Precepts For Our Time

"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves."
The Dhammapada

One of the basic truths is that before you can change the world you’ve got to change yourself. We cannot relieve suffering while we are bound to the emotions that create suffering. If we work for peace with fear and hatred in our hearts, we will be confounded. If we teach morality without learning to control our cravings, we will succeed only in teaching cynicism. In order to foster wisdom in others, we must develop it in ourselves.

Meditation helps us to see ourselves and the world more clearly. It is a tool for cutting through the fog of delusion. In meditation we develop mindfulness, which allows us to be more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and responses. Seeing through delusion we become aware of the unity and interdependence of all things. We see our relationship to the whole of life. The illusion of separateness disappears.

When we get up from meditation we hope to carry with us into the rest of our lives the clarity and right intention we’ve attained while sitting. This requires the practice of holding awareness as we go about our lives. When we are mindful of our actions, we see more clearly the effects of our behavior. We come to understand how our thoughts and behavior affect our moods and how they affect other people.

It is helpful to have guidelines for living a thoughtful and connected life. Twenty five hundred years ago, the Buddha gave his followers a set of precepts to aid them in living an enlightened life. Thich Nhat Hanh, a great contemporary Buddhist teacher has updated The Five Wonderful Precepts to make them clearly applicable to our time. They are presented below in the hope that you will reflect on them and make them part of  your practice. Thich Nhat Hanh says of them, "The Five Precepts are not prohibitions to restrict freedom, and they are not an authority which we have no choice but to follow. The precepts are the fruit of our mindfulness and experience. Because we are mindful, we can see that the precepts protect us and our happiness, as well as that of those with whom we live. We take the vow to receive and practice the percepts only because we see the benefits of observing them."

The Five Wonderful Precepts

The First Precept

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, and plants. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

The Second Precept

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving-kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, and plants. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth.

The Third Precept

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

The Fourth Precept

Aware of the suffering cause by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, using words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Precept

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in my self and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett