Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nourishing Action (Right Action)

Nourishing Action (Right Action) is about the actions we take with our bodies.  It speaks to the way we stay mindful, cultivate love, prevent harm, and practice nonviolence on ourselves and others.  TNH connects Nourishing Action to four of The Five Mindfulness Trainings.  These trainings were written by TNH himself and reflect some of his direct teachings.  When looking online, I discovered a great deal of dialogue around the different versions of these, as people took them as templates and worked them around Buddhist traditions that reflected their own beliefs.  So I present them here with my own notes about how I would want to change or adjust them for the person I am right now.  I am sure that over time these could easily be adjusted to fit new habits, pattens, and beliefs.
Note: The fourth of the trainings is relevant to the section on Nourishing Speech.

  • The first training speaks about having reverence for life.  This commitment dedicates the practitioner to being at least vegetarian (if not vegan) and cultivating some pretty strict fair trade practices.  It speaks about how, even if we don't do it with our own hands, we participate in killing every day.  It's quite admirable, but for where I am right now I can see myself struggling to incorporate this level of commitment.
"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."  
  • The second training speaks about the importance of generosity and our role in global society.  It talks not only about avoiding stealing, but about standing up against social injustice and fighting those who profit from human suffering.  Again, this is very admirable and I think that many people would agree with this ideology, but it is very challenging to disengage enough from the world that you can completely avoid being party to exploitation and social injustice, especially if you are poor and cannot afford fair trade, local, and organic products.
"Aware of the suffering cased by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from prof iting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth."
  • The third training is about sexual responsibility.  It refers to not only committing to protecting children from sexual misconduct but also makes promises to only engage in sexuality activities that involve both love and long term commitment.  I don't know how this sits with me.  While I don't have a real hard problem with the love aspect (especially considering the cultivation of love for all people, which kinda makes that a non-restriction), I know far too many healthy and happy people who engage in sexual activity that isn't necessarily based in a long term relationship.  I also know many happy people who have very well developed communication skills which allow them to have loving non-monogomous relationships with both long term and short term partners.  I think that the idea of only having sex in loving and committed relationship feels a little too heteronormativeness for me.
"Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.  I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long term-commitment.  To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others.  I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct."
  • The fifth training focuses on mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  This one triggers some issues for me as well.  As a fat disabled woman who is so regularly judged by the world as being unhealthy (regardless of my actual participation in the wellness of my own body), the idea of cultivating "good health" immediately has me wondering what health means and who gets to decide.  Similarly, as someone who is in recovery for an eating disorder, "practicing a diet" and restricting my eating completely to only those items that "preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body..." sounds too much like the kind of restrictive eating that leads to more disordered eating.  Thirdly, the restriction on what to watch and what to read feels uncomfortably connected to an external judge of what is appropriate.  Lastly, the complete ban on alcohol or other intoxicants seems extreme and doesn't reflect either the harm reduction and coping methods theories I am familiar with or many of the spiritual traditions that I have respect for.  What ties all of these pieces together is the missing element of moderation which is such a huge part of the Taoism in my own spiritual practice.  There is an important need for balance and that includes avoid the extremes of restriction. Much of this specific commitment sounds like it is setting you up to fail.
"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.  I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicants or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations.  I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations.  I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society.  I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society."

Nourishing Action (Right Action) as described by TNT in this particular book leaves me feeling like there is a real need for personalization of these kinds of rules.  The structure is very sound and it is clear that Nourishing Action is about finding ways to act that reflect your commitments and beliefs.  Perhaps this is a place where we turn again to the idea that there is no truth or no certain way, but that we each must find our own collection of nourishing actions that lead us down the path towards enlightenment.

*This post is a piece of a larger discussion that begins with the post: Lessons from the Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.*