//Aware of the suffering caused
by exploitation, social injustice,
stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn
ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and
minerals. I vow to 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
profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on
Exploitation, social injustice,
and stealing come in many forms.
Oppression is one form of stealing that causes much suffering both
here and in the Third World. The moment we vow to cultivate loving
kindness, loving kindness is born in us, and we make every effort to
stop exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression.
In the First Precept, we found
the word "compassion." Here, we find
the words "loving kindness." Compassion and loving kindness are the
two aspects of love taught by the Buddha. Compassion, //karuna// in
Sanskrit and Pali, is the intention and capacity to relieve the
suffering of another person or living being. Loving kindness,
//maitri// in Sanskrit, //metta// in Pali, is the intention and
capacity to bring joy and happiness to another person or living being.
It was predicted by Shakyamuni Buddha that the next Buddha will bear
the name Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.
//"Aware of the suffering
caused by exploitation, social injustice,
stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn
ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and
minerals."// Even with maitri as a source of energy in ourselves, we
still need to learn to look deeply in order to find ways to express
it. We do it as individuals, and we learn ways to do it as a nation.
To promote the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals, we
have to come together as a community and examine our situation,
exercising our intelligence and our ability to look deeply so that we
can discover appropriate ways to express our maitri in the midst of
Suppose you want to help those
who are suffering under a dictatorship.
In the past you may have tried sending in troops to overthrow their
government, but you have learned that when doing that, you cause the
deaths of many innocent people, and even then, you might not overthrow
the dictator. If you practice looking more deeply, with loving
kindness, to find a better way to help these people without causing
suffering, you may realize that the best time to help is before the
country falls into the hands of a dictator. If you offer the young
people of that country the opportunity to learn your democratic ways
of governing by giving them scholarships to come to your country, that
would be a good investment for peace in the future. If you had done
that thirty years ago, the other country might be democratic now, and
you would not have to bomb them or send in troops to "liberate" them.
This is just one example of how looking deeply and learning can help
us find ways to do things that are more in line with loving kindness.
If we wait until the situation gets bad, it may be too late. If we
practice the precepts together with politicians, soldiers,
businessmen, lawyers, legislators, artists, writers, and teachers, we
can find the best ways to practice compassion, loving kindness, and
It requires time to practice
generosity. We may want to help those who
are hungry, but we are caught in the problems of our own daily lives.
Sometimes, one pill or a little rice could save the life of a child,
but we do not take the time to help, because we think we do not have
the time. In Ho Chi Minh City, for example, there are street children
who call themselves "the dust of life." They are homeless, and they
wander the streets by day and sleep under trees at night. They
scavenge in garbage heaps to find things like plastic bags they can
sell for one or two cents per pound. The nuns and monks in Ho Chi Minh
City have opened their temples to these children, and if the children
agree to stay four hours in the morning -- learning to read and write
and playing with the monks and nuns -- they are offered a vegetarian
lunch. Then they can go to the Buddha hall for a nap. (In Vietnam, we
always take naps after lunch; it is so hot. When the Americans came,
they brought their practice of working eight hours, from nine to five.
Many of us tried, but we could not do it. We desperately need our naps
Then at two o'clock, there
is more teaching and playing with the
children, and the children who stay for the afternoon receive dinner.
The temple does not have a place for them to sleep overnight. In our
community in France, we have been supporting these nuns and monks. It
costs only twenty cents for a child to have both lunch and dinner, and
it will keep him from being out on the streets, where he might steal
cigarettes, smoke, use delinquent language, and learn the worst
behavior. By encouraging the children to go to the temple, we help
prevent them from becoming delinquent and entering prison later on. It
takes time to help these children, not much money. There are so many
simple things like this we can do to help people, but because we
cannot free ourselves from our situation and our lifestyle, we do
nothing at all. We need to come together as a community, and, looking
deeply, find ways to free ourselves so we can practice the Second
//"I vow to practice generosity
by sharing my time, energy, and
material resources with those who are in real need."// This sentence
is clear. The feeling of generosity and the capacity for being
generous are not enough. We also need to express our generosity. We
may feel that we don't have the time to make people happy - we say,
"Time is money," but time is more than money. Life is for more than
using time to make money. Time is for being alive, for sharing joy and
happiness with others. The wealthy are often the least able to make
others happy. Only those with time can do so.
I know a man named Bac Sieu
in Thua Thien Province in Vietnam, who has
been practicing generosity for fifty years; he is a living
//bodhisattva//. With only a bicycle, he visits villages of thirteen
provinces, bringing something for this family and something for that
family. When I met him in 1965, I was a little too proud of our School
of Youth for Social Service. We had begun to train three hundred
workers, including monks and nuns, to go out to rural villages to help
people rebuild homes and modernize local economies, health-care
systems, and education. Eventually we had ten thousand workers
throughout the country. As I was telling Bac Sieu about our projects,
I was looking at his bicycle and thinking that with a bicycle he could
help only a few people. But when the communists took over and closed
our School, Bac Sieu continued, because his way of working was
formless. Our orphanages, dispensaries, schools, and resettlement
centers were all shut down or taken by the government. Thousands of
our workers had to stop their work and hide. But Bac Sieu had nothing
to take. He was a truly a bodhisattva, working for the well-being of
others. I feel more humble now concerning the ways of practicing
The war created many thousands
of orphans. Instead of raising money to
build orphanages, we sought people in the West to sponsor a child. We
found families in the villages to each take care of one orphan, then
we sent $6 every month to that family to feed the child and send him
or her to school. Whenever possible, we tried to place the child in
the family of an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. With just $6, the
child was fed and sent to school, and the rest of the children in the
family were also helped. Children benefit from growing up in a family.
