Less than a month from now a new group of noble people will be taking 5 vows.  Buddhist’s try to follow a set of guidelines for cultivating and maintaining spiritual health, called the Precepts.  The most basic set of precepts found in the Buddha’s teaching is the pañcasila, the five precepts, consisting of the following five practices (something we never fully master but always strive for) :

(1) Abstaining from taking life;

(2) Abstaining from taking what is not given;

(3) Abstaining from sexual misconduct;

(4) Abstaining from false speech; and

(5) Abstaining from fermented and distilled intoxicants which are the basis for heedlessness.

I waited for years to take these vows because I was so afraid of blowing it on number four.  The month before taking my Right Speech vow, I spent some time exploring deep silence…  I walked two miles nearly straight up to the top of a monastery in Northern California, New Camaldoli Hermitage, where I planned to do a 10-day silent retreat.   I didn’t make it 10 days, or even 5 but that’s another story that concludes with me falling into relapse because of the Amos Lee song “Black River” blasting on a passing car radio and nothing could stop me from singing along.

But before my inevitable collapse of intentions, I had one of the most sacred experiences of my life… I spent days eating in silence, walking in silence, being with others all in silence.

I will never forget the intense sound of my heart beating.

The purpose wasn’t the silence.  I wanted to rest a while and cleanse myself before I took the vow to practice right speech.

On my 4th and final day before my relapse I found a prayer from Chofetz Chaim, translated by Rami Shapiro, stapled to the wall in the kitchen.

After reading the prayer a hundred or so times I knew it would be instrumental in my new commitment to right speech:

“Grant me the capacity to keep my mouth and my ears from gossip and slander.  Let me not stereotype anyone or fall into the trap of blanket condemnation.  May I avoid falsehood, flattery, strife, anger, arrogance, hurt, shame, mockery, and all other manner of hurtful speech.  Give me the courage to speak truth with compassion and humility, using my words to further justice, kindness, and respect.  May my thoughts, words, and deeds be for healing”

I still blow it all the time but I’m glad I took the vow and re-commit to this noble practice each and every day.

Progress not perfection, as they say.