Friday, August 17, 2012

Bike Path Precept

Last quarter at the College of Zen Buddhism in the Five Mountain Zen Order/Buddhist Studies Institute - LA we had a class on the precepts in Zen Buddhism and how to insure they are relevant in the twentieth century. Of course, there were a lot of opinions on what we should do in this area. There were two primary concerns. One area was the level of detail. The second was on the primary wording being positive rather than negative.

For example there is a precept that states "I vow to abstain from taking life." For item one, the precept could be changed to include direction on everything related to living such as euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, etc. For the wording issue, the precept could be stated as something positive like I vow to respect life.

How does this really relate to our lives as Zen students? In fact, how do the precepts really relate to life in general? Here is an example of how a precept has developed for me.

For exercise, lately, I have been doing a lot of rollerblading. The best place to blade around here is on a shared use path that goes around a local lake. This involves interacting with others which is generally what the precepts cover. Since other people can be affected, there can also be Karmic reactions. As Zen students our focus is "how can I help." How can this attitude be brought to to the bike path?

The path has many types of people on it: Parents out for walks with their children, mothers and couples pushing strollers, other rollerbladers, walkers - with and without dogs, runners, casual bicyclists and aggressive bicyclists.

The first part of the bike path precept could be something like: don't make anyone else uncomfortable. What would that entail? As a rollerblader who likes to go fast, I am probably going anywhere from 8 to 10 mph. Walkers are going 2-3 mph. Families with kids even slower. Thus the precept might have a suggestion to always announce "on your left" when passing. Many people appreciate that and it prevents them from being startled in case they don't here me coming.

What about speed when passing? If they are adults, I don't generally slow down. If they have dogs, I am wary and make sure they hear I am coming in case they need to hold on to their dog a little more tightly. If they have children - I slow down considerably. If I were to hit a kid, even because the parent wasn't keeping control of their child, it is still going to be my fault - and I am sure I would feel awful about it. So keeping this in mind helps to elminate any mind games such as judging with thoughts like "they should control their kid".

How about space when passing? When I am walking, I don't like it when people pass too close to me. Accordingly, I try to give plenty of space - both to people on the right and the left. Here there can be mind games going on, too. I want to go fast. These people are in my way, etc.

What about the other aggressive people on the bike trail? Many people are on the bike trail without any concern for anyone but themselves. It is easy to judge them when they pass without enough space or come whooshing by without warning. Is it our job to let them know they are selfish? Well, that could be another part of the precept. Do we keep our mouths shut - is it our job to let them know they are being rude? Generally, I just try to keep my own side of the street clean.

A lot goes on during a ride on the bike trail. Do I keep all of these rules all of the time? Generally, though it really has taken a lot of practice to get to this point. Hence, these guidelines have come from experience. I used to do many of the things outlined here. What I found is that is that paying attention during the blade has made me aware of what feels right and what doesn't.

Precepts are wisdom passed down from previous generations of Buddhists. If we are unaware, the precepts can help give us direction. If we are aware, the precepts are common sense - though not really written in stone. Of course, there are many levels in between as well. Some times we are a little off, so a hard and fast rule can help us.

If I were writing a precept for the bicycle path, it would simply say: Be courteous to others on the bike path. For those who wanted more detail, I could point them to this essay for some of the reasoning behind how the precept came about and what it encompasses.

Now maybe we can come up with a precept for driving!