At first it may seem that the Ten Precepts are negatively expressed commandments, like the Ten Commandments of Christianity and Judaism. However, they do not say, “Thou shalt not…”but rather” There is no… .”That is, in the mind there is no killing, no stealing, and so on. This does not mean merely that you should attain to that kind of relative condition where you are pure, but that in the mind, which is the universe, the Buddha-mind, there is no killing, no stealing, and so on, from the very beginning. Some commentaries by Dogen Zenji on the Ten Precepts carry the verb, “must not,” but this can be understood to be for purposes of training. As a device, to reach realization that fundamentally there is no killing in the mind, you must not kill.
Even with their imperative implications, moral injunctions are expressions of love. It is an act of love, sometimes, to say, “Don’t do that!” Either way, as a presentation of unity with all beings or as a corrective device, the Precepts are expressions of compassion, so we can say that the Ten Precepts are simply ten different ways of showing love.
The Ten Precepts formulate the realization of inherent good. This good is not the opposite of bad. It is self-nature, Buddha-nature. All beings by nature are Buddha–only their delusions and attachments prevent them from bearing witness to that fact. The Precepts are a guide from self-centered delusion and attachment to the Buddha’s own full and complete realization of truth and compassion. They point the way to the fulfillment of your own Buddha nature. (p. 94)
1. No Killing. There is fundamentally no birth and no death as we die and are born. When we kill the spirit that may realize this fact, we are violating this precept. We kill that spirit in ourselves and in others when we brutalize human potential, animal potential, earth potential. We brutalize with a casual word or a look sometimes; it does not take a club or a bomb. War and other acts of organized violence, including social repression, are massive violations of this precept. It is ironic that sometimes one can be considerate of the feelings of friends and neighbors while working at a job that directly contributes to widespread suffering. At the other end of the scale, we find Jain monks who filter their water in an attempt not to harm microscopic creatures that inhabit it. Recent studies suggest that carrots and cabbages show responses to being cut or uprooted. What can we do? The answer is, I think, to eat and drink in the spirit of grateful sharing. I have heard that someone once asked Alan Watts why he was a vegetarian. He said, “Because cows scream louder than carrots.” This reply may serve as a guide line. Some people will refuse to eat red meat. Some people will not drink milk. Some people will eat what is served to them, but will limit their own purchases of animal products. You must draw your own line, considering your health and the health of other beings. (p.96)
Robert Aitken Taking the Path of Zen
(I loved the chick and 50 other roos from hatching until they were served for dinner. Hatch 2/22/2013 Butchered and canned 8/22/2013)