Holding Oneself to A Higher Standard

img_7300I remember seeing these kind of preachers in college a lot (and in Japan, especially during New Years), and I always just shake my head. It’s a very childish, almost spiteful attitude towards others (you’re a sinner, nyah nyah).

Since Buddhists are on the list, let me explain something.

The Buddha was no slouch. He held his disciples to pretty high standards through the Five Precepts for lay people, the Ten Good Actions¹ and the 250+ rules and regulations for the monastic order.² That doesn’t even include the Bodhisattva Precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra.

But he never humiliated or insulted his disciples if they made mistakes (he didn’t take crap either from people who attributed stuff to him that he did not say, though). He held no ill-will toward anyone, though. 

Instead, he pushed his disciples to reflect on their own conduct based on whether they were skillful or non-skillful, wholesome or self-destructive. That’s what the precepts and such are for: an independent, mutually understood standard to measure oneself against. Buddhism isn’t just about meditation and silly mantras and gurus, it’s about continuous self-reflection and “polishing” oneself no matter how long it takes.  

As the Buddha said to his son, Rahula:

“What do you think, Rahula: What is a mirror for?”

“For reflection, sir.”

“In the same way, Rahula, bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions are to be done with repeated reflection.

That, in my opinion, is a more mature attitude toward spirituality.

¹ Also known as the kusala-kammapatha in ancient Pali language, these are not vows like the precepts, but ten wholesome acts that generally free oneself and others from misery. They are:

  1. Not to take life
  2. Not to steal
  3. Not to commit sexual misconduct (abusing others sexually, adultery, etc)
  4. Not to tell lies
  5. Not to slander
  6. Not to verbally abuse others
  7. Not to talk on frivolous matters
  8. Not to entertain greed
  9. Not to entertain ill-will
  10. Not to (knowingly) entertain views that contrary to the Dharma

² Also known as the Prathimoksha.  Nuns had 300+ rules for some reason (welcome to pre-modern, patriarchal life).  The rules were usually given after some incident by the monks or nuns, so the Buddha had to lay down new rules to keep them inline.  The Buddhist community depended on the good-will of the lay people and the king, so it was important to regulate themselves.  Further, it creates fewer distractions for a monk/nun who ideally is supposed to be dedicating themselves full-time to the Dharma.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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