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