Proceed clearly. Do not cloud the mind.
At first, when I saw the fifth precept written as, “don’t drink or take drugs”, I felt some surprise at seeing a precept expressed in a way that sounded to me like a commandment from the Judeo-Christian faith I had grown up with. After I saw the fifth precept written as advice to “Not cloud the mind”, the meaning for it gained greater clarity. It isn’t just an admonishment to avoid substances that might cause one to break other precepts, but advice to avoid anything that encourages us to be "clouded"; distracted and not present in each moment.
There is the obvious pain and suffering caused by by the misuse of alcohol and drugs. I grew up watching my step-father's functional alcoholism, hearing terrible stories of my father's alcoholic rages, and feeling deep anxiety when family gatherings encouraged drunken comments. All my life my father and step-dad chose to cling to their addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs. That clinging hastened their early deaths by weakening their bodies beyond the ability to be repaired. For as many times as they each may have said they loved me in real life each of their deaths left me with the pain of knowing that the addictions were more important.
A clear as the danger of the misuse of intoxicants is to me, when this precept expanded beyond a simple directive around using alcohol or drugs I was able to clearly see the other ways my family preferred clouded, distracted minds. Eating to avoid the pain, dissatisfaction, and rage that simmered just below the surface of every family gathering. The gathering itself providing the excuse, as well as the means, to cloud the mind with food. Shopping, acquiring more things and more debt in a game of gratification, competition, and distraction. Gossiping, which itself is a separate precept, was also a way of clouding the mind along with television, romance novels, and endless, jealous scheming.
In my family food was an especially acceptable means of distracting the mind from the pain and dissatisfaction of the present. I watched the women, and often the men, in my family transition to obesity as adults regardless of how thin they had been as children. Regardless of any of the constant urging to be "skinny", to diet constantly, and to have stylish clothing that showed off a good figure everyone was encouraged to eat excessively at any gathering. Even if there wasn't encouragement, no one would think it unusual to want to have "just one more" piece of homemade candy even if you were already full beyond words. It was always just fine to want to go out for a sundae, indulge in "consumer therapy" (shopping), or indulge in a whole day of shopping and eating treats because the day had been stressful, upsetting. It was perfectly fine to complain about why the day had been stressful but there was never any direction on how to cope with it beyond eating, shopping, or other forms of immediate pleasure. Without any skills to truly cope with distressing emotions and situations I grew up to suffer greatly from depression, anxiety, and obesity by the time I was in my mid-20s.
After several years of cultivating mindfulness in my approach to food I've overcome the obesity and the health risks that have plagued the women in my family. By rejecting the food culture I was raised with I have created the space within which I can learn how to truly address the depression and anxiety caused by nearly 30 years of untreated PTSD. In smaller ways too I can continue to practice mindfulness; like buying fairly traded, organic chocolate and finding the cost of those luxuries causes me to reflect more deeply as to how I might turn to them as a means of distraction. Am I merely craving the sweetness of chocolate because I’m irritated, frustrated or bored? Am I seeking the clouding of my mind, choosing a momentary pleasure rather than stay with emotions that make me uncomfortable? The fifth precept invites me to reflect more deeply and try to bring light & understanding to places in my life where I am mindlessly seeking distraction.
Manifest Truth. Do not lie.
Not lying is a fundamental part of how we interact with others and ourselves. In general lies bring suffering and lead people to have less ethical behavior in other areas. I believe that it is important to cultivate deep honesty within ourselves and from that strive to be truthful in our interactions with everyone. I feel that the manifestation of truth must come from within ourselves first as we would not have the ability to be truly honest with others if we are starting from a place of delusion within. To manifest the truth we must move beyond merely projecting a caricature of ourselves, a persona we use with others while hiding our real selves. This level of self honesty is difficult because it is in the nature of our culture to not look fearlessly at the self but rather to hide, dissemble, or fabricate.
Although I have always found it to be very important that I be honest with others, I find it very challenging to be fearlessly honest when I look at my past. For decades I’ve minimized, repressed, and suppressed the reality of events in the past so they do not cause me as much pain. I find looking at these things with the eyes of fearless honesty is deeply painful and my mind would rather run to distraction. It has been very difficult to accept that minimizing the events is a way of lying to myself. By lying to myself that events weren't significant I am less compassionate and understanding of myself. I believe that in the past the less compassionate I was with myself, the harder it was for me to be compassionate with others. I find now it is still far easier to extend compassion and understanding to other than myself. I continue to practice with this by honestly reminding myself of the truth of my history, the need to be more self compassionate, and by trying to learn how to truly appreciate how far I've come.
Honor the body. Do not misuse sexuality.
It is easy to get caught up in the simple, pleasurable responses of the body but as passion cools there is a return to dissatisfaction with the world. Some people spend the majority of their time caught up in the cycle of sexual gratification and unhappiness with life. I’ve seen friends caught in this cycle change to where they see sex as just the means to get favors, material possessions, and other things they believe they need to either feel happier with life, experience more sexual pleasure, or merely because of the way misusing their sexuality makes them believe they have a kind of power. I don’t believe that feeling pleasure and desire is inherently bad, but to get caught up in it, trapped by and clinging to it isn’t healthy. There is great joy that can be shared just by being present to the simple, but profound pleasure of sex. Because of this, I think it shouldn’t merely become a distraction or just another entertainment.
I believe the third precept is vital because particular mindfulness around sex and sexuality is necessary due to the potential to cause grave, lasting harm should they be misused. The deep trust of relationships can be completely broken when dishonesty is tied to sex. When sexual abuse occurs on any level, at any age, the damage done is tremendous. When I read Daido Loori's writing on the precepts from The Heart of Being I especially was affected by his comments related to killing the mind of compassion. To me the potential to destroy or gravely damage the seeds of compassion in a person are very likely part of the consequences when sexual abuse occurs. A person may not suffer physical damage from a sexual abuse, but the compassion within them experiences a kind of death at having their life so intimately violated by another person. All other precepts must be especially observed in those areas where they overlap with sex and sexuality; there is just too great a chance for momentous suffering.
If one has experienced pain and or abuse the fear of being hurt may cause the mind to disconnect from emotions and sensation during sex. It requires fearless, vigilant attention and honesty to see this happening, to work through it requires involving someone else to pain that is more comfortably hidden. When people feel safe enough to be vulnerable with each other while also being profoundly intimate there is a synergistic act of honoring that opens hearts further, heals deep hurts in unexpected ways, and connects us to the greater force of Love in the universe.