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The 5 Precepts

FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

Hello everyone. I am new to Buddhism and I have a lot to learn and discover and in realizing this I also have a lot of questions. My first one is about the 5 Precepts. What happens or what could happen if we do not follow the 5 Precepts as we should? For example, what if I know a lie will cause suffering and harm to myself or others and I still lie? What is I commit adultery? Is the punishment or ill affects the same when it comes to breaking any of the Precepts. For example, stealing isn't as bad as killing an animal. Or, are there equal ill-effects in breaking any of the Precepts?

Comments

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited June 1

    I think one reason to keep them is that we don't know what the results will be. So like if an animal has rabies and is damaging things maybe kill it is a good idea where even a common person might guess that more good would come of killing the animal than letting it rampage. But strictly speaking only a Buddha might know the result of killing that animal or another way to say that is only an omniscient being would know all of the consequences. And only a Buddha would know that there is no 'entity' of an animal rampaging and nobody that is harmed by the rampage is an entity. Rather there is only the play of mind anywhere whether in a dream or in reality and whatever happens as in pleasure or pain or whatever. But only omniscient being knows consequences of every break of precept and as Federica says we are punished by our actions rather than for them. Hope I explained that correctly.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    Being from the west most of us have a Christian based sensibility about morality and metaphysical punishment. There are variations of Buddhist thought, some of which follow more closely to that. There are forms of Buddhism that follow more closely with what @federica said:

    You will not be punished FOR your actions.
    You will be punished BY your actions...

    I would recommend trying to look at karma more in that light and consider them training guidelines to help you become a more wholesome individual. We understand them to be like sticking your hand in fire, you don't refrain from doing that because you worry about being punished but because the cause and effect consequence is pain.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @Frankj said:
    Hello everyone. I am new to Buddhism and I have a lot to learn and discover and in realizing this I also have a lot of questions. My first one is about the 5 Precepts. What happens or what could happen if we do not follow the 5 Precepts as we should? For example, what if I know a lie will cause suffering and harm to myself or others and I still lie? What is I commit adultery? Is the punishment or ill affects the same when it comes to breaking any of the Precepts. For example, stealing isn't as bad as killing an animal. Or, are there equal ill-effects in breaking any of the Precepts?

    Like Fede said, there are consequences to everything we think, say, and do. What those would be for you depends entirely on the circumstances. I sort of address that here if you're interested.

  • ScottPenScottPen Maryland Veteran

    @Frankj, I'm gonna start this post with the nutshell version, and follow it up with a thoughtful take on it.

    Nutshell:

    OK I'm gonna use a bad word, I hope we're all grownups (or almost) here. The first 4 precepts can be summed up thusly: don't be an asshole. The 5th precept is there in support of the first 4: it's easier to not be an asshole when you're sober. It's also easier to meditate when you're not feeling regret and guilt from being an asshole. Regret and guilt suck, and being an asshole ruins relationships and isolates us from real connection with other people. Evolution has resulted in humans being animals that require collaboration in order to process our experiences and emotions, therefore isolation results in a whole bunch of possible psychological issues which cause us to be dissatisfied and suffer.
    Don't be an asshole and you'll be happier. The rest of Buddhism is an increasingly complex guide to accomplishing this. I'm sure many Buddhists would be indignant or decry my ignorance and wrong view or whatever, but it's how I see it at the moment.

    Thoughtful

    You may already know this...the basics of Buddhism as I see it are the Four Noble Truths (4NT) and the Noble Eightfold Path (N8P). The 4NT is like a thesis statement.

    1: We all suffer and have stress
    2: Stress and suffering are caused by clinging to impermanent things (everything is impermanent, BTW) and craving/aversion (ie: there is no way that I will be ok or happy unless I experience pleasant experiences and/or avoid unpleasant ones)
    3: There is a way to experience life without the aforementioned suffering and stress
    4: The way is the N8P

    The N8P is a very broad outline of actions and behavior that, if followed (the many iterations of Buddhism are essentially the way that different cultures have followed the N8P).

    1. Right View (the first part of this is understanding the truth of the 4NT)
    2. Right Resolve
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration

    The 5 Precepts (5P) are a general outline of #'s 3, 4, and 5, also known as "sila" in Pali, which can be referred to as "ethical behavior" or "moral virtue." The point of following or "keeping" the 5P (in my opinion) is not that there are equal and opposite direct consequences for breaking them. It's that life is easier, simpler, and the potential to be liberated from suffering is closer, when we follow them.

    lobsterpersonJasonBunks
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    'Ass' is ok. 'Hole' is deeply offensive.... ;)

    ScottPenKundo
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @Frankj said:
    Hello everyone. I am new to Buddhism and I have a lot to learn and discover and in realizing this I also have a lot of questions. My first one is about the 5 Precepts. What happens or what could happen if we do not follow the 5 Precepts as we should? For example, what if I know a lie will cause suffering and harm to myself or others and I still lie? What is I commit adultery? Is the punishment or ill affects the same when it comes to breaking any of the Precepts. For example, stealing isn't as bad as killing an animal. Or, are there equal ill-effects in breaking any of the Precepts?

    @Frankj
    How would you feel if someone stole from you? .......................................................
    How would you feel if someone lied to you? .............................................................
    How would you feel if your partner (whom you love) cheated on you?.........................
    How do you feel when you are drunk ?.....................................................................
    How would you feel if someone was trying to killed you?.........................................

