Categorizing the BNS Precepts

I was rereading the precepts and struck by their lack of thematic order. A theme can be addressed several times in the Major or Minor section and they aren’t adjacent to each other. Some precepts span two or more themes.

Preserving Life- 1, M3, M9, M10, M11, M14, M20, M32
Respect for Property and ethical economic behavior – 2, 3, M12, M17, M29, M31, M32
Sex- 3 and M4 (If the onions were seen as some sort of herbal viagra)
Honesty- 4 (Maybe should be part of “getting along with others”)
Substance Abuse- 5 and M2
Getting along with others- 6, 7, M5, M13, M19, M25
Anger- 9, M21 (Maybe should be part of “getting along with others”, except anger towards the inanimate is mentioned)
Teaching and Learning the Dharma- 10, M1, M6, M8, M15, M18, M23, M24, M30, M41, M42, M45
Who can be a Bodhisattva- M23, M40
Monastic Decorum- M26, M27, M28, M40, M38, M46
Entertainment, Media Consumption- M33
Thinking- M43
Enthusiasm- M34, M35, M36, M44
Camping like a Monk- M37
Participating in building infrastructure, reading sutras for national/communal benefit- M39
Government Relations- M47, M48 (This is 200AD Buddhists trying to come up with a working Sangha-Imperial Court relationship)

So anyhow, I can use this to create a 15 page picture book to read to my toddler. No way can he patiently sit through 58, semi-legal sounding rules!

Another comment worth making is that the long list is Teaching and Learning. And the BNS has some specific advice on what to teach and learn– it’s mostly talking about the Avatamsaka Sutra, which contains a 50+ stage path of liberation which is described nowhere in the BNS– only referenced.

So to follow the BNS, you need next get a copy of the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Also, next I hope to come up with a similar categorization for the UPS.

Dana- Animal Rights in China

I support a bunch of charities in the US. I recently read a bit about the situation with dogs in mainland China, so I did some more research. In Taiwan, humane slaughter laws are only just recently being passed.

I tried to find some charities to send my money to. Please take my money! But alas, I didn’t find much.

CAPM. Mainland organization, no obvious way to donate money.

Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan They have a page to donate money, but it is in Chinese and I have no idea if I can give money from the US.

Duo Duo Project This appears to be a small US charity that does projects and events related to animal rights in mainland China. It takes US donations via PayPal.

Human Society International This is related to HSUS. I don’t know if my donations to HSUS indirectly benefit HSI or if I need to donate to them separately. Anyhow, they take donations is USD and operate in many countries including China.

Animals Asia Works on bear bile issues, and other Asian animal rights projects.

The safe winner is HSI, since they funnel money to smaller groups that I can’t reach anyhow. I plan to give to HSI and the Duo Duo Project.

NB. If you are donating to an international charity, you probably won’t be able to deduct it on your income taxes unless they are registered with the IRS.

Bimonthly Practice Review

I’m thinking this should be a regular category of blog post.

The 8 fold path calls for a variety of mental conditions, working in the world and two kinds of meditation– mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samadhi). Of those, the work and meditation are specifically actionable.

DONE
I meditated. As usual, I used Samantabhadra as my focal point. Beats staring at the intersection of two wooden spars on the floor.

I read. Working my way through Basic Teachings of the Buddha by Wallis. I discussed it at my book club.

I participated on the Buddhist.SE website. The bodhisattva vows have probably half a dozen precepts related to teaching, as if being a Buddhist obliges you to teach. And then, in the BNS and UPS, there is much handwringing about who is qualified to teach and if people in the position of teaching are arrogant.

TODO
Flashcards. The pali jargon is overwhelming me– not so much in the sense of causing distress, but I’m forgetting the words as fast as I read them.

Review again a curriculum for kids. I still haven’t settled on a plan of attack.

What speaks to me today, what doesn’t

What speaks to me
Mahayana Ethics- Woman’s rights, animal rights, peaceful conduct, universal salvation, the de-emphasizing of renunciation as the sole path of liberation. This really is the litmus test for any -ism or -ology I subscribe to. The best way to convince an -ism or -ology that unregulated gun ownership is bad on all sorts of levels is to not participate in the ones that are pro-guns, pro-slaughter.
The psychology of mindfulness- pay attention to what is going on in your head, belly and breath. These are the skills that made the most difference in my ordinary life. It gets a bad rap for being ethics-free and maybe quietism– I think it’s a foundational skill, without it you can be effective in ethics or accomplish anything, either activist or quietist.
Universal interconnectedness of Huayen. Its a formulation of no-self that supports activism. Act because we’re all in this together and what one does matters to everyone.
Recognizable Buddhism. Everytime I go into depth into a particular sort of Buddhism, I run into these walls, things I can’t buy into or believe or use. But overall, things that are recognizable Buddhism are better than the alternatives.
The value system of Zen- simplicity, aesthetics, calm
Theravada and Mahayana paths of liberation– The 8 fold path, the 6 paramitas, the 10 Bhumis.
Mahayana formal ethics. By this I mean precepts. The BNS and UPS precepts are the best raw materials for precepts so far.
Bits and pieces of Nichiren, Shingon, Tantra, Pure Land– but each system as a whole doesn’t add up. Mantras, mandalas, mudras, prostrations– all seem like they are worth trying out. (and in each system, there is so much I’d rather just skip over or transform– mantras should be in English, mudras should be ASL, mandalas should be any soteriologically valuable picture worth meditating on)
Bodhisattvas– but only as instructive fictions.

What doesn’t speak to me
Renunciation. And by that, I mean, the don’t have a family, drop out of society, drop out of society for a very long time, … that stuff. I should write a whole blog post on it.
Indian Theravada Ethics. I don’t want to disparage modern Theravans. I’m sure they are nice people. I want to disparage the sexist, specist, classist ancient Indians, who figured only elite guys could reach enlightenment and they could reach enlightenment with a hamburger in one hand and a cigarette in the other, since hey, technically, those aren’t violations of any precepts because, well, logic.
Nagarjuna and Heart Sutra. These appear to be some sort of Indian style syllogisms, but provided without a background in how that logic system works. If you deny everything, including the opposites and the conjunctions and disjunctions, what’s left is obscurantism.
Yogacara’s “only mind”. I’m not sure what they’re going on about. Either everything is filter through the mind, which seems plausible but of uncertain consequences, or my mind is thinking up you. Which sounds like solipsism and fails to explain how we end up with consensus reality, i.e. on broad, simple things, people agree about reality. It’s just politics, religion and the like where no one agrees.
Yogacara and radical idealism. If we are thoughts without a thinkers, what’s the consequence? This multiperson hallucination seems to follow a lot of strict rules and no one seems to be able to take advantages of of the world being a dream, like lucid flying.
Tathagatagarbha. Reframing the goal so that it’s already accomplished isn’t very satisfying. And if the point is that enlightenment is a realization about who we really are– which had to have been true all along, then the doctrine is vacuous. Of course if we are trying to figure out who we really are, what we realize will have been true all along. The goal isn’t to verify the vacuous point that we are who we are and we have been all along. The point is we want the benefits of such a realization. We seek enlightenment for the consequences of such a realization. What will we do different after such a realization? That difference is something that wasn’t the case before enlightenment.
Radical nondualism. The universe isn’t undifferentiated goo.
Faith. It didn’t do anything for me when it was God and Jesus. It doesn’t do anything for me when it’s Buddha and Amitabha. The reasoning about faith seems like so much “truncated logic.” Why is faith good? Because practice is hard, so faith in Amitabha is better. Sounds plausible, but what if Amitabha just doesn’t exist?
Tantra. If I’m going to do mixed practice, why mix Hindu witchcraft and not, say Asatru magic?
Jataka Tales. These are non-Buddhist (as in not Buddhist) fairy tales. They are as Buddhist as the 3 little pigs, the 3 bears and Pinocchio. A pleasant, moralistic tale doesn’t automatically make it even recognizable Buddhism. It annoys me to no end that if you try to find books for teaching kids about Buddhism, this is 90% of what you find.
Institutions. I like the institutions of book publishers, authors and readers. I don’t care for abbots and group think (i.e. doctrines everyone adheres to because it’s part of membership requirements). I don’t care for the self serving rules that crept into Buddhism, especially in the vinaya, BNS and UPS. And guru veneration. I think I like Bodhisattvas better. For one, they are fictional, so they aren’t going to be writing up rules to get people to toe the line and preserve the institution.

