Full Moon Day: Five Great Gifts

January 10, 2009



Walking meditation on the Bhavana Dhamma new year retreat.



Five Great Gifts



It was a Sunday in July, 2006. A Burmese couple who visit the monastery from time to time had come to offer food, and as Luangpor was in Thailand I was left in charge. After I had finished my characteristic meal-fit-for-a-king I sat in the reception conservatory for what was to be a refreshing conversation. The couple spoke about their passion for the Dhamma and their unwavering commitment to the precepts, and they spoke about their eighteen-year-old son and his commitment to the fifth precept. Pardon me? – Eighteen and committed to the fifth precept? That’s right! – It was a joy to hear! But they said his friends call him a wimp. Yes, a wimp.

Well!” I exclaimed. “Who are the wimps?!” What is harder to do? To be a sheep and follow the flock, or be a lion and wander alone.

So, it is not their boy who is the wimp. If we have to call anyone wimps, which of course we shouldn’t, then it’s his friends who are the wimps. WIMPS!!

2008 now belongs to the history books and 2009 is rapidly joining it. As the red siren of impermanence flashes and wails we must ask ourselves: is my purpose in life clear? What is my purpose? I know what mine as a Buddhist is: to get off this damn merry-go-round of birth and death – to be free, to be happy, to be wise. As we click refresh on the purpose page of our mind the steps that are to be taken to reach our goal come into view: we see what we need to do. The path that will lead us out of the swamps of suffering to the place of stillness and peace opens before us. This path is clear. It is the path of virtue, meditation and wisdom: the Noble Eightfold Path.

Five Great Gifts

Virtue is the foundation of this path. We must care for the precepts as a mother her only child: we must nurture them, we must feed them, we must protect them. The Buddha taught that depending on your level of commitment to this path you will keep a certain number of precepts. For his lay disciples he taught the five precepts. These he called five great gifts that you give to yourself and to others. They are the most precious gifts that can be given: when you keep these precepts you give the gift of security.

These gifts shine like five silver stars in the velvet black sky. They are radiant, they are bright, they are clear: one should not kill, one should not steal, one should not commit adultery, one should not lie and one should not take alcohol and drugs. There they are. Five great gifts, complete and ready for you to give.

The potential benefits of these precepts are immense. But for this potential to be realised we must be unwavering in our commitment to them. When we are resolute then people respect our choice of path; when we waver they sense that weakness of will and they sometimes try to exploit it: “Are you sure you won’t have a drink? Are you sure? Oh go on.” They carry on like that. But if you are firm, yet polite, they will respect you and leave you alone.

The precepts protect us. They stop us from carrying out the orders of the most destructive of the mental defilements. They curb those actions that bring suffering to oneself and others, and consequently the defilements, unable to express themselves, begin their march to the grave. The essence of the precepts is happiness, happiness and nothing else; happiness for oneself and others. How can anyone criticise the precepts when they only exist for the benefit of all? As we keep the precepts we are creating for ourselves that shadow of happiness that will never leave us; if we follow the defilements then we are merely continuing to excavate that deep trench of suffering. The precepts look after us at all times. They embed themselves firmly at the perimeter of our being, linking together to form an impenetrable barrier – the happiness of oneself and others their sole concern.

Mind is the architect of our personal world

Remember those first two verses of the Dhammapada: “Mind precedes all things, they are mind-made. If you speak or act with an impure mind then suffering follows as the wheel the hoof of the draught ox. Mind precedes all things, they are mind-made. If you speak or act with a pure mind then happiness follows as the shadow that never leaves.”

Imagine you have two architects. The first is full of greed, hatred and delusion: he kills, he’s a thief, he sleeps around, he lies, and he’s an alcoholic. The second is a person of generosity, of kindness and of wisdom; he cherishes all life, he is trustworthy, he speaks the truth, and he is mindful – never succumbing to the temptations of the bottle. Now, who would you want to build your house? Silly question. The second man would build us a house that we can rely upon to not fall down, a house that will be warm and comfortable inside. We know that the first architect lies. We know he can’t be trusted. We know that the fantastic plans and magnificent drawings he tempts us with are merely illusions. We know that he would cut every corner; that he’d use the cheapest concrete, the cheapest bricks and rotten wood. We know he is only interested in himself. But the second architect is a saintly person; one of just a handful in the world. His only concern is our long term safety and happiness.

We each have two architects in our mind competing to build our future. We have the defiled one – intoxicated as he is by greed, hatred and delusion. He waves his colourful plans and grandiose pictures in front of our mental eyes, telling us with his silver-tongued charm that he alone can build the future of which we dream. But he is a liar, and he cannot be trusted. He will only drag us to a future of darkness and suffering. Then we have the inner architect of virtue. This is someone we can trust. This is someone who knows how to build a future of wisdom and peace.

The precepts stop the first architect from building very much. He can’t – he is restricted. If we want to live in a peaceful society then we must have laws. If we want a peaceful mind we must have laws within. These laws within forbid the first architect from building. These laws give the freedom the second architect needs to quietly and diligently get on with his work.






The next teaching in Dhamma Diary will hopefully be on:

The New Moon Day, Sunday 25th January,

though as I’ll be in Thailand with Luangpor for the

Ajahn Chah memorial day on the 16th it’s not a sure thing!


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