by Eve Myonen Marko
(From a talk given during the Renewal of Vows ceremony of August 18.)
The 10th grave precept is:
Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking. This is the practice of Not Thinking Ill of the Three Treasures. I will recognize myself and others as manifestations of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
I enjoy talking about this precept. I like to remember that it’s the last of the Grave Precepts, and that rather than seeing myself as the one who broke the first nine, it encourages me to honor my life as the Three Treasures—as Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, to always have that confidence that I can’t stray from the path because I am the path. You and I are our own respective harbor, our lives are our refuge.
The temptation of cynicism is often there. Thinking ill of the Three Treasures is very profound cynicism. What does it mean to think ill of the Buddha? It means thinking ill of liberation, of awakening from delusion. It means denying that there is liberation from suffering. This has a profound effect not only on the person thinking this but also on the people around her. My family of origin was not a happy one. Since we were religious Jews we’d go to the synagogue every Saturday, and on the way back we’d walk along other families who were going home, smiling and cheerful and happy. One Saturday, walking this way, I said to my mother, “How lucky all these people are. They’re so happy!” And my mother said, “No they’re not. They pretend to be happy in public, but inside their homes it’s very different.” This statement had a strong impact on me. I believed her for many years, well into adulthood, and it influenced my hopes and beliefs about what was possible in marriage and family.
The same is true about denying the power of the dharma, of the teachings. I do this often. I have never been an enthusiastic reader of Buddhist texts or books on Buddhism, and I often mutter about all the Buddhist books that are now available. Yet I once studied a long version of the Heart Sutra, and in the middle of reading a chapter on the Bodhisattva I found myself crying uncontrollably at the extraordinary love and selflessness that the words pointed to. Beside, where would I be without the dharma in my life—as a living force, as the lamp that shines the way day and night?
Finally, there’s thinking ill of Sangha, which to me amounts to denying the power and life I get from being among this group of practitioners, the inspiration I get from others’ dedication. To what? To being human, to reaching into the deepest part of ourselves for the strength to not react, to not be angry, to not add more mischief to an already tumultuous world, and behave like a responsible human being. Mahatma Gandhi mentioned a case where two brothers fall out and decide not to speak to one another, causing a schism in the family. It’s the kind of thing the media loves to talk about. But in truth, he said, that happens very rarely. Much more common is the case when two brothers fight, then talk it out, apologize to one another, and find the way to go on together, as a family. Nobody reports on that, he wrote. For me, every time someone decides to be patient rather than impatient, to forgive rather than stay resentful, to open the heart rather than close off, the Sangha emerges.
So why are we cynical? Why do we think ill of things? One reason is laziness. If we’re tired or crabby or have a stomach ache, we reach inside and grab the first thing we could get a hold of, and say, Life sucks, This will never work, I don’t know why I bother. We repeat the same clichés over and over again, and then we believe them.
So please, don’t be cynical. Don’t be cool, don’t pretend that nothing matters. Don’t lose trust in yourself and in your own joy. Don’t think ill of the Three Treasures. Relish your life.