Just before the Buddha died, his students became very anxious about who their teacher would be after he passed away. The Buddha said that after him the precepts would be their teacher. As practitioners of Zen we encounter two lineages of teaching. First, we meet a Zen teaching lineage which points to our original nature and encourages us to practice. Second, we enter a precepts lineage by taking the precepts and voluntarily accepting them as the direction of our life.
The Buddha practiced very hard to realize his original clear mind. We too can practice, then our minds will become clear. The suffering that all human beings experience has a cause. If our minds are not clear, then we don’t see the connection between cause and effect, between cause and suffering. That is why people cannot get out of suffering. They want to be happy, but they don’t see this connection. The Buddha’s original clear mind and his experience of suffering led him to establish the precepts as a guide for those who want to take away suffering. Following the precepts means making our lives clear so we can help our suffering world.
There once was a monk who was passing through a town in northern India begging for food. As was traditional, the monk would stand silently in front of a dwelling waiting for a donation. His first stop for alms was at a small store which sold precious gems. The owner of the shop said, “Oh, please wait Monk, I have something for you,” and retired to the back of the shop. Unfortunately for the monk, just as the man left, a goose tethered at the poultry shop next door stretched out its long neck and guuulp!… swallowed one of the gems offered for sale on a low table. Just then the man returned with an offering of food. As he bowed low in a gesture of offering, he noticed that one of his prize jewels was missing. “What kind of monk are you? You stole one of my jewels!” Then he began beating the monk relentlessly until he was on the ground,bleeding. The monk was thinking, “What can I do? What can I do? If I tell the man that the goose has eaten the jewel, he will surely kill the goose to get his jewel back.”
Slowly he crawled away. Suddenly he got an idea. He got some money from the monastery and returned to the poultry shop. “I want that goose.” The shop owner said, “OK, you can have it.” As the monk handed over the money, the shop owner suddenly became very angry. “What kind of monk are you? Why are you buying this goose? This is not correct. You are a monk. You should not eat meat!” As he became more angry, he began to beat the monk. Again, the monk could not say anything or the man might kill the goose or even steal the gem. So, he only crawled away with his goose.
Returning to the monastery, he went immediately to the dispensary, where he found a large bottle of castor oil. He opened the goose’s mouth and poured in the whole bottle. Then he waited: One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Then,”Phonup!”… the jewel appeared!!! He grabbed the jewel and ran back to town. He waited until the shop owner wasn’t looking, then he placed the jewel on the table and left.
This story is interesting, because even though the monk was in a very difficult situation, he perceived the correct thing to do. He suffered a lot just to save the life of the goose. Our teaching lineage and our precepts lineage come together at a single point: Not for me.