Friday, September 14, 2007

Bad Buddhist vs. The Eighth Precept

I undertake the rule of training to refrain from a high or large sleeping-place.

Further explanation of this precept is probably needed here:

Just as all the other luxuries have been cut out, so the luxury of a large, soft bed should be dispensed with for this night. In warm Buddhist countries a mat on the floor is enough, but where the weather is colder a hard mattress or folded blankets on the floor could be used. On a hard surface the body actually relaxes more than on a soft one, also there is less desire to sleep long. On these nights an effort should be made to restrict sleep to the minimum. A "large bed" means one in which two people sleep. The Buddhist who practices these precepts for a day and a night always sleeps by himself.

Well, I don't need high or large, but I do need warm and comfy, which I'm guessing would count as "part of the problem" as far as this precept goes.

The problem being that sleep is goooooood. I like to sleep. A lot, if I get the chance. And that's not really compatible with the Buddhist ethic of not wasting time: every moment of the day can and should be used for practice, but time spent in sleep can't be spent in awareness. So the less time spent sleeping, the better.

Blech. Of all the Eight Precepts, this is my least favorite. Just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap in protest.

Yes, protest. Come on; if I'm going to put right effort in all day long, and refrain from practically everything my ego wants (not to mention my id, my libido, my primate brain, my metabolism, and my inner shoe fetishist), are you seriously telling me that someone wants to make sure I sleep in a way I don't enjoy, so that I'll want to do it less?

Actually, now that I've calmed down a bit (maybe I went and took a nap! Maybe I did!) I can see the logic and benefit of this precept for those looking to deepen their practice. It makes perfect sense, like just about everything the Buddha recommended. (That smartypants.)

BUT. There is a version of this precept floating around in our culture, and does not have the same legitimizing foundation in wisdom or the goal of human happiness. I'm talking about the Busy Rule. This rule says that you have to be busy all the time; you have to be so busy doing stuff you have to do that you don't have time to do the stuff you want to do; you have to be so busy that you're acutely aware of how your busy-ness exhausts and frustrates you; you have to be so busy that there is no possibility of unscheduled, unresearched, unmultitasked leisure or social activity. And the only acceptable reason for turning down any invitation or request for your time is that you're just way too crazy busy.

Well, screw that. I can't live as a crazy-busy person for more than a week without completely falling apart. I know my limit of busy, and I protect myself from being pushed too far past it — even when it means turning down invitations or requests for my time not because I'm actually too busy, but because I don't want to be.

I have a friend who is the busiest person on earth. Not only does she have a full-time job and a long commute to get there, but she also sings in a band that practices twice a week, writes poetry and goes to a workshop, takes a painting class, hosts Girls' Poker Night, acts as sole caregiver for an elderly woman (cleans her house, takes her to medical appointments, has dinner with her, handles her legal and financial stuff), does pro bono PR work for a local music school, maintains a full and exciting love life, spends time with her parents and siblings and nieces every weekend — and still says YES when I invite her over. She is living proof of the idiom: "If you want something done, ask a busy person." She is a miracle; I truly admire her.

And I am very clear that her life would kill me dead.

I think the cultural stigma against "not busy enough" has some basis in logic. There's obviously an advantage to being busy (in the same way there's an advantage to being manic and a disadvantage to being depressed) in that you simply get more done.

Which would be great. I admit my mental tally of Good Stuff I've Done would be higher if I spent less time at rest or in idle contemplation of trashy magazines. But I don't think I should have to feel secretive or ashamed about having free time, or have to give up sleeping in sometimes. That bit about the bed on the ground struck me at first (in contemporary cultural context) as punishing and shaming rather than practical, as the Buddha no doubt intended it.

So I do see the value of the practice. I think I will try a little harder to use my time wisely, and watch the napping. Chalk another one up for the Buddha; so far he's eight for eight.
I am an expert sleeper. I have slept in locations around the world. This is me sleeping in a castle — only recommended for real pro sleepers.

This is one of my more accomplished naps; I'm quite proud of this one, actually. The cats, Orson and Pablo, enjoyed it as well. Naps get extra points for cat participation.

A slightly less successful nap: no blanket, a bit chilly. Even Orson seems a little worried, like he wants someone to fetch me a down comforter. He is a good and faithful friend.

Now doesn't that look like it feels good? How can anything that looks like this be bad for you?




  1. Hey! I'm not an expert on Buddhism but following the Precepts to the absolute letter seems crazy to me. Like I find people who interpret the Bible literally rather nuts. The Buddha taught that we mustn't follow paths blindly and you seem to be having many doubts about the Precepts. To me they're about social control rather than spiritual awakening and the use of Buddhism for social control is something which evolved over time not something which is at the essence of Buddha's teachings. Also you shouldn't be so hard on yourself but rather accept your faults and look upon the with compassion. Don't force rules on yourself for the sake of it. If you do you will never accept yourself for who you are. Buh bye...

  2. Hi!

    I used to like sleeping a lot too as it's comfortable and I feel recharged.

    But after practicising meditation, I find that I need less sleep. When I'm tired, I meditate. It's good as I am conscious of how relaxed and recharged I am. In fact, the most relaxed state I'd found myself to be in is during meditation, not before sleeping or waking up.

    There must be a reason why Buddha say should sleep less (recommended 4 hours) and practice more. If you practice (meditation), you need less sleep.

  3. I find this post hilarious! And where was this castle? I would definitely recommend Kelly Howell's sleep hypnosis, sleeping is healthy for you and I think you ought listen to your body, we are all so busy trying to accomplish something, hasn't that mission been accomplished when we came to earth?:) Sleep on!