E. Ethelbert Miller asked, "What is the major distraction that often finds people 'straying from the path'?"
I can best answer this on the basis of my personal experience. In my last post, I mentioned the 10 Precepts, which are commonly found among many Buddhist traditions. They are taken by laity and monks alike, and I took them as a layperson or upasaka in the Soto Zen school with mendicant monk and peace activist Claude AnShin Thomas. The first ten Precepts I took are as follows:
1). Do not kill.
2). Do not steal.
3). Do not engage in improper sexual conduct.
4). Do not lie.
5). Do not indulge in intoxicating substances.
6). Do not speak of other’s errors and faults.
7). Do not elevate self and blame others.
8). Do not be withholding, but instead generous.
9). Do not give way to anger.
10). Do not defame the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha.
I knew the Precepts long before I engaged in the formal ceremony, because all my adult life I've tried to live most of them. But the ceremony does make a difference in one's attitude---I experienced the same seriousness that I did forty-one years ago when I made my marriage vows. The ceremony made the Precepts feel as if they were truly a part of me.
Whenever I describe these Precepts to American friends in the academic and art worlds, many of them balk and say, “I can’t do that” when they hear #5 (“Do not indulge in intoxicating substances” ), #6 and #7 (“Do not speak of other’s errors and faults,” and “Do not elevate self and blame others”), and especially #9 (“Do not give way to anger”).