Skillful Action: The Five Precepts

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 113-132)

“And what is Right Action?  Abstaining from killing beings, abstaining from taking what is not given, abstaining from sexual misconduct.  This is called Right Action.”  –The Buddha

The Five Precepts 

The Five Precepts are:

  1. Abstaining from killing
  2. Abstaining from stealing
  3. Abstaining from speaking falsely (from Right Speech
  4. Abstaining from sexual misconduct
  5. Abstaining from misusing intoxicants such as alcohol (because this can lead to unskillful behavior).

Abstaining from killing

This includes killing of all living things including insects.  The guiding factor here is intention because we often inadvertently kill living beings by accident. For example, running over insects as we are driving an automobile.  Bhante G. notes:  Understanding that there are different levels of impact, we make our choices and accept the consequences.”  (p. 116).

Abstaining from stealing

Bhante G. notes:  “Stealing is an expression of our greed or envy…..Practicing Skillful Action of not stealing means making an effort to be honest and to respect the property of others.”  This includes pointing out mistakes to those who have given you back too much change because they are not aware of what they have given.

Abstaining from speaking falsely

This was covered in the talks on Skillful Speech.

Abstaining from sexual misconduct

Engaging in sexual misconduct is a form of stealing as one is talking from someone else what is not freely given.  In more general sense, sexual misconduct is abusing the senses.  When we abuse our senses whether it be with sex or another addictions, we find that we can never get enough.  Trying to get more leads to more unskillful behavior.

Abstaining from misusing intoxicants

The use of intoxicants can lead to unskillful behavior such as negligence, infatuation, and heedlessness.  Medications used as treatment for a condition are not a problem as long as we are mindful of any side effects that can lead to unskillful behavior.

Using Intoxicants is a way that we can avoid being mindful.  Consider other activities that you may engage in to avoid or escape mindfulness.  This might include excessive reading, texting, listening to music, etc.

Summary

The observance of the Five Precepts is a voluntary act which each individual must take up on his or her own initiative. The Buddha did not formulate the precepts as commandments, nor did he threaten anyone with punishment for violating them. However, this much has to be said: The Buddha perfectly understood the workings of the universe, and he proclaimed the inviolable moral law of cause and effect: good deeds beget pleasant fruits, evil deeds beget painful fruits. The Five Precepts are the guidelines the Buddha has bequeathed us to steer us away from evil conduct and towards the lines of conduct that will prove most beneficial for ourselves and others. When we mold our actions by the Five Precepts, we are acting in accordance with the Dhamma, avoiding future misery and building up protection and happiness for ourselves and others both here and in the hereafter. Thus the closer we live to the Five Precepts, the greater will be the blessing power of our lives.  (A Simple Guide to Life, Robert Bogota)

As noted previously, Bhante G makes a key statement on page 106 in Skillful Speech:   “but by definition, mindfulness keeps us in control of what we think, how we act, and what we say.  It’s impossible to shout at someone mindfully, or to abuse alcohol mindfully.  If you are truly mindful, you cannot do these things!”

What also comes about is a shift in focus “to what we personally want to what will most benefit ourselves and others.”  This is also known as a shift from behavior motivated by greed, hatred and delusion to Skillful Action.

Practice

  • When a moral dilemma arises for you, reflect on whether greed, hatred or delusion is guiding your decision.
  • Did this reflection make your ultimate decision easier?

Next: Skillful Livelihood I
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