Rules of freedom

Within each faith tradition we don’t have to look far before we come across rules. Within Buddhism there are five precepts for the lay community, and 227 for the monastic sangha. A question can arise for us around some of these these rules – are they really of any value? At times it may not seem to quite fit that they should have a place. After all we are encouraged to be fully present in the moment aren’t we? And being in the moment is about being fully aware right here, right now. Surely that’s about breaking down convention, going beyond rules and constraints. So what place do rules have? What can we gain from the ordinances of organised religion or a spiritual teacher?

The challenge we face, whether we are aware in the moment or not, is how life appears to be. When we find ourselves in a challenging situation, for example, in dealing another person over some disagreement, we feel a strong urge to express our views. We want to be heard, we want to tell them what we think. It seems at the time that this is the right thing to do. It’s completely clear in that moment that it’s right to do so. But then afterwards we look back with regret: ‘Why did I say that? I’ve really upset them, there was no need to say those things.’

When life is calm and smooth it’s easy to see clearly isn’t it? But it’s not always this way and for some it’s not often this way. The Buddha pointed out that we’re not on solid ground, we’re crossing the sea of samsara and all too often we find ourselves at the mercy of the waves. The horizon is lost and all we see are the challenges around us. Understanding skilful actions at these times is not easy.

Being mindful in the moment is a support to us. The more awareness we bring to the movements that arise within us the less likely we are to be blindly carried along by these. But can mindfulness of our rules or precepts also help? Well perhaps here it’s really about how we relate to these rules.

If we let rules make the decisions for us then we’re not really seeing for ourselves and perhaps this is just another form of believing in our thoughts. But if we see the precepts as wise counsellors offering a point of view, this can help to broaden our perspective and bring a sense of balance. This can be a helpful reflection and one we can use and bring into our lives in a skilful way.

So perhaps, as with so many things it’s really about how we relate to rules. Strict adherence or out of hand rejection can be seen as two extremes. But between these, when we use the precepts as an opportunity to open ourselves up to a wider perspective we find a middle way that has more within it than the ‘me’ voice, shouting for our attention.

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