White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 23: When Receiving Novice Precepts

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, May 15th, 2008


...this breath, can be used to look clearly into the life that is living as you.

The verse; 

When receiving novice precepts,
"May all beings

Practise discipline

And not act out of corruption." 

This verse was written a long time ago
for a person who was deepening their commitment to practice,
receiving the Bodhisattva precepts and entering into monastic training as a novice. 

A novice, in this case,
would be somewhat similar to a postulant in the Northern Mountain Order,
someone sticking a toe into the water of monastic training,
checking it out to see if it suits them.
And the monastic order is checking out the person,
to see if they are suitable. 

When the verse was written,
some 1600 years ago in India,
the situation of the person becoming a novice,
was in many ways different from our situation
but in many ways quite the same. 

Today, in other places,
and other monastic orders,
there are still similarities and differences. 

Taking monk's vows can vary from a rite of passage,
to necessary training for taking over the family temple,
or as a preparation for the rigours of business.
We see photographs of kids as monks,
monks and teachers married,
and with hair,
"weekend" monks.
There are lots of variations. 

If you're interested in finding out more about the historical and present day Bodhisattva Precepts,
your research will uncover lots of material. 

So, rather than providing descriptions of different understandings
which wouldn't be useful to you right here, right now,
other than perhaps as a sleep aid, 
[student laughter] 
here's a quote from "Cutting the Cat" by the Roshi, 

A mind of vow is so fundamental to our practice that it has become part of the formal context of our training. When people receive the Bodhisattva Precepts from their teacher, they formally acknowledge and vow to themselves that they will, to their utmost, take responsibility for being Buddha. They vow to themselves and to their teacher. Lay persons can receive a total of sixteen Precepts. For lay monks, postulants, and monks there are many more. 

Now, something pertinent to now,
something each of you can use to deepen your understanding of what you are doing,
of practice. 

From the verse; 

"May all beings

Practise discipline

And not act out of corruption." 

Words affect us,
at a cognitive, intellectual, and a biochemical level.
They affect the whole bodymind. 

"Discipline" can bring up all sorts of stuff;
perhaps a shudder, a frisson, a hint of something unpleasant.
This, of course, all depends upon your previous encounters with the word;
a ruler on the palm of the hands,
standing in the corner,
standing in the cold at military attention,
a regimen of cold showers or being grounded
(and a lot of really unsavoury, unsavoury stuff...) 

What we're talking about with "discipline" is
"the willingness to learn".
Here are a couple of dictionary definitions of discipline: 

Activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training 

The treatment suited to a disciple or learner; education; development of the faculties by instruction and exercise; training, whether physical, mental, or moral." 

So, can we agree?

Discipline—the willingness to learn. 

The verse expresses a wish that all beings find in themselves the willingness to learn
to see the patterns of contraction that can corrupt, or change for the worse,
their actions:
The wish that all beings can learn to practise mindfulness
and their actions be uncorrupted. 

Seeing anything arising within experiencing is a moment of clear seeing.
Seeing you are not mindful is a moment of mindfulness.
Seeing that you are nodding off or focusing on a fantasy is a moment of mindfulness.
Practise the instant of seeing that moment of mindfulness
so that mindfulness will be present more often
and the tendency to follow useless or damaging patterns will wear out. 

You are learning to do this. 

Learning is a process.
Practice is a process.
Life is a process.

A process takes time.
Learning takes time. 

The biochemistry,
the interactive chemical processes in living human beings
take time to adjust and re-form, to change.
The process takes as long as it takes.
You may have noticed there is no meter on the zafu [student laughter]. 

The last lines of the verse again; 

"May all beings

Practise discipline

And not act out of "corruption." 

One of the meanings, a basic meaning, of "corruption" is: 

the act of changing, or being changed, for the worse; a departure from what is pure, simple, or correct. The act of corrupting or of impairing integrity, virtue, or moral principle; the state of being corrupted or debased; loss of purity or integrity, depravity, wickedness, impurity, bribery 

other meanings;

moral perversion,
corrupt or dishonest proceedings,
debasement or alteration, as of language or a text,
putrefactive decay,
any corrupting influence or agency.

It is always interesting to look into what the words we use, read, and hear,
actually mean.
It's a lot of fun. 

Here's a little story the Roshi passed on to me for the Shuso Hossen dharma talk I gave on December 12, 1991,
when, after postulancy, and two years of training as a novice,
the Roshi acknowledged that I was a full monk.
(December 12, 1991 was also the 12th anniversary of the death of our grandfather in Dharma, the Roshi's teacher, Yasuda Joshu Dainen Hakukaze roshi.) 

The story;

A rice farmer looked out over the flooded fields where his family had just planted a new crop of rice seedlings. He began to speculate on just how much this crop would bring in. As his fantasies grew he became more and more excited. His rice plants would be tall and heavy with grain. Everyone in the village would whisper with awe that he was the favourite of heaven. He'd go to town and buy a huge barrel of sake, clean white sake, not that home-brewed village stuff, and invite the whole village to celebrate his fortune. He could barely wait for the harvest. In agitation he raced out into the water, reached down and began to tug at the tops of the seedlings to encourage them to grow. When harvest time came, the rice stalks were small and stunted because they had been so badly pinched and the fields yielded only a few bushels of grain and those came from the seedlings he had missed in his haste. 

The act of planting rice,
allowing it to grow,
and harvesting the crop is simple and straight forward.
It's a lot of work and it takes the time it takes before the crop can be harvested.
The farmer allowed his fantasies of fame and fortune to fuel his actions.
He was changed for the worse. 

His "corruption" pushed and pulled his actions
and he pushed and pulled the rice ruining most of it. 

Actions propelled by "corruption", changed,
for the worse,
by misunderstandings of the nature of reality, damage on many levels. 

Our states corrupt and,
if followed,
lead inevitably to more or less corrupt individuals,
corrupt relationships,
corrupt businesses.
..corrupt governments
...corrupt nation states... 

Acting out of corruption can even lead to a world situation
where pornography, arms,
and trafficking in human beings are said to be the top three revenue generators...
it's not too difficult to see how this could happen... 

When receiving novice precepts, 
"May all beings

Practise discipline

And not act out of corruption" 

Thank you for listening.