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Volume 6 no 1


The Five Precepts are fundamental to
Humanity Vehicle Buddhism

The Buddha has made it clear to us that in reality it is not difficult for people to be reborn human beings life after life provided that people conduct their lives righteously. For instance, we must accord filial piety to our parents, respect our teachers and elders, are neighbourly to those around us, and do our utmost for harmony and happiness in the family. We must pursue a right livelihood, one that is not at the expense of other sentient beings, be diligent and strive to improve our skills. As citizens, we must abide by the laws of our country, and fulfil our national duties and responsibilities. Besides being good citizens and observing the code of ethics and morality, we must also refrain from killing, refrain from stealing, refrain from sexual misconduct, refrain from telling lies and refrain from the consumption of alcohol. These five abstentions are called the Five Precepts.

1. Refrain from killing
We should refrain from taking the lives of any living being because this is the cause for rebirth in the three undesirable realms (animals, hungry ghosts and hell). To be reborn as a human being, first and foremost, we must refrain from killing. If all people observe this precept, then many calamities in this world can be avoided; for example, the suffering arising from illnesses, atrocities of fighting and war, natural disasters and epidemics. Observing the precept of not killing as a cause shall reap having good health, longevity, and endowment with beauty and good personality as the effects. To refrain from killing does not only mean to avoid committing the act of killing personally, it also means that we do not instruct others to kill and to ensure that no act of killing is committed for our sake. This precept also extends to refraining from providing any of the conditions that might lead to the taking of lives, such as the sale of tools and equipment that are used for such purposes. Not only must we refrain from killing; we must also protect the lives of all sentient beings. In this way, we develop our compassionate mind. A compassionate mind is fundamental to all good deeds.

2. Refrain from stealing
Stealing refers to robbery and theft of properties that belong to other people. It includes those taken away by force, without due notification, without consent, by deceit and infringement of the owners' right, etc. According to the principles of Buddhism, stealing covers an even wider area. It includes taking anything without the consent of its owner, be it a trivial blade of grass, a leaf, a stalk of flower or a plant, or a piece of thread or a needle. Conspiracy to cheat is considered stealing too. It includes overcharging customers or giving the customers less than what they pay for, infringing other people's rights for personal benefit, not returning what was lost by others, failure to repay a loan, taking advantage at other's expense, tax evasion, fabricating false accounts, paying less postage fees or bus fare than what is due. Not only does the Buddhist precept forbid people to steal, but we must also refrain from instigating others to do so, or creating any of the conditions that induce others to steal.

3. Refrain from sexual misconduct
Besides the sexual relationship between a lawfully married couple, or between the husband and his mistress who is approved of by the wife, and which is in line with nature, the law of the country and the code of morals, all other relationships are deemed promiscuous. This precept advises against sexual intercourse between husband and wife at improper times and places, at excessive frequencies or in ways that are harmful to the body. It also disapproves of casual sex, sexual intercourse during the daytime, sexual intercourse with infants, between people of the same gender or with animals. Prostitution or the like, sexually tempting literature and all forms of pornography are also in breach of the precept as they contribute to creating the conditions for sexual misconduct.

4. Refrain from telling lies
Lies are false speech or words that are not true and not based on facts. These include claiming to have seen or heard when they have not actually seen or heard, and the use of words that cause confusion and harm to others. Even countries forbid false declarations, fabricating false evidence or false accusations and have enacted laws that impose severe punishments for such offences. It is natural, therefore, that the Buddha-dharma that sees so clearly the universal phenomenon of cause and effect forbids false speech.

It is stated in "The Buddha speaks on Xu-Lai Sutra" that "those who do not speak the truth firstly deceive themselves, and secondly are not in accord with the code of ethics. Their mouths emit foul smells, their words are worthless, others denounce them, they are spiritually haggard and they deserve no mercy. Their bodies will change in colour, their blessings are depleted, and their names and status tarnished. Certainly people who are wise and virtuous do not approve this kind of dishonest conduct. They lose the fundamentals of morality. They are treated with contempt. They bring destruction upon themselves by obstructing virtuous paths that lead to good prospects. They lead themselves into defilement and darkness, and bring misfortune upon themselves in their next life."

The Buddha's teachings are true and we should heed His advice and observe the precepts.

5. Refrain from consuming alcohol
Alcohol can intoxicate our mind. It is also used as medicine to treat certain illnesses when consumed together with concoctions of herbs, and in limited amounts. Alcohol aids blood circulation. Apart from these, alcohol can confuse the mind, and cause the loss of wisdom and resulting in ignorance and foolishness. Many evil acts are committed as a result of intoxication, such as stealing, sexual misconduct, killing, arson, cheating and many other crimes. In the Sutra of Good and Evil Retribution, the Buddha speaks of 36 kinds of wrong doings that stem from intoxication. These wrong doings will lead to disasters and innumerable ensuing repercussions. Therefore, Buddhism advises against the consumption of alcohol. Not only must we refrain from consumption ourselves; we should not offer or encourage others to do so. The sale or brewing of alcoholic drinks breaches this precept. It is only by refraining from the consumption of such intoxicants that all people will be able to maintain a sober mind, thereby developing their wisdom and creating a world of peace.

Because of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication by the human race,
what would have been a blissful world is turned into an impure land of suffering. At the same time, they sowed the causes for having to suffer helplessly in the three undesirable realms.
With his great compassion and loving kindness, the Buddha, for the sake of purifying human life and the world we live in, advises us to observe the Five Precepts, to maintain our human body lifetime after lifetime and to "avoid committing all that are evil and perform all that are good". Furthermore, the Buddha advises us to aspire for the Bodhi-mind, practise the Bodhisattva Path, build a pure land in this world and realize the greatest objective of transforming the Saha world into a Buddha Land. Thus, it is for this reason that the Five Precepts are fundamental to Jen Chen Buddhism.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre