Five precepts: an inquiry

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Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby Mouse Soldier » Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:24 pm

I have not undertaken the precepts, but I would like to at a point when I feel more comfortable in my understanding of them. In many ways, their meaning seems to be largely subjective and personal. But simply choosing to understand them in a way that matches up with the morals we were raised with may miss some of the point as well. What do they mean for you? How dearly do you hold them to your heart, and how exactly has doing so benefited you (or the world you are a part of)?

The first precept, to the best of my understanding, teaches us not to kill. This includes animals, but does not include plants except maybe in extreme cases like deforestation. While not necessary, I am working my way back into vegetarianism because of the added harm meat consumption often causes.

I'm struggling a little with this one because of my irrational fear of spiders. My home has something of a spider problem, and I find 10-20 spiders inside throughout the span of a year. In the past I killed them when I found them, but now I'm trying not to. I figured catching them and taking them outside would be a more ethical approach to their presence, but actually doing so has proven difficult. Last time I saw one I got a piece of paper and tried to get the spider onto it, but it ran in the other direction and went up a wall and I got scared and ran out of the room. A few hours later when I felt courageous enough to go back into the room, I couldn't find it anywhere. The fear is probably the root cause of the actual problem, and not the spiders themselves. But they scare me so badly :(

In my understanding of the second precept, I believe that what is not given should not be taken. This seems pretty simple in practice so far (discounting data, though there's no need to get into that in this thread), but I've wondered about eating food that roommates have bought. We've generally shared the food in the past regardless of who purchased it so many that's the approach to take, but to err on the safe side I've tried to eat mostly the stuff I buy.

I used to shoplift some. Usually food, because it can be so expensive to try to eat healthfully. I justified this to myself by stealing only from big stores that were run by millionaires who wouldn't miss the product much (they plan for theft) and may be immoral themselves, but I have since stopped. Loads of people shoplift, and that loss adds up to higher prices for those who pay. It is going to happen anyway, but at least this way I won't be a contributor. I feel better about not stealing.

The third precept seems especially hard to pin down, if only because human sexuality is so complex and varied. I feel that in modern times "sexual misconduct" translates to sexual conduct that may cause harm, but then I have a hard time defining harm. Not all of this stuff applies to me, but I'd like to discuss it to further my understanding. Cheating on a partner definitely qualifies as harm, but what about having a consensually open relationship that could potentially hurt someone's feelings? What about sadism, and masochism (or anything similar, like people that find humiliation sexually gratifying)? I don't believe that homosexuality or transgenderism is harmful in a direct way, but what if those people hurt their family because they find it so hard to accept their behavior? Or if those people suffer because of the bigger social ramifications concerning the issues?

In that last instance I believe that the actual cause of the suffering would be willful ignorance rather than the homosexuality/transgenderism itself, but it's good to question these things regardless.

Right speech is a hard one, but it's pretty straightforward in practice (as far as I can tell). If we speak sincerely, with kind intent and only when it is useful to speak, we should be safe. I struggle a lot with this one too, mostly because of my ego-centric tendencies, but at least I feel able to tell when I've made a mistake in most instances. It's probably going to take a lifetime of work in this regard to get to where I want to be, but this is something I view as worthwhile and I am making a sincere effort.

The fifth precept is a fun one, and I know there's plenty of disagreement on the matter. I won't go into detail, but I've struggled with addiction in the past and I now know that most of my drug use has been undeniably unskillful. This really has to be a personal interpretation, and while complete abstinence may be best for some people, others will disagree. The beer and marijuana culture where I live (Colorado area) is full of warmth and human understanding, so while I live among these friends that do things like brew their own beer I doubt I will be abstaining. I do need to keep myself in check though, and limit my consumption so as to avoid heedlessness. It's a balancing act, to be sure. I've found that a sober mind is best for meditation, so I never take any drugs prior to my daily sit.

