Like Captain Jack Sparrow says, the Pirate’s Code is not necessarily a code of sorts or rules, but more of a guideline that the Pirate’s Of The Caribbean live by. As the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism is like a guide, so are the 5 precepts. Some traditions have more than 5 but we’ll stick to just the 5 for now. I’ll go into each one a bit, and give you my take on it. Please, if you have something to say and or add, please comment below.
The precept wording I am going to use here is from Steve Hagen’s book “Buddhism Is Not What You Think”. So let’s get right into it here…
1. A follower of the Way does not kill.
The basic, and most clear description of the first precept is, do not kill. Besides taking a valuable, precious life, why is this precept so important? Basically, because it is morally incorrect to take another life, but it’s more than that. There are repercussions for both parties. Not only for the person doing the killing, but the victim of the killing. The person that is doing the killing obviously generates really negative karma for themselves. Whether that karma bears fruit in this lifetime or the next, the thing is, it will bear fruit.
In my practice I have really become aware of this aspect and I try my best with it. Sometimes I feel like I am tip-toeing around, trying to not step on anything or whatever. But, as careful as one can be, I think it is impossible to not kill unintentionally. There is a big argument about whether unintentional killing plants the seed of negative karma. For instance, your driving to work and unintentionally you kill a whole bunch of bugs with your bumper. On a personal level, I think, that this does not plant any negative karma. I mean, I/you never meant to kill those bugs, we were just driving trying to pay attention to the road and get to work safely. I’m sure the argument will go on, but that’s where I am on this one. You can try your best to keep an eye out and not cause any intentional killing, like say, not squashing that spider. But at the same time we can’t control the unintentional things on our way to work. It’s just a generalization but you get the idea.
2. A follower of the Way does not take what is not given.
The easiest way to describe the second precept is do not steal. And why not steal, nothing is really ours anyway right? We don’t possess/own anything, someone else might decide they need it more. You may have payed for the item with your hard earned cash, but the next second you look in your car (maybe where you stored the item while you shopped) and the thing you purchased is gone. But anyway, losing track here, maybe I’ll do another post sometime on “possession of material things”.
The thing here is do not steal, in only a few words, it causes suffering. It can be even the smallest thing, like that pencil you grabbed off the desk at the library. What if inadvertently someone left that on the desk and was working on something they deemed important to them? it may cause undo stress and now the person is unsure of how they will finish. Of course, they can always get a new pencil, but should they have to, they already had one they were using. Another example, what if you stole a coat from a local shop, this coat costs the company money to purchase before reselling. Their is an employee watching/selling the coats, who is responsible in the business owners mind, of making sure the coat is sold and not stolen. So you decide you really like it, put it on and walk out. Inventory of the store shows it was stolen, the employer fires the employee for not paying as good of attention to the merchandise. So now, you’ve not only stolen (which is asinine in the first place) but you’ve cost the store owner money and the employee his/her job.
There are many other reasons not to steal, but it mainly comes down to the fact that to steal something that is not “ours” causes suffering.
3. A follower of the Way does not abuse the senses.
This precept, especially the way it is worded here is a bit more tricky. But plainly, and traditionally, the third precept is not to take part in sexual misconduct. When I first heard this one I was thrown for a big loop. I thought “holy crap, I’m married and maybe want more children, how does this work?” But of course, this is not what the precept means.
I’ve heard various explanations but here’s what I’ve summarized from it all. Sexual misconduct is defined as not having sex with someone against there will, not having sex with someone who is married and not having sex with an under-aged person. And this all made sense. There is also the deal for monastics in Buddhism who must vow celibacy, as monks are not allowed wives anyway (at least in most traditions they are not). But I digress, the three reasons I gave above are self explanatory on why not to do those things.
Forcing someone into sex causes great suffering. It’s like cutting someone with a very large knife and leaving a very bad wound that scars up real bad. It (the scar) is a constant reminder of the knife attack. Rape leaves behind an even bigger scar, thus this is a horrendous act. And think of the karma that would generate eh?
Obviously having sex with someone who is married is a big no no. It not only causes the partner great suffering when they find out (and they will) but maybe the husband of the wife that you decided to have sex with is much larger than you and kicks your ass? Maybe he is not so big but has a gun or baseball bat? Not only have you made him suffer, and yourself, but what if he is even more pissed off and decides to hit his wife? What then? Besides the fact, again, sleeping with someone who is married is just morally f-ing wrong people, so don’t do it!
And lastly, the under-aged thing. Why is it wrong to do this? Like with the sleeping with married people, it causes suffering to more than one person. The parent of the child might get angry, might get sad, whatever the emotion is they suffer. I’m not going to much into this one because it speaks for itself. It is wrong straight out of the box, so avoid it.
4. A follower of the Way does not speak deceptively.
The fourth precept is pretty cut and dry, do not lie or speak in ways that deceive another. Not only does it include lying but things like idle chatter.
We might overhear John telling Jill that he thinks Bill is an asshole. We go tell Bill. Can you imagine what happens next? I can and it’s probably not pretty. The outcome, yet again, is suffering. By chatting about someone behind there back it not only irritates and angers them, but they feel hurt. Especially is Bill thought John was his friend. How can he trust John now? Later on maybe John hears that Steve (his other “friend”) is talking about him. He wonders “why would Steve do that to me, I’m his friend”. Well John, it’s called karma buddy and what goes around comes around. You talk junk about someone and eventually, it’s coming right back.
And how about lying? Not only is it deceptive from the get go, but what happens when you get caught lying? A lier will then (most times) come up with another lie to cover that one up and the cycle goes on and on and on, ad infinitum. So don’t lie and speak deceptively, it’s self explanatory here.
5. A follower of the Way does not intoxicate oneself or others.
This one is a biggie, and there’s been much debate about particulars with it, especially with things like marijuana. It says do not take intoxicating substances so we’ll touch a bit on them, but I don’t want to get to involved in the debate of it. Again, maybe some time I’ll write a post about this whole debate on marijuana and drugs.
At first when I came to this practice I enjoyed drinking beer. Not frequently (at least not as frequently as when I was in my early 20’s), but I enjoyed a nice pint of Guinness from time to time, maybe a Black and Tan. Slowly though, I stopped drinking alcohol. I slowed down so maybe I’d only have one with dinner when me and the wife got out (which is a rarity in and of itself). But after slowing down so much, I could feel that one beer. I could feel the grip it was having and how clouded my mind started to feel after about 3/4 of the glass. I began to understand this precept with that one beer, what if I had a second, how clouded would my mind be then? What type of misjudgments might I make? Would those bad choices hurt someone and cause suffering? What if I had a third? The point is, alcohol does cloud the mind. As a Buddhist practitioner who is still very new at it, I want a sharp mind so I can understand and try to comprehend the things I am learning. So, I have taken this one seriously. I no longer drink alcohol.
And as far as the drug thing goes, drugs are an intoxicant. They effect the brain in a negative manner, whether it clouds the mind, deceives the mind or whatever. For someone who takes the practice very seriously this is something that needs to be done as well. Like I said above, I may begin a new piece based n this part of the 5th precept. But until then, the precept says “do not take intoxicants”. I think that is as cut and dry as it gets.
So, how do these guidelines fit into your life? Do you try to live by them? I try my hardest, and I mean my hardest. My kids freak out with bugs and stuff. So if they see a spider, of course Dad gets called. I do my best to get something, maybe a sheet of paper or whatever, and get the spider onto it and carry it outside. I can’t say I like spiders, cause they creep me out, but I do my best not to squash em. This is the biggest part in the precepts for me, and I’m 95% there on it. How about you?