Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
By observing precepts, not only do
you cultivate your moral strength, but you also perform the highest
service to your fellow beings.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- killing living
- taking what is not given
- sexual misconduct
- false speech
- taking intoxicating drugs and liquor,
Besides understanding the
Five Precepts merely as a set of rules of abstention, a Buddhist should
remind himself that through the precepts he practices the Five Ennoblers
as well. While the Five Precepts tells him what not to do, the Five
Ennoblers tells him which qualities to cultivate, namely, loving kindness,
renunciation, contentment, truthfulness, and mindfulness. When a person
observes the First precept of not killing, he controls his hatred and
cultivates loving kindness. In the Second Precept, he controls his greed
and cultivates his renunciation or non-attachment. He controls sensual
lust and cultivates his contentment in the Third Precept. In the Fourth
Precept, he abstains from false speech and cultivates truthfulness, while
he abstains from unwholesome mental excitement and develop mindfulness
through the Fifth Precept. Therefore, when a person understands the
ennoblers, he will realize that the observance of the Five Precepts does
not cause him to be withdrawn, self-critical and negative, but to be a
positive personality filled with love and care as well as other qualities
accruing to one who leads a moral life.
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
Some people find it
hard to understand the significance of a few of these precepts. They think
that Buddhists are against dancing, singing, music, the cinema, perfume,
ornaments and luxurious things. There is no rule in Buddhism that states
that every lay Buddhist must abstain from these things. The people who
choose to abstain from these entertainments are devout Buddhists who
observe these precepts only for a short period as a way of self
discipline. The reason for keeping away from these entertainments and
ornamentations is to calm down the senses even for a few hours and to
train the mind so as not to be enslaved to sensual pleasures. These
entertainments increase the passions of the mind and arouse emotions which
hinder a person's spiritual development. By occasionally restraining
himself from these entertainments, a person will make progress towards
overcoming his weaknesses and exercise greater control over himself.
However, Buddhists do not condemn these entertainments.
- Sexual acts;
- 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
- 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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