Today's topic is: “When Buddhist disciples don't keep the precepts, the Dharma is at an end.” Buddhist disciples refers to members of the Sangha. The Buddha spoke the Dharma, and the Sangha cultivates according to it and teaches it to other people. It is essential that Sangha members keep the precepts. Laypeople should also uphold them. If the Sangha members or the laypeople fail to keep the precepts, this age will be the Dharma-ending Age. That's why we say, “If Buddhists don't uphold the precepts, it's the end of the Dharma.”
If you casually lie, kill, engage in sexual misconduct, steal, or take intoxicants, breaking the five basic precepts, you are bringing about the Dharma-ending Age. Even though the Buddhadharma is still in the world, the demise of the Dharma begins with you if you don't uphold the precepts.
The Dharma has to be propagated by the Sangha, and the people who propagate the Dharma should recognize the fundamental role of precepts. Precepts are the foundation for the attainment of Buddhahood. Just as one first lays the foundation when building a house, we are now laying the foundation for the house of Buddhahood, and the first step is to make sure that we uphold the precepts. Everyone should take care not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, or take intoxicants. It's not enough to want not to do these things; you absolutely don't do them. You must honestly keep these five basic precepts of your own free will, not because other people tell you to.
A talk given on the evening of June 10, 1983,
at Wonderful Words Hall in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas