A Pure Life: Abandoning Meaningless Activities

This is the last part of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

The actual precept here is to abandon wearing ornaments, perfume, etc, and singing and dancing and so forth. Like with the precept about not eating after lunch, the purpose of this practice is not to say wearing ornaments, perfume and so forth are inherently negative, rather it is an opportunity for us to recall all of the negative karma we have accumulated with respect to pursuit of these things and to view our training in the precept as a practice of purification for that negative karma.  More broadly, this precept is advising us to abandon all meaningless activities.

What sort of negative karma have we created with respect to wearing ornaments? This refers more broadly to the negative karma we have created in the pursuit of wealth. Attachment to wealth and resources is one of the eight worldly concerns. Beings in samsara create all sorts of negative karma in pursuit of wealth. For example, the vast majority of wars are directly or indirectly related to the pursuit of resources. In business, people lie and cheat all the time in an effort to get more wealth from others. Criminals lie and steal trying to get wealth. Wealthy people who are jealous of other wealthy people engage in all sorts of divisive and hurtful speech towards those they are jealous of.  The demigod realm and the hungry ghost realm are both pervaded by negative actions engaged in in pursuit of wealth.  We ourselves have created all of this negative karma and it still remains on our mind unpurified.

We have also engaged in all sorts of negative actions with respect to wearing perfume.  This can be interpreted more broadly as negative actions we have engaged in with respect to pursuit of our sexual attachment. People wear perfume to make themselves more attractive to others, which is quite frequently motivated by an underlying sexual attachment. Sexual attachment is one of the primary causes of negative actions. Once again, people lie, cheat, steal, say hurtful things, or divisive things, they covet other people’s partners, etc, etc, etc. Look at how many spiritual or political leaders have lost everything due to some sort of sex scandal. We see similar behavior in the animal realm and the demigod realms. Once again, all of this negative karma remains on our mind because we have not purified it.

Singing and dancing in this context refers more broadly to engaging in meaningless activities. This is not to say that singing and dancing per se are meaningless or negative activities.  An activity becomes meaningless if we engage in it with a meaningless mind. If we engage in singing and dancing with a virtuous motivation, then such actions are virtuous; but if we engage in them out of attachment, then such actions and activities are meaningless. What is wrong with engaging in meaningless activities? Fundamentally, doing so creates the habits of failing to seize and appreciate our precious human life. It is like idle chatter amongst the 10 non virtuous actions. Idle chatter is not a terribly non virtuous action, but if engage in it repeatedly, it can become a habit and then we wind up wasting our precious human life. We would all find it to be an incredible waste to use $100 bills to build a bonfire. Using the moments of our precious human life in a meaningless way is even more wasteful, and for this reason, it is non-virtuous.

When we take the precepts, we are in essence making the promise to abandon all negative actions associated with the pursuit of wealth, sexual attachment, or meaningless activities. When the temptation arises in our mind to do these things, we can recall all of the negative karma we have created with respect to these activities, and use our training in the precept as our opponent forced to purify this negative karma. We then promise to no longer engage in such activities in the future. In this way, we can purify the negative karma we have created with respect to these activities.

In short, the training in the eight Mahayana precepts is not simply a promise to refrain from engaging in these eight specific sorts of activities, but rather it is a more general promise to refrain from any form of negative action. By learning how to spend an entire day without engaging in any negative actions, we can counter the deluded tendencies on our mind that want to engage in negative karma and thereby weaken them so they have less hold over us in the future. We likewise create tendencies similar to the cause of believing in the wisdom of living a pure life. This karma will gradually build up momentum within our mind until eventually we refrain from non-virtuous actions and engage in virtuous actions not simply one day of the month, but every day of the month, every month of the year, every year of our life.

To avoid lower rebirth, we must purify all the negative karma that remains on our mind and engage only in virtuous actions in the future. If we do this, it is karmically guaranteed we will avoid a lower rebirth. This is important not simply because lower rebirth is so horrific, but rather we do not want to take the risk of losing the continuum of our spiritual practice.  If we fall into the lower realms, it will be almost impossible for us to engage in the spiritual path and we can quickly become lost for countless eons. But if we can maintain the continuum of our precious human life, in life after life, there is great hope that we will soon escape from samsara. Our training in the eight Mahayana precepts, therefore, as an indispensable friend ensuring that we remain on an uninterrupted path out of samsara.

I dedicate all of the merit that I have accumulated by writing this series of posts so that all living beings may become determined to purify all of their negative karma and engage only in virtuous actions. May they realize that non-virtue is the cause of suffering and virtue is the cause of happiness, and therefore realize if they wish to be happy they must embark upon a pure life.

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