As Homo sapiens, our natural, default instinct is to eat, breed and fight.
However, the Buddha encouraged people to evaluate the situation calmly, dispassionately, almost scientifically. We can indulge these impulses all we want, but in the end it will do nothing to help our situation, and will likely cause some pain and frustration in the process. Try eating fast food every day for a month, if you don’t believe me.
Thus, the Buddha taught a series of training rules. The training rules for monks and nuns are called the Pratimoksha, but for lay followers the training rules are the Pancha Sila (Pali: pañcasīla) or Five Precepts.
Unlike other similar codes of conduct, the Five Precepts are not enforced. They are first and foremost training rules. You adopt them, you try to follow them, you reflect when things go wrong, and you try again. Like rehearsing for a play.
The Five Precepts are:
- (I undertake the vow) to abstain for taking life.
- (I undertake the vow) to take what’s not given to me.
- (I undertake the vow) to abstain from sexual misconduct (i.e. anything that harms others or yourself).
- (I undertake the vow) to abstain from telling lies.
- (I undertake the vow) to abstain from intoxicants: alcohol, drugs, etc.
The nice thing about undertaking the five precepts is that it’s a daily Buddhist practice, that requires no additional time commitment, no special chants to memorize, etc. If you uphold the five precepts, you are actively practicing Buddhism without even realizing it. Plus, as the Buddha taught, you gain the benefits of freedom from guilt, greater self-confidence, and fewer “entanglements” in life.