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Part 1 in Ethical Behavior Series

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Abstention is Just the Beginning

A lot of what I heard at our meeting last night about what would be helpful for folks, is support in bringing their practice to their daily lives. This is where the path factors of Wise Speech, Wise Action and Wise Livelihood come into play. Below is the first of a series of posts that I'll do that will provide a framework for how to practice with our speech and behavior. It's not just what we say or do, or don't say or do that is important, but the attitude behind it as well. I hope this will be helpful for you in bringing mindfulness to the fullness of your life.

The Five Precepts listed below form the basis of conduct and understanding for lay and monastic Dharma practitioners. They are almost exclusively represented in their abstention form. Refrain from harming, refrain from stealing, etc.

While this representation of them is a good starting point, and serves as a protection for ourselves and others, it is only the beginning of practice with the precepts. For, they are to be considered, mulled over, and experimented with. They are not to be some static set of rules that we either follow or don’t. We can see for ourselves if not killing living beings includes mosquitoes or not. Does not ingesting intoxicants include the realm of TV, movies and news? The idea isn’t that we come to what’s right or accepted, by others, or by some authority of deity. Through mindfulness of how our actions affect ourselves and other people, we discover what our version of the precepts are, in this moment. As they can and will change as we continue down the Noble Eightfold Path.

We are encouraged to start by practicing them in their abstention form. For even if we were to practice the precepts simply in this form, it would be transformational to our lives. If all people practiced with just one precept in its abstention form, the world would be transformed as we know it. Yet, as we continue to bring our attention to our speech and actions, we start to practice with them in their cultivation form. Non-harming can be cultivated into protecting and uplifting. Not stealing can be cultivated into giving and protecting. Not lying can be cultivated into truthful words that support, inspire and show people we care. There’s no template for this. As we pay closer and closer attention to life, including our own hearts and minds, our hearts' sensitivity naturally blossoms and we move through life with greater kindness and caring for all living beings.

The Five Precepts:

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.

3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

5. Sura Meraya majja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

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I, too, appreciate your suggestion of thinking of the precepts in their "cultivation form." Nice, positive and proactive actions for moving forward. Thank you, Chas. Joan C.


Apr 05, 2022

Thanks so much for this series on ethical behavior, Chas. My first exposure to the Five Precepts was at IMS. They felt very formal within the context of a silent retreat. I like reading and thinking about how they apply to everyday life--and becoming more aware of my ethical decisions. And I appreciate your frequent recasting of them from the negative, abstention-related to the more positive and active form. To that point, I can recommend a book by Craig and Devon Hase called "How Not to Be a Hot Mess: A Survival Guide for Modern Life." They explore the precepts with a very modern and (from my 70-year-old perspective) youthful point of view. Thanks so much, Chas!

Chas DiCapua
Chas DiCapua
Apr 05, 2022
Replying to

Yes, Devon and Craig are great people. Exploring the precepts and how we hold and manifest them is endless. Endless opportunity for happiness and joy!

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