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Obstacle 3: Doubts About Keeping the Precepts

Many people hesitate about learning Buddhism because they think that, after taking the three refuges, they also need to observe numerous precepts afterwards. However, the Buddha did not formulate the precepts as a constraint; instead, they are meant to help practitioners protect and guard their bodies, speech and mind. Understanding the spirit of the precepts, one will no longer see upholding them as an obstacle to Buddhist practice.

Many are daunted by the requirement of having to follow multiple rules after taking up Buddhist practices. For example, it is forbidden to smack mosquitoes for biting us because it violates the precept of not killing living beings; lying is not allowed in light of the precept of refraining from false speech; and, one may no longer have the chance to enjoy an ice cold beer on hot summer days after taking the precept of refraining from intoxications. This way of thinking keeps many away from troubling themselves to engage in Buddhist practice, fearing that there will be so many rules and precepts waiting for them. This is, in fact, a misunderstanding of the meaning and function of receiving the precepts.

Buddhist precepts remind us not to engage in harmful acts to ourselves and others. Moreover, they are meant to protect ourselves and other people. Four of the Five Precepts—not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, and not lying—constitute the basic code of ethics to be followed by Buddhists, whereas the precept of refraining from intoxication prevents us from behaving irrationally after drinking alcohol. The precepts constitute a safety net for one’s Buddhist practices. One can thus come to understand how keeping the precepts can positively influence one's body mind and life. But, where do we start regarding Buddhist practice? We can start by emulating the Buddha’s bodily, verbal and mental actions. To engage in spiritual practice is to amend ourselves, correct our wrongdoings, and cultivate virtues. We may unintentionally offend others with rude remarks, but in receiving the preceptsm we will take care not to say harsh words, learning to speak gently and kindly instead. In doing so, we will develop in wisdom and compassion.

Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, once made the following analogy: “Precepts are like antiseptics for Buddhist practitioners.” He stressed that the more we uphold the precepts, the more we are able to leave our affliction behind, while planting more of the causes for our liberation.

Resource: Issue 267 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Lee-kha Su (蘇力卡)
Translation: The DDM editing team 
Editing: Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠), Keith Brown