February 05, 2007

Stealing Time

Andrew Merz

Here I am, on Monday morning, writing my Friday blog entry. Whenever I'm late I think back to what was probably the first talk I heard on the five precepts, the standard ethical guidelines for us lay Buddhists. One of the many points made that had me shaking my head in resignation to the irrefutable logic of the precepts - at that point I was still learning the basics, but I already had that feeling that there was no turning back (arg!) - was a very interesting interpretation of the second precept, undertaking to abstain from taking the not-given. My teacher pointed out that one thing some of us often take from others without their giving of it is time. Basically, when we're late for an appointment with a friend, we are stealing their time.

Now, I've been an accomplished procrastinator for as long as I can remember - I recall being saved by a snowstorm in what couldn't have been later than fourth grade when I had failed to complete an important book report the night before - and just generally tardy as well. Ok, more like consistently than generally. For far too long I had tried to play this off as some sort endearing absent-minded-professor quality. If I hadn't convinced my friends of the legitimacy of this concept, I had at least convinced myself. In other words, I never mean harm, I just can't help it! Head-in-the-clouds and so forth, a dreamer, a lovable time-loser, and whatever other positive spin I could put on it.

But here was someone putting it in clear ethical terms--I was taking something that was not given. And not just anything, but precious, fleeting time. (Luckily, I had already learned at that point that guilt isn't considered useful in Buddhism.) Alas, just as with most of the dharma, this idea rang true for me.

Am I always on time now? That's really not the point. Let's just contemplate the importance of right view. That's what I tell my boss, anyway.

Andrew Merz, Associate Editor

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seekingfor's picture

Great post.

Both insightful and very funny.

I think that the second precept does cover a lot of territory beyond the simple "don't steal", I appreciate you pointing to another layer of it.