This blog was first posted at EasingAwake.org .
March 26, 2015
“I undertake the precept to refrain from speaking or acting with ill will.” If we take this precept quietly and genuinely, we’re vowing to do our best to not act out of anger, impatience, grumpiness, fear, or other aversive states.
When ill will is strong, we tend to focus more on what’s triggering it than on the mind-heart itself. So we may want to be more mindful when the impulse arises to criticize, blow the horn, raise our voice, turn away abruptly, or hit the “send” button after writing an intense email.
Of course, in the relative world, there are no absolutes. When we’re angry or frightened because our child is dashing toward the busy street without looking, we might yell “Stop!” rather than sit and compose ourselves for a few minutes. The urgency of some situations may outweigh the urgency to collect our equanimity first. However, after an emergency, we can reflect on what was going on inside and see if there’s something to be learned.
Buddhism has five lay precepts. Each is about restraining some kind of behavior: (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying, and (5) becoming inebriated. The first four were in wide usage before the Buddha was born. He adopted them and added his own spin. Specifically he said the intention behind an action is more important than the action itself.
The other day, I was talking with a scholar (Tony Bernard) about the first precept. It is usually translated as non-killing. But he said the actual wording (panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami) refers to non-striking. Given the Buddha’s emphasis on intention, a good case could be made for translating it as “… refraining from acting out of ill will.”
I’m not ready to drop the word “killing” from the precepts I recite every morning. But there is something about “refraining from acting with ill will” that resonates deeply in me. I have already followed Bhante Vimalaramsi’s example of adding a sixth precept: “to be loving and kind to myself and all beings.” This captures in positive language the foundation of all precepts and ethical behavior: kindness.
“Refraining from acting out of ill will,” goes to the core of how we get steered away from kindness. If we take it genuinely, it could lighten our lives and benefit those around us.
So I’ve added this precept before the other six. If you don’t take the precepts regularly, you could try saying this one seriously each day.
I’d love to hear how it affects you.
PS. Here are all seven precepts in the wording I prefer (for now):
I undertake the precept to refrain speaking or acting with ill will.
I undertake the precept to refrain from killing or harming living beings on purpose.
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking what is not freely given.
I undertake the precept to refrain from wrongful sexual activity.
I undertake the precept to refrain from lies, gossip, harsh speech, and idle chatter.
I undertake the precept to refrain from drugs or alcohol to the point of heedlessness.
I undertake the precept to be loving and kind to myself and all beings.