The First Grave Precept

Affirm life. Do not kill .

In 2006 I explored a life vow of observing the Yamas, the “restraints” of living recorded by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. When first considering a life vow I only focused on ahimsa, having already turned my own life toward harm reduction and creating space for healing. As I considered further I was drawn to start incorporating all five of the “restraints” into my life. Since making this life vow the first grave precept has become deeply entwined with my daily living.

As I worked with ahimsa, the first precept in the Yamas as well as Zen practice, I found that it was larger than I first thought. At first glance the prohibition against killing or causing intentional harm is what stood out. It also had the most obvious relationships with teaching yoga and in my marriage.

My awareness of physical pain, due to my own chronic pain, fully guides me when I am teaching yoga. I watch my students carefully checking not only for adjustments to alignment and posture, but to see if any of them are straining. Strain can lead to injury of the body, which may be an emotional injury as well. I encourage them to make great effort and feel the “burning effort”, but with compassion and awareness of where they are in the present. I request that they not merely endure, suffering through class.

In my marriage the focus is on affirming one another and creating a space where we both feel safe to be our essential selves. I especially do not have a lot of experience being in a calmer, more nurturing environment and just the unfamiliarity causes me upset at times. I try to be mindful of my partner’s needs as well as my desire to have my own needs met. When I’m having feelings of irritation I try to discuss them in a way that is not confrontational. I try to stick with difficult things even when I feel overwhelmed, making sure that I do not loose track of the reasons I married my partner or why I value him. I find it very difficult to be learning these skills at this point in my life, but extremely grateful to have any opportunity to learn them at all.

As I have worked further with the first precept my choices grow more deeply informed. A vegetarian diet became a vegan diet when I researched both the life of a dairy cow and the devastating effects of the industrialized approach to raising animals for food. The best course of action for me is to try and get entirely away from animals for food. Life is also affirmed when I choose fairly traded teas, coffees, bananas, and chocolate. I became aware not only of the human rights and environmental abuses that abound in these trade of these items, but of the true luxury of my having them here in Oregon. I became committed to nourishing my body, and therefore my journey, from the observation of this precept as I believe in order to practice at all I must begin with how the body that supports that practice is sustained.

I am mindful to bring the observation of this precept to my everyday work. When I am more mindful of this precept it affects how I interact with people. I try to check in with a quickly written e-mail to make sure my words won’t bring harm. Now I try to take time before responding to something where I felt my anger or irritation arise, not reacting as instantly as I used to. This is more of a challenge as it is part of affirming life, but is counter to how I’ve done things in the past at work where I am usually focused on getting results. I’ve come to recognize that there are less harmful ways of achieving those results than letting people know I am irritated with their performance. I see this as a necessary part of my practice.