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Q3:Is there any room for flexibility in upholding the precepts? If so, how do we maintain this flexibility without losing the spirit of the precepts?

The Buddha formulated each precept based on its respective causes and conditions. However, he always remained flexible and was willing to make changes and modifications when any problems arose in upholding them. For instance, the Buddha once asked a young bhikkhu why he was so thin, to which he replied that he had not been eating enough for quite some time.
At the time, a disciplinary rule stated that young monks must stand up and pay respect to every veteran monk who passed by, which made it difficult for him to eat properly without being interrupted. Upon learning this, the Buddha revised this precept to state that it was fine not to stand up while the monks were having their heads shaved, eating, reciting sutras, and meditating. Understanding the causes and conditions of these circumstances is essential for grasping the genuine meaning of upholding the precepts.
In 2008, I participated in the relief efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the Wenchuan Earthquake. At the time, many Burmese devotees who came to make offerings to the monastics would bring food containing onions. During the early stages of our earthquake relief project in Sichuan, it was difficult to even find a vegetarian restaurant nearby. So, we had to handle the situation skillfully, in order not to cause problems for each other, thereby compromising the important tasks at hand.
I believe that if the causes and conditions are favorable, intentionally breaking the precepts may entail indulging in laxity. However, should we insist on keeping a certain precept when the circumstances are unfavorable, it might mean that we are forming an attachment. Nonetheless, we must remain careful and vigilant with the phrase “Don’t be so attached,” lest we use it as an excuse for not observing the precepts. For example, some people think that Buddhist practice is meant for us to learn how to be at ease and not become attached. According to this view, having a sip of alcohol does no harm. But if we are not careful enough, consuming alcohol may cause us to suffer from a temporary loss of consciousness, which may in turn lead to negative consequences. Therefore, while practicing flexibility, it is important to maintain awareness and cultivate self-discipline at all times.

Extended Reading:

Observing the Precepts Allows One to Feel at Ease

To Observe Precepts, One Needs to Have the Right View and Follow the Middle Path

Using the Psychology of Habit to Create the Right Conditions for Keeping the Precepts

Keeping Precepts, a Life Experiment

Q1: I love and enjoy freedom. So what if I lose my freedom after receiving the precepts?

Q2: Why are we afraid of taking the precepts when we clearly know that it is good for us? How do we overcome this uncertainty?

Q3: Is there any room for flexibility in upholding the precepts? If so, how do we maintain this flexibility without losing the spirit of the precepts?

Q4: Is it enough to just do good deeds regularly, or is it necessary to also observe the precepts? How should the precepts be broadly applied in our daily lives?

Q5: How do we encourage our family and friends to observe the precepts? What if they cannot take the whole precepts all at once?

Resource: Humanity Magazine #445 (人生雜誌第445期)
Translated by: Ariel Shen (沈純湘)
Edited by: Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠), Keith Brown
Photo: Yao-chung Chang (張曜鐘)