The Training of Moderation and Contentment

In most Buddhist traditions, the five precepts are written as some form of

1.”Avoid killing."

2.”Avoid stealing." (Including misappropriating someone's property)

3."Do not engage in improper sexual conduct." (e.g. sexual contact not sanctioned by secular laws, the Buddhist monastic code, or by one's parents and guardians)

4."Do not make false statements." (Also includes pretending to know something one doesn't)

5."Do not drink alcohol."

As you might note, both point out specifically to avoid sexual misconduct and avoid misuse of alcohol. But the OPB precept combines them both and gives us the Third Precept I undertake the training of moderation and contentment.

Upon some thought, I found that this is a great reflection of the precepts as suggestions that may help lead you to skillful living instead of some sort of commandment.

For clarity sake, the OPB, by not specifying 'do not drink alcohol' does not mean that they would suggest that getting plastered is wise. I read a story from a dharma practioneer who literally trekked up a mountain to visit a Lama, Lama Yeshe. He asked “What do you think about the value of drug and alcohol in our meditation? They make us more relaxed so it’s easier to watch our breath, and our visualizations are so much more vivid when we’re stoned.” Lama Yeshe looked at them with an expression that was quizzically serious, and said “You don’t need drugs, dear. You’re already hallucinating.”

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron says “Intoxicants take you away from reality; meditation takes you toward reality. Which do you want? You are already intoxicated by ignorance, anger, and attachment and suffer as a result. Why do you want to take more intoxicants?”

Our third precept - I undertake the training of moderation and contentment - lets us realize that alcohol is only one intoxicant. Zen teacher Reb Anderson says, "In the broadest sense, anything we ingest, inhale, or inject into our system without reverence for all life becomes an intoxicant."(1) He describes the act of intoxication as bringing something into yourself to manipulate your experience. This "something" can be "coffee, tea, chewing gum, sweets, sex, sleep, power, fame, and even food."

Thus, we realize that abstinence from all intoxicants is not the path either. Instead, we look toward the middle way and find a path of moderation and contentment. It means to take care not to use them as intoxicants or as ways of soothing and distracting ourselves from the direct and intimate experience of life.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his translation of The Five Wonderful Precepts, could give us a definition of Moderation and Contentment. "Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society, by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming".

We are reminded that other ways of consuming is another area where this precepts can apply. When we practice contentment, we can question the thrill of owning the latest iDevice or recognizing that window shopping isn't the same as the need to buy something.

To be clear, I've stood in line at 5am in front of an Apple store and, because I could not get what I wanted when they opened, had dawn stand there for me the next day. It was actually neat to experience being in that line; it was similar to kids lined up at a big top waiting to get in the circus. But it isn't something I felt the need to repeat.

And of course, of everything we've said, the same escapism, greed, suffering from lack of moderation and contentment, applies to sex as well. It is a lack of moderation and contentment is what leads to sexual unhappiness. It is not who I have sex with, same or opposite gender, or if we go next door to the Garden and buy something that plugs into the wall, that determines sexual misconduct. Instead, we apply our same mindful appreciation of moderation and contentment.

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