The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom

Despite the lack of discussion here at In a Dark Time, I have been steadily reading books, just not spending the time needed to actually make sense of them or discuss them (strangely enough, I like to make sense of them before I start writing about them, and not after the comments). I’m still having a hard time deciding what it is I want to focus on now. Most of my reading has had “happiness” or “finding meaning” in life as a central theme, but I’m not sure that many of the books I’ve read have really helped me to define “happiness” or to find it any better than I could before, though perhaps there has been a gradual movement toward some conclusions.

As part of that process, I have just finished reading The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom by Joan Halifax that comes closer than any book I can remember reading to reflecting my overall values, though Halifax’s experiences in both Buddhism and Shamanism go far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, or, perhaps, quite believe. The book gathered together at least three different strains that I’ve touched on repeatedly in this blog: Buddhism, Shamanism, and deep ecology. In my mind I tend to separate them, but Halifax does an excellent job of exploring each and showing how they are interrelated.

I’ll spend several upcoming entries discussing the book, but for the first time I think I’ll begin with the last pages of the book, the appendix, where she lists the Precepts of the Order of Interbeing which she apparently took from Thich Nhat Hanh, another writer I’ve discussed earlier.

Consciously, or unconsciously, I have followed these precepts most of my adult life, with a couple of notable exceptions, as indicated in parenthesis after the precept.

The First Precept: Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.

The Second Precept: Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth.

The Third Precept: Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threats, money, propaganda, or even education. (One of my central tenants all those years I taught. I found it difficult to team-teach with teachers who pushed their beliefs on students, particularly if they used their beliefs as part of their grading criteria.)

The Fourth Precept: Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. (Hard to do that when you spent most of your adult life as a caseworker and teacher.)

The Fifth Precept: Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. (See the above entry.)

The Sixth Precept: Do not maintain anger or hatred. (This is a hard one; I preferred to think of my anger as “righteous indignation,” but I also worked at eliminating that anger, too.)

The Seventh Precept: Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. (I need to explore in more detail what is meant here.)

The Eighth Precept: Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. (Some parents objected rather vociferously to the “liberal” textbooks and novels that I often taught in my classes.)

The Ninth Precept: Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people.

The Tenth Precept: Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community enjoyed political party. (Since I don’t have Buddhist community per se there’s no temptation here.)

The Eleventh Precept: Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. (Some students seemed to believe that education was harmful, but I never really believed that.)

The Twelfth Precept: Do not kill. (I don’t think I ever did, but it’s hard to tell when your government has you spraying machine gun bullets into the underbrush to suppress enemy fire.)

The Thirteenth Precept: Possess nothing that should belong to others. (See above, again.)

The Fourteenth Precept: Do not mistreat your body. (I try to believe that all those years I spent playing basketball were actually good for my body.)

I’ve only taken the first sentence from each of the precepts, but it might be worth buying the books just to read them in their entirety. If you don’t want to get the book, this site presents a more thorough discussion of each point, though not exactly the same discussion provided in Halifax’s book.

6 thoughts on “The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom

  1. I’m particularly struck by the first two of these precepts, which reveal such a yawning gap between most approaches to Buddhism and Christianity. While the likes of D.T Suzuki and Thomas Merton pursued rich dialogue and found cause for optimism in the common ground between their traditions, I have come to think they were and remain the exceptions. Precept No. 2 in particular flies quite directly in the face of Christian claims to absolute truth being revealed in Jesus. (Muslims hold the same with Mohamed.) And all the doctrines flowing from Jesus’s appearance on earth are, to varying degrees of intensity, rather inviolate among those who would call themselves Christian. Ultimately, the two traditions make very different truth claims, however much their mystical core and mystical practitioners meet up in mystery and silence.

    • I do remember being somewhat shocked the first time I read this idea in a Buddhist work. Perhaps that’s one of the greatest appeals of Buddhism to Western liberals and intellectuals.

  2. I so appreciate stopping by and finding this post. I’ve been looking for something to read and this book sounds like the right thing for me. I did a little “look inside” at the book on Amazon and was utterly surprised to find one of my blogging buddies in Port Angeles is listed in editorial support. Small world. Thank you for the suggestion.

      • Yes, I’m the same Robin. We moved from Port Townsend back to California a couple of years ago. Living in the Sierra foothills now. I look forward to reading this book. It sounds like a great read on a rainy afternoon.

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