Bhante Sukha Sambodhi of TTVMC in Riverside, CA, found an odd quirk among many of his American born practitioners. He mentioned this to myself and two friends while we were spending a weekend meditating at his meditation center. The quirk was in the ordering of the teachings, which were reversed from the MO of Buddhist practice in his native Burma. Precepts always came first before people committed to sitting. Instead, many of Bhante Sukha’s American students dived right into meditating without a solid teaching and experience with the precepts. This has been variously noted by other meditation teachers as well.
I myself have not formally taken on precepts, my own reasoning being that I may inevitably take life, steal, philander, lie, or use intoxicants and would be unable to hold myself to that standard of conduct. If after finding a community of practitioners close enough to home and heart, I may consider otherwise. They could keep me honest. This attitude however, could be to everybody’s detriment.
A community of Buddhists who hold precepts up high would help its own members hold onto their precepts, perhaps for dear life. The example of shunning has been used in other groups with mixed results. Good results being that more of its members could stand straight in line, and bad being a simple, inflexible and hard-line brutality towards complex actions in life.
My own practice would be put at jeopardy as well. I could be the best sitter in the group, but would do little more than vegetate if I depended entirely on others for my own ethics and well-being. And maybe that is what it comes down to: my own well-being. Rather than being a sole object while meditating, breathing while sitting would provide but one more distraction from dealing with past negative actions and would do little to prevent future transgressions. Maybe some restraints aren’t so bad.