Disciple: Could the Master please explain the five precepts?
Venerable Master: As to the five precepts, they prohibit killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants. Why should one keep the five precepts? In order to "do no evil, but reverently practice good deeds." Do not kill; do not steal; do not commit sexual misconduct; do not engage in false speech; do not take intoxicants. If you observe the five precepts, you do not do these five kinds of evil deeds and you instead practice good acts.
Why should one refrain from killing? It is because all living beings have a life; they love their life and they do not wish to die. Even one of the smallest creatures, the mosquito, when it approaches to bite you, will fly away if you make the slightest motion. Why does it fly away? Because it fears death. It figures that if it drinks your blood you will take its life. From this you can see that all living beings love life and do not wish to die. Especially people. Everyone wants to live and no one wants to die. Although people sometimes commit suicide, ordinarily people do not seek death. Suicide is a special exception to the principle. That is why we should nurture compassionate thoughts. Since we wish to live, we should not kill any other living beings. That explains the precept against killing.
Stealing: If you don't steal, in the future no one will steal from you. Many of you have heard this verse:
If in this life you don't cage birds, in future lives you will not sit in jail.
If in this life you do not fish, in future lives you will not beg for food.
If in this life you do not kill, in future lives you'll suffer no disasters.
If in this life you do not steal, in future lives you won't be robbed.
If in this life you commit no sexual misconduct, in future lives you will not have marital troubles.
If in this life you do not lie, in future lives you will not be deceived.
If in this life you do not take intoxicants, in future lives you will not go insane.
This covers the general meaning of the five precepts.
Some people say, "Of the five precepts, the four which prohibit killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lying are very important. But taking intoxicants is a very commonplace thing. Why prohibit that?" When you consume intoxicants, it becomes very easy to break the other precepts. Thus, we ban such things as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and taking any kind of intoxicating drugs. Some people say, "The five precepts don't specifically prohibit smoking tobacco or taking drugs. Doