Problem with the 5th precept

Discuss your personal experience with the Dharma here. How has it enriched your life? What challenges does it present?

Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby CrawfordHollow » Sun Nov 11, 2012 10:17 pm

All of our actions have karmic consequences...

It takes a Buddha to foresee exactly how those karmas will ripen, but as long as you suffer from impure karmic vision- samsara, everything that we do will create karma. I have been warned by many teachers that the karmic consequences for commiting an action that breaks a formal vow that you have taken is definately more severe than if you commited that action without taking a vow. Of course, this is not to say that it is more acceptable to go out and kill a hundred people if you have not taken any formal vows against killing. But I think you get what I am trying to say. The point I am trying to make is that vows are serious business.

I personally took my genyen vows (laymen's vows in the Tibetan tradition, basically the five precepts) way too early in the game, and this created a lot of problems for me, because I was not truly prepared to take them. I took a life-long vow at the age of twenty-two to never use intoxicants. I was able to uphold the vow for about three years before I caved. I have since talked to my teachers about this and have made what amends I could. I know that if I had waited until I was really ready to take the vows then I would be much further along the path than I am. I broke my vow by smoking weed, by the way. So please, to any concerned... do not rush into such vows.

Vows such as these are likened to a clay pot, once they are broken there is not much you can do to fix it. Of course, there is the famous saying in Tibet that the only merit in wrongdoing is that is can be purified. Look at the life of Milarepa for a perfect example of this. In his youth he commited many horrible acts, and was still able to attain realization through the power of his practice and devotion to his guru. So karma is not like a death sentence, there are many skillful means in the Buddhadharma that allow us to purify our karma. And the karma that cannot be completely purified can be brought to fruition. This is how negative events can actually be viewed as a positive thing on the spiritual path. It is a sign that our negative karma is being burned off. Of course, if we don't take those negagive fruitions onto the path then we will only create more bad karma. Karma is such a subtle and profound subject that I believe the only thing that we can really do at this point is have an unwavering faith in its existence. If you want happiness, you must cultivate the causes for happiness, which are positive actions.

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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 12, 2012 1:58 am

CrawfordHollow wrote:
Vows such as these are likened to a clay pot, once they are broken there is not much you can do to fix it.


Hope you don't mind me picking one line out of your (very fine) post.

It might be reasonable for a person to ask,
"so, if I break a vow, why can't I just take it again later and keep it the next time around?"
and conceivably, I think it would be possible, and a good thing,
but it wouldn't alter the fact of breaking the vow the first time.
But keep in mind, nobody is (or perhaps very few people are) perfect.
My understanding is that truly breaking a vow "all the way" has three parts:
1. The willful intention to break the vow (on purpose)
2. The act of breaking the vow
3. A sense of rejoice in having broken the vow,
meaning also that there is no remorse,
and one looks forward to doing it again.

along with this one can include gladness in the result of having broken the vow
(for example, if you killed an enemy), and so on.
So, breaking a vow is both a pass/fail thing and at the same time
something that can be assessed in gradual degrees. It is both.

But I think the point is intention.
So, somebody in their 20's might take the vow with all sincerity, but let's face it, for many people these are the partying years in one's life. So, it is much harder to say, keep a vow not to drink or smoke pot especially if your friends are doing it.
probably easier if you have become a monk and live with a bunch of other monks.

But if you think about the precepts the way people think about wedding vows,
one the one hand, many people get married "too early" and often break their wedding vows,
and maybe the marriage breaks up or stays together, but the "damage is done"
...you can't go back in taime and say it didn't happen. So, it is a sort of scar that you keep with you.

Maybe if you are clever, you will learn from this scar.
Then, it is quite possible that the next time you get married, things will turn out differently
because you understand the seriousness of the whole situation a little bit better.

Ask your teacher if it is possible to take precepts a second time.
The problem is, breaking vows can become habit-forming.
"nothing happened to me the first time, so what's the big deal this time?"

The answer might very well be NO.
but maybe yes.
I don't know.

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Taking a vow never to do a particular action ever, ever again is a heavy thing and difficult to keep.
That is precisely why
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby CrawfordHollow » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:08 am

You are absolutely right and bring up an excellent point that I overlooked. These three conditions that you listed: the intention, the action, and the sense of rejoice apply to all actions, regardless if there are vows involved or not. This is why killing an insect by mistake and feeling remorse for the action carries a completely different karmic consequence than killing an insect for the sheer pleasure of it and then not regretting the act.

When I first took my genyen vows, I was a part-time resident in a Buddhist monastery. I had broken off all ties to my former friends, and actually wanted to eventually become a monk. I had every intention of keeping true to this vow, and at the time it seemed like an easy and sensible thing to do. Eventually, I moved away from the monastery, met a girl, and keeping the vow seemed more contrived than a natural thing to do. I started to resent that I couldn't be a normal tweny-four year old, and like I said one night I just caved. At that point I was 2,000 miles away from my lama, and once I broke the vow I thought that that was it: I blew it. After all, my lama told me that if I broke this vow that I would land myself in one of the nice little Hell Realms that you read about.

I was so ashamed and confused about this that I stopped practicing for a good solid three years. Not only did I lose precious time that could have been spent practicing, but I have to live with the knowledge that I broke a sacred commitment. It still weighs on me. I also think that people can become complacent with their actions, especially when they can just say "OM BENZAR SATO HUNG" a couple times and everything is all good. Not that I know anything about it, but it seems like this is a lot like the Catholic idea of Confession. You go nuts during the week, say confession on Sunday, and then your all good until next Sunday. But your right, we are after all only human, and it does come down to intention. I just hope that people give serious thought to taking lifelong vows, especially when they are young.


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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:46 am

This discussion reminds me of a movie called Hi Dharma!
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0298826/
it's a typical action/comedy Korean gangster film, but this time the gangsters hide out in a korean buddhist monastery.
If you are a buddhist you will like this movie.

Anyway, there is a point where the monks have really had all they can take of having gangsters living there, even though as part of the agreement the crooks have to live like monks. The senior monk brings the matter up to the old teacher and the teacher basically responds with, 'if you don't open your heart to their broken souls, who will?"
...that isn't the exact line, but the point is that compassion has to be very flexible.
Rules can be rigid, but compassion has to be able to bend a little.

Breaking the precepts might be like breaking a clay pot, but the Vajrayana (and really, all dharma) is indestructible.
My teacher said that by comparison, it is like a gold vase.
If it gets dropped and dented, it can be bent back into shape again.

People who take precepts should realize their importance and what a precious gift they are.
But, as I think I mentioned before, for example, we take the precept against using false speech (lying).
Yet how easy it is to lie to ourselves and not even realize it!
I think Thich Nhat Hanh mentions the vow against killing and then says "but how many of us kill time?"
The precepts, when truly applied to one's life become much more than a set of rules.
Really, they are more tools than rules.
But if you drop a hammer, you can pick it up again. (Just don't drop it on your foot).
The hammer isn't broken, and the precept isn't really broken either.
it's the person who breaks a little bit when the precept isn't kept
and that's what you have to look out for and be aware of.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby GarcherLancelot » Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:24 am

I mean does precepts have some "special power" when you break them because it is "DESIGNED" by the Buddha?If someone just randomly make a vow to not drink for example maybe he is just saying it to universe,God or anything he believes in or maybe he wasn't sure and if he breaks it ,will there be any karmic consequences?.. .
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 12, 2012 1:46 pm

GarcherLancelot wrote:I mean does precepts have some "special power" when you break them because it is "DESIGNED" by the Buddha?If someone just randomly make a vow to not drink for example maybe he is just saying it to universe,God or anything he believes in or maybe he wasn't sure and if he breaks it ,will there be any karmic consequences?.. .


I think, in that case the consequences are proportionate to, and in direct reflection of one's intent.
When you build a fire, you either tend to the fire or you put it out. Either way, it is your responsibility,
and you alone feel the effects of your actions.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby GarcherLancelot » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:02 pm

So if he breaks it,is the vow still there,any way to "dispel" it?.. .
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby GarcherLancelot » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:53 pm

Btw,do we need to say the vows verbally to take it?Or just in the mind?.. .
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:48 pm

GarcherLancelot wrote:So if he breaks it,is the vow still there,any way to "dispel" it?.. .
Btw, do we need to say the vows verbally to take it?
Or just in the mind?.. .


This is up to you and your teacher.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby Azidonis » Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:09 pm

Here's one: Why take vows at all?

The moment one takes a vow, the entirety of one's conscious awareness seeks to oppose it. Dealing with the perceived need to keep a vow, and the desire to break it, in essence creates a duality.

That which takes the vow is the root of the issue then, not the vow itself. It is the one to be dealt with (not the vow), in some form or another.

Any attempts at taking vows and such are methods of "sharpening the instrument", an instrument which ultimately cannot be used for the purpose we assume it is to be used for.

And there is no other instrument that can be used.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:55 pm

Azidonis wrote: The moment one takes a vow, the entirety of one's conscious awareness seeks to oppose it.

Very interesting.
How do you arrive at that conclusion?
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Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby GarcherLancelot » Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:53 pm

What if one is not sure whether he took a vow or not?As in can't remember?.. .Or taking it while drunk?.. .
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:26 pm

GarcherLancelot wrote:What if one is not sure whether he took a vow or not?As in can't remember?.. .Or taking it while drunk?.. .


Unless you've had a head injury or something like that, amnesia, or being in a coma,
If you can't remember taking it, you probably didn't.
If you were too intoxicated to remember,
then you couldn't have really taken it (being of sound mind & body)
even though you might have gone through the motions
or had been at a ceremony where the precepts were given.
and in that case you should also check all the various parts of your body
to see if you have any tattoos that you don't remember getting.
:tongue:
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby Azidonis » Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:58 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Azidonis wrote: The moment one takes a vow, the entirety of one's conscious awareness seeks to oppose it.

Very interesting.
How do you arrive at that conclusion?


If nothing were opposing it, it would be quite easy to fulfill.

If we pick an aspect of ourselves, and work to fulfill that aspect, then we also have to work with everything within ourselves that is not in accord with that aspect.

To take a vow saying, for example, "I will not drink alcohol", only really means anything to the person who drinks alcohol. If the person has never drank alcohol before, and doesn't intend to, then the vow is essentially worthless to that person.

To the person who does drink alcohol however, any encounter in which they would normally drink alcohol becomes a problem. Their attachment to alcohol becomes a problem, their identification with themselves as a person who drinks alcohol becomes a problem, and even the tendency to think of oneself as an alcohol drinker becomes a problem.

All of this is just dealing with the symptoms of the illness, and not the illness itself. The illness itself is the one that is perpetuating the duality, which leads to the problems that vows were invented to help us deal with. They are medications, not cures.

If you say, "I vow to be a selfless man", that implies that you are not a selfless man now, but will be one in the future. Therefore, as long as you hold yourself to that vow, you are implying yourself as a selfish man, not a selfless man. The vow is fulfilled when the selfish man becomes a selfless man, which implies a transformation of a self.

Seeing that no self, as such, actually exists, the vow is not much more than a means for the appearance of a self to continue perpetuating its illusory existence.

Edit: Of course, I'm not saying that vows are in any way "bad" or "wrong".
Last edited by Azidonis on Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby Azidonis » Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:59 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:
GarcherLancelot wrote:What if one is not sure whether he took a vow or not?As in can't remember?.. .Or taking it while drunk?.. .


Unless you've had a head injury or something like that, amnesia, or being in a coma,
If you can't remember taking it, you probably didn't.
If you were too intoxicated to remember,
then you couldn't have really taken it (being of sound mind & body)
even though you might have gone through the motions
or had been at a ceremony where the precepts were given.
and in that case you should also check all the various parts of your body
to see if you have any tattoos that you don't remember getting.
:tongue:


Agreed.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:07 am

Azidonis wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:
Azidonis wrote: The moment one takes a vow, the entirety of one's conscious awareness seeks to oppose it.

Very interesting.
How do you arrive at that conclusion?


If nothing were opposing it, it would be quite easy to fulfill.

If we pick an aspect of ourselves, and work to fulfill that aspect, then we also have to work with everything within ourselves that is not in accord with that aspect.

To take a vow saying, for example, "I will not drink alcohol", only really means anything to the person who drinks alcohol. If the person has never drank alcohol before, and doesn't intend to, then the vow is essentially worthless to that person.

To the person who does drink alcohol however, any encounter in which they would normally drink alcohol becomes a problem. Their attachment to alcohol becomes a problem, their identification with themselves as a person who drinks alcohol becomes a problem, and even the tendency to think of oneself as an alcohol drinker becomes a problem.

