By observing precepts, not only do you cultivate your moral strength, but you also perform the highest service to your fellow beings.
Every country or society has its code of what are considered to be moral actions within its social context. These codes are often linked to the society's interest and its code of law. An action is considered right so long as it does not break the law and transgress public or individual sensitivities. These man-made codes are flexible and amended from time to time to suit changing circumstances. Important as they are to society, these man-made standards cannot serve as a reliable guide to some principles of morality which can be applied universally.
By contrast, Buddhist morality is not the invention of human minds. Neither is it based on tribal ethics which are gradually being replaced by humanistic codes. It is based on the universal law of cause and effect (kamma), and considers a 'good' or 'bad' action in terms of the manner it affects oneself and others. An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being.
Buddhist morality addresses a very common, yet crucial question: How can we judge if an action is good or bad? The answer, according to Buddhism, is a simple one. The quality of an action hinges on the intention or motivation (cetana)from which it originates. If a person performs an action out of greed, hatred, and delusion, his action is considered to be unwholesome. On the other hand, if he performs and action out of love, charity, and wisdom, his action is a wholesome one. Greed, Hatred and Delusion are known as the 'Three Evil Root', while love, charity and wisdom as the 'Three Good Roots'. The word 'root' refers to the intention from which that action originates. Therefore, no matter how a person tries to disguise the nature of his action, the truth can be found by examining his thoughts which gave rise to that action. And the mind is the source of all our speech and action.
In Buddhism, a person's
first duty is to cleanse himself of the mental defilements of greed, hatred
and ignorance. The reason for doing this is not because of fear or desire
to please some divine beings. If this is so, a person is still lacking
in wisdom. He is only acting out of fear like the little child who is afraid
of being punished for being naughty. A Buddhist should act
out of understanding and wisdom. He performs wholesome deeds because he
realizes that by so doing he develops his moral strength which provides
the foundation for spiritual growth, leading to Liberation. In addition,
he realizes that his happiness and suffering are self-created through the
operation of the Law of Kamma. To minimize the occurrence of troubles and
problems in his life, he makes the effort to refrain from doing evil. He
performs good actions because he know that these will bring him peace and
happiness. Since everyone seeks happiness in life, and since it is possible
for him to provide the condition for happiness, then there is every reason
for him to do good and avoid evil. Furthermore, the uprooting of these
mental defilements, the source of all anti-social acts, will bring great
benefits to others in society.
Lay Buddhist morality is embodies in the Five Precepts, which may be considered at two levels. First, it enables men to live together in civilized communities with mutual trust and respect. Second, it is the starting point for the spiritual journey towards Liberation. Unlike commandments, which are supposedly divine commands imposed on men, precepts are accepted voluntarily by the person himself, especially when he realizes the usefulness of adopting some training rules for disciplining his body, speech and mind. Understanding, rather than fear of punishment, is the reason for following the precepts. A good Buddhist should remind himself to follow the Five Precepts daily. They are as follows:
no killing living creatures
no taking what is not given
no sexual misconduct
no false speech
no use of intoxicating drugs and liquor,
The precepts are the
basic practice in Buddhism. The purpose is to eliminate crude passions
that are expressed through thought, word and deed. The precepts are also
an indispensable basis for people who wish to cultivate their minds. Without
some basic moral code, the power of meditation can often be applied for
some wrong and selfish motive.
In many Buddhist countries, it is customary among the devotees to observe the Eight Precepts on certain days of the month, such as the full moon and new moon days. These devotees will come to the temple early in the morning and spend twenty-four hours in the temple, observing the precepts. By observing the Eight Precepts, they cut themselves off from their daily life which is bombarded with material and sensual demands. The purpose of observing the Eight Precepts is to develop relaxation and tranquillity, to train the mind, and to develop oneself spiritually.
During this period of observing the precepts, they spend their time reading religious books, listening to the Teachings of the Buddha, meditating, and also helping with the religious activities of the temple. The following morning, they change from Eight Precepts to the Five Precepts intended for daily observance, and return home to resume their normal life.
The Eight Precepts are to abstain from:
Taking food after the sun had crossed the zenith.
Dancing, singing, music, unseemly shows, the use of garlands, perfumes, unguents and things that tend to beautify and adorn the person, and
Using high and luxurious seats.
Observance of precepts
(both the Five and Eight precepts) when performed with an earnest mind
is certainly a meritorious act. It brings great benefits to this life and
the lives hereafter. Therefore, a person should try his best to observe
the precepts with understanding and as often as he can.
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