Why did we discuss the Twenty-seventh Minor Precept first? This was so we could have a general understanding that we should not kill in the first place. How much the less should we kill these large animals? Can we then still raise these animals? The Buddha clearly stated in the Fifteenth Minor Precept that we should not raise predatory animals such as cats. However, the Buddha did not forbid the raising of animals such as elephants, horses, cattle, goats, camels, and donkeys.
The reason for this is that in ancient times, these animals were used as the major means of transportation. Since pigs were not used for transportation, they are not mentioned in the text. Elephants, horses, and oxen were used as means of transportation. Without them, life would have been very inconvenient. So, what should we do to be in accord with Dharma in the event that we have to raise these animals?
In this instance, we can see the Buddha's wisdom. The Buddha has mentioned that living beings have the Buddha-nature and can become Buddhas. We do not have the right to possess them. All living beings should have their own freedom. We should cherish living beings but not possess them. The avaricious love of worldly people is defiled for it is ultimately motivated by the desire to possess someone. It is not a genuine way of cherishing living beings. Therefore, we should understand that there is a great difference between the Buddha's compassion and worldly love. The Buddha basically wishes that all living beings could live freely as they are. However, human beings need the aid of these animals; for example, they need buffalo for plowing, horses for transporting, and elephants and camels for crossing the desert. After receiving this precept, a person would not be able to travel at all. Therefore, the Buddha taught that when it was absolutely necessary, we could perform an act of "pure giving." This is different from what we normally do when we raise pets. We treat our pets with a certain kind of impure affection. Some may say, "This is my treasure! This is my darling!" Women come first, dogs are second, and men come third. We should not have this kind of defiled and clinging love.
What we have said here, apart from the Fifteenth Minor precept that was discussed earlier, absolutely prohibits raising cats and other predatory animals. I forgot to add that we should not raise a type of predatory fish called "Silver Dragon" which many Taiwanese raise for Feng Shui purposes. We should not raise other predatory birds such as eagles. However, when we do have to raise certain animals, we should do so with compassion.
And how do we raise animals compassionately? The Buddha taught us a method to overcome our bad habits.
Most of us have an attitude that says, "It belongs to me, so I can do whatever I want with it," or "This is my ox and I can punish it as I wish; I can make it work for me or starve it for a day if I want to. It is mine and not yours; therefore nobody has the right to mind my business."
The Buddha knows our bad habits and therefore taught that if we must raise these animals, we should practice pure giving.
What is meant by "pure giving"? It means to have a pure mind when we give something up to others either directly or indirectly. What is "indirectly giving up" in this context? For instance, if I have an ox and I am going to receive the Bodhisattva precepts today, then I might give my ox to you and borrow it from you later. The ox will no longer be mine. It will belong to you and I will only borrow it from you. Since it will be borrowed, I certainly won't mistreat the ox as I might have in the past when it belonged to me. I will be borrowing it from someone and therefore I will take care and pay special attention to it since I need to return it to the owner. We can be a bit casual with our own things, but we must handle others' possessions more carefully.
Therefore, we can protect these animals by practicing pure giving. The best thing, however, would be to set these animals free in order to promote good relations between human beings and animals.
We can see that this precept is full of wisdom. And it is of utmost importance in practicing and upholding the Bodhisattva precepts.
Let's turn to page 164 of the text, which is part of the section on "Making Wise Decisions on What Not to Give." The latter part of this section concerns pure giving.
In the teachings of Buddha, this is a very common method used by monastics as well as laypeople who uphold the Great Vehicle Bodhisattva precepts. Those practicing the Bodhisattva Way should not regard material possessions with the attitude: "This is mine; I spent half of my life earning it," or "This is mine; my father gave it to me." Instead, we should give these things to the Buddhas of the ten directions. And we should use the monastic practice of pure giving rid ourselves of greed. These items are only temporarily in our safekeeping, including our bodies, which we occupy temporarily.
If someone asks for our body, shall we give it up? Well, in the first place, this body is not really ours, so how can we give it away? But we can think in this way: the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas lack nothing, and we are merely taking care of these items on their behalf. Since the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always generous towards living beings, we can give it away. However, we should not practice giving with any sense of ego. We are simply giving on behalf of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Therefore, we should not feed our ego and think that we are doing meritorious works, nor should we think that what we gave belonged to us in the first place.
Please turn to page 166, where it says, "If one judges that it would not be proper to give something..." Suppose someone comes and begs for money, but we know that the person would use the money to buy intoxicants or engage in improper acts or even commit killing or other evil deeds. Should we still give to that person? Didn't we say earlier that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are very compassionate and that we are only safeguarding the money for them? That being the case, we should give to that person, right? Wrong. We should use our wisdom and tell the person, "The money is not mine. It belongs to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas." We should gradually console the person by teaching him wholesome Dharma. We can tell him, "You can practice and recite the Buddha's name. You should look for a job to earn a living. Being a beggar is not a long-term solution" By using such expedient Dharmas to refuse the person, we can resolve the struggle in our minds and yet uphold the precepts in a skillful way.
Pure giving serves to get rid of our greed and can increase our care and protection for the living beings. Due to time constraints, we will briefly cover these seven minor precepts.
Please turn to page 70 of the text. There are two tables for our reference. They explain how we can develop basic attitudes in our body, mouth, and mind of not killing or harming any living being; and environmental factors involved in protecting and nurturing our precept substance.
In terms of mind karma, we should make a great Bodhi resolve and vow, "I have received the Bodhisattva precepts today, and I shall not break the precept against killing even if I have to give up my life. I would rather die than break the precept against killing" We should always put ourselves in others' shoes and think, "My parents gave birth to me. How can I kill other beings who are the sons and daughters of their parents?"
The second and third points of the table are quite similar. The fourth and the fifth describe the retribution of the killing karma. The sixth emphasizes filiality. All living beings have been my parents in the past; how could I possibly not be filial to them?
To be continued