Most people want to live a safe, healthy, and happy life. How do we proceed toward
this ideal? The Buddha provided us with five precepts to guide us on our way to individual
liberation. We are to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and
taking intoxicants. Not just for Buddhists, these precepts are basic to the major
spiritual traditions and ethical teachings in our world today.
Precepts are not to be adhered to merely on a literal basis. We need to understand
their logic, so as to better judge how to wisely follow them. If we understand the
intention behind a precept, we will be better able to adhere to its inherent meaning
when encountering new or difficult situations.
The first precept is to refrain from from killing. This precept In Buddhism, not
killing is the reverence for all life and is founded on compassion. All animals fear
death and experience pain when hurt. Understanding this, we can try to be mindful
of everything that we are doing.
We will find this easier to do if we understand that we are not superior to animals.
Within every being is a true nature identical to that of all Buddhas. They, like
us, have the ability to awaken one day and uncover their true nature.
The objective as we progress in our practice of compassion and no killing, is to
not even give rise to a single thought of irritation, much less to anger. Compassion
must be experienced and felt, not just understood on an intellectual level. Only
when compassion and gentleness are an active part of our being will we stop reacting
out of anger and hatred. Left unchecked, anger and hatred will eventually result
in killing. Only when loving-kindness is a functioning part of us will we end the
wars within and between each of us and attain peace for all.
The second precept is to refrain from taking what is not given. By not taking anything
without permission, we will be free of nagging thoughts of having done something
wrong. Even if an object appears not to belong to anyone, taking it will break this
precept. Just as the deeper meaning of abstaining from killing is compassion, the
deeper meaning of not stealing is giving.
The third precept is usually interpreted as refraining from sexual misconduct. However,
this precept is actually addressing any sensual indulgence, craving for food, sensations,
and much more—not just sexual misconduct. Sensual indulgence distracts us from our
inward search to find lasting happiness and freedom. It wastes our energy and leaves
us with escalating wishes. It is detrimental to be controlled by our senses; instead,
we need to refrain from indulging our senses. This will help us to feel more in control
of our lives, to be more self-confident.
The fourth precept is to refrain from telling lies. We are to do nothing to deceive
others for our benefit or for the benefit of those close to us. Instead of separating
people with careless speech, we can use speech to bring others together, creating
understanding and harmony.
Not lying also means that we speak at the right time and in accordance with the facts.
We are logical and say what is useful. We do not gossip or boast. This will stop
us from creating negative consequences for ourselves. Because we are honest and thoughtful,
we will have the trust and respect of others. And by not offending others or causing
dissension, we will get along well with people.
While the first four precepts are widely held, the fifth precept of refraining from
taking intoxicants is not universal. Understanding the underlying meaning behind
a precept will help us to better follow it. For example, the precept enjoining the
abstention from intoxicants is really telling us not to take anything that would
impair our judgment or that might harm others or ourselves. By refraining from consuming
intoxicants, we will stay healthier as well as not have to regret any harm our actions
We also need to be wary of the consumption of toxins in what we see and hear. The
toxins of violence, hatred, and fear in television programs, movies, books, and the
Internet are just as influential and damaging. We do not need to go to extremes on
this. We just need to be careful in what we consume through each of our senses, and
to make wise choices in what we read and view.
Bottom line, precepts are not designed to prevent us from having a good time. They
help us to find and develop the inner strength to think and conduct ourselves correctly.
Actually, by knowing how to be more mindful in our thoughts, speech and conduct,
we will feel freer and less worried about behaving improperly or inadvertently hurting