For a Future to Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life

Thich Nhat Hanh

[Parallax Press, 279 pages]

The five mindfulness trainings have traditionally been known as the layman’s Buddhist precepts: do not kill, steal, sexually abuse, lie, or take drugs or alcohol. In 1993, they were reformulated by Thich Nhat Hanh and his community to better reflect our times. For example, “do not kill” was rewritten as “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.” Note that the first part of the training is proactive— it says something you will try to do, and the second half is something you will try not to do. Each training has this format, so that each one also has a positive action: cultivating compassion, generosity, sexual responsibility, deep listening, loving speech, and good health.

The book offers commentaries on these trainings as well as their history from the time of the Buddha to the present day. The first section, a detailed description of the trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh, is the highlight of the book and a pure joy to read. His insight is always inspiring and, at times, breathtaking. If you read nothing else, read this section. The second section of the book contains commentaries from other authors, two of which stick out from the rest: Home Again and Commonly Asked Questions. The former gives some insight into the process behind rewriting the trainings, while the latter contains responses to such questions as “If I take the First Mindfulness Training, does it mean I have to become a vegetarian?” Finally, the last part of the book, The Sutra on the White-Clad Disciple, is the account of the original teaching given by the Buddha from which the trainings arose. This book provides insight into a way of life that is both peaceful and joyful. Even if you come from a different spiritual tradition, it may help to shed new light on your own practices.

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by Paul Baranowski. © 2008, Paul Baranowski