Being in an orphanage can be like being in the army -- children do not
grow up naturally. If we look for and learn ways to practice
generosity, we will improve all the time.
//"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 profiting from human suffering or the
suffering of other species on Earth."// When you practice one precept
deeply, you will discover that you are practicing all five. The First
Precept is about taking life, which is a form of stealing -- stealing
the most precious thing someone has, his or her life. When we meditate
on the Second Precept, we see that stealing, in the forms of
exploitation, social injustice, and oppression, are acts of killing --
killing slowly by exploitation, by maintaining social injustice, and
by political and economic oppression. Therefore, the Second Precept
has much to do with the precept of not killing. We see the
"interbeing" nature of the first two precepts. This is true of all
Five Precepts. Some people formally receive just one or two precepts.
I didn't mind, because if you practice one or two precepts deeply, all
Five Precepts will be observed.
The Second Precept is not
to steal. Instead of stealing, exploiting,
or oppressing, we practice generosity. In Buddhism, we say there are
three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The
second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the
technology and know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people
with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and
depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift
of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of
being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be
destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
is someone who practices this extremely
well. In the //Heart Sutra,// he teaches us the way to transform and
transcend fear and ride on the waves of birth and death, smiling. He
says that there is no production, no destruction, no being, no
nonbeing, no increasing, and no decreasing. Hearing this helps us look
deeply into the nature of reality to see that birth and death, being
and nonbeing, coming and going, increasing and decreasing are all just
ideas that we ascribe to reality, while reality transcends all
concepts. When we realize the interbeing nature of all things -- that
even birth and death are just concepts -- we transcend fear.
In 1991, I visited a friend
in New York who was dying, Alfred Hassler.
We had worked together in the peace movement for almost thirty years.
Alfred looked as though he had been waiting for me to come before
dying, and he died only a few hours after our visit. I went with my
closest colleague, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness).
Alfred was not awake when
we arrived. His daughter Laura tried to wake
him up, but she couldn't. So I asked Sister Chan Khong to sing Alfred
the //Song of No Coming and No Going:// "These eyes are not me, I am
not caught by these eyes. This body is not me, I am not caught by this
body. I am life without boundaries. I have never been born, I will
never die." The idea is taken from the //Samyutta Nikaya//. She sang
so beautifully, and I saw streams of tears running down the faces of
Alfred's wife and children. They were tears of understanding, and they
were very healing.
Suddenly, Alfred came back
to himself. Sister Chan Khong began to
practice what she had learned from studying the sutra //The Teaching
Given to the Sick.// She said, "Alfred, do you remember the times we
worked together?" She evoked many happy memories we had shared
together, and Alfred was able to remember each of them. Although he
was obviously in pain, he smiled. This practice brought results right
away. When a person is suffering from so much physical pain, we
sometimes can alleviate his suffering by watering the seeds of
happiness that are in him. A kind of balance is restored, and he will
feel less pain.
All the while, I was practicing
massage on his feet, and I asked him
whether he felt my hand on his body. When you are dying, areas of your
body become numb, and you feel as if you have lost those parts of your
body. Doing massage in mindfulness, gently, gives the dying person the
feeling that he is alive and being cared for. He knows that love is
there. Alfred nodded, and his eyes seemed to say, "Yes, I feel your
hands. I know my foot is there."
Sister Chan Khong asked, "Do
you know we learned a lot from you when
we lived and worked together? The work you began, many of us are
continuing to do. Please don't worry about anything." She told him
many things like that, and he seemed to suffer less. At one point, he
opened his mouth and said, "Wonderful, wonderful." Then, he sank back
Before we left, we encouraged
the family to continue these practices.
The next day I learned that Alfred passed away just five hours after
our visit. This was a kind of gift that belongs to the third category.
If you can help people feel safe, less afraid of life, people, and
death, you are practicing the third kind of gift.
During my meditation, I had
a wonderful image -- the shape of a wave,
its beginning and its end. When conditions are sufficient, we perceive
the wave, and when conditions are no longer sufficient, we do not
perceive the wave. Waves are only made of water. We cannot label the
wave as existing or nonexisting. After what we call the death of the
wave, nothing is gone, nothing is lost. The wave has been absorbed
into other waves, and somehow, time will bring the wave back again.
There is no increasing, decreasing, birth, or death. When we are
dying, if we think that everyone else is alive and we are the only
person dying, our feeling of loneliness may be unbearable. But if we
are able to visualize hundreds of thousands of people dying with us,
our dying may become serene and even joyful. "I am dying in community.
Millions of living beings are also dying in this very moment. I see
myself together with millions of other living beings; we die in the
Sangha. At the same time, millions of beings are coming to life. All
of us are doing this together. I have been born, I am dying. We
participate in the whole event as a Sangha." That is what I saw in my
meditation. In the //Heart Sutra,// Avalokitesvara shares this kind of
insight and helps us transcend fear, sorrow, and pain. The gift of
non-fear brings about a transformation in us.
The Second Precept is a deep
practice. We speak of time, energy, and
material resources, but time is not only for energy and material
resources. Time is for being with others -- being with a dying person
or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five
minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money.
It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear.
* * * * *
[THICH NHAT HANH is a Zen
Buddhist monk, peace activist, scholar, and
poet. He is the founder of the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon,
has taught at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, and now lives in
southern France, where he gardens, works to help those in need, and
travels internationally teaching "the art of mindful living." Martin
Luther King, Jr., nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967,
saying, "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel
Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam."]
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