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A place to meditate in the Buckeye State.
Akron, O

Aquiring Virtue

Buddhist Practice

Buddhism is about living what is preached. If your practice is indistinguishable from a non-Buddhists, the odds are there is no reason in calling oneself Buddhist. It just gives people the wrong impression. Therevadan Buddhism in particular is marked by a strong sense of morality and abstinence. We are better off when we do without. Sex, food, meat, luxuries... how can we say we are free from desire if we can't give them up? However, doing without isn't enough. Skipping breakfast just leaves you hungry at noontime.

Now we have a logical trap. If abstinence doesn't automatically lead to enlightenment, should we chose to get fat, drink and eat meat? No. Abstinence is a necessary but not sufficient for reaching enlightenment. Self indulgence is a form of attachment, especially if you want to indulge in your habitual, or culturally familiar life style.

The Five No-No's

If the fancy metaphysics eludes you, you are guaranteed to understand the five precepts. No drugs, no women (or men), no lying, no stealing, no killing. For the most part, you shouldn't have any trouble with these except the part about sex and possibly drugs. In these difficult questions, I recommend invoking the principle of the middle path. A perfectly ascetic lifestyle can be just as big a barrier to enlightenment as perfect hedonism. The trap is drawing the middle line so that you can minimize the need to change any habits. The principle of the middle path is an excuse to not enter into pointless misery, not a rationalization for the continuation of things that hinder our practice.


Either you buy into the idea or you don't. Like abortion, when it comes to animals, we have an easy time deciding what is killing and what is not, but we have a hard time getting everyone to agree. Plants are not sentient beings. In the course of life, some sentient beings such as insects, will be killed in the process of growing plants and that can't be changed much. Should we then use that for justification for killing more, larger and more intelligent sentient beings? Of course not. I will not go further into the long list of common, fallacious arguments against vegetarianism

The best valid argument against vegetarianism in a Buddhist context is that the countries where Buddhism spread to, often had no choice of diet on account of poor climates, such as Tibet. There, vegetarianism really did mean nearly starving. In the modern US, this is hard to defend. So the only real reason you might want to be a Buddhist carnivore is if you are a meatpacker, and even then you might want to question weather you are practicing right livelihood.

Buddhist Livelihood

I think Buddha really meant that we should become monks. It is usually interpreted as a negative, meaning you shouldn't be a hitman, soldier or a butcher. Sometimes it is interpreted in terms of the medieval distrust of the commercial class or as a socialist indictment of capitalism. In the US there seems to be a trend to recast right livelihood in terms of socially responsible business. The last stream of thought should be a model for US Buddhists, but that still doesn't clear up the issue of the monastic life.

I would make a lousy monk. I have 16 years of training preparing me to be a cog in a big society. It isn't really realistic to expect everyone to go off an live in a monastery and live off a garden or begging, at least in the US. There isn't a lay community to support me and I'm a lousy gardener. Dropping out of society like Buddha did is not an option. I don't think this reflects attachment to my membership in society, but it reflects the economic realities of living in a world economy. Even the monks in SE Asia wear robes woven at textile mills, and use metal begging bowls. Expecting people to live as monks did 100s of years ago is simply unrealistic.

It is valid to ask what would happen if everyone was a monk. First off, the world can't support that many people attempting to be subsistence farmers at a monastery. Second, the religion would die out in one generation, just like the Shakers in the US. Monkhood is best for people who have retired, or who only intend to be a monk for a short time period. I think the practice of lay Buddhist in Thailand going to temples for a few days each year to live like a monastic should be a model for modern Buddhist practice.

I can't change that the US economy is oriented towards desire creation. I can do something about how I react to the system. Being part of society should be as natural as breathing. We don't breath because we have an attachment to it, or a desire to do so, but because it is just natural to do so as a part of surviving. Likewise, it is natural to study, get a job, maybe found a business as a natural part of surviving. Problems of attachment arise when we begin to make ourselves miserable because we lost a promotion, went bankrupt, warp our sense of ethics to fit a cutthroat business environment.

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