The Ninth Grave Precept

by John Daido Loori Roshi

Featured in Mountain Record 32.1, Fall 2013


Actualize harmony. Do not be angry.

Bodhidharma  said, “Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous. In the dharma of no-self, not postulating a self is called the precept of refraining from anger.” Not creating an idea of a self frees us completely from anger. You cannot have anger unless there is a self. There is no boundless and omniscient self somewhere in the sky that created the whole universe, and there is no tangible and limited self that inhabits this bag of skin. All of reality is simply infinite dharmas that arise and disappear in accord with the laws of karma. There is not one thing standing against another.

Dogen’s teaching on this precept says, “Not proceeding, not retreating, not real, not unreal. There is an ocean of bright clouds, there is an ocean of sublime clouds when there is no anger.” Not proceeding, not retreating, not real, not unreal. When we proceed from the assumption that all things have their own being that is separate and distinct from everything else, we progress and we regress. There is truth and there is falsity. We make demands. We want things to be different. We constantly try to influence and change the course of events to fit our own preconceived notions and satisfy our endless desires.

Anger is incredibly debilitating. We come into practice searching, wanting to take care of our questions and doubts. But we carry into our practice all the baggage that has prevented our life from unfolding harmoniously. The baggage is our entangled conglomeration of ideas and positions that have worked together to cause our suffering. It is the deep-seated conditioning that has stifled us and impinged on the lives of others.

We cover the inherent perfection that is originally there with our self-created notion of separateness. When somebody gets ahead of us in the dokusan line or moves ahead of us in their practice, we feel that we lose ground, and we get angry. But if we understand that there is no distinction between the two of us, we immediately return to accord with reality, and there is no anger. Yasutani Roshi said that in getting angry we actually break all of the three dimensions of the precepts—the literal, the compassionate, and the one-mind.

DaidoGraeme Dawes

If there is no self, if the action of anger is not self-centered, the energy and the content of what is being communicated becomes entirely different. The shout “Wake up!” heals. It is not for the zendo monitor’s benefit. He or she is awake. It is for the guy that is sitting there, nodding off. There is no self-centered anger in that. There is anger at the loss of opportunity to experience our enlightened nature. It is anger similar to the anger of a mother who scolds her child for running out into the road. It is there for the welfare of the child, not because what the child is doing is going to hurt the mother. Expression of such a concern can have a strong impact. There is compassion in it and it reaches people’s hearts. Sometimes it is a way of healing.

John Daido Loori Roshi was the founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order and the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery for nearly thirty years. From The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism by John Daido Loori. Copyright © 2009 by Dharma Communications.