“Huge, violent, killer waves of our own making are bearing down on us, ready to smash us against the rocks.” I know this to be absolutely true. I’ve experienced some of it for myself already, across the moments, days and decades of my life. Every unskillful action I’ve ever performed either has, or will eventually, return to me. So when I think of what’s to come, the outlook really isn’t very pretty.
But, Phra Bhasakorn Bhavilai continues in his wonderful book ‘Karma for Today’s Traveler’, “somehow, we see more clearly, we improve ourselves, we reject our past behaviour and we embrace the five precepts. By changing our mental state like that… the power of our bad deeds to effect us has been reduced… The waves will hit us, we can’t stop them; but they only take a limb or an eye or some teeth. We are left alive. The five precepts will reduce the negative effects from our past.”
This is very practical stuff. It’s not about achieving Buddhahood through the perfection of precepts, something I know I am incapable of completing by my own efforts. Rather, taking refuge in the precepts is about developing the skills and habits to live with more peace and confidence in this very life, of being happier and having better relationships with everything and everyone around me, as well as making progress on the path.
I see how this works and rejoice in it, it brings results. And, though central to my personal practice, it’s still not easy. The trickiest for me, just as in Joseph’s insightful post yesterday, is the precept concerning speech. Partly formulated, in words from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fourth Mindfulness Training, as “Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.”
The trouble, I find, is remembering. Sitting with friends, it is so easy to slip back into negative speech patterns. So easy to swear, to complain, to gossip, to exaggerate, to condemn and criticise. So easy to speak rather than to listen, to dominate the conversation, and to talk with urgency and anger rather than with kindness and peace. How can such behaviour not build up disasterous karma? How can I remember my vows?
I recently heard about a church minister in America who suggested to his congregation that they wear a wristband and that every time they catch themselves complaining or gossiping or otherwise engaging in negative speech, they simply move the band from one wrist to the other. What a brilliant idea. It’s a simple act that would re-enforce one’s aspirations and help break the habits of negativity.
I decided to try this out using the wrist-mala I wear everyday, and was surprised at the results. Although I was concentrating on speech, the first effect was that I became much more aware of my thinking too. The second thing I noticed was how often I had to move the mala. And thirdly, I was pleased to see how often I didn’t have to. Which is important, not because I imagine I can ever reach perfection, but because it improves my life here and in the future, reducing the size of those killer waves.
I also remembered Kun Sunim’s advice about striking back at negative thoughts and changing them into something positive, and I worked on just that. Of course the most positive thing you can do is to entrust everything to your own Buddha-nature, and this technique really helped me do that. I let go of the negativity, and found myself smiling instead. “When you entrust everything to the foundation” Kun Daehaeng Sunim writes, “with a single thought you can go a thousand miles.”