The very first level of practice: control our body and speech

Aug 6, 2020

Tibetans have a saying: “When you’re with others, watch your behavior. And when you’re on your own, watch your mind.” And what’s “behavior”? What we do with our body and speech. 

For sure, the mind is the source, but we can see that the parts of us that harm or help others are the body and the speech. Basically our body and speech are the servants of our mind. 

We understand this, but we tend to have this sense of entitlement that “I’m allowed to say and do what I like.” In other words, we have no sense that there are consequences to myself – never mind others – of whatever I do and say. This, of course, is the fundamental point that Buddha makes about the law of karma: that everything I do and say and think just naturally programs me, sows seeds in my mind that ripen in the future as my experiences. This is the very first level of practice.

Just imagine if the world had this understanding! What a blissful world we would live in. Never a harmful word, never a harmful action. Because if we understood that what we ourselves do and say has consequences for ourselves, who’d ever want to be angry or harm others? This is first level of practice, but look how difficult it is.

We really start to become Buddhists when we become our own therapists, when we learn about our own mind. But how can I possibly begin to become familiar with my anger if I can’t control what comes out of my mouth? It’s impossible! If we can’t control our body and speech, there’s no way we have the ability to observe what drives it. 

In order to even begin to do some meditation, to start looking into our own mind, to become our own therapist, we’ve got to control our body and speech. If we have berserk body and speech we can’t even sit for more than thirty seconds, right? 

The main purpose here is to protect us from future suffering: this is the basis of abiding by the law of karma. We often overlook this. 
And, of course, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “All the rats and cockroaches will have a party – because we’re leaving them in peace!”

Here’s Buddha’s little checklist of ten don’ts, his recommendation for turning ourselves into a wise, disciplined, self-respectful person.

Avoid three negative actions of the body
1. Don’t kill any sentient being. Best.
2. Don’t steal, or, as the Tibetans say, don’t take the ungiven. So clear. 
3. Don’t jump on the wrong partner –sexual misconduct, and that usually means don’t take someone else’s partner and don’t cheat on your own. And His Holiness says, don’t rape.

Avoid four negative actions of the speech
4. Don’t lie.
5.Don’t engage in idle talk – don’t go just blah, blah, a load of rubbish, with no concern of whether the person wants to hear it; don’t just rabbit on about nothing. We spend most of our lives doing this. 
6. Don’t abuse people. Don’t use harsh language.
7. Don’t badmouth behind their backs, making trouble, making divisions between people, divisive talk

We can see we mightn’t run around doing too much harm with our bodies but we certainly use our mouths! We do a lot of harm with our mouths. We blurt things out with no thought of whether the person wants to hear it. We mightn’t actually lie, but we speculate about so many things, constantly misleading people. That’s our favorite. And we love to talk about people behind their backs! 

Remember, at this stage of practice, what drives our wish to not harm others is that we do not want future suffering. That’s crucial.

In this list of ten don’ts Buddha also exhorts us to begin to control our mind.

Avoid three negative actions of the mind
8. Craving This is really a heavier level of attachment. Attachment is in the bones of our being, but here it’s the grosser level when the mind is tormented by craving, never ever satisfied. 

9.Ill-will. This is not just anger but a heavier level of it: unable to let go of the anger and even wanting the person to suffer, wanting to harm them. Look at the world. 

10.Wrong views. And the third one is a very gross level of ignorance, the root delusion. Very narrow-minded, like an eye for an eye, a really ignorant mind. Fundamentalist, very concrete: I’m right and you’re wrong. We can’t see pass our own noses.

Simply abiding by these ten don’ts, Buddha says, is a perfect way to live our life. We’d be more discipled, more self-aware, more content, more easy-going. Who doesn’t want that?

And don’t forget the rats and roaches – they benefit too!

More blog posts

The buddhas and bodhisattvas come where they’re needed

A question came up recently: Since Lama Zopa passed away and there have been prayers for his swift return, is that to be taken in a literal sense? Will he only reincarnate if there's prayer? It’s a really good question, and the answer is completely logical and simple...

Big surprise! Attachment is the main source of our problems

As far as the four noble truths are concerned, the main source of our suffering is attachment: this is what we have to understand. This is surprising: we don’t think like this. This is not Jung's model of the mind, or Freud's. And you don't get attachment from your...

Neuroses are not at the core of our being and therefore can be removed

Let’s talk about the fundamental point that underpins all of Buddha’s teachings from A to Z – all of Buddha's teachings from A to zed, as we say in England and Australia. According to the Buddhist analysis, the neurotic states of mind, the unhappy states of mind, the...

Share this article