In Buddhism, among various practices, well-known are these five precepts. By keeping them, the practitioners are supposed to achieve peace in their minds and lives:
- Abstention from killing living beings
- Abstention from theft
- Abstention from sexual misconduct
- Abstention from falsehood
- Abstention from intoxication
Each of them looks so common. Everyone knows that we should refrain from these ethical misconducts. We all think that we keep them in one way or another. However, reflecting on them more mindfully, the core value of each precept implies the very sinfulness that we could hardly remove.
The first precept tells us, “Thou shalt not kill!” Do we keep it? In reality, we can never live without “killing” anything – in metabolism; we kill our old cells; in hygiene, we kill countless bacteria. We eat various types of food by killing plants and animals.
On the other hand, our act of killing also implies a sense of aggression. Can we completely keep from such emotional distress? No, we can’t. Anger is everywhere. We are angry with anyone and anything and throw toxic words to attack and insult our targets.
We can never miss such toxic interactions in various social media platforms where one attacks another and vice versa. We are killing one another by using the most potent weapons of human beings – poisonous words. We don’t kill others physically. And yet, we are violating the first precept.
How about the second precept? Can we keep from stealing anything from anyone? We can’t. Indeed, every competition in society seems an act of stealing. So does the survival of the fittest. We need to gain something from others for us to survive and for us to win. Is winning an act of theft? Is it too much to say so?
We are supposed to compete with one another under the given rules and systems. However, it is not easy to keep a fair play – cheating and misinformation are everywhere at every scale.
Why? Because we are so desperate to win and defeat others. We are so selfish to steal something from others. We are not theft in a literal sense. Still, we are violating the second precept.
What about the third precept? In the same way, the core value does not only mean sexual misconduct. It is more of the sensual consumption in general. When we attack against the target (that is violating the first precept); and win against the opponent (that is violating the second precept), we “feel better” as the result of these actions. By killing and stealing, some kind of brain chemicals release, which makes us addicted and obsessed.
We become a slave of our sensual consumption. We get chained to the rabbit holes of the harmful activities of attacking and winning. We can never stop doing them. We see the endless pop-ups for these purposes from various platforms in the physical and virtual media. We are violating the third precept.
Likewise, now we know the fourth precept is a crucial part of our toxic activities. We are liars. We indulge ourselves with various kinds of misinformation and fake news. We don’t know what is right and false. Where is the truth we can trust? It seems we can’t find it anymore.
Can we trust the fact-checking? How about the fact-checking of the fact-checking? What about still another fact-checking of these fact-checking outputs? We don’t know.
How about scientific truth? Still, science is a temporary understanding of what we pursuit. Any possible discoveries can deny current scientific facts and make them obsolete, even false. Science is, by nature, transient and destined to be updated.
Lastly, the fifth precept is all about our minds. After all, these precepts are the things that our minds see.
- We think we have our enemies to kill.
- We think we have something to steal.
- We think we are sensually addicted.
- Our minds generate and believe misinformation.
These are all from our minds, which are severely intoxicated. It’s not merely the effect of alcohol and other mental drugs, but, more critically:
- Our minds themselves are in the prison of intoxication.
We are violating all five precepts. But we are taking for granted this cruel reality.
How can we know this cruel reality? One possible suggestion is to reflect on the three poisons:
In the Buddhist allegory, each poison uses the symbol of a pig, a bird, and a snake, respectively. When minds are so toxic, we are like a pig that doesn’t know anything except for pig-like indulgence. We are so restless like a bird that flies from one place to another, controlled by a monkey mind, and attached to the things our ego loves. And we are always angry with anyone and anything. We keep throwing toxic words to attack, hate and insult what we believe as our enemies as if a snake bites prey with its fangs.
We have seen them enough. We are so toxic and sinful. Can we heal ourselves? At least, all these precepts and poisons would remind us who we are. That’s the path for healing ourselves through repentance.
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