Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

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Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby andyn » Sat May 05, 2012 9:34 pm

I've learned that the Buddha only has "No lying" as the precept for lay person, how come when it comes down to Chinese tradition, there were three more factors (No double-tongued speech, No abusive speech, and No frivolous speech) added to the 4th precept? Also, usually most of the books I read defines the "No frivolous speech" as "manipulative speech to cause harm to others or to take advantage of them". But one book by Master Sheng Yen defines "cracking jokes and unbenificial talk" as this category, and he said that with four friends meeting, laughing and joking, they are sure to have committed in the breaking of this precept if they have received the five precepts.

I've noticed that "frivolous speech" is defined by the Buddha as being unwholesome, but in a sense that if you do harm to other (such as spreading gossip behind other people, or to manipulate others to your advantage, etc), but for a lay person, cracking jokes or having casual discussion of sports, entertainment should be OK... I don't like the idea that such casual conversation is considered "breaking a precept", that ought to be for the monastery environment. For lay regular people who have family and friends, I felt that is such a heavy burden... since the only way to not break this precept is to not socialize at all, even to your family member. Is the precept that strict?
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Will » Sat May 05, 2012 9:50 pm

The standard five lay precepts of refuge differ from the first 5 of the 10 vices. In the latter case, harsh, divisive and foolish speech are added to lying.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby andyn » Sat May 05, 2012 10:57 pm

Will wrote:The standard five lay precepts of refuge differ from the first 5 of the 10 vices. In the latter case, harsh, divisive and foolish speech are added to lying.


Harsh, divisive and foolish speech are considered to be lay precepts in Chinese Buddhism, but not in the Theravada tradition. Being in the Chinese Buddhism tradition (received 5 precepts as a kid), my concern is with foolish speech, that seems to have a very broad definition, saying things that are "unbeneficial" would be one of its definition. So, discussion of sports, telling jokes... would fall under this category, and my question is if a lay person who do these things break this precept?

What I'm getting at is, I'm OK when this foolish (frivolous) speech is just considered an unwholesome act, but not when it is made a precept. My logic here is that sometime a precept made by the Buddha is not because of its evil nature but because he wanted to prevent his follower into falling into evil act or doing worldly deeds that cause disharmony to the monastery, but if a follower breaks these precepts, he still committed sins. Therefore, I feel like committing sins by having fun with my family and friends, because I do like sport, movies, and telling jokes (not dirty) to make other people laugh, etc...
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sat May 05, 2012 11:11 pm

Hi Andyn,

The additional parts of the 4th precept are all the factors of Right Speech (samma-vaca in Pali). There exists a tradition in Theravada where one takes the Ājīva–aṭṭhamaka–sīla which breaks up the precepts as follows:

1. Abstain from killing
2. Abstain from stealing
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct
4. Abstain from false speech
5. Abstain from malicious speech
6. Abstain from harsh speech
7. Abstain from useless speech
8. Abstain from engaging in wrong livelihood and drinks and drugs causing heedlessness*

(Please note that this set is slightly different from the eight precepts that people staying at the center must follow.)


Source: http://www.bhavanasociety.org/page/lifetime_precepts/

I believe a similar process may have been responsible for such a development in Chinese Buddhism. Also, many Theravada lay groups here in NYC have substituted "false speech" with "wrong speech" for the 4th precept. Be well!
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Will » Sun May 06, 2012 12:15 am

Andyn, when I took refuge many years ago, in the Chinese tradition, the only one of the five precepts dealing with speech was 'no lying'. The 10 vices to be avoided are certainly encouraged to be so avoided. But there are not 4 speech precepts among the 5 lay precepts.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby andyn » Sun May 06, 2012 1:36 am

I found the original text from Ven. Sheng Yen's book where he said if 3 or 4 friends gathered together laughing, joking, they are sure to commit in breaking this precept. So as far as I'm concerned, the people who took on this precept cannot socialize or having worldly discussion? Wouldn't that make the layperson's environment into a monastic type? And if that's the case, I would've seen A LOT of COMMON buddhists constantly break this precept. :((

From http://www.jcedu.org/fxzd/zgl/jlxgy3.htm
妄语之中的大妄语,除非是不知惭愧不解因果的人才会造次,常人最易犯的是小妄语,最难戒的是绮语;犯两舌、 恶口的机会,不会太多。如有三朋四友聚集一起,兴高采烈,谈笑风生,保证他们犯了绮语罪了(如果他们已受五 戒的话)。所以,修行人应该守口如瓶。

