Having recently taken the Five Precepts, many friends and Family members have asked me to explain exactly what the Five Precepts are. This has also opened up a discussion to understand more deeply what it means to take these precepts.
First of all, precepts are not rules or laws like one may think of in other religious practices. Precepts are a commitment to the self in making a strong determination to living a compassionate life, and one that is of benefit to all sentient beings.
I would like to offer my personal understanding on the full intentions that are contained within each precept.
1. I take the precept to give up killing.
The simple understanding of this, of course, would be that we do not kill any person.
But a fuller understanding would be that we would not be the cause of any other sentient being to suffer or die. One example of this is in the eating of meat. When we eat meat, we are the cause of suffering and killing. But it is up to the individual to decide just how fully they wish to undertake this intention and precept.
2. I take the precept to give up stealing.
We usually thinking of stealing in terms of robbing a bank or grocery store. But there are far more ways that any of us may steal. We can steal ideas and hopes. Our actions towards our children can steal their future.
There are so many ways that we can steal, if we are not mindful of our words and actions.
3. I take the precept to give up sexual misconduct.
This one always garners a lot of questions! And personally, I think that any actions that are outside of legal, ethical and good morality would certainly qualify as sexual misconduct.
4. I take the precept to give up lying.
At first glance, this may appear to be an easy precept to understand and undertake. But at a deeper level, one needs to look at the honesty one holds toward the self. Most find this to be much more difficult than being honest towards others. Do you demonstrate outward kindness to others, yet sometimes harbor resentment or hostility towards that very same person?
Examining our words and actions to observe their genuineness is a key to the cessation of lying.
5. I take the precept to give up drinking liquor and taking substances which lead to infatuation and carelessness.
This is another precept that draws many questions. Many people find they are comfortable with taking this precept so long as they can occasionally have a drink of wine or glass of beer. And while this is permissible, the truer intention of this precept is the complete abstinence of anything that affects ones thinking or reason.
I would take this even a step further in saying that one is to be mindful and dutiful in everything that is put into our bodies.
So that’s it, the Five Precepts, and my personal examination of them. I certainly welcome and encourage your thoughts and comments. And my wish is that we may all live compassionately and in peace with one another.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.