Revisiting the First Grave Precept

Affirm life. Do not kill.

I wrote about the First Grave Precept in December 2007. It caused me to reflect upon my yoga practice, the Yama of ahimsa, and how I related to my husband at the time as well as students and co-workers.

In the nearly two years that have past my practice with honoring, affirming life has lead me to a divorce. It seems strange writing that, but in re-reading how the I saw the precept as being important for fostering honesty and supporting each other wholeheartedly, that’s the truth of it. Staying married had not become a way for us to affirm who we are.

What has stayed constant, deepened, is my view of this precept as it relates to my decision to be a vegan. The first precept, to refrain from taking life and to affirm life whenever possible, is the foundation for how we work with all the other precepts. It directs how we interact in our life moment-by-moment, if we need any clarification we can always come back and ask ourselves questions directly related to this precept.

Is what I’m about to do going to harm another being, including myself, in any way? Is what I’m about to do something that will affirm the life of another being or myself?

Yes, I can look at honesty, intent to distract myself or others, generosity, anger, sexuality, gossip, self-aggrandizement, and speaking ill of other beings or the Three Treasures – in the end they all get held against the first precept. Am I harming or affirming life?

Following a vegan diet means that I am trying to nourish peace at a cellular level. After all, what I eat is what builds the very corporeal framework that lives this precept. Deciding that some suffering is acceptable to nourish myself with, turning a blind eye to the suffering of dairy cows so I can eat cheese isn’t alright nor is pretending that there are “happy chickens” producing the eggs at the grocery store. I cannot pretend that suffering is somehow OK because the animal isn’t actively being killed (at that moment) for the dairy or eggs. Yes, perhaps some chickens or cows suffer at a greater level than others, but I really don’t think any of them can be considered happy; especially when they stop being “good producers”.

I also choose not to split-hairs with non-vegan who insist on asking if I would change my mind if I owned and raised the chickens, etc. Even the arguing about the details detracts from the affirming, the honoring of life I am actively seeing. I am happy to explain why I choose to interpret the First Grave Precept as a reason for my veganism, I just don’t seek to debate it.

I’ve come to see that I really don’t need to sustain a healthy, peace-minded life by taking advantage of the fact that I can digest animal products. I’m easily capable of mindfully choosing a diet that translates to peace in every bite. From this place I know that I interact more compassionately to others. The peacefulness of my diet has helped me tremendously in learning to extend that same loving-kindness to myself. Even when I am frustrated I am more quickly capable of responding in a manner that seeks to actualize harmony because my life is fully nourished by the First Grave Precept.

The Grave Precepts

In preparation for Jukai on October 8 I am writing about the 10 Grave Precepts. These vows, along with 6 others, I will take in front of my community (Sangha) when I formally become a Zen Buddhist. I’ve known I want to do this since 2006, but it has taken me 3 years to actually take the steps to do this. I was particularly anxious about sesshin practice, but the two I’ve done this year have been as hard as I feared and better than I could have hoped.

In spring of 2008 I took these first vows. CK was there, as she was when I completed a women’s retreat at the beginning of 2008. These moments had the feeling of great importance when they happened. It feels very deeply right and wonderful that she will be taking the first five precepts when I am taking Jukai. The first five vows we’ll say together.

I did not post what I’ve already written about the first five of the Grave Precepts. I have just posted them now and will be revisiting them in current writing. These are not tasks we check off and move onto the next step towards Enlightenment, rather they are part of our continuous practice. Like zazen, like asana, like the breath.

The Ten Grave Precepts

The Three Treasures

  • Taking refuge in the Buddha.
  • Taking refuge in the Dharma.
  • Taking refuge in the Sangha.

The Three Prue Precepts

  • Do not create evil.
  • Practice good.
  • Actualize good for others.

Fine, Just Fine

Hawai’i was utterly astounding. A brief recap:

  • Black sand beaches? Check.
  • Tropical rain forest? Check.
  • Shave ice? Check, yum (can we manage to eat this daily?)!
  • Lush, tropical fruit? More yum and check (apple banana, anyone)!
  • Mongoose? Check (once we knew what they were… what is the plural of mongoose anyway?).
  • Amazingly friendly, giving, hugging people? Check (I’ve never been hugged by so many strangers in such a short amount of time. Close to daily hugs…)
  • Dolphins? Check (both spinner & spotted).
  • Sea Turtles? Check.
  • Toxic sulphuric dioxide fumes? Check, eeek and pick another hike!
  • Hiking in a still hot volcanic crater? Check (Kilauea Iki)!
  • Bus loads of tourists complete with Hawaiian tour guides in matching outfits? Uh… check.
  • Lava tube? Check.
  • Private warm pond with tropical fish? Check (ahhhhhhhh).

And…

  • LAVA FLOWING INTO THE SEA? OH BABY, CHECK!!!!

Now I’m home, integrating post sesshin, post vacation and trying madly to get my rakusu finished (yes, that is hand sewing) by the 24th to give to my teacher for Jukai next month. After it is done I do a bunch of writing I’ve not completed, including lots of blog posts.

For now… go look at the pretty pictures. A mere handful are posted, there will be more to come. We’re working on a web “comic” using them.

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