Please, share your interpretations and their significance :)
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby Mouse Soldier » Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:28 pm

Oh, and what about the first precept and the issue of abortion? I feel that abortion should be legal and it should be a private affair between a women, her doctor and her family. But would it break the first precept? What does Buddhism have to say about when life begins?
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby Malcolm » Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:52 pm

Mouse Soldier wrote:What does Buddhism have to say about when life begins?


It begins at conception. Therefore, Buddhist women need to think long and hard before committing to an abortion. That said, since I do not believe in legislating religious belief into law, I am pro-choice.
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby Nighthawk » Thu Dec 12, 2013 1:00 am

Malcolm wrote:
Mouse Soldier wrote:What does Buddhism have to say about when life begins?


It begins at conception. Therefore, Buddhist women need to think long and hard before committing to an abortion. That said, since I do not believe in legislating religious belief into law, I am pro-choice.


Contradicting yourself.
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby shaunc » Thu Dec 12, 2013 2:25 am

Nighthawk wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Mouse Soldier wrote:What does Buddhism have to say about when life begins?


It begins at conception. Therefore, Buddhist women need to think long and hard before committing to an abortion. That said, since I do not believe in legislating religious belief into law, I am pro-choice.


Contradicting yourself.


No he's not. He's saying that he doesn't believe his or others religious beliefs should be made a law of the land he lives in.
Alcohol is not permitted by the 5th precept, it's a precept I choose to follow, that doesn't mean that I'm in Cavour of prohibition.
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby KeithBC » Thu Dec 12, 2013 2:48 am

There are at least as many viewpoints as there are Buddhists. Maybe more. :) Here's my take.

1. Not killing applies to sentient beings. So no killing of gods, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts or hell-beings. Killing plants unnecessarily isn't a good thing and should be avoided, but we've got to eat, and they aren't considered sentient either by traditional Buddhists or by mainstream biologists. In my view, not killing applies not only to one's own actions but also to hiring others to do the killing.

2. Taking that which is not given means just that. If your roommates are fine with your eating their food, that would be considered "given": they have given you permission. If they don't want you doing it, it's stealing.

3. I also consider this precept to apply to sexual conduct that causes harm. Harm is not that hard to define. If a person wishes you wouldn't do or hadn't done the act, it is harmful. If the person seemed fine with the act at the time but later resents the consequences, they may have some work to do on cause and effect, but I would still consider that to be harm, to the extent that you could have or should have foreseen the consequences. Breaking committments, either one's own or the other person's, is always harmful.

The traditional definitions include some of what I consider "statutory evil", things that are declared wrong just because someone said so. I don't follow that view. If it causes harm, it is harmful. If it doesn't, it isn't.

4. Right Speech seems to be less problematic.

5. I deliberately did not take the fifth precept because I did not feel I would be able to keep it. I keep it in spirit, if not in letter, in that I refrain from drunkenness. I do enjoy a glass of wine or beer on occasion, but I have never broken my self-imposed limit of 2 drinks in over 30 years.

Om mani padme hum
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby futerko » Thu Dec 12, 2013 3:14 am

KeithBC wrote:my self-imposed limit of 2 drinks in over 30 years.

That last small sherry just evaporated before the 15 years was out. :tongue:
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby Nighthawk » Thu Dec 12, 2013 8:53 pm

shaunc wrote:
No he's not. He's saying that he doesn't believe his or others religious beliefs should be made a law of the land he lives in.
Alcohol is not permitted by the 5th precept, it's a precept I choose to follow, that doesn't mean that I'm in Cavour of prohibition.


Well put, I agree.
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Re: Five precepts: an inquiry

Postby KeithBC » Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:04 am

futerko wrote:
KeithBC wrote:my self-imposed limit of 2 drinks in over 30 years.

That last small sherry just evaporated before the 15 years was out. :tongue:

:rolling: That wasn't quite what I meant, but I like it! :D

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