Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, Committing the five heinous actions.

Committing the five heinous actions.

The five heinous actions are actions that are so karmically awful that, barring some very unique circumstances, if we commit them it is guaranteed we will take a lower rebirth in our next life.  The five heinous actions are:  killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing a Foe Destroyer, maliciously wounding a Buddha and causing a schism within the Sangha.

There is little chance of us committing the first four, but it is quite easy to do at least a similitude of the fifth.  Anytime we engage in divisive speech with respect to anybody within the Sangha, we are committing a similitude of this action.  If we are a teacher or a senior member of a local center who has some degree of authority, we need to be especially careful to avoid this.  This happens most frequently in the context of discussing who is doing what work for the center.  Every Dharma center on the planet is understaffed and overworked.  There is not a single exception to this rule, I am sure.  This fact can quickly lead to resentment by the people who “do all of the work” against those who “just come to the center as consumers and leave.”  Usually those who “do all of the work” start talking badly about the “consumers,” and they use the Dharma they have learned to judge other members in the Sangha.  When they talk to the “consumers” they quite often will use the Dharma as a means of trying to manipulate the other person into doing more, or they will whine and complain about how they have to do all of the work and nobody is helping out.  This, I think, is a nearly universal story in Dharma centers around the world.  It’s quite natural, when you think about it.

But it is also completely the wrong way to approach things.  The work of a Dharma center is by definition infinite.  We are, after all, working continuously until all the problems of all living beings for all of their lives have been solved.  No matter how much more the people of a center “contribute” there will always be more work to do that needs to be done.  Clearly, the solution can’t lie in just getting people to work more.  What is required is a change in the center’s cultural attitudes towards working for the center.  If we relate to working for a center as “chores” and “tasks that grudgingly must be done” then our optic is completely wrong, and it is this attitude, more than anything else, that is creating obstacles to people stepping up and working for the center.  When we feel manipulated or judged, what do we do?  We resist and resent.  Others are no different.  So even if our manipulations succeed in getting the other person to do more or give more, they will be doing so out of guilt or resentment, not joy at the opportunity. 

If we were told we could go into our favorite store, and we had a half an hour to grab anything we wanted for free, what would our attitude be?  Our biggest concern would be not having enough time and not being able to grab enough things.  This is exactly what our attitude should be towards working for a center.  A Dharma center is a karmic gold mine we are given the keys to.  Each thing we do to help a Dharma center literally creates infinite pure karma because the center exists for the pure benefit of infinite living beings.  Just as it is a bit of work to pick up the items we want in the store as we race around, so too it is a bit of work to pick up the karmic gems from helping out.  We wouldn’t begrudge the effort it takes to pick up and put in our cart a new watch, so why do we begrudge the minimal effort it takes to create such pure karma for ourselves?  If other people don’t want to take advantage of the opportunity, that is unfortunate for them, but it is their choice.  It is because we want them to seize the opportunity that we must not try manipulate them to do things for the center.  Our manipulation will create obstacles more than anything else. 

Instead, we should show the example of somebody who joyfully is doing everything they can, and instead of bemoaning having to do everything we just feel lucky to have the opportunity we have.  When others see our joy and our enthusiasm, they will quite naturally seek to join in the fun.  And even if they don’t, what difference does it make to you?  Perhaps centers need to adjust their expectations of what all can get done, and some things will have to be set aside.  Such is life in a world of finite resources and time.  But we should use all of these constraints as fuel for our bodhichitta, thinking not “others should help out more” but instead think, “I wish I could have emanations of myself so I could do even more.”  When people ask us to do more than we can reasonably do, our answer should not be frustration, rather it should be, “You know, I would really love to be able to help you with that, but I first need to do X, Y and Z so I can’t.  I wish I could, though.  Sorry. But once I am done with those things, I will help you.” 

Conflict and tension will arise in any human grouping, and it will do so in centers and in any grouping of Sangha.  But how we resolve such conflict and tension can vary considerably.  If we find ourselves “taking sides” or “choosing personalities over substance” or we find ourselves talking badly about others behind their backs, we are on very thin ground.  In general, it is best to reaffirm mutually agreed upon principles that both sides of a given conflict agree on, and then let them apply the principle themselves.  It is better to acknowledge, squarely and honestly, the legitimate views of both sides, even if that runs counter to our desired final objective.  Usually is best to first encourage people to communicate with each other in a constructive manner before trying to resolve the substance of the matter, but we always speak in terms of “see past how the other person is talking and instead focus on the merits of what they have to say.”  It is almost always better to be a mediator of a given conflict than a protagonists in it, but when we find ourselves as one of the protagonists we should conduct ourselves in a forthright manner and affirm that we seek to resolve the dispute on the substantive merits of the matter at hand, not something extraneous like a dislike of the personalities involved.


2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, Committing the five heinous actions.

  1. It’s difficult to create a full-on schism. I’ve read this many times in the Cannon’s for clarity over the years. Buddha goes into great depth with Shariputra.

    You don’t have to look very far to think deeply about this. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was expelled. Was this a schism? I invite you to think about this. It leads to interesting insights.

    Following what is appearing to Kadam Ryan’s mind in thinking is this: In this context, the universal story that there are practitioners who ‘use Dharma as a means of trying to manipulate the other person into doing more’, ‘they wine and complain’.

    Is this true? Yes and no. Is this criticising the sangha?

    It is true for the experience of Kadam Ryan, but for the reader, perhaps not. Is it then a fact? Perhaps not. Is it universal? Perhaps not. Facts are determined by way of convention by evidence and usually proven to be true.

    Is it useful to say this instead: “I think that manipulation is present in Dharma centres, this has been my experience. Excess work makes practitioners feel unappreciated and sometimes express this in unhelpful ways” – Words have power. Our judgements of the Sangha have an effect.

    By reading this post, how do you think your own interpretation of a Dharma centre changes? Does this project disharmony within your mind or does it provide you tools to seek truth in finding evidence that there are practitioners who think like this in Dharma centres? Just by reading this, there is an effect. You create your own tradition.

    However, there is evidence of delusion within living beings. This is samsara. There needs to be clear distinction between the centre and deluded beings working within it.

    “A Dharma center is a karmic gold mine we are given the keys to. It is because we want them to seize the opportunity that we must not try manipulate them to do things for the center. ”

    Not to digress, but, the concept of a centre is simple yet vast. If out of selfish desire we want them to be free of suffering, there is a difference, we ‘push’ our agenda onto their life, we are not cherishing them.

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