Upasaka Precepts

The upaseka precepts are another set of precepts intended to be followed by both monastic and lay followers. Unlike peasant Buddhism, these precepts don’t appear to assume one is illiterate or otherwise unable to practice, except through refraining from a few things that most people don’t do anyone, such as murder, rape, robbery, alcoholism, and socially unacceptable lies, such as perjury. When you continue to do what you weren’t doing anyhow, what remains is devotional Buddhism, i.e. taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha.

The Upaseka precepts, for me, is a much more interesting starting point. Here are some observations so far:

Combined with the BNS precepts, this is a good skeleton for ordinary Buddhist morality, which is 1/6 of the paramitas and 1/10 of the Bhumis.

It’s a fund raising document. The document gives undue attention to dana and the merits of funding the Sangha.
It’s very East Asian, as shown by the minor precept against raising silk worms.
It specifically encourages meditation. (I’m not sure even the BNS does this)
It suggest merit results in this-worldly benefits, such as wealth and long life. I can’t tell if this is Mahayana skillful means, or if this is suggesting that that is how the world works. Elsewhere it’s common to suggest that a Bodhisattva works with people where they are– if they need food and money, help them with that. Once the ordinary needs are taken care of, work on philosophy, and other more lofty goals.

The Six Major Upasaka Precepts

(1) Even for the sake of one’s body and life, one should not kill any sentient being, even an ant.
(2) …, one should not steal anything, even a coin.
(3) …, one should not tell lies, such as claiming to have visualized the impurity of a decomposing corpse or to have become an Anāgāmin.
(4) …, one should not engage in sexual misconduct.
(5) …, one should not speak of the faults of bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, or upāsikās.
(6) …, one should not sell alcohol.

Like the BNS, selling alcohol is worse that consuming it. Similarly, no mention of other mind altering substances. The sexual misconduct is interpreted, as far as I can tell, according to rather strict Chinese rules. The fifth precept is about making sure the lay follower understands the pecking order. This theme repeats in the minor precepts.

The Twenty-eight Minor Upāsaka Precepts

(1) If an upāsaka who has accepted this precept fails to make offerings to his parents and teachers, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(2) … indulges in drinking alcohol, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(3) …, out of disgust, fails to visit the ill, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(4) … refuses to give anything to a solicitor for alms, sending him away empty-handed, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(5) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept sees [the appearance of] anyone among elders, bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās. If he fails to rise to receive, salute, and greet him, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(6) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept sees someone among bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās violate any precepts. If he says arrogantly, “I am better than he; he is less than I,” he has committed the sin of negligence.
(7) … fails each month on the six purification days to observe the eight precepts and to make offerings to the Three Jewels, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(8) … fails to go to hear teachings of the Dharma given within forty lis of his place, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(9) … takes bedding or furniture from a temple, he has committed the sin of negligence. Without rising above this impure act, which is conducive to continuing his cyclic existence, [after death] he cannot avoid going down an evil life-path.
(10) … suspects that there are insects in the water but drinks it anyway, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(11) … travels alone through perilous areas, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(12) … stays overnight alone at a nunnery, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(13) … for the sake of his wealth or life, beats and scolds his slaves, servants, or outsiders, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(14) … serves leftovers to bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, or upāsikās, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(15) … raises cats or foxes, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(16) … raises animals, such as elephants, horses, cows, goats, camels, or donkeys, and refuses to give them away to someone who has not received the [upāsaka] precepts, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(17) … fails to stock ceremonial robes, begging bowls, and staves [to give to monks or nuns], he has committed the sin of negligence.
(18) … needs to make a living as a farmer but fails to seek farmland and pure water, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(19) … makes a living by selling goods by weight. He should not raise price from an agreed price, and should weigh goods honestly. If he fails do so, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(20) … has sex in inappropriate places or at inappropriate times, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(21) … fails to pay taxes for his business and runs away, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(22) … breaks the law of his country, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(23) … enjoys the fresh grains, fruits, melons, and vegetables he has acquired, and fails to offer them first to the Three Jewels, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(24) … expounds and praises the Dharma despite denial of permission by the Saṅgha, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(25) … walks ahead of a bhikṣu or śrāmaṇera, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(26) If, when serving food in a temple, an upāsaka who has accepted this precept serves better food and more food to his teacher than to other monks, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(27) … raises silkworms, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(28) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept encounters an ill person on the road. If he walks away without stopping to see to his problem and make arrangements for him, he has committed the sin of negligence.

