The Three Pure Precepts


There are three pure precepts in Zen Buddhism: 1. Cease doing evil, 2. Do good, and 3. Bring about abundant good for all beings. These three hinge on our understanding of good and evil. Not so easy. What is "good"? What is "evil"? Some might say, "If you don't know, you're lost!" But that is no answer, it's a distraction. Some might say, "Let's use the Hindu, "Ahimsa" as a guide, 'do no harm.'" This might get us close.

Using ahimsa as a guiding principle we might ask under what conditions might we be able to do harm or be unable to do harm. If we practice and realize the non-dual nature of our existence, we might say "if we are all one, then I cannot harm another as I would be harming myself." In fact, in oneness, harm itself becomes meaningless. For to do harm requires one being committing an action against another, thus creating a duality.

From here we might say "good" is non-duality and "evil" is duality. Within each possibilities either exist or fail to manifest. In duality I can do harm. In non-duality, I am not able to do harm. Thus, to vow to cease doing evil is to reject duality, to do good is to reside in non-duality, and to bring about abundant good for all beings is to assist others in realizing non-duality.

This last pure precept requires further attention, however. Abraham Maslow noted there is a "hierarchy of common human needs." Like a pyramid, the bottom level is broad and includes all of our physiological needs such as food and shelter. He argued that to move up the pyramid to the highest level, that of self-actualization" (or what we may consider "enlightenment," one must first meets the other needs.

In such an understanding, then, we who take that third pure precept must understand that we are vowing to assist others in doing just that. We in the Order of Clear Mind Zen understand this precept as a vow to social action, or what is called "Engaged Zen."

What will each of us do today to assist others?

Be well.

Harvey Daiho Hilbert-roshi