Saturday, September 8, 2007

Bad Buddhist vs. The Seventh Precept

I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from dancing, singing, music and watching grotesque mime.

Wow. No grotesque mime? Count me out.

Another version of this precept reads: "to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, smartening with perfumes and beautifying with cosmetics."

This is one of the "optional three" precepts for lay Buddhists. In the Buddha's time, his bikkhus (students) focused on recitation and teaching of the Dhamma on Uposatha (new moon and full moon) days. Today some lay Buddhists also observe Uposatha as days for temporary renunciation:

...the Buddha speaks of a noble disciple reflecting: By undertaking the Uposatha with its eight precepts for a day and a night I renounce the way of common men and live as the arahants do for all their lives, compassionate, pure and wise. So the Right Precepts are really a test of how far one can discipline oneself. That means really, to what extent do wholesome states of mind consonant with Dhamma-practice predominate in one's character over unwholesome desires built on greed, aversion and delusion? The practice of the Eight Precepts gives one a chance to find out about this. And this is an investigation which one can make four times a month if one wishes.

Actually, I like the idea of that a lot. Maybe because I know I'm a bad enough Buddhist that I couldn't hack full-time abstinence. But I'm certain that a trial-sized dose on a regular basis would teach me something.

What, though?

I really don't mean that flippantly. I'm curious about the intended goal of this precept, and what specific effects it is expected to have on a person. On one level, it's obvious (but here's an explanation anyway):

...the lay Buddhist refrains from enjoying songs, dances, music and shows during this period of observance so that he will not be distracted by sensual pleasures that may give rise to unwholesome thoughts. At the same time, by refraining from the use of ornaments, perfumes and cosmetics, he becomes more aware that physical beauty is impermanent and that one should not be vain.

For me, this highlights the difference between what I know (i.e., I know that fun and good times are fleeting, and that beauty is also impermanent) and what I practice (going out to dance and hear music, applying all manner of creams and pastes and goo to my face all the time).

My question is: Does my behavior indicate that I don't really understand the reality? Or that I don't fully believe it? Or that I care less about the reality than I do about the temporary enjoyment I get out of the behavior?

And the next question is: Will the practice of refraining from entertainment and vanity actually increase my understanding, cement my belief, or reduce my pleasure (and hence my attachment)?

Or will I just get really dull? And wrinkly?

Well, obviously I'm going to get wrinkly anyway; all I can do is slow down the process somewhat. And I'm OK with that. I love my peptide serum. Peptides are my friend.

But I'm intrigued about what might happen if I commit to observing the Uposatha days. Since they're determined by the lunar calendar, I won't have any control over when they happen; what if one falls on a day when my boyfriend's band is playing? Or my own band — does practice count? What if it falls on a long work day and I can't wear any lotion or makeup and I look really haggard and scary and my students figure out I'm not their age?

I suppose that's where practice comes in. You don't know until you do it. You can think you know, you can guess what it would be like, but it isn't going to really sink in until you walk all the way through the experience. So really it would be best for me if Uposatha days did happen at inconvenient, challenging times — otherwise I won't really get it.

Oh, crap, I can't believe I just said that. I think I just cursed myself; now all the Uposatha days will fall when I have plans! I should probably just kiss my Ted Leo and the Pharmacists tickets goodbye. Maybe this was a BAD IDEA.

Definitely not giving up my peptides, either. Stupid Uposatha.

Oops. What I meant was: "Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness."

Seriously, that's what I meant.
Bikkhus, undertake the precept to abstain from grotesque mime, for it may lead to DANCING!

But if I give up entertainments and smartening perfumes and pretty shoes (OK, the precept doesn't ban shoes, but I have a feeling they count) will I end up looking like Reverend Moore?

Thank Buddha for peptides! And you, I see you smirking. Just wait until your eyelids start turning into crepe paper.

What do you think? I have to get these, right?
PREVIOUS POSTS

BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE SIXTH PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE FIFTH PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE FOURTH PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE THIRD PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE SECOND PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. THE FIRST PRECEPT
BAD BUDDHIST VS. BREATHING

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10 comments:

  1. In this post you mention considering committing to regular practice of Uposatha days, and wondering how that might impact the rhythm of your life. Have you attempted this practice since you wrote this? If so, what has your experience been? I'm curious, as I'm just beginning to "play" with the notion of Sabbath in my tradition (Christian). Thanks!

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  2. Hi Carin -- I have not really tried to do any of the "scheduled" Uposatha days, though I try to set days for refraining from every instance of a particular impulse, like oversleeping/eating, procrastinating, or grotesque mime. (What kind of person can really go a whole day without grotesque mime, though?)

    I like the idea of Sabbath a lot, partly because it's predictable and frequent; I think I'd do better if I weren't leaving it up to my own scheduling whims. I guess that's part of the point -- it isn't about what I feel like doing and when!

    How do you observe the Sabbath?

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  3. hey marie, this is a pretty old topic but I happened by and thought I would leave a little something for ya...
    The precepts are really just tools, they aren't commandments or rules that you MUST follow and if you don't then you will never realize enlightenment. They are not like that...
    The point of buddhism is to realize your self nature. To do this these precepts are fashioned to point out this self nature to you. It is really easy to think of the precepts as rules rather than a mirror for your mind.
    So if you are caught up with music, entertainment, dancing and movies or plays, it subjects your mind to potential desire or cravings that it was not currently obsessed with.
    This means that since you have not realized your self nature, then you are caught up in becoming and wanting which propels the cycle of pleasure and suffering.
    If you try to resist or abandon dancing, singing, entertainment, music and movies thinking they are bad or evil or what ever, then instead of solving the problem of suffering you are making another form of suffering for yourself.
    Dancing, singing, ect. are not bad or evil or unbuddhist, despite what might be said about following the precepts or breaking the precepts. In all actuality there is no such thing as bad, evil nor breaking of precepts for a being that has understood it's nature.

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  4. Here's an idea just occurred to me: Buddhism is a practical path, even the Buddha himself was understanding of laypeople's difficulties in following the minutiae of Vinaya practice due to our many responsibilities (which we should not give up if they are important to us at this time). You could maybe try to commit that if a (lunar) uposatha day has fallen on a work day, where you have to both look respectable (and in my case, make and teach music - I take it you relate yes?), that you will undertake the eight-precept day at the nearest opportunity, but not on the actual day, if you have work to do. You could commit to stick to this, that you must do it as soon as practicable. That will still 'bear much fruit' as the eight precepts will still be observed on a regular basis, twice a month.
    Hope that idea was helpful. In fact, I might try it out myself!
    andrew.

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