#1 is Chinese filial piety.

Some expand on the major precepts, #2 is about alcoholism. #20 expands the restrictions on sex to certain times and place– I checked, I can’t find a description of the times and places that were out of bounds. The rule about overnight stays at a nunnery appears to be aimed at horny men who want to lure the women away.

Four rules about animal rights– 10, 15, 16, 27 and the first major precept covers all life including insects. The purification days include fasting, which essentially meant being vegetarian for the day.

A couple of rules about following the law and personal and professional prudence. 22, 21, 19, 18.

One third of the rules about the lay-ordained pecking order, 26, 25, 24, 17, 14, 12, 9, 6, 5.

From a modern or American standpoint, a lot of these rule don’t bite. No one raises silk worms anyhow. I’ve never seen water with insects in my life, at least not that I was planning to drink. The ordained Sangha barely exists. So in order to act arrogantly towards the Sangha, you’d have to first go out of your way to find it. Someone who has gone out of their way to find the ordained Sangha, probably already feels positively and respectfully towards it. The modern issue is, who cares about the ordained Sangha, in particular, do we care that an ordained, celebate, full time Sangha doesn’t exist here in the west? (except in a numerically trivial sort of way) There isn’t a business model for the ordained Sangha, people are becoming interested in Buddhism after they have already settled into their family and careers. With such big basic issues like this, worrying about if I feel like filching sugar packets from the temple at tea time seems absurd.

The prohibition on cats and dogs does bite. This is one area where the Chinese are more pro-animal rights than I am. I still own a cat. I mitigate by keeping it in doors. In part by accident, cat food is part plant based, part animal based. For me, owning pets is a mixed good. If people didn’t own cats and dogs, they likely wouldn’t have any relationship to animals at all to form the basis for sympathy towards less charismatic animals like pigs. Pets and zoo animals, are the unwitting and involuntary diplomats from the animal kingdom.

My Practices- A Review for May 2014

Every morning my son and I do altar maintenance. We place a bowl and something food in front of the statues, admit what we did wrong yesterday, promise to stop it, vow to do all the good things Bodhisattvas do, then we do a mantra, the anjali mudra for mind-speech-body.

I do prostrations occasionally. I happens to be good exercise.

I’ve fallen behind in meditation.

I’ve been reading books for my book club and sutras. At the moment I’m trying to work my way through some of the Mahayana Sutras. This old wine–not only does it need a new bottle, it needs to be distilled down to a palatable brandy. Even if I rambled on for a kalpa, I could not over emphasize how the wordy, hyperbolic bombast distracts from the message.

The sutras are iterating a few themes:

- The Buddhist Cosmology and our place in it. Oddly, the sutras expect you to already know the cosmology.
- The numbered items as mini-models of the world
- The vows, which are thematically grouped, So the Medicine Buddha’s vows are about the need to do good here and now, Samantabadhra’s vows about the need to tend to the practices of Buddhism, Ksintigarbha about the need to rescue those who’ve gotten themselves into a mess. Their vows should be our vows, too. The Amitabha’s vows, I’m not sure what to do with them. They’re literally about afterlife concerns. I suppose they are salvagable as the will to create a utopia.
- The ancient logical arguments, which occasionally include a groaner like, “If you asked a blind man what he saw, he’d say ‘darkness’”. I’d say that’s not demonstrated until you get several blind people and ask them what comes to mind when they hear the words that would require vision to understand them. I think a better example would be asking ourselves how we experience echo-location like bats do or how we sense electrical currents in water like the platypus does.

Anyhow, my next sub-project for the BNS is to divide the list into things that are fundamentally Sramana/Biksu precepts and what are precepts anyone could do.