Google Translate:
Lie among the big lie, unless I do not know shame people would be rash not understand cause and effect, the ordinary people most vulnerable to commit a small lie, the most difficult to quit Words and Flowery Expressions; opportunity to commit Liangshe, bad mouth, not too much. If three friends and four friends gathered together, happily, laughing, to ensure that they committed the crime of the Words and Flowery Expressions (if they have been affected by the Five Precepts, then). Therefore, the practice should be tight-lipped.

I'ves also found a discussion here in a Chinese forum http://bbs.jcedu.org/archiver/?tid-2535.html, but I wasn't able to understand much using Google translate.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Will » Sun May 06, 2012 1:40 am

Andyn, see if these Dharma teachings help:

http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/F ... cepts.html
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 06, 2012 6:20 am

andyn wrote:I've learned that the Buddha only has "No lying" as the precept for lay person, how come when it comes down to Chinese tradition, there were three more factors (No double-tongued speech, No abusive speech, and No frivolous speech) added to the 4th precept?


There are the five basic precepts which include a precept against lying. What you are referring to is the path of ten virtuous karmas (Skt. daśa-kuśala-karma-patha) which are refraining from ten non-virtuous activities as follows:

1. 不殺生 not killing
2. 不偸盜 not stealing
3 不邪淫 not committing sexual misconduct
4. 不妄語 not lying
5. 不惡口 not speaking harshly
6. 不兩舌 not speaking divisively
7. 不綺語 not speaking idly
8. 不貪欲 not craving
9. 不瞋恚 not becoming angry
10. 不邪見 not holding wrong views

These ten form the fundamental discipline and morality for all Buddhist practitioners. Chinese traditions may use this list in further explaining the five lay precepts or even monastic rules.


But one book by Master Sheng Yen defines "cracking jokes and unbenificial talk" as this category, and he said that with four friends meeting, laughing and joking, they are sure to have committed in the breaking of this precept if they have received the five precepts.


The idea is that nonsensical speech is a waste of time and misleads people away from what they should be doing. However, almost every monk or nun you'll ever meet will probably joke around. This can be beneficial in that it creates both fellowship and a sense of ease and friendship in the community, however joking about engaging in non-virtuous activities and gossiping about others is not beneficial, so it is best avoided.


I've noticed that "frivolous speech" is defined by the Buddha as being unwholesome, but in a sense that if you do harm to other (such as spreading gossip behind other people, or to manipulate others to your advantage, etc), but for a lay person, cracking jokes or having casual discussion of sports, entertainment should be OK... I don't like the idea that such casual conversation is considered "breaking a precept", that ought to be for the monastery environment.


You'll find most monastics are not stoic types who seldom engage in unnecessary conversation.

Casual conversation about the weather or news is one thing (it might even be beneficial to know these things), but discussing at length the faults of others, revenge or questionable activities will only lead to harm and should be avoided.

Speech is a very powerful force. It can literally move mountains when utilized by the right person. What we say often leads to physical action and decisions are made based on what has been said. This is why we must guard our speech. You will do more harm than good if you speak nonsense. You will benefit yourself and others if you speak of virtues, generosity, right views and the virtuous qualities of others.

To actually carry this out is something else. We are so habitually conditioned to speak nonsense and use our speech in non-virtuous ways, whether we recognize this or not. This is why cultivation of mindfulness via meditation is essential. When you sense what you are saying or about to say is pure nonsense that will only harm others or lead them away from virtue you cease it at once.

For lay regular people who have family and friends, I felt that is such a heavy burden... since the only way to not break this precept is to not socialize at all, even to your family member. Is the precept that strict?


Precepts are a means to an end. The spirit behind all of them is to do no harm to others or to yourself. The whole point of discipline is to restrain oneself from harming others and fostering conditions which only lead to suffering, both for oneself and others.

