The Working Ingredient of the Precepts

“Zen in everyday life is keeping the precepts”- I think a lot of Zen teachers are on board with that, I think Reb Anderson’s “Warm Smiles from Cold Mountain” is about that in the context of Richard Baker’s departure from SF Zen Center.

Some would say that the precepts have more to do with zazen than the revelation of metaphysical truths.

I would say that the truths that matter with regard to zazen have to do with the hypnogogic states and the way consciousness takes place. I think there are experiences that matter in learning to sit 30 or 40 minutes in the lotus (or half-lotus), for those of us for whom the posture did not come naturally, and these are crucial to the perception of impermanence and the relinquishment of self in Western society. And that would be the working ingredient of the precepts (the perception of impermanence and the relinquishment of self), both for yours truly, and for our materialist culture.

For example, as to how “the empty hand grasps the hoe handle” in Fuxi’s poem, I would say the sartorious muscles naturally fall into a rhythm that turns the pelvis, and that turn opens and extends the hips, which generates reciprocal activity in the piriformis muscles to rotate the sacrum in the opposite direction. In particular, the activity in the piriformis muscles (you’re partially sitting on them in the lotus) cannot be done, but relaxing into the action of sartorius and allowing sink at the hips is a part of waking up and falling asleep to the location of consciousness. The action of the piriformis is entirely without conscious effort, and that’s why the hand that grasps the hoe handle (the sacrum) is empty. Like the flywheel of a watch, sartorius rotates the pelvis, and piriformis naturally rotates the sacrum into that movement to balance the body.

What’s that got to do with the precepts! What does the spontaneous occurrence of mind have to do with anything! Why can’t we just wake up, who decided we should ever have to sleep, for crying out loud!

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