Better One Step you're Sure Of
by Bhikshu Heng K'ung
There is a common saying, "It is better to take one step that you are sure of than two that you are not." With respect to cultivation on the path to enlightenment, this is especially true. The entire foundation on which the structure of Buddhist meditation rests is the Vinaya, or moral code. Simply stated, this code consists of five prohibitions against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking any intoxicants.
Society has undergone many changes since the time of the Buddha, and in our present day world, which is structured much differently, and which has very different values and ethics, many people have come to believe that the disciplines of the Buddha's time can be dispensed with by modern practitioners of meditation. This is a dangerous step to take.
The purpose of meditation practices is to disentangle the mind from the senses and gain transcendental awareness. With the mind free from sense distractions, it can be rightly concentrated on the more profound principles and matters of life and death, and partake of the joy that accompanies the profound understanding and penetration of these principles. Since walking the path to enlightenment requires that the senses must be rejected in the end as unnecessary, why do modern cultivators dispense with the disciplines taught by the Buddha and hold on to their petty pursuits after sense pleasure, while at the same time trying to travel towards the goal of enlightenment? To cultivate in this way only makes the path a long one, if in fact one is even on the right path at all.
Since the potential for success at achieving the goal of enlightenment by one dispensing with the disciplines taught by the Buddha and engaging in sense pleasures, is problematic at best, why should one take the risk of shouldering a burden that must ultimately be rejected? The wise cultivator, during the initial states of his practice, rejects what is within his power to reject. The first step is to abandon that which is not found in the fruit position of enlightenment.
To take two steps in different directions in the beginning is to try to "have your cake and eat it too." To practice meditation without a well disciplined life is dangerous: on the one hand developing concentration power, and on the other, abusing that power. With a duality of such a great magnitude between one's active life and one's meditative life, one goes forward but then falls back, and progress is slow, if, indeed, there is any progress at all. In spite of this fact, there are those who argue in support of indulging in sensuality while at the same time engaging in spiritual practices. Why not reject in the beginning what will be transcended in the end? Since it is within our power to do so, those who do not are foolish, like one who mistakes fish eyes for pearls.
The moral prohibitions are a vital aspect of the discipline of meditation, and those who discard them and refuse to recognize their importance are blind people living in the darkness of their own ignorance. To carry unnecessary burdens after entering the stream of holy living is like one who continues to carry his raft through the mountains after having crossed the stream.