All of this is just dealing with the symptoms of the illness, and not the illness itself. The illness itself is the one that is perpetuating the duality, which leads to the problems that vows were invented to help us deal with. They are medications, not cures.

If you say, "I vow to be a selfless man", that implies that you are not a selfless man now, but will be one in the future. Therefore, as long as you hold yourself to that vow, you are implying yourself as a selfish man, not a selfless man. The vow is fulfilled when the selfish man becomes a selfless man, which implies a transformation of a self.

Seeing that no self, as such, actually exists, the vow is not much more than a means for the appearance of a self to continue perpetuating its illusory existence.

Edit: Of course, I'm not saying that vows are in any way "bad" or "wrong".


I don't think taking vows automatically means taking up a challenge, but I can only give an example from my own experience.
I drank very heavily before taking the vow not to drink. I tried all the usual methods for stopping, but always gave in to the craving. That's why I took the vow not to drink (and the other 4 as well, although killing, stealing, lying and "sexual misconduct" were not things I was involved with). After taking these vows, I no longer had any desire to drink.
period. It was never a matter of forcing myself to keep the vow. Just the opposite. It was more like, "wow, hey, this is cool...I have taken this vow and I am not drinking any more!!!"

One thing i find interesting in a funny way, is that there are all sorts of stories of Buddhist masters and yogis and so forth who acquire all sorts of siddhis or what you might call super powers. Legends about monks flying or crossing rivers standing on a bamboo reed or leaving their footprints in rocks and so forth, all kinds of powers that come from mastering control over one's mind. And a lot of people wonder if they can ever have such mastery over their own minds, and if these things are just wild stories or if such feats were or are ever possible. Then, i see how taking the vows not to drink was like that, for me anyway, so easy. As I posted previously, the vows are more like tools than rules. They are great tools for mastering one's mind.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby Zealot » Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:35 pm

Some words have power in them more than just letters on paper. Wishing everyone struggling luck.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby GarcherLancelot » Wed Nov 21, 2012 4:24 pm

Zealot wrote:Some words have power in them more than just letters on paper. Wishing everyone struggling luck.



As in?.. .
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:31 pm

I've been taught - that if you take a vow, and then afterward if there is any little question in your mind, you have not really taken the vow. If you take the vow, the matter is over forever, it's done for all time.
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Re: Problem with the 5th precept

Postby furtom » Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:15 pm

Hello all. Very interesting discussion. (This is my first post. I know I should post something in the other section, but I've never been good with introducing myself, so I'll just jump right in. Please forgive me.)

I personally tend to resonate with more rigid interpretations of things like precepts, or at least I think I do. If anyone were to ask me if it were OK to drink or smoke pot after taking precepts, my first gut response would be, "Of course not!" Add to this the idea of earning income from dealing drugs and the situation seems pretty clear cut.

But is it? This is a Mahayana forum and that means open to all. How many Buddhists in East Asia refrain from all alcohol? Eat vegetarian? Never lie? Refrain from all harmful speech? etc. Note, I'm not excusing it. I'm just saying. They are Buddhists too.

Mahayana Buddhism has a strong devotional component to it for a reason! We pray to Bodhisattva like Quan Yin precisely because we are not wholly able to carry the load alone. If you practice Pure Land or some sort of Lotus devotion, this idea is explicit. But even in more self reliant practices like Zen, such devotions are (or these days we may have to say should be) an integral part of the Buddhist experience.

The lines have grayed in what is "acceptable" not because there is really any debate about what is right or wrong, but because these practices are welcome to all. If you believe all beings have Buddha nature, you have to think this way.

As far a right livelihood goes, as I said, the dealing of drugs would seem far, far afield. But on the other hand, what would we tell a butcher or liquor store owner if they came here? You have to give up your business before you can practice?

I guess what I'm saying is, you have to start somewhere. I would just say to Zealot and Ikkyu that they are welcome to become Buddhists if that is what their hearts are telling them to do. The rest is between they and their teacher. It will all come out in the wash. It is certainly true (and very important) that sila cultivates prajna, but please don't forget that prajna cultivated sila, too. You can go from A to B or you can go from B to A. :namaste:

OK, so we won't say, "I'm OK, you're OK. Do anything you want." But on the other hand, don't make Buddhism such a serious and heavy thing that new people feel somehow inadequate.
:namaste:
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