Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Five Precepts

Many people have poor opinions of spiritual paths because of their rules. Parents may have applied those rules in a heavy-handed way. Some rules may have served a purpose at one time, but don’t any longer. Others seem to do little more than curb the enjoyment of life, and still others support the continuation of social practices that are immoral, such as discrimination.

People following the Buddha’s path to enlightenment are presented with rules of training that are known as precepts. They aren’t punitive, and serve the purpose of helping a meditator live with the kind of tranquility of life that is conducive to successful practice. Taking them on means you won’t have to be living with the anxiety of being caught having done something inappropriate – like stealing from an employer or passing along gossip. That kind of anxiety can preoccupy a meditator when they should be watching the rise and fall. Taking them on also means we live in relative harmony with those around us, and that helps create a more peaceful life as well.

For householders, there are five precepts. The first is to refrain from killing or harming. Most, if not all, societies treat these offences very seriously, and someone committing them often has to live on the run. It would be hard to imagine a killer fleeing from the police having the kind of mental life needed to make meditative progress.

The second is to refrain from stealing or, to set a higher standard, taking that which is not specifically given. People often ignore this in the workplace: taking photocopies for personal use, stealing food belonging to others in the fridge, and conducting personal business on company time. I once worked at a staffing agency that had an outside sales representative who wasn’t bringing in much business. The branch manager discovered that the rep was actually in the process of visiting prospective clients for his new import-export business when he was on agency time – drawing his salary, and having his expenses covered. The whole agency became quite angry when he was finally found out.

The third precept is to refrain from inappropriate sexual conduct. Clearly, adultery would fall into this category. Adulterers often have to go to great lengths to conceal their activities and live in fear of being caught. Such affairs do great harm, and many marriages do not survive them.

The fourth precept is to refrain from improper speech – lying, spreading rumours, slandering, gossip, and the like. While the child’s rhyme ends “but names will never hurt me,” words do have the ability to harm reputations and damage relationships. Further, people who don’t guard their speech are often burdened with the anxiety that they will be found out for what they’ve done. Exercising discretion in the first place makes one’s daily living much easier.

Finally, the fifth precept is to avoid intoxication. Alcoholics and addicts know the grip drugs and alcohol can have on a life. They impair the ability to meditate when in use, and the obsession for them can take over the mind even when they aren’t being consumed. As well, some people “black out” when they drink or use – continuing to function but with no ability to recall what happened to them later. They can experience a lot of fear when they “come to” realize they have no idea what has taken place, or even where they are.

When on retreat, meditators often undertake eight precepts. The eight include some modifications of the five mentioned above plus three additions. Again, the purpose is to contribute to the tranquility of the mind, and maintain harmony in the retreat setting.

Put into consistent practice, The Five Precepts lead to a life free of blame and shame. In addition to supporting meditative work, this freedom is a reward on its own, and is well worth pursuing.



Jason Smith is a Customer Analyst at Economical Insurance doing process analysis, business analysis and business consulting. He is also an insight meditation teacher and author currently taking on new students. Anyone who wants to learn about and practice the Buddha’s way to enlightenment can reach him at Jason lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is willing to consider working with students from outside this area by phone or Internet.


Keep Coming Back

People new in recovery via 12-Step programs are exposed to a lot of new material: the steps and traditions of their fellowships, books, pamphlets, prayers and so on. They also are exposed to slogans: usually short statements that focus on an important point of sober living. Some of these have found their way into folk wisdom and some have been borrowed: “One Day at a Time,” “Easy Does It,” “Live and Let Live,” and “This Too Shall Pass.”

One of the earliest slogans a 12-Stepper hears – and hopefully follows – is “Keep Coming Back.” It’s intended to encourage recovering people to continue to attend meetings. At meetings is where they meet others whose experience can be help, where they learn more about their addiction and better choices they can make, where they find a sponsor and friends who will rally around them when things get rough, and learn how steps can be practiced in all their affairs. Attempts at recovery without “Coming Back” to meetings are likely to be failures, so “Keep Coming Back” is a very important slogan.

As they progress in their recoveries, 12-Steppers are encouraged to develop the disciplines of prayer and meditation. Meditation, it turns out, is another place to apply “Keep Coming Back;” however, in this case, the slogan is focused on how to meditate, not turn up at meetings.

In insight meditation, the goal is to grow in wisdom by understanding how the world really is. We do this by being mindful, or aware, of what goes on in and around us. We do this by formal practices, such as sitting and paying attention to the rise and fall of the feeling of the abdomen. We also do this by less formal practices such as being mindful of washing dishes, taking a shower, doing our work and walking. In all practices, we are interested in observing that all things are transient, unsatisfactory, and non-self.

However, and this is particularly true for new meditators, our mind has other ideas when we want to be mindful. It wants to daydream, worry, resent, replay a song heard earlier on the radio, and a lot of other things that don’t qualify as mindfulness of what we are doing. How can we address this?

What we do is apply that slogan “Keep Coming Back” as a meditation tool. When the mind wanders off, and we notice it, we gently turn the attention back to what it was we were supposed to be doing and carry on. When it wanders off again, and this can happen many times, we turn it back again. The important thing is not that the mind stays where we put it. What’s important is that we turn it back to where it belongs when it wanders.

The idea that one has to have still and tranquil meditation sessions to make progress simply isn’t true. The practice of “Keep Coming Back” in one’s meditation does set the stage for more calm. However, it also helps us to see early on in our practice that transience can apply to many things in mind and body – including concentration and mindfulness themselves.

Looking for Meditation Students

There are so many books, tapes, teachers and approaches to meditation that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Insight meditation was developed by the Buddha over 2500 years ago with the goal of helping people find increasing happiness by overcoming the things they do to create their suffering.  It can be practised formally while sitting, or less formally while doing many of the tasks of daily living.  Practised with consistency, it can help people live calmer lives and grow in wisdom and compassion.  For people in recovery, insight meditation can assist with the reduction of the effects of character defects and with the making of choices that move them towards contented emotional sobriety.

 I’ve been a practicing insight meditator for over 20 years and am now taking on students who are interested in the consistent application of meditation to their lives.  Initially, I will be meeting with people on a one-to-one basis until there are enough of us to set up regular meetings.  My teaching will typically include comments on application to recovery from alcoholism or addiction.  However, I am not limiting my work to people who are recovering. 

 I will not be affiliating this work with any particular organization or fellowship.  There will be no fixed fees for the teaching; however, financial contributions are welcome.  I reside in Waterloo, Ontario.  My inclination is to take on students from the area.  However, I am open to working with people farther away by telephone or Internet.

If you are interested in learning more about insight meditation and the possibility of your taking on the practice yourself, please contact me at  I will work with you to arrange a meeting to help you see if what I am offering is a good fit to where you are today.

Please pass this notice along to others you feel might have an interest in it.