given / not legally or ethically available to me? Could acting on desire lead to lying, deception, or breaking of societal rules and taboos?  

stretcarOr, seen from another angle, I could ask: What action would generate loving kindness towards others and myself? What would be the most generous course of action? What thoughts, feelings, and actions might bring about honesty, clarity, and happiness for all affected?

Lest you think that I’m aiming for sainthood or that–heavens forbid–I make claims on an exemplary life: far from it. I’ve acted unskillfully, have harmed others and myself on many occasions. What I am learning these days is to continually refine my intention to live according to the first precept and do no harm. Everything comes from there and returns to it (karma). 

“Prior to any action of the body, thought, or speech, there is a moment of intention that we need to be aware of, because clarity about our intention gives us choice about how we can proceed. A moment of contact with our intention can break our habitual patterns and keep us from operating on automatic pilot.” (Frank Ostaseski) 

image: A streetcar named desire. (1951). b&w film with Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando;

3 responses »

  1. from NMP: Every morning I check your blog and find nuggets of insight that influence the shape my view for the day. thank you p for sharing your self with me – and us –

    • i’m glad, N, thank you.

      sometimes–as with this one–I have moments of fear that i may be self-disclosing too much. fear because my *intention* is not to draw attention to me, but to use bits of my lived experience as a touchstone for the benefit of others. your comments encourage me to press on. p


    The precept “Don’t wait” is especially meaningful to me personally……Seize the day; seize the moment…..Live like you were dying…..It helps you keep your goals in focus.


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