Evaluate the practical value of 5 precepts for a just and righteous social order

(One of my students writes up. Quite nice to read,I think.)

Lay Buddhist morality /ethics is embodied in the 5 precepts, which may be considered at 2 levels. First, it enables people to live together in civilized communities with happiness, prosperity and progress. In the Sigalovada sutta, Buddha mentioned about welfare and harmony (benefits of practicing 5 precepts). Good Buddhists should remind themselves to follow the 5 precepts daily. They are

(1) Respect for a life, refrain from killing.
(2) Respect for property. Abstain from taking what is not given.
(3) Respect for dignity, abstain from sexual misconduct
(4) Right to know the truth; deserve the respect, refrain from false speech.
(5) For clarity of one’s own mind; abstain from taking intoxication.

Killing, stealing and sexual misconduct are categorized as an action, lying is considered the speech and the 5th one is meant for mental action. Taming three actions is Sila, which can be found in noble eightfold path. Having Sila (morality) with right speech, right action, and right livelihood brings about happiness and prosperity. Sila can be further divided into two: to be practiced and to be avoided. That is the reason of why we need to abstain from all wrong-doings (breaking precepts). We also need to practice opposite actions e.g. saving lives etc.

The first precept is to refrain from killing includes harming, torturing, striking to cause harm. One should respect sentient beings in the universe with loving kindness. Acts of killing arises from lobha, dosa, moha. Abortion has been a global issue without coming to consensus. In desperation, women submit to unsterile procedures. They drink bleach or turpentine, perforate with stick and coat hangers, and even jumped off roofs. Unsafe abortion procedures cause the deaths of about 67,000 women per year in the world, mostly in nations in which abortion is illegal. A life is being taken away from this process and Buddhism does not encourage. To avoid such killing, giving birth and providing the child the best in life will be alternate solution. Killing motivated by hatred is also seen in cases of vicious murder and manslaughter e.g. Nanjing massacre; thousands of beings executed /tortured and people lived in fear and dismay.

Second precept is to refrain from stealing and taking what is not given. The most serious involving threat or force will include daylight robbery, pursue snatching and kidnapping. Deceit/corruption is another type, which involves dishonest traders cheat their customers by false weights and measures or supply products of lower quality than specified.

The third precept is to refrain from the wrong way of enjoying sensual pleasures. One should guard the doors of eye, ear, nose, tongue and outer covering of the body respectively. Excessively enjoying causes harm to one as well as to others. Sexually transmitted diseases e.g. AIDS have increased rapidly to assume almost epidemic proportions. Child sexual abuse within the family line is so common in Britain that a help line is set up to counsel abused child. Buddha also teaches to avoid sexual misconduct; meaning that if one wants to experience sex, one must do so without creating any violence or without using any kind of force, threat or causing fear. A decent life, which respects the other partner, accepts the fact that it is a necessity for those who are not yet ready to renounce the worldly life.
Fourth precept is to refrain from lying; expressed through speech, writing or bodily gestures or even conveyed through a third party who may or may not be aware of the falsehood. The worst cases of falsehood are lying in a way that defames Buddha and the Arahants or making claims of attainments of Jhana or Magga. In the case of a monk, such falsehood leads to expulsion from Sangha.

The fifth precept is to refrain from taking intoxicant. Alcoholism and drug abuse are burning social problems of modern society. They ruin the physical and mental health of the addicts. According to a British medical journal, daily beer drinkers are 12 times more at risk of developing cancer and the mother’s being a social drinker can harm foetus. Alcohol and drugs are at the root of many crimes and the cause of many serious accidents. On August 2000, a famous US author, Kishline was charged for 4.5 years for drink drinking, causing a man and his daughter 12-year daughter killed after her small truck head on into the car.
This example shows once a person is intoxicated, one will lose self and forget oneself to commit offences.

According to the Discourse on the Bad effects of evil deeds, Anguttara IV 247, breaking of precepts when pursued, practised, increased causes one to arise in hell, in the animal world and in the realm of ghosts. If reborn as human being, the following are the very least results:
Killing will lead to shortening of one’s life.
Stealing will lead to loss of one’s wealth
Sexual misconduct will breed rivalry and hatred.
False speech will cause one to be falsely accused.
Partaking if intoxicants will cause one to be afflicted with insanity.

On the other hand, the observance of the 5 precepts leads to the accumulation of wholesome kamma tending to rebirth in the happy realms of human or deities. If reborn as a human being, the following are the results:
Refrain from killing will control dosa and cultivate metta, leading to longevity
Refrain from stealing will control lobha and cultivate non-attachment, leading to prosperity.
Refrain from sexual misconduct will control sensual lust, leading to integrity / dignity.
Refrain from lying will cultivate truthfulness, leading one to have a good reputation.
Refrain from taking intoxicants will develop mental clarity, leading to mindfulness and wisdom.

Besides understanding the 5 precepts only as a set of rules of abstention, Buddhist should remind themselves that through the 5 precepts, it extends to the quality of life e.g. Brahma Vihara involves sympathetic joy, metta, compassion and equanimity. In Siglalovada sutta, Buddha mentions about 4 ways of treating other people, which involves charity, pleasant speech, beneficial action and impartiality. These 4 ways will help the society to go in harmony. Therefore, five precepts involve interacting with other. It is a socialization process, as expressed in Sigalovada Sutta (reciprocal relationship).

The precepts are also an indispensable basis for people who wish to cultivate their minds. 10 meritious acts can work with 5 precepts to establish foundation. The acts include Dana, sila, bhavana, transfer of merits, rejoice in merits that are being transferred, service, pay respect, preaching and teaching Dhamma, listening to Dhamma and straightening one mind. Without basic moral code, the power of meditation can often be applied for some wrong and selfish ends.

To conclude, we can truly practise 5 precepts. It creates love and respect and which is conducive to helpfulness, no disputable, unity and harmony. All one’s action gets purific effect and it brings public benefit. In Dhammapada 130, everybody wants to be happy, reject dukkha. Equality and reciprocity is to refrain from causing suffering.

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