I don’t have much experience working formally with precepts, but also recognize their value.

As ethical guidelines they have an obvious practical function at a social level, and they also help keep us out of trouble at an individual level, reducing suffering for ourselves and others and – if we are into spiritual practice – freeing some time, energy and attention for practice.

Also, precepts tend to mirror – roughly – how an awakening is naturally lived through a human self. So when we don’t follow any one precept, it is an invitation to explore what is going on. What are the dynamics behind it? Can I find any beliefs or fears that prevent me from acting according to that precept? (Using precepts this way may be a little clunky and imprecise, for instance compared with using a sense of unease or discomfort as invitation to find and inquire into a belief, but can still be helpful.)

They are questions. What happens when I follow the precepts? What happens when I don’t? What are the dynamics behind me following them or not? Which beliefs are triggered in me? What is more true for me than the initial belief?

And they are like an onion, always revealing new layers of meaning.

For instance, here is the first precept from CSS:

Responsibility.  To take responsibility for my life. Not to blame others for my own unhappiness, nor make excuses for my own mistakes.

I can aim at taking responsibility for my own actions and how I receive, relate and respond to situations and circumstances. And the precept is also fertile ground for inquiry. I can approach it as a question: What happens when I take responsibility for my life? What happens when I don’t? When I don’t, what beliefs and fears prevents me from doing so? Are these true? Can I find in myself what I see in others? Where does it all happen – the world, others, myself, blame, responsibility? Does it all happen within my own world of images? Can I find it happening anywhere else?

And then the second precept:

Self-discipline. To regard each moment as a precious opportunity for spiritual practice. Not to waste time in frivolous pursuits, nor overindulge in drugs, alcohol or escapist entertainments.

This is a helpful guideline when taken literally, and it is also a question and invitation for inquiry. What happens when I try to escape experience? Can I? What happens when I allow experience, as it is? What is the belief behind trying to escape experience? What happens when I take that story as true? What happens if it is recognized as just a story? What is more true for me than that? What happens if I take the grain of truth in its reversals as medicine, and live from it?

The third:

Harmlessness. Not to injure or kill any being heedlessly or needlessly.

When do I kill beings in a literal sense? (Animals, plants.) Why do I do it? How do I justify it? What are the consequences? Is there another way to live that is more aligned with my values? (An invitation to expand the golden rule to include animals, ecosystems and future generations.)

When do I kill beings in my mind? When I make someone wrong? When I want them to go away? What is one of the beliefs behind this? Is it true? What happens when I live from that belief? How would it be to live without the boundaries of that belief? What is the grain of truth in its reversals?

When do I kill experiences? When do I want experiences to go away? What happens when I do that? Can I make them go away? What happens when I allow experiences, as they are, as if they would never go away? What beliefs do I find behind wanting experiences to go away?  What is this “I” that appears to do all of these things? How does it appear in the sense fields? Is it content of experience, as any other content of experience? Is it what I really am?


Initial outline….

  • precepts
    • layers, like an onion, always further to go, more to notice
      • precepts, mirror – roughly – how naturally live when what we are is awake to itself, and a human self lives from it
        • ethics
          • practical social function
          • keep us out of trouble, reduce suffering + time/energy/less distractions for practice
        • notice when do not live that way, and the dynamics behind it, which beliefs/fears hold us back
        • also, unfolding meaning, from literal/conventional and beyond
        • precepts=medicine (of stuck views, beliefs, uninvestigated stories), what is found=medicine (no “truth” in it beyond that)
  • take responsibility
    • in conventional sense, take responsibility for own actions + how relate to/receive situations and circumstances
    • recognize myself in others
    • notice beliefs (uninvestigated stories) and inquire into them, find what is more true for me
    • recognize all happens within my own world of images (blame, responsibility, drama, relationships, interpretations)
  • escapist entertainment
    • notice whenever try to escape experience
      • notice what happens
      • find belief behind it
      • notice what happens if allow
    • notice whenever try to escape reality by taking a story as true
      • what happens, what happens if don’t, what is more true for me

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