By Taiso Hannya Byron Bartow Roshi, ZRS Head Priest, excerpted from the December 2017 ZRS newsletter
There has recently been some discussion of the precepts. The approach taken with the precepts is one of the remarkable Hollow Bones interpretations of the zen tradition.
- Affirm Life
- Act Generously
- Be Loving
- Manifest Truth
- Respect Clarity
- Honor Silence
- Celebrate Others
- Be Giving
- Embody Compassion
- Steward the Earth
- Manifest This Way
The traditional versions of the precepts are presented in the negative, and ours are reframed in the positive. As these are presented in the Hollow Bones Sutra Book , there is a sentence or two pointing toward a further understanding. As each precept is outlined, there is an effort to blend the traditional Buddhist understanding with a practical, modern and culturally relevant interpretation.
For instance, the traditional precept Ahimsa (non-harming) is reframed in the positive as Affirm Life . In the further development of the concept we have this: “In order to live, it is necessary for me to take life. I do so with reverence for the life taken.” This draws from Native American spirituality, and realizes a practicality within our meat eating culture. The final sentence implies the Mahayana vow: “In gratitude, I do not take my own life for granted.”
Broadly speaking, in our modern western culture, we are estranged from our root in nature. The precept Steward the Earth is unique to our Hollow Bones tradition as a corrective for the cultural alienation from nature. Nature is not seen as “other” – a target for human exploitation and dominion. Rather, we are this nature, not separate from our mother. This precept finishes with a vow: “I work toward achieving a lifestyle that gives more back to this earth than I take from it.” So, the ultimately impossible, “giving more back” is a vow drawing us toward a commitment to awareness of our engagement with nature in everyday life – it is not an even-steven, 50/50 proposition, but a 100/100 or even 110/? endeavor.
As zen practitioners realize that the Buddha-way is the path for “their” practice, we celebrate entry into this stream with the jukai ceremony. The Hollow Bones interpretation and the traditional precepts are contemplated and taken as vows. The precepts are guidelines to support our practice conventionally. Yet, as with all dualistic principles, this is partial and provisional – as the ultimate realization of Buddha nature is a middle-way, beyond extremes. With the realization of Buddha nature, actualizing a marriage
of wisdom and compassion, these guidelines are unnecessary; yet, the violation of these principles is inconceivable.