This month marks two years that we have been living through this pandemic experience. Temple activities, family gatherings, and our friendships have all been affected, but looking back on the ways Covid-19 has impacted our lives, it seems to me that the greatest challenge for me was having our kids out of school and studying from home for over a year. Doing our best to support their online learning, while also attending to our responsibilities with work and household matters made us feel pushed to the limit. We struggled daily to set boundaries to keep our sons on task with the work they needed to do and steer them away from the distractions and mischief that would interrupt their learning.
Both at home and at school, rules are established to help children enjoy healthy growth. Our kids have all been back at school since last fall, and lately they have been regaling us with tales of the mischief that their classmates get into by disobeying school rules.
Like a kind parent, the Buddha provided a set of precepts, or rules for living, to guide our hearts and minds as we grow in the Dharma. There are over two hundred precepts for monastics, but the Buddha provided the following five basic precepts for household living:
- Not killing
This precept refers not just to refraining from taking the lives of living creatures, but also instructs us to refrain from hurting one another through aggression and bullying.
- Not stealing
While the basic meaning of this precept is to refrain from taking that which has not been offered freely, it also discourages coveting others’ possessions, extortion, and fraud. Cheating and plagiarism in schoolwork would be a violation of this precept.
- No sexual misconduct
This precept includes sexual activity that is harmful to oneself and others, as well as sexual harassment.
- No false speech
This precept discourages lying, slandering, duplicitous speech, flattery, and spreading rumors.
- No drinking alcohol
The spirit of this precept against intoxication includes not just alcohol, but also drugs and other intoxicating and addictive substances. These days we’ve been hearing about children having problems with addiction to the internet and video games.
Naturally, my kids do not share stories about their own mischief at school, but when I think back to my own elementary school days, I certainly got into my fair share of trouble. On the occasions when I misbehaved, my parents and teachers did not abandon me. To the contrary, they dedicated great effort and attention to guide me in a better direction.
Now that I am an adult, I rarely receive direction from my parents, and yet I find that I continue to do misguided things. Actions that run counter to the five precepts are called the five evils. When I consider the way that I live day-to-day, it seems to me that I am falling into the five evils more often than I am successfully upholding the five precepts. In those moments of self-awareness, I think about how the Buddha views people like me, and the following words of the Buddha from the Larger Pure Land Sutra come to mind:
“The pity I have for all of you, devas and humans, is much greater than the concern that fathers and mothers have for their children. Having become a Buddha in this world, I have subdued the five evils, eliminated the five pains, and extinguished the five burnings. With good I have vanquished evil and uprooted the suffering of birth-and-death, enabling people to attain the five virtues and reach the tranquility of the uncreated.”
(Three Pure Land Sutras, Vol. II: The Larger Sutra, Section 40)
A parent observing the mischief of their own child will not abandon them, but rather will dedicate their life to guiding that child in the right direction. Like a kind parent, the Buddha looks upon the people like me who cause trouble in this world, and rather than abandoning us, has dedicated himself to guiding us to a life of virtue and tranquility.
Namo Amida Butsu