"I’m not sure I remember anymore what I was looking for when I first came to Buddhism — some kind of meditative lens, I suppose. But, what did I think that would really be? Whatever it was, I didn’t get it.
I do remember, though, that I was not looking for some new set of moral guidelines. I was a fairly uptight kid already, and I think I saw in Buddhism a path toward loosening up a little, trying on a different me. So when I got handed the precepts, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I’m sure I didn’t always interpret them according to their original spirit; honestly, I’ve always held them clumsily, with far more questions than answers. But I’ve never put them down since.
The basic five go like this:
Do not kill (refrain from destroying living creatures).
Do not steal (refrain from taking what is not given).
Do not misuse sex (refrain from sexual misconduct).
Do not lie (refrain from incorrect speech).
Do not indulge in intoxicants (refrain from substances that lead to carelessness).
On the surface, these seem impossible to really uphold: the internet keeps telling me that I’m eating pounds of bugs in my sleep, as one example. And in today’s economy, how can we always know what is given or not given? If I click “Like” just to be supportive, is that a lie?
At the same time, the precepts are ambiguous enough that we can, if we’re so inclined, weave some convincing stories about how the thing we most want to do is actually the exception to the rule. Eventually, they can become mere background noise. But they can also — if we remain open to what they mean in each new circumstance — provide a framework of questioning that turns the lens of this practice away from ourselves and toward how we can serve others. They can give us, at least in this moment, a place to stand."
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