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  • Michal George

Ethics and values of being a mindfulness teacher (Part 2)

Updated: Jun 15

I am a longtime Zen practitioner. Zen is the lovechild of Chinese Taoism and Indian Buddhism. It can further be categorised as part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and therefore in accordance with what I understand as the objective of any Mindfulness Based Program (MBP): to be of benefit to others, and reduce their suffering. Some years ago I took what are known as Zen Precepts, which are modelled on monastic vows but for lay people are understood as aspiration for healthy living. Traditionally the five vows are: no killing, no lying, no stealing, no drinking or drugs, no sex. My main guiding teacher for some time now, Antony Osler interprets them as DOs rather than DON’Ts. These are what he calls the Five Embodiment Precepts I have vowed to uphold:


  • To honour life and death

  • To speak honestly and kindly

  • To practice generosity

  • To live with a clear mind and an open heart

  • To be intimate


I’d like to take these aspirations into the space of teaching MBPs. To honour peoples’ experience, their own felt sense of what it means to be living a human life; to extend the kindness of my words to include the shakiness of my own voice when I tremble at times of personal anguish and vulnerability; to be generous in my listening, so I can cultivate the patience to hear what is waiting to be said; to connect authentically to others with dignity and grace.


A day of Zen practice typically ends with the sangha chanting the Four Vows. At Poplar Grove Zendo near Colesberg where Antony and Margie Osler guide their retreats, they go like this:


Wherever there is suffering, we vow to open our hearts.

In the depth of delusion, we vow to wake up.

Dharma paths are everywhere, we vow to walk them all.

The Way is deep and wide, we vow to embody it.


These daily reminders, modelled on the impossibility of the attainment of perfection, always relax me into being. Realising that there is no way to attain the immeasurable and in fact nothing to attain, I can release into presence and be of service to others. I can open myself to anguish, wherever I find it, including within myself — the realisation of the existence of suffering and a gentle acknowledgement is the force which binds me to the hearts of others. To accept my own humanness is to honour that I am subject to the coercion of delusion, and the loss of insight — when wisdom is overrun by cloudiness or disappears. That when I realise that this is happening, the promise is to stop, wait, be still and solitary, to turn towards the shadows, to welcome them as guests. The essence of Zen practice is to find the heart of every moment. Or to find one’s heart in it, and then an appropriate response. It’s distinctly simple: When you speak, I listen. When someone trips and falls, I go and pick them up. To realise this is to walk the daily Dharma paths and to embody the Way. The Buddha Way, of sincerity and kindness: “It’s nice to see you again!” “I’ve really missed your smile.” May these aspirational aphorisms. inform the unfolding of the programs and courses I am to teach.



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Cape Town, South Africa

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