The good path

Following the 8 precepts.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

I have lost count of the times I have swatted flies, smacked mosquitos and squashed ants. When I was younger I was given a potato gun which brought immense joy. Every kid on the street had one and hours were spent finding potato’s, digging out the flesh with the gun and firing at everyone and everything. This included – in particular flies, in which I would practice shooting at them whilst they were still and completely unaware, delighting in my increasingly accurate aim.

It seems to be an unconscious reaction. When a mosquito lands on your arm, you immediately swat it. You know that their bite will itch and possibly hurt. Plus there are the diseases that they carry. You are certainly not going the welcome that mosquito with love, sending out thoughtful welcoming vibes ‘what’s mine is yours little fella’. So how did I fare on the first precept? Pretty damn good, if I may say so myself. Swatting was replaced by either waving them away or blowing them away. Ants, I would side step and if any were squished it was completely accidental. A few days into the meditation retreat I saw a beast of a mosquito in my room. My first reaction was to kill it. Then this changed to how I could get it out of my room harmlessly, whilst mentally congratulating myself at becoming much more mindful. I got some tissue and grabbed it, opened the door and was ready to let it go before realising I had accidently squished it. Oh the guilt!!! Never would I have thought I would be so guilty over a mosquito. I silently hoped it was just in shock and would magically come back to life. It didn’t and I felt terrible.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given. 

You may automatically think of stealing. Yes this is PART of it but it is also means taking ANYTHING that is not yours. For example, you see a gorgeous, red juicy apple in the fruit bowl. Its not yours but you reason that there are plenty of other apples in the bowl and what the hell, its just an apple! Ah no, its still not yours. This goes for helping yourself to someone’s coffee, sugar, milk. Even borrowing. You may be borrowing for just a minute but the owner of the item could well have needed it in that minute and therefor you have caused the other person ‘dukkha’ however small and seemingly unimportant the item is. I certainly became aware that I ‘borrowed’ quite a bit, or if there was a pack of biscuits, I reasoned that there were plenty of biscuits in the pack, so I would help myself. Although it was not difficult to follow, it really made me aware of my past actions. Guess that’s the whole point, becoming mindful of each action.

3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.

Oh this was so easy that there is no need to me to so into great length. You’re at a temple, surrounding by monks. You are not going to get any action so refraining really is an easy task. Outside of the temple would be a different story of course.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

Hmmm, now this was difficult for some of us. Incorrect speech not only includes lying, but also gossiping or exaggerating even slightly. Although I refrained somewhat from incorrect speech, my mind could not be controlled. When you are living with people 24/7 certain traits begin to grate on ones nerves. This is inevitable and it really is a test of patience. Sitting at dinner and hearing the scraping sound of the spoon against the teeth drove me to the brink of insanity, mentally cursing the person responsible for creating such a grating sound. Of course I never spoke the words of frustration but I thought it, causing myself ‘dukkha’. It is difficult, especially in the real world. My friend would start the ‘incorrect’ speech with the comment ‘its not incorrect speech if its true’ to which I would reply ‘If you think they would be upset if they heard you, don’t say it’. To which he was complain in frustration as he really wanted to say what he felt he needed to say. Yes its hard to follow, especially in the ‘real’ world but there comes a time where you realise that not only is it a waste of energy but it makes you feel like crap too. Gossip, however harmless is waste of time. Plus, haven’t you got anything better to do with your time? Is you life that dull that you need to obsess about other peoples lives and actions?

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

Again, same as precept number 3. You are in the middle of nowhere, with limited night life and drinking opportunities. Again, in the ‘real’ world it is more difficult. For me its not the drugs but the drink. Can I say that I will never drink a glass or red again? No, definitely not and I know that for sure. It is something that I enjoy in moderation. I know this is seen as attachment and that is probably true, and I’m ok with that. I know that I can go for weeks without alcohol but I only know that now. Two months ago, I was drinking everyday. Wine mostly but also brandy. I also know I was drinking more than I would like to admit, using it to chase the unhappiness away. At least I know I can live without it peacefully but I am not ready to give up a glass of wine with dinner.

6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).

This was the most difficult for all 3 of us following the 8 precepts and the one that I had the most difficulty following. I realised that by following this particular precept that food really does have a huge hold on me. It caused me the most ‘dukkha’ throughout the stay. My mind revolves around food. If we were running late and I knew that I was not going to get to eat until 11.50 (giving me 10 minutes to stuff myself) my anger would reach boiling point. If people were indecisive with their order, I would become furious. Stuffing myself, because I knew I would not get to eat until the next day made me furious. I started to enjoy food less as it became a countdown. The amount we would eat, just to pack as much in as possible was disgusting. Yes, I must admit, I felt better for not eating after 12pm but the amount of stress, especially if time was running out to have the last meal of the day, became overwhelming irritating. Also, breaking the precept, for example Christmas day, just brought guilt and eliminated all enjoyment.

7. Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

Difficult to say the least. I certainly became mindful of how much I sing. Even humming which can be automatic, especially when we were completing chores. My friend and I began singing the chanting out of desperation, which worked surprising well. Not wearing make-up made me realise my attachment to beautification. Putting on my ‘face’ is an everyday ritual and I felt particularly vulnerable without it. I did use deodorant so I guess I broke this precept but I was not prepared to stink up my clothes and ruin other peoples experience with my nasty body odour.

8. Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

Easy to follow as the beds were hard and getting your own fluffy mattress was certainly not going to happen. After a while, you become used to it. Apparently it does wonders for your back as you are completely straight when you lie down. Also with 4.30 am starts on some days, your so knackered you will sleep anywhere.

Following the precepts certainly made me much more aware of my thoughts and actions.  Causing me to think more carefully, questioning my thoughts and becoming mindful with each pause.

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