23rd Precept. Receiving Precepts Independently

After my passing, if a disciple should, with a wholesome mind, wish to receive the Bodhisattva precepts, he may make a vow to do so before the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and practice repentance before these images for seven days. If he then experiences a vision, he has received the precepts. If he does not, he should continue doing so for fourteen days, twenty-one days, or even a whole year, seeking to witness an auspicious sign. After witnessing such a sign, he could, in front of images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, formally receive the precepts. If he has not witnessed such a sign, although he may have accepted the precepts before the Buddha images, he has not actually received the precepts.

However, the witnessing of auspicious signs is not necessary if the disciple receives the precepts directly from a Dharma Master who has himself received the precepts. …

If, within a radius of some three hundred fifty miles, a disciple cannot find a Master capable of conferring the Bodhisattva precepts, he may seek to receive them in front of Buddha or Bodhisattva images. However, he must witness an auspicious sign.

Steps to independently take the precepts
1- Determine if there is a Master within 150 miles.
2- Be before an image of the Buddha.
3- Make vows.
4- Repent.
5- Observe a sign.

What if there is a Precepts Master, but you don’t qualify? What if there is, but some other problem gets in the way?

What sort of image?

What sort of vows? Is this just referring to the BNS vows?

What sort of repentance?

Has anyone ever seen a sign and what did it look like? Is this pure magic or is there a naturalistic or symbolic interpretation and if there is, is it interesting?

Demythologizing Buddhism- Options

So is there a better way to remove the myth? What are the options?

1) Stick to history. Demythologizing is about keeping it real. History is pretty real. The history, though, has been tampered with. And limiting yourself to just the pali cannon is a type of fundamentalism that you wouldn’t expect to see among the sort of people who would reject myth.

2) Re-map existing models. For example, we could take something missing in Buddhism, like a progressive view on economics. As far as a I could tell, the Buddha didn’t think much about economics, not in Adam Smith style nor Marx style. So if the myth is missing economics, we could map concepts from Marx or Adam Smith onto ancient myths. But this is all rather cumbersome. The historical Buddha didn’t think much about economics other than he realized that there was a way for the sangha to exist if part of the economic became a gift economy (dana for merit). He didn’t *really* have anything to say about free markets or alienation or exploitation or capital. Maybe it would make more sense to just have a copy of your favorite economists works next to your sutras.

3) Make new myths. I think this is the best option of all, but who wants to be the first to consciously put new words into the mouth of the Buddha? I saw a lecture where a scholar said some of the Mahayana writers said they got their material from meditative visions. A demythologizing author, would probably have to just fess up to writing fiction.

4) Salvage. Keep the myths more or less the same, but remove the junk. Like removing the sexist vow from the Medicine Buddha’s 10 vows or replacing it with one that isn’t so misogynistic.

Sine qua non and Fundamental Questions

Why Buddhism at all?
As far as things without an essence go, what is the essence and sine qua non of Buddhism?

These are related– if not Buddhism, what else? Maybe Hegel or romance novels or pints of ice cream? And what are the parts of Buddhism that Hegel, romance novels and pints of ice cream can’t deliver?

0) It’s a club. A party of just me isn’t much fun for me.
1) Critical mass. A religion of 1 isn’t especially impactful on the world.
2) It isn’t an Abrahamic Religion or the progeny of medieval scholastics. While maybe has more god, gods, and soul than I’d like, it is relatively devoid of Abrahamic religious doctrine and polar reactions against it. Instead, it has it’s own peculiar admixtures: Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, which both are far less likely to be a problem for a convert like myself, since Zoroastrianism and Hinduism never were a substantial influence on me in the first place.
3) Of the religions with critical mass, it’s the only one that can be followed non-devotionally in a practice oriented way and has within it the mechanisms for independence–from institutions. Pratekyabuddha’s for the win!

0,1 can’t be delivered by ice cream or Hegel.

Buddhism’s sine qua nons- are a bit of non yet supported conclusions and premises with unworked-out consequences. The Mahayana Buddhists have a mean ahimsa & vegetarian & animal rights streak– the right conclusions. The pali texts have the right premise– the naive self isn’t what we think it is, it’s this eddy in a stream, a collective conscious, a thing that is hard to summarize… and harder to figure out what the consequences are.

And that is the starting point we have to practice with. We practice until we are dead. And then the project is carried on by the living. Until we are all at peace with being alive.

Anyhow, heterodox relative to institutional Buddhism, but still recognizable Buddhism.