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Buddhism 101 - Be a lamp upon yourself

The Five Precepts


The Five Precepts are recommendations given by the Buddha proposed to be lived by one who wishes to lead a peaceful life while contributing to the happiness of family and society. The Five Precepts are voluntarily observed by lay Buddhists. But they are not commandments that have to be strictly abided by. They form the basis of universal morality in the Virtue aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is very important in the beginning of practicing the Buddhist path.


Are Precepts fixed rules?

Following the precepts blindly without Wisdom and understanding is never encouraged. The Five Precepts should never be stuck by blindly disregarding the circumstances; there are sometimes exceptional occasions when upholding them might create more suffering for others, proving unwise. At these times, the Five Precepts might have to be bent. (For instance, we might have to tell white lies to protect someone in danger- this is "bending" the Fourth Precept which is against lying.) Whenever any of the Five Precepts is not upheld, it should only be for the welfare of others and not for selfish gain.

What are the benefits of Precepts?

The Buddha once told a priest that it is much better to "sacrifice" one’s unwholesome conduct by observing the Five Precepts than killing animals to "sacrifice to the gods". He taught that observing them not only expresses one’s gratitude for present good fortune, but also increases the opportunity for happiness and good fortune in the future. One who mindfully observes these five training guidelines of wholesome conduct will find peace in everyday life and is unlikely to bring trouble upon oneself or others.

Are the Five Precepts hard to observe?

The Five Precepts are never meant to restrict as they protect oneself and others when observed well. Breaking a precept is not considered a sin - it is seen as an unskillful act due to the lack of Wisdom. A lay Buddhist may find the Five Precepts difficult to observe completely and constantly in the beginning, but one should not be disheartened. Even if one is able to observe only one or two precepts successfully, one is already laying the foundation for happiness now and in the future. One may make a daily renewal of one’s determination to observe the precepts to remind oneself of the ideal way of life one should lead. One should try his very best to achieve this ideal. In doing so, one will discover inner peace and always be at ease with the world. We have to remember that though we are imperfect, we can all strive towards perfection.

How do I take the Five Precepts?

To show that one is resolved to observe the Five Precepts, a Buddhist may recite them before a Buddha image or repeat them after a monk. The ceremony for receiving the precepts is usually after the ceremony of going for the Threefold Refuge.

What are some other Precepts?

All other sets of Buddhist precepts, including the Eight and Ten Precepts (Precepts for Lay Buddhist Training and Retreats), the Bhikkhu and Bhikkuni Precepts (Precepts of Monks and Nuns) and the Bodhisattva Precepts (Precepts to benefit as many as possible), are extensions of these Five Precepts.

The First Precept:
Respect for Life: To Not Kill ; To Protect

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life
(so that I will practice Compassion by protecting and benefiting all life)

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake the precept to cultivate Compassion and protect human, animal and plant life. I am determined not to kill or injure, not to let others do so, and not to support any act of physical or mental harm.

The Second Precept
Respect for Personal Property: To Not Steal ; To be Generous

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking the not given
(so that I will practice Generosity by sharing and giving my material and spiritual wealth)

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, injustice, theft and oppression, I undertake the precept to cultivate Loving-kindness for the well being of people and animals. I will practice Honesty and Generosity by sharing my wealth, time, energy, empathy, encouragement and other resources, especially the gift of Truth with those in need. I am determined not to possess or steal anything (including time- by being late or irresponsible at work) that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others and the public and prevent others from profiting from suffering of any living being.

The Third Precept
Respect for Personal Relationships: To Not Indulge the Senses ; To be Content

I undertake the training rule to abstain from misconduct regarding objects and subjects of sense pleasures,
(especially adultery, so that I will practice contentment and channel my energies towards spiritual development)

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I undertake the precept to cultivate responsibility and protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love, responsibility and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of others and myself, I will respect the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Aware of the suffering caused by sensual indulgence, I will also not mindlessly indulge my senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and/or mind in the sense pleasures (eg. shows, music, food, sex etc.) such that I am distracted from the path towards self-improvement.

The Fourth Precept
Respect for Truth: To Not Lie ; To Be Truthful

I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech
(and other unwholesome modes of speech, so that I will communicate positively)

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and inability to listen to others, I undertake the precept to cultivate loving speech and deep listening to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve them of their suffering. I will speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news, criticise or condemn on that which I do not know for certain. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord in family or community. I will make the effort to reconcile and resolve conflicts big and small.

The Fifth Precept
Respect for Mental and Physical Well-being: To Not Take Intoxicants ; To Be Mindful

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking alcohol, and that which causes intoxication
(so that I will be more healthy and not break the precepts through loss of mindfulness)

Aware of the suffering cause by unmindful consumption, I undertake the precept to cultivate good physical and mental health, for myself, my family and society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in body and mind, and the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol, drugs or any other intoxicant, or to ingest foods or items that contain negative elements so as to cultivate greater awareness, attention and clarity of mind. I am aware that to damage my body or my mind with these poisons is to let down my family and society. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by balancing a physical and mental diet. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for positive self and society transformation and advancement in Mental Development.

(This precept is sometimes interpreted as either total abstinence from intoxicants or as permissible moderate intake so long as there is no indulgence of the senses or impairment of health or mindfulness. The best safeguard is total abstinence, which better ensures mindfulness in following the first four precepts.)

Source: Phor Kark See web page, https://www.kmspks.org

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