Day after Full-Moon Day: “I promise…”

December 25, 2007

I love teaching kids. Several years ago I visited a school in Warwick to speak to ninety eight-year-olds. I sat in this big sport’s hall, surrounded by the climbing bars and ropes, with this little sea of small wide-eyed faces in front of me. I talked about Buddhism: I talked about why we suffer when we don’t get the latest Nintendo (or whatever) for Christmas; and I spoke to them about generosity – “Is it better to share your sweets, or keep them all to yourself?”; and I talked about morality. I also let them in on one of the perils of being a monk: being given ice-cream when all your food has to go in the same bowl – “Urrrgghhh!”


When I teach children I nearly always show them a Buddhist monk’s water filter. This filter consists of a stainless steel cup and a special cylindrical filter. I explain that we use it because, not only do we not want little fishies and other tiny creatures swimming in our tummies, but most importantly, we don’t want to kill them. And so I asked these children: “Say you were an ant, and you saw the huge black sole of a shoe right above your head, would you be scared?!” “Yes!” “And would you want that massive shoe to come down and – ‘BANG!’ – squash you?!” — “Nooooo!.” And then I said that all creatures, no matter how small they are, want to live. They don’t want to die. When they’re probed children can understand this. So, after we’d finished the meditation and questions – right at the end – I asked if anyone had anything else to say. Then one little boy stood up, and declared in his little nine-year-old’s voice:

“I promise,

that I will never,


tread on an ant.”

And this is one of the joys of morality. It’s so simple! It’s so fundamental to our happiness as living beings. The children may not be mature enough to appreciate the Four Noble Truths (though some are pretty sharp), but with morality, it’s there – they know!

Speaking of visiting schools generally, if I’m in an assembly hall and it has big windows I ask the children to turn around and look out of them. If there’s not a cloud in the sky and the sun is shining I ask them if they like this weather. I ask if they prefer it when it’s cloudy, dark and cold. And they always say they like it sunny (nearly always – there’s always one!). It’s instinctive: it makes us feel happy.

Our actions create our world. If we don’t lead moral lives we create a world that is always dark; where the clouds never lift. But if we are virtuous then our internal world will be bright and the sun will always shine.

Freedom from remorse

[Ananda:] “What, O Venerable One, is the reward and blessing of wholesome morality?”

[The Buddha:] “Freedom from remorse, Ananda.”

“And of freedom from remorse?”

“Joy, Ananda”

“And of Joy?”

“Rapture, Ananda.”

“And of Rapture?”

“Tranquility, Ananda.”

“And of tranquility?”

“Happiness, Ananda.”

“And of happiness?”

“Concentration, Ananda.”

“And of concentration?”

“Vision and knowledge according to reality.”

“And of the vision and knowledge according to reality?”

“Turning away and detachment, Ananda.”

“And of turning away and detachment?”

“The vision and knowledge with regard to Deliverance, Ananda.”

”””””””””””””AN 10.1 (Nyanatiloka, trans.; from Path to Deliverance, pp. 65-66) ATI

Morality is the foundation on which we build our house of happiness.

The Five Precepts:

  • To abstain from killing.

  • To abstain from stealing.

  • To abstain from lying.

  • To abstain from sexual misconduct.

  • To abstain from alcohol and drugs.

We may not fully appreciate the significance of the precepts at the beginning. But as we move along this path their pivotal importance becomes apparent. Our attraction to keeping the precepts can be quite instinctive as our awareness develops.

I used to be a little naughty in some respects. I won’t say too much…. But as my meditation became more and more important to my life I found myself turning away from unskillful activities. I remember one day at a place where I used to spend time just deciding on the spot that I was going to stop doing a certain unskillful thing I’d been involved with. I just stopped.

The mind, when it is being developed and cultivated, becomes much more aware of the suffering that arises from harmful actions. As we practise we can observe this in ourselves. As the mind develops it leaves behind the bad. It doesn’t want it any more; it has had enough of living in a world where the clouds never lift. It wants to rest; it wants peace; it wants freedom.

So we keep the precepts! They are amazingly powerful. They have so many advantages; they have no disadvantages. They only bring happiness!


The next teaching will be given on the New-Moon Day, 7 January 2008

(Due to Bhavana Dhamma Retreat)


One Response to “Day after Full-Moon Day: “I promise…””

  1. Ant said

    Hi Tahn Manapo… Great start to your excellent homepage, and it was worth waiting for the first post!
    Whilst my family were digging into turkey this Christmas, someone made the comment that they could not be a Buddhist as it would be impossible to give up the delicious meat that sat in front of our eyes. I was struck by how some people see the precepts: as rules or commandments that define what it is to be Buddhist. It is like someone who decides that they will not learn to drive because they think they cannot keep to the speed limit. From a Buddhist perspective, the precepts are really tools for maintaining a healthy attitude and a happy life — just as speed limits are tools for safe driving! So, as I wanted to explain to my family, by changing your attitude the precepts can be a powerful tool — not a burden.

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