Just examine your speech and ask if it is beneficial or not. If you know it might harm others, then cease speaking.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby andyn » Mon May 07, 2012 1:46 am

I would like to ask those who accept the "no frivolous speech" as precept, what is your take on this? Do you think having friends together, joking and laughing is breaking the precept? I've heard that if you repeatedly and intentionally break a precept that you've received, even it's a light one, the consequence would be severe. Also, with this being not officially considered a precept handed by the Buddha, does it need to be treated in the same way?
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue May 08, 2012 3:31 am

andyn wrote:I would like to ask those who accept the "no frivolous speech" as precept, what is your take on this? Do you think having friends together, joking and laughing is breaking the precept? I've heard that if you repeatedly and intentionally break a precept that you've received, even it's a light one, the consequence would be severe. Also, with this being not officially considered a precept handed by the Buddha, does it need to be treated in the same way?


Hi Andyn,

I think Huseng's post above covers the topic pretty well. No need to engage in mental gymnastics trying to determine what and what isn't against the precept. It's much more important simply to be attentive to one's speech, and especially to the intention behind it.

If you look carefully at social situations I think you'll find that a great deal of joking and laughing is done at the expense of someone else. Most people spend conversational energy talking about others, often in ways that would be hurtful if those others were in on the conversation. And when we're not doing that, we're busy trying to call attention to ourselves. So, sure, it sounds harmless enough just to be chillin' with friends, but if you had the conversation transcript in front of you it might be surprising to see how much negativity there is.

I don't think the point of the precept is to turn into some sort of joyless, statue-like person who never cracks a smile.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Indrajala » Tue May 08, 2012 5:57 am

andyn wrote:I would like to ask those who accept the "no frivolous speech" as precept, what is your take on this? Do you think having friends together, joking and laughing is breaking the precept? I've heard that if you repeatedly and intentionally break a precept that you've received, even it's a light one, the consequence would be severe.


Karma is intentional action of the body, speech and mind, thus we need to examine our intention behind such actions.

Joking and laughing with a friend about their bad hair day is innocent and not negative, but mocking a fellow co-worker behind their back in hopes they get fired and to improve your own opportunities in the organization would be a very negative and malicious action indeed.

It all comes down to intention.

Also, with this being not officially considered a precept handed by the Buddha, does it need to be treated in the same way?


There are actions which are naturally misdeeds and then there are misdeeds which are a result of breaking a precept commitment one has undertaken.

Whether you have the precept or not, maliciously speaking ill of others behind their back, for example, is unwholesome karma.
In the case of alcohol, consuming it in itself is not a natural misdeed, though having a precept commitment prohibiting consumption of it would result in a misdeed as a result of violating the precept.

You cannot quantify precepts and the consequences that result from them. Severity is determined as a result of one's mental state. For example, having to purge your gut of parasite worms is one thing, but going out into the bush, digging up worms, torturing and killing them with a grin is something entirely else.
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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby andyn » Tue May 08, 2012 9:35 am

So when I received this precept, the master (who I now have no contact with) did not explain the meaning of this "frivolous speech" concept, in fact, the language meant something like using flattering or flowery comments to take advantage of others, or in some form to bring other down and show off yourself. From what I read and ask around, everyone in my tradition would interpret that to be the meaning, and no mention of frivolous talk. So now, I've just understand another meaning to this: cannot talk senselessly. That is to say, when I took the precept back then, I did not understand the concept and did not commit myself to guard against frivolous talk. In that case, would I be considered breaking the precept when I do frivolous talk, now that understand another meaning to this? I'm talking of religious crime, not natural crime/karma.

Regards,

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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Seishin » Tue May 08, 2012 10:49 am

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. In my opinion, because it wasn't made clear to you at the time, you had no idea you were breaking your precept so therefore you are clear of any guilt. But don't worry about the past, it's pointless. Use your new knowledge to great effect. Karma is not a fixed point, it's not set in stone, it's changeable. So change it. :twothumbsup:

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Re: Discrepancy in 4th precept for lay people

Postby Dave The Seeker » Tue May 08, 2012 11:56 am

http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/budethics.htm

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.


Pretty clear in this explanation.
I take this as to be mindful of what you say, if it's something bad or untrue about someone it's wrong.
If it brings harm to someone it's wrong.
If it belittles someone it's wrong.
If it is a lie to benefit yourself while harming others (all lies harm someone) it's also wrong.

Make every attempt to be true and kind with your words and you've done the best you can to follow this precept.
Talking and joking with friends, as long as it's not causing someone else harm would be fine in my understanding

Kindest wishes, Dave
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