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Resolutions and the precepts

The following is an article I wrote for the recent issue of Buddha’s Light Magazine of Los Angeles. BLMLA is a bi-monthly newsletter available at Hsi Lai temple that I am fortunate to be involved with. — — — — — — — — — — — —

As we celebrate the end of 2011, many of us will work to try and make New Year resolutions. At times, these can be beneficial, and others, we add a layer of unnecessary stress and worry to our lives. Statistically, we as humans do not have a great track record of keeping these resolutions. I have read that upwards of 80% of those that attempt New Year resolutions fail.

When we take a step back from all of this as Buddhists, one realizes we can look to our precepts as resolutions that help us year-round. Upon accepting the 5 Precepts, one makes the commitment to:

  • The First Precept Is to Refrain from Killing
  • The Second Precept Is to Refrain from Stealing
  • The Third Precept Is to Refrain from Sexual Misconduct
  • The Fourth Precept Is to Refrain from Lying
  • The Fifth Precept Is to Refrain from Consuming Intoxicants

As Venerable Master Hsing Yun says:

“Observing the five precepts is a lifetime undertaking, and not something one does for only twenty-four hours. The five precepts can be undertaken and observed all at once or done so in stages. We can select the one or two precepts that are the easiest to observe, according to our own situation, and then we can practice the precepts more diligently with three or four, till we gradually reach the full five precepts.”

I think it is crucial to note a key point Venerable Master Hsing Yun makes in this statement, “according to our own situation”. When I took the precepts, I worked to observe all five of them at once. This was years ago, and it is still something that keeps my practice going, and something that needs constant work.

In the simplest of terms, the precepts can even mean:

  • Instead of killing that spider in your bathroom, catch it and let it outside.
  • Before taking the last helping of a meal, ask others in your household if they mind.
  • Staying true to your partner and not looking for love elsewhere.
  • Being truthful about accomplishing what one needs to do around the home.
  • Not having a drink when others may be during dinner.

Over time I have understood they can be observed differently according to your life. They may even change how you practice them when your own life changes. But, when practiced with diligence and sincerity, the 5 Precepts are really steps on the path to freedom for our delusions. What better resolution can you take than working towards that.

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