    It might also pay for you to explore "Karma"... cause, condition & effect

  • namarupanamarupa Veteran
    edited June 3

    The Buddhist path has three main pillars, virtues, meditation, and wisdom. If you can maintain the 5 precepts with ease, then meditation and wisdom will come naturally along this Buddhist path. The path is considered a path to freedom from suffering. There is no great power providing reward or punishment for your following or breaking of the precepts. If you do set yourself along this path, you should know very well where you are and if anything else needs to be done, because the only thing that you start and end with is the self.

    lobster
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited June 4

    The Tibetans are pretty specific about the consequences of breaking the precepts.

    The list below from the "Precious Garland" is brief but I have seen it far more specific.

    It includes the first four of the five precepts plus the other six of the ten non-virtuous actions we should avoid.

    Make of it what you will:

    By taking life, we will be short-lived.
    Violence will bring us lots of harm.
    Through stealing, we will lack possessions.
    Through adultery, we will face rivals.
    Through speaking falsely, we’ll face slander.
    Divisive talk will separate us from our friends.
    Harsh speech will mean hearing unpleasant words.
    Gossip will cause our speech to lack nobility.
    Covetousness will destroy our hopes.
    Malice will bring us many fears.
    And wrong view will bring inferior beliefs
    
    federicalobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Great quote @Bunks

    The important thing is to move towards helpful (to us, others and society) kind and healthy behavour. The effects of trivial or vast efforts in this positive sila direction are also difficult to evaluate in some sort of karmic scaling system.

    We are moving away from the dukkha hole to a Greater Whole.

    Just remember Buddhas are people and

    people become Enlightened Buddhas

    Here we come Buddha ...

    Bunks
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    There's no way to really know the particulars of consequences, karma is just too complex. So complex that 2 different people breaking the same precept can have vastly different consequences. The Buddha compared it to dropping a salt crystal into a small cup of water vs a large river. It’s the same salt crystal but it’s effects will be quite different.

  • NMADDPNMADDP SUN Diego, California Veteran

    @Frankj below is the lecture series about the Five Precepts
    [English] Buddhist Morality: The Five Precepts - Lecture 1 - 6 - Ven. Hong Ci

    A Mi Tuo Fo

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited June 7

    All over a half hour long, each.
    Please be mindful also, that this is just one view.
    The first video states that the buddha stipulated newly-ordained monks should study Buddhist morality for the first 5 years. However, "Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy."

    From here.

    These videos are long. But if anyone chooses to view them, gain what is skilful, appropriate and relevant.

  • FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

    Thank you you all so much for all the input and knowledge. I will be watching the videos for sure.
    What is someone chooses to repeatedly break a precept? Should they not practice or move on from Buddhism. Can you be a "good" Buddhist overall if you do not adhere to all the precepts?

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    If you repeatedly choose to break the precept, the accent is on 'choose'.

    What are you referring to, exactly?
    because it strikes me on the face of it, that you are seeking some kind of 'get out clause' or 'permission' of some kind.
    What are you repeatedly doing, exactly?
    Drinking?
    Smoking cannabis?
    Having sex with your neighbour's wife?

    I think, in order to give you a specific response, we really need more specific input, @Frankj ....

  • FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

    I heard this example before in regards to purposely breaking a precept or lying. Say a Nazi is hunting for Jewish people door to door and a person is safeguarding Jewish people in their home. To tell the truth would cause harm and death to the Jewish people, but to lie will save the Jewish people. Although the person is lying and breaking a precept their intentions are good.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited June 7

    Oh that old chestnut? Goodness. We have discussed this numerous times.

    Read here.

    other threads with similar comments:

    Right and wrong

    Previous discussion on 5 precepts

    Feelings on lying

    Is lying ever acceptable?

    What would the Buddha do?

    If you look at the age of the threads, you will see this is something of a repeated question. ..

  • FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

    Thank you Federica.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    No probs. If you don't ask we can't help.

    ;)

  • FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

    Amen

  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran
    edited June 7

    The purpose of the Five Precepts Vows is as a self-teaching vow.
    Let's take the one about not stealing.
    Say you see something and you feel your desire welling up inside of you .. then automatically you reach out and take it.
    Okay .. the Buddhist approach is to stop that impulse and instead REST with it. Observe it. SEE within yourself how that desire/attachment is making you uncomfortable. How NOT blindly following our impulse creates discomfort.
    THIS is the learning lesson. And this is the learning lesson that starts to broaden our understanding and insight, and that gradually produces inner change.

    If you choose to break the Precept, you lose the opportunity to learn and grow.

    Oh, well, my Lama says that if you do something good there is merit/good karma /imprints earned. But if you have VOWED to do that good deed and then you do it, you get much MORE merit than someone who did it but had not taken the vow.
    And by the same token, to do a harmful thing creates negative imprints within us. But if we have vowed to NOT do it, and then we do it, there are stronger karmas made.
    So this business of taking vows accelerates/strengthens our imprints/karma.
    So I have been taught. I cannot speak from personal experience.

    ShoshinJeffrey
  • FrankjFrankj Colorado, USA Explorer

    Thank you FoibleFull. That expains things perfectly. I grew up catholic-ish so I was viewing the Precept like the commandments.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Frankj said:
    Thank you FoibleFull. That expains things perfectly. I grew up catholic-ish so I was viewing the Precept like the commandments.

    The very first response you received in the thread - from me, as it happens - clearly states that the Precepts are not commandments. Maybe you missed that.... :)

    I also grew up Catholic (without the -ish!) and always resented the Commandments for their intransigent and inflexible stance.
    So when I first came upon the 5 Precepts, it was a liberation for me.
    It never occurred to me to view them as commandments, from the get-go! :+1:

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