The Five Precepts
from a talk given at Benedict's
am going to speak on the five precepts.
five precepts are the foundation of Buddhist practice. Some
of the five precepts are found in the Noble Eightfold Path under
the category of personal discipline. In that category we find,
right speech, right action and right livelihood.
If the launching pad is askew, the rocket takes off and misses
the mark. The foundation is very important to the rest of the
sturcture. The five precepts are the foundation of Buddhist
What is right speech? The Buddha said there are four kinds of
unskillful speech. They are false, malicious, harsh, and gossip
or iddle chatter. Those four kinds of speech always increase
When I was a volunteer at a state prison for men, I realized
these men already understood the importance of right speech.
If they said the wrong thing at the wrong time, they could be
killed. Talk about a great incentive to speak skillfully.
If they made you feel uncomfortable, they would say, "Excuse
me." If they needed something, they would say, "Please."
If you gave it to them, they would say, "Thank you."
Skillful speech reduces suffering, and you don't need to be
a great yogi to do it.
There are three kinds of action that always increase suffering:
Killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The Buddha said killing
causes much suffering, all creatures have a desire to live.
I was surprised that a cockroach might enjoy and cherish his
life, but you try to kill one, and they'll run away. And those
ants in your kitchen, they want to go on living as well.
It's a cruel joke, if you truly want to hold this precept, you
are doomed to failure. Because everything we eat, was at one
time alive. Killing is a part of living.
A vegetarian might say, "You know, I don't kill anything."
I would say to him, "That's because you can't hear the
screams of the broccoli."
are all faced with the same dilemma, which is not should I kill,
but what do I need to kill to stay alive. Vegetarians choose
to kill the lowest life form they can, while meat eaters just
aren't as picky. But let me say here, I am not aware of anyone
achieving enlightenment because of what they ate. The Buddha
ate meat, he ate what was offered.
Being a police chaplain puts me in an interesting place, especially
with the first precept, not to kill. I have received e-mails
from police officers asking, "It's sometimes necessary
for me to use lethal force, from a Buddhist perspective what
should I do?
I reply in this way, "Never kill out of hatred and anger.
Only service and duty. The consequence of your actions will
be greatly reduced if your intention is one of service and duty
to the community."
a zen story I'd like to share with you about a samurai warrior.
a great battle, and a shogun was killed. It became the Zen samurai
warrior's duty to revenge the death of the shogun, and it took
him an entire year to find the culprit.
One morning at 4:00 am, he went to this small house in an outlying
village. He knocked on the door and it swung open. There, standing
in the doorway was the man he had been looking for an entire
year. He could now revenge the death of his shogun and go home.
He pulled his sword to slay the man, but just as quickly put
it back in the sheath and left.
was, as he pulled his sword he was filled with a great anger
and hatred. He would have to come back another day to fulfill
his duty in the proper way. He had made it personal.
Beside the problem of taking life, it is really hard to be born.
In the Buddhist tradition, we feel that life begins when a sperm,
an egg, and karmic energy come together in the womb. The karmic
energy necessary for life is called gandhabba, in the early
Buddhist language of Pali. In Buddhism karmic energy is what
transmigrates from lifetime to lifetime, not the soul.
being reborn as a human and the chances of that occuring, like
a giant ocean, and at the bottom of that giant ocean is a one-eyed
turtle. Every hundred years this one-eyed turtle comes to the
surface for a breath of air.
Floating in the great ocean is a wooden yoke, having fallen
from the neck of an ox. The chances of that one-eyed turtle
surfacing through the center of that wooden yoke, are the same
chances we face being reborn as a human being.
Now, there are times when I might have to kill.
have to kill something like a bug, I try to be as conscious
as I can. I don't just react. I think about the consequence's
of my actions, and my accountability.
If there is any way not to kill -- Well for instance, if there
is a spider in the corner of the zendo. I could go and fetch
a jar and chase the spider down, and then take him outside.
It may take five or ten minutes, but in those five or ten minutes
I can reflect on the value of life, his life and mine.
Now, I know it's only a matter of time until that spider comes
back, and I'll have to do it again. But that's okay, it's good
practice and in the end, my practice benefits the spider and
When people ask me, "How I feel about war?
I share with them my sadness over the loss of life. Governments
come and go. Nations are here today, and gone tomorrow. The
lines drawn on this earth by politicians, have been redrawn
many times. Ending the lives of humans, animals, and insects
because of certain views or agendas is really stupid. It's very
unskillful karma and it causes a lot of suffering.
is always a big deal, no matter what's being killed, an ant
or a human. Though human life turns out to have a bit more value,
because a human can achieve nirvana, an ant can't, until it's
been reborn as a man or woman.
Okay, on to something else. Stealing, what's wrong with stealing?
We all own or at least think we do, and are attached to stuff.
In Sr. Meg's case, she uses stuff, but doesn't own it, because
of her vow of poverty. Most folks think they own the stuff they
use, and that's where the problem comes in. And some people
have so much stuff, they rent storage lockers to store the excess.
Now, if somebody comes and takes the stuff you think you own,
you're going to be really bummed out. A lot of the young people
in juvenile hall are there because they didn't understand this
concept, they took the stuff people thought they owned.
In order for us to live in community we need to respect each
other's stuff, even if ownership is just an illusion. Okay,
enough said on owning and stealing.
come to sexual misconduct. In Los Angeles where I come from,
it's okay to do or be anything you want. When I was a young
man growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. I could only do half the
stuff they do today, and I felt guilty about that.
