Vows, commitments and modern life: Abandon harm

The commitments of abandonment. 

These are to abandon negative actions, especially killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants.

In a general sense, the commitments of abandonment encompass all of our other vows, but with a particular emphasis on refraining from any type of negativity.  The entire practice of the moral discipline of restraint in all of its various forms is included within this.  In particular, outwardly we need to train in the Pratimoksha vows.

Earlier in this series, I explored in detail each of the Pratimoksha vows.  For a more information on each one, you can consult those posts.  But here, I want to discuss the Pratimoksha vows from the perspective of highest yoga tantra.  Each of the Pratimoksha vows takes on a different level of meaning when looked at from the perspective of highest yoga tantra.  The path of Tantra can most easily be understood as “bringing the future result into the path.”  We first generate within our mind an enlightened being, and then we try identify with that.  In the meditation session, we primarily focus on our inner training of bodhichitta and on our secret training in bliss and emptiness.  But during the meditation break, we primarily focus on observing the moral discipline of the Pratimoksha and engaging in the actions of a Buddha in this world (which, at our level, means training in the bodhisattva’s way of life, or the practice of the six perfections).

In essence, even though we are not yet a Buddha, we try act like a Buddha would act.  A Buddha would never kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie or take intoxicants.  So as a Tantric practitioner trying to bring the future result into the path, neither should we.  It is not different than young Christians who wear bracelets that say, “what would Jesus do?”  We ask ourselves, “what would Heruka do?”

The key to understanding tantric moral discipline is to understand that built into our self-generation is a tantric exchanging of self with others.  According to Sutra, exchanging self with others means exchanging the object of our cherishing from self to others.  According to Tantra, exchanging self with others means actually exchanging the basis of imputation for “I” and “others.”  At present, we look at our ordinary body and mind and we think, “I.”  Likewise, we look at the bodies and minds of others and we think, “others.”  When we exchange ourself with others according to Tantra, when we look at the bodies and minds of what we used to think of as others we think, “I” and when we look at the body and mind of what we used to think of as I we think, “others.”

Viewed in this way, violating the Pratimoksha vows becomes almost impossible.  It would be as hard for us to kill others as it currently would be to kill ourselves.  At present we are extremely miserly and we would resist mightily if somebody tried to steal from us, but after we have exchanged ourself with others according to Tantra it becomes equally difficult to steal from anybody else because for us it would be like stealing from ourself and giving it to others.  At present, we would become quite upset if our partner cheated on us with somebody else.  We would quite rightly feel betrayed by such an action.  When we have exchanged self with others according to Tantra, we would become quite upset if “others” (or old self) were to cheat on “us” (formerly others).  Right now, we absolutely can’t stand it when people lie to us, and we always want them to tell us the truth and never deceive us.  When we have exchanged ourself with others according to Tantra, we similarly would find it completely unacceptable that “others” (or former self) lie to “us” (formerly others).  Finally, right now we can’t stand it when people blow smoke in our face or if they get intoxicated in our presence and act all stupid.  When we see people indulging in intoxicants, we naturally think they have no self-discipline nor self-respect.  We also will do everything we can to help people not fall into the abyss of using intoxicants and we naturally feel respect for those who abstain from such behavior.  When we have exchanged self with others according to Tantra, we wouldn’t want “others” (our former self) to blow smoke in our face, get intoxicated or become dependent upon such substances.  And we would naturally respect our former self (now seen as “others”) for their restraint in not indulging in such things.

The amazing thing about exchanging self with others according to Tantra is after the exchange what were delusions become virtues!  Our self-grasping becomes abandoning killing, our miserliness and possessiveness becomes abandoning stealing, our jealousy becomes abandoning sexual misconduct, our self-cherishing becomes abandoning lying, and our aversion to others acting in stupid ways becomes abandoning intoxicants.  We find it effortless to generate such delusions, so all we need to do is exchange self with others according to Tantra and then act as “deluded” as we possibly can.  The more “deluded” we are after the exchanging, the more “virtuous” we wind up acting.  No need to develop new mental habits, just exchange self with others!

More detail on this practice can be found in Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and in its commentary Meaningful to Behold.

3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Abandon harm

  1. Thank you for your blog. I’ve been looking for a way of connecting with NKT Sangha on the web. My family commitment is what keeps me from living near a Dharma Center.

    Ken Shaw

    • In case you are not already aware, there are quite a few facebook groups which are really good for staying connected, such as “Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso,” “Kadampa Prayer Request,” and “Kadampa Rejoicing Group.”

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