In another incident, the fellow who owned the house that is now the monastery abbacy had beavers on his property. They were eating up his trees, so he decided to exterminate them. A neighbor told him that they were protected, so he called the Department of Environmental Conservation. The authorities trapped and removed the animals. When we moved into the house, however, a pair of beavers showed up and immediately started taking down the trees again. In fact, they chomped down a beautiful weeping willow that my students presented to me as a gift. I was supposed to sit under it in my old age, but now it was stuck in a beaver dam, blocking up the stream. With the stream dammed, the water rose and the pond filled with fish. With the abundance of fish, ducks arrived. That brought in the fox and the osprey. Suddenly the whole environment came alive because of those two beavers. Of course, they didn't stay too long, because we didn't have that much wood, so after two seasons they moved on. Nobody was taking care of the dam. The water leaked out and the pond disappeared. It will be like that until the trees grow back and the next pair of beavers arrive. If we can just keep our fingers out of it and let things unfold, nature knows how to maintain itself. It creates itself and defines itself, as does the universe. And, by the way, the weeping willow came back, sprouted again right from the stump. It leans over the pond watching me go through my cycles these days.
The tenth grave precept is Experience the intimacy of things—do not defile the Three Treasures. To defile is to separate. The Three Treasures are this body and the body of the universe, and when we separate ourselves from ourselves, and from the universe, we defile the Three Treasures.
To practice the precepts is to be in harmony with your life and the universe. To practice the precepts means to be conscious of what they are about—not just on the surface but on many levels, plumbing the depths of the precepts. It means being deeply honest with yourself. When you become aware you have drifted away from the precepts, just acknowledge that fact. That acknowledgment means to take responsibility for your life; taking responsibility plays a key role in our practice. If you don't practice taking responsibility, you are not practicing. It is as simple as that. There is nobody checking when you are doing zazen, whether you're letting go of your thoughts or sticking with them. It has to do with your own honesty and integrity. Only you know what you are doing with your mind. It is the same with the precepts. Only you know when you have actually violated a precept. And only you can be at one with that violation, can atone. To be at one with it means to take responsibility. To take responsibility means to acknowledge yourself as the master of your life.