Today you can be, bisexual, homosexual, tri-sexual, trans-sexual,
non-sexual, a-sexual, always sexual, etc. It's so confusing!
The idea of finding the right combination, or your true sexual
identity, is very seductive.
Buddhism says, ultimate satisfaction is never going to happen.
The activity of sex will never ultimately satisfy your desire
Now, is that a bummer or what? I mean you can have sex a thousand
times and want it a thousand one. When you seek satisfaction
through sexual activity, your desire only gets stronger.
I'm thinking it's a lot like hunger, and to be honest with you
I'm getting tired of being hungry.
hungry every day of my life. I'm hungry in the morning, and
I have breakfast. I'm hungry in the afternoon, and I have lunch.
I'm hungry in the evening, I have dinner. Sometimes I'm hungry
after dinner, and I'll have a snack.
I'm thinking if I could end my hunger forever, I'd have a lot
of extra time and money. So tomorrow morning I'm going to get
up real early, and I'm going to eat as much as I want, as often
as I want. I'm going to be so full that I'll never want to eat
If I could somehow do that, it would only take a day of two
to be hungry again. That is essentially how sexual desire works.
It's the same deal.
What did the Buddha say specifically to lay people about sex?
He said four things.
do not have sex with people who are married. Do not have sex
with people who are engaged. Do not have sex with people who
are being supported by their parents -- children. And do not
have sex with people against their will.
That's all he said. He didn't say anything else. I'm assuming
he felt every community, every city, every state, every nation
would initiate their own laws, their own way of moderating sexual
He did say a lot to monks and nuns about not having sex... Let
me say there is nothing wrong with sex. Sex is wonderful...
It's the desire for sex that keeps getting in the way of our
Celibacy offers a monk or nun greater flexibility in how they
live their life.
I don't look at not having sex as a penalty. I look at it as
an opportunity. When I stopped having sexual relationships,
I started to see myself in a totally different way. Not having
sex became part of my inner exploration, part of my practice.
not having sex end suffering? No, it just means you suffer in
a different way. Desire in not ended by not having sex, desire
only ends with Nirvana.
Okay, now we come to right livelihood. The Buddha said there
are certain kinds of livelihood that increase suffering, and
certain kinds of livelihood that decrease suffering. For instance,
it's not skillful to be a butcher, or sell drugs and alcohol.
It's not skillful to sell human beings... slavery, or to make
poison. Certain livelihoods aren't conducive to Buddhist practice
because the create more suffering, not less.
One time I was teaching a meditation class, and I was talking
about right livelihood. A woman in the class was a bartender,
and she never came back after my little talk. I see now, I should
have been more skillful. So, if you find yourself involved in
a livelihood that seems to increase suffering, just don't quit
your job. It's really hard to find work, and there may be people
dependent on your pay check. Retrain yourself, and then seek
I was giving a talk at USC to a group of business majors. One
of the guys came from a Buddhist family and asked if it was
okay for a Buddhist to make a lot of money. I said, "Oh,
yes, think how much more money you can give away."
There is one precept I haven't talked about yet, and I'm a bit
hesitant because it's the hardest one for some folks. So, let
me go over the five precepts, and then I'll talk about the fifth
The first precept is, and it's said this way -- the wording
is very important -- "I accept the training precept not
The second precept... I accept the training precept not to steal,
not to take what is not given.
comes to mind about the second precept that was played out in
real life for me at a Buddhist conference.
There was this monk, he was eating lunch and he had this beautiful
red apple sitting on the table in front of him. One of the other
monks -- not from his tradition -- was taken aback by how beautiful
it was, and picked it up and said, "What beautiful apple,
I bet you're going to enjoy eating this one," and he set
it back on the table.
Now, the first monk who was going to eat the apple, couldn't
touch it until it was reoffered to him. Because, as soon as
that second monk touched the apple, ownership transfered to
him. So, please, don't touch a monk's food.
Okay the five are... I accept the training precept not to kill.
I accept the training precept not to steal. I accept the training
precept not to indulge in sexual misconduct. I accept the training
precept not to lie. I accept the training precept not to consume
The fifth precept... Not to consume intoxicants.
A lot of people want to become Buddhists, but enjoy a beer or
two once in awhile. So,
at the IBMC where I live, we changed the fifth precept for lay
people to read... Not to consume intoxicants to the point of
Now let me say here, there anything wrong with wine or beer?
In fact, they have some medicinal qualities. The problem with
consuming any alcoholic beverage is... Sooner or later it will
steal your wisdom. If enough of your wisdom is stolen, you might
break the other four precepts and not even know it.
How hard won is wisdom?
sit quietly for hours at a time, go on long retreats, read Buddhist
texts, listen to their teachers, and try to be mindful of everything
they do. All it takes is a few beers, and it's all out the window.
When you start to see how much time you've invested in your
wisdom, not drinking makes perfect sense.
Eventually it becomes clear: Why, not killing, not stealing,
not indulging in sexual misconduct, not lying, not consuming
intoxicants is the path to freedom, and leads to end of suffering.
the five precepts is a way to live in the world and not cause
by Rev. Kusala
I Became a Buddhist
Buddhists go to Heaven?
Buddhists Believe in God?
Problem With Sex in Buddhism
Enlightenment vs Nirvana