The following fourteen ‘precepts’ are views expressed by the author and Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926, and he left home as a teenager to become a Zen monk. In Vietnam, he founded the School of Youth for Social Service, Van Hanh Buddhist University, and the Tiep Hien Order (Order of Interbeing). He has taught at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, was Chair of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks, and was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1966, he has lived in exile in France, where he continues his writing, teaching, gardening, and helping refugees worldwide. He is the author of seventy five books including Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and The Sun, My Heart.

These fourteen precepts serve as guides, though some precepts need further clarification; specifically related to wealth, politics and sex. I make these clarifications at the end.

1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and
in the world at all times.

3. Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.

4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images, and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

6. Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your anger and hatred and the nature of the persons who have caused your anger and hatred.

7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.

8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realize your ideal of compassion.

12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.

13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

14. Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and a long term commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering
that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

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WEALTH
5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

Wealth (at this time) is a driver of society. And the accumulation of wealth empowers the accumulator. Money then becomes an extension of their intention. Better to empower an idea that serves the greater good through the accumulation and investment of wealth in the right areas than not. Providing necessities to the millions of unfortunate is only possibly through the deliberate and intelligent organization of material resources. The best known ‘motivator’ for the deliberate and intelligent organization of materials resources is money. That may change in the future, but it is what it is for now.

The key here is that you must KNOW yourself before the accumulation of wealth. Otherwise you can fool yourself into believing you have good intentions until you acquire wealth and then squander it on sensual / ego pleasure. This caution was expressed best by Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are
almost always
bad men.”

According to Lord Acton some great men were NOT bad men – those not corrupted by power deserve careful study. What you may find is that the truly ‘great’ are first masters of themselves. They develop this self mastery through great self study / awareness and adjustment.

POLITICS
10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Politics is an amoral tool, it can be used for good or evil. It should not be seen as something to avoid, but rather something to carefully guide. If you transform an educated community into a force for good in the world – why not do it? A great deal of good can be accomplished through leveraging political power. A democratic government in its essence is made up ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’; it is a community with a shared aim. Therefore the political ambitions of a community if alignment with the majority of the people can serve a great purpose, such as the fair and efficient distribution of resources FOR ALL, whether that be on a small or large scale.

SEX
14. .. Sexual expression should not take place without love and a long term commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

Precept #14 needs clarification: “sexual expression should not take place without love and a long term commitment.” If only it were that simple. Love is not always distinguishable from lust. Lust can create the illusion of ‘we’ll be together forever’. In some religions or cultures where sex is only appropriate when married – people make a long term commitment to satisfy their lust. This is not done consciously, they don’t say to themselves: “I’m going to get married so I can satisfy my lust.” Instead they say something like, “I feel this incredible chemistry with this person, I feel so amazing when I’m with them – I want to take our relationship to the next level. I could see us together forever.” Only to regret their decision later. They might stay together because they made the commitment when in fact they would be better off separated.

Irresponsible sexual relations are unsafe, deceptive, manipulative and not only cause pain to the participants but perhaps more importantly may bring life into the world that is not guaranteed a ‘long term commitment’ by its parents – which is something nature presupposes (Have sex, rear children long term).

But responsible sex between two self aware, individuals can actually help them define biological lust over a more soulful love. The experience of sex can actually create more clarity in the relationship. And even if the relationship isn’t intended to be long term – responsible and consensual sex can still be beneficial. For example in some Gnostic and Hindu practices temple ‘whores’ were incorporated into meditative practice as a way to achieve divine spiritual union between the male and female.

I would venture to guess that Thich Nhat Hanh is coming from an ideological direction which sounds good in theory, but in practice correctly combining ‘love’ and ‘long term commitment’ with sexual relations is not quite so easy.

IN SUMMARY
With a little clarification, the 14 precepts of Interbeing serve as a ‘good’ guideline for the long term health of society.