This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We will focus our discussion on ways of approaching or orienting ourselves to the trainings and to other spiritual commitments.
Historically the five mindfulness trainings were a basic code of ethics that lay men and women agreed to abide by when they became students of the Buddha. In taking the trainings, the practitioners publicly made the commitment not to engage in killing, stealing, deception, or sexual misconduct, and not to use alcohol and other drugs that could weaken their resolve. The trainings were very practical. They encouraged civility and steered the practitioners away from entanglements that would interfere with their mindfulness practice. They were also a first step in reducing self-centeredness, which the Buddha saw as the primary impediment to spiritual growth. When we lie, steal, or abuse or killi someone, it is usually because we give priority to our gain, and fail to consider the loss or pain of others.
The five trainings were just the entry level. Over the millennia lay followers of the Buddha have publicly and privately committed to many other trainings and practices. In the Theravadan tradition lay practitioners on retreat often commit to eight trainings or ten trainings. In the Mahayana tradition, practitioners often commit to Bodhisattva vows, committing themselves to work, through this and future life times, for the liberation of all beings. Thich Nhat Hanh’s rewriting of the five mindfulness trainings has widened their scope so that, like Bodhisattva vows, they also focus practitioners on living a life that maximally benefits others. The Kalachakra Empowerment now being offered by the Dalai Lama in Washington is, among other things, an invitation to increase one’s commitment by taking on specific vows and daily practices.
The opportunity to undertake trainings, vows, and other spiritual disciplines may bring up a range of responses..
- Perhaps we shy away. Commitments may remind us of painful early experiences in which we were emotionally manipulated by parents, teachers, or religious authorities.
- Perhaps we eagerly take take on trainings and vows as self-improvement projects in which we become our own taskmasters, imposing rules and evaluating progress.
- Perhaps we see commitment as liberation, allowing us to focus on that which matters most to us.
How do you approach spiritual commitments? Do you find it easy or difficult to formally commit to your own well being and the well being of others? What stories do you tell yourself? What metaphors do you use?
You are invited to join us for our sitting, our recitation, and our reflections on spiritual commitments.
Thich Nhat Hanh's formulation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is available on our website
Related excerpts from Thich Nhat Hanh, Ann Morriss, and John Welwood are below.