I consider myself to belong to a global, fact-driven, science-based community. We are connected not just in spirit, but with common values and cutting-edge technology. We struggle politically with forces of ignorance, bigotry and greed. Should each of us face these challenges alone? To me it seems obvious that we should cultivate community, organize, and grow.
This merging of personal lifestyle and public engagement is where we as a secular society can learn from certain religious traditions. A written set of rules centered around meditation and ethics can be helpful for individuals and groups. Such discipline is not a burden, but rather, the way to freedom.
Codes of daily conduct as a community have been passed down for centuries. Practices are modified to adapt to the fluctuations of place and time. It is even possible to utilize this storehouse of wisdom to help us stay centered, balanced and fluid in our busy modern lives.
The Rule of Saint Benedict and the Benedictine tradition teach us much about monastic discipline. The rule is built on religious scripture, of course, and not science. Anyone interested in an evidence-based discipline must make some adjustments to Benedict’s Rule.
The most ancient extant Indian Buddhist Vinaya (monastic texts), were based on the Buddha’s own instruction, and are still used in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. They are quite involved in every detail of the monk’s life, and often the rules are arbitrary, certainly not based on scientific evidence.
The ninth century Baizhang regulations embodied the Chinese Chan adaptation of the Indian Vinaya. They are known only through passages quoted in later works, and somewhat reconstructed in Dongyang Dehui’s fourteenth century regulations. The Chanyuan Qinggui (Rules of Purity), the oldest existing Chinese Chan monastic code, were published in 1103.
These Chinese Chan “Rules of Purity” inspired Dogen’s rules for Soto Zen monasteries in Japan, known collectively today as the Eihei Shingi. Zen practice has spread around the world, faithfully teaching the essentials of meditation, while adapting monastic rules to the circumstances.
Religious rules are not scientifically formulated, of course, but those above and others are useful today as models for designing a scientific monastic code and community by-laws. Spiritual wisdom, like the Bodhisattva Precepts or the Sermon on the Mount, can help inspire and instruct ethics statements.
We never leave the past fully behind, so we should turn its lessons to our advantage. We can do this together, making a difference in our own lives as well as the lives of others. Let us live in the present and pass along only our very best to the future.