The Five Precepts

I’m under the impression that most folks have some standard of conduct that acts as the framework for their personal behavior.  It might be some set of religious vows or the practice of ethical standards.

There are two major reasons for the vows or ethics to exist in human society.  The first need is to have guidelines for an orderly governance of a social grouping of people.  The second need is to construct patterns of behavior on an individual level to enhance and encourage personal growth and happiness.

Obviously, if we allow for people to just run about the streets and countryside doing whatever comes to mind without considering the wants and needs of others, society will quickly degenerate to a state of very dangerous chaos.

The same might be argued on an individual scale.  Doing things willy nilly, however ones mental impulses mindlessly conjure up, will lead to a dangerous person who we’d consider to be a classic criminal.

Some people see the need to enforce strict prohibitions such as those of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Ten Commandments.  Other people understand the need for a personal choice via an ethical list that enhances life for themselves and others without a base in fear.

The difference between some set like the Ten Commandments and a set like the Five Buddhist Precepts is that the precepts are recommendations and that the power of the precepts comes from the spirit of each precept and not the particular wording of the text.  Precepts are useful in that it is assumed that the person who wishes to practice them possesses basic intelligence.

If a person looks over the Five Precepts, one can instinctively understand why they are the building blocks for a happy state of mind.  A cursory study reveals that following these suggestions will lead to a more skillful, harmonious manner of interpersonal relating.

Here is the set of Five Precepts of which I write.

I undertake to observe the precepts to abstain from:
1.–harming or killing living beings.
2.–taking things not freely given.
3.–sexual misconduct.
4.–false speech.
5.–intoxicating drinks and drugs.

The first is obvious from a human standpoint.  Murder and mayhem just don’t promote goodness nor the skills for getting along with one another.  How far we take this precept is where we might differ. Cruelty to humans and animals is legally prohibited in most civilized cultures.  Killing people is strongly discouraged.  Killing animals is up for debate.  Personally, I don’t condone killing at all.

The second precept is also socially enforced.  It’s a really good idea to not steal someone else’s stuff or to take liberties in “borrowing” things.  If a person respects the property of other people and others respect that person’s property, the person will undoubtedly enjoy a happier life.  This is hardly controversial.

The third precept is a bit trickier.  Abstaining from sexual misconduct.  Cheating on ones partner comes to mind.  Forcing sexual acts upon someone who is unable or unwilling to freely grant mutual consent is almost universally forbidden.  The particular physical acts may or may not be personally preferred, but as long as the behavior is consensual, there should be no problem in modern society.  There is considerable difference of opinion on this point.

The fourth, false speech, is considered to be lying, libelous or slanderous communication and misleading statements.  Being forthright in ones communications leads to a more skillful life in which a person’s interpersonal and personal ways of living are more harmonious and simple.  There is some allowance for little white lies that are told to assuage another person’s feelings.  “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?”  We are probably wise to reply with a kindly, “no”.  There is even some debate about that point.

Number five, abstention from intoxicating drinks and drugs is a bit trickier.  In the larger sense, people tend to enjoy getting a buzz.  We found out that legally prohibiting such behavior doesn’t work.  Whether it concerns prohibition of booze or the war on drugs, both have been ineffective.  It is more to the point to prohibit the use of controlling substances in conjunction with operating motor vehicles or using dangerous machinery.  The chance of harming or killing others is considered when these prohibitions are exercised.  If a person does choose to not drink or smoke dope, he or she will find that mindfulness and skillful behavior are enhanced.  I think this should be a personal decision.  There are others who strongly disagree with me.

My point is that if a person chooses to enjoy a happy, harmonious life, one should seriously consider trying out the Five Precepts in their own life as an experiment.  If a person finds that they don’t work, that’s OK.  We are all free to live life as we see fit with our own ethical behavior.  This list is just one very useful example.


The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that there are five more precepts for the very, very serious practitioners to follow.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, cultural highlights, Health, Meanderings, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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