Before saying anything about the 5th precept, not giving or taking alcohol, I’d like to speak a little more generally. At the end of our formal koan study in the Diamond Sangha, we take up the 16 precepts, along with Bodhidharma’s and Dogen’s words on each precept, as koan. A koan is not something to solve, figure out or resolve. The koan is awake. It is a direct expression of non-duality. But it isn’t until the koan, the precept moves from being an object of investigation and takes your seat, sits on your zafu, puts on your shoes in the morning, eats your breakfast, that you realize what has always been true from the very beginning. It isn’t until then that you see what has never been hidden. When the koan is your very own self, you experience the reality before yourself, before even the birth of your mother and father. When the koan, the precept takes your seat and puts on your clothes, subject and object fall away and you become more porous (or you realize your own porousness). There then is less need to attend to your conduct and behavior as something to fix, as something flawed, as something broken. That, of course, does not mean we need not attend to our conduct and behavior! Of course we do. It is just that it is possible to approach our conduct in a different manner. We become more open handed and see with clearer eyes….eyes and hands that aren’t so fixated on the assumptions of correct and incorrect, being and non-being, sacred and profane.
The young Zhaozhou came to Nanchuan and asked, “What is the Tao?”
Nanchuan said, “Ordinary mind is the Tao.”
Zhaozhou asked, “Should I direct myself towards it or not?”
Nanchuan said, “If you try to direct yourself you betray your own practice.”
We ask the wrong questions about ourselves, our behavior and conduct. We try to fix things (our behavior) and change things (ourselves). Of course, we have good motives…we want to be less hurtful, to cause less suffering. But is that really the bottom motive? What is your bottom motive? Really? Often our inquiry, our ‘good’ motives are a defense. The questions we ask and the way we frame them keep us from actually meeting the naked, vulnerable, un-special people we are. Those distracting questions keep us from realizing the groundless ground we stand on and that there, really, is nothing solid, permanent or substantial to rely on.
The precepts are not questions. They are statements. Dogen and Bodhidharma are not asking questions. They are expressing not-even-one! Whether you should drink or not isn’t the path. How much or how little isn’t the way. The precepts are not moralizing dictates to follow or fit into. They aren’t demands, laws or rules. When we take them as such, there is an assumption (and a misguided hope/desire/need) that once I get it right, once I follow them correctly, my life (I) will be OK. I will lessen my suffering. I will be a good person. This is not our way.
Our way is to sit in the statement, to sit as “I take up the Way of Not Giving or Taking Alcohol.” It is to sit as, “I take up the Way of Not Clouding the Body-Mind” and paying attention…paying attention to what may arise and not; paying attention to what falls away and not. Just attend to that when you sit, walk, stand and lie down. At this moment a question is too cumbersome and misdirecting. Just sit as the precept moment after moment and you will get out of its way, and it will then be able to fill you in the way that is necessary. That fulfilling will be your own unique and individual expression which is entirely in accord with the Tao, the ordinary mind of the Tathagata.