At the foundation of Early Buddhism is the triad of sīla-samādhi-pañña, or ethical-concentrated-wisdom. In lay terms we could say – clean up your act, concentrate your mind, and use your concentrated mind to investigate reality.

But how does one practice Buddhist ethics, or sīla? For lay practitioners, the five precepts are usually cited: not killing, no taking of what is not freely given, no sexual (sometimes translated ‘sensual’) misconduct, no false speech, and no taking of intoxicants that cloud the mind. For monastics, there are several hundred, the exact number varying on gender and lineage. What’s important to understand is that the Pāli term used for these is ‘training guidelines’. In other words, from the onset over 2500 years ago, it was recognised that developing these qualities takes practice, will likely involved failure, and that one grows and makes an effort in response to that failure. As in any training, one makes a commitment and keeps at it, making effort and experiencing progress. Framing the precepts as ‘training guidelines’ is a way of framing them with a growth mindset.

People are sometimes surprised that one can take all, some, one, or none of the precepts. It’s up to the individual. The point is not to sign up as a Buddhist, tick all the boxes of all of the precepts, and then feel guilty when there is the inevitable breaking of one or more of them. That would be a fixed mindset. The point of the precepts is growth on the spiritual path. It’s recognized that it takes time, it takes effort, and it’s a non-linear process.

There is room for improvement regarding each of the precepts. It may not be contemplate, learn and improve, but a growth mindset is not about taking the easy route. It’s about taking the route that will lead to change and growth. It’s about making effort that strengthens and improves our practice. And that leads to a positive end-result, whether that’s less regreat and improved relations, or a sense of satisfaction with growth on the spiritual path. In a growth mindset, in practicing the precepts, we needn’t stress or worry about perfection – it isn’t expected that we’ll be perfect. It’s expected that we try. The precepts give us an opportunity to apply mindfulness so that we see the situation as it actually is, while at the same time providing an opportunity to apply a growth mindset for the benefit of those and those whose lives we touch.

Peace and Love, Jim

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