Undertaking the Five Precepts: Nonharming as a Gift to the World

Every great spiritual system offers guidelines for ethical conduct as a statement that spiritual life cannot be separated from our words and actions. A conscious commitment to virtue and nonharming is the foundation for living a harmonious and compassionate life. At first, following a moral code can be seen as a protection for yourself and others. With further practice and reflection, you can see how each basic area of truthfulness and integrity can be developed into a meditation itself, bringing you awakening and sowing seeds of inner freedom. As you develop each area of your virtue, it can become a spontaneous gift, an offering of caring from your heart to all other beings. In Buddhist practice, one way to establish virtue and integrity is to formally repeat and undertake The Five Precepts. This can be done regularly, as a reminder and a recommitment of your intentions. To undertake the five precepts, sit in a quiet and alert fashion in your regular place of meditation. If you have an altar, you may wish to light a candle or offer incense or flowers. Then rest with your body still and your heart open. When you are ready, recite the following precepts:   I undertake the training precept of refraining from killing and harming living beings. I undertake the training precept of refraining from stealing and taking that which is not mine. I undertake the training precept of refraining from causing harm through sexual misconduct. I undertake the training precept of refraining from false speech, harmful speech, gossip, and slander. I undertake the training precept of refraining from the misuse of intoxicants such as alcohol or drugs that cause carelessness or loss of awareness As you recite each precept, feel the intention in your heart. Sense the strength and well-being it can offer you and the compassion it holds for all beings in the world. Pick and refine one of the five precepts as a way to cultivate and strengthen virtue and mindfulness. Work with that precept meticulously for one week. Then examine the results and choose another precept for a subsequent week. Here are some possible ways to work with each precept. 1 . Refraining from killing: reverence for life. Undertake for one week to purposely bring no harm in thought, word, or deed to any living creature. Particularly become aware of any living beings in your world whom you ignore (people, animals, even plants), and cultivate a sense of care and reverence for them too. 2. Refraining from stealing: care with material things. Undertake for one week to minimize consumption—driving less, spending less, letting each physical act be one of caring stewardship and respect. Then undertake for one week to act on every single thought of generosity that arises spontaneously in your heart. 3. Refraining from false speech: speech from the heart. Undertake for one week not to gossip (positively or negatively) or speak about anyone you know who is not present with you (any third party). 4. Refraining from sexual misconduct: conscious sexuality. Undertake for one week to observe meticulously how often sexual feelings and thoughts arise in your consciousness. Each time, note what particular mind states you and associated with them, such as love, tension, compulsion, caring, loneliness, desire for communication, greed, pleasure, aggression, and so forth. 5 . Refraining from intoxicants. Undertake for one week or one month to refrain from all intoxicants and addictive substances (such as wine, liquor, marijuana, cigarettes, and caʃeine). Observe the impulses to use these, and become aware of what is going on in the heart and mind at the time of those impulses. This excerpt is taken from the book, “A Path With Heart” 

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