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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Action, Cont.

#4. Theft. This category includes fraud, cheating, converting to our own use goods and services to which we are not entitled, and other similar acts.

The class of persons who violate this precept is not limited to cat-burglars, muggers and temple fund raisers.

In religion we frequently find business or professional people who follow an 'end justifies the means' code. They cheat or otherwise financially abuse their employees or their customers and clients and then donate some of the profits of these transactions to a temple. Rationalizing their actions, they believe that if they did not gain such ill advantage they would not be able to perform such good works. We may not cultivate the personas of philanthropists to mask simple egotistic greed. We are not permitted to take that which is not honestly and reasonably given or earned.

Sometimes in a spasm of religious enthusiasm we donate money that is needed for family maintenance and thereby place the burden of our largesse upon the shoulders of our dependents. In order that we may take our place proudly among the righteous, we impose our vow of poverty or our claims to generosity upon family members who do not participate in the spiritual rewards of our decisions. This constitutes a form of theft especially since what we usually most rob our family of is their respect for Buddhism. Inevitably they resent our religion and turn away from it. And who can blame them?

A forty year old man who strives for simplicity is not at liberty to divert his family's clothing budget to charity, forcing his wife and children to wear the old but serviceable clothes of plain, god-fearing folk. To all teenagers and not a few wives it is more important that a coat be fashionable than that it be warm.

5. Non-intoxication. Except for an occasional fiesta, no use of intoxicants and other mind altering substances is permitted. And fiesta or no fiesta, this means no drinking and driving. This also means no sitting around getting stoned because there's a quorum that passes for a party and nothing else for a leisurely group of people to do. There's no dependence upon sleeping pills to get us through the night or tranquilizers, nicotine or other stimulants to get us through the day.

Salvation frees us from chemical dependence and anyone who has a problem with dependence is well advised to work for his salvation.

These are the Five Precepts. In addition to observing them, we must take actions which are consonant with the goals of spiritual maturity. It isn't enough to worry about the obstacles we encounter on the Path. We may not create obstacles for others. Therefore, we take action to elevate our sense of personal responsibility.

We don't help ourselves to the possessions of others telling ourselves that the owner won't mind or that the owner in the course of some previous unresolved transaction has forfeited some of his rights of ownership. ("He took my Twinkies therefore I'm entitled to his Pepsi.")

We don't take things out of their places of storage and then leave them lying around for others to put away. We don't eat and leave a mess for others to clean up.

If we borrow something, we return it undamaged. If we incur a debt, we pay it in full. If we think we have been cheated in the bargain, we let the courts or our master adjudicate the matter. We don't simply refuse to pay and let it go at that.

If we make an appointment, we keep it. If we make a promise, we fulfil it. And we keep our appointments and promises punctually; and, regardless of how inconvenient it is to keep our word, we don't grouse about it.

We give credit to others for their contributions to the commonweal, but if only because we don't want to inspire jealousy, we keep news of our own contributions to ourselves.

We don't gossip about people but we do give evidence when required.

A mature individual doesn't create anger or lust or any negative emotions in the hearts of those around him. Right action requires that in all that we do we take into consideration the effects of our actions on others.

There is a practical approach to ethics that we ought not overlook. People often wonder why, in light of karma and the need to be non-judgmental, we ought to bother at all with trying to behave ourselves. Sometimes the simple answer is just that nobody knows when the lightning of Enlightenment will strike or when the impulse to change, to find spiritual solutions to life, will be felt. If our time for Enlightenment is scheduled for Thursday, then, if we are keeping the laws of sexual morality, we won't be shot by an irate spouse on Wednesday night. Or, if we are destined to be seized with the desire to reform on Tuesday, then, if we are keeping the rule of non-intoxication, we won't drive our car off a cliff in a drunken stupor on Monday night.

In short, the morally reckless often do not survive long enough to achieve Enlightenment.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 12: Right Action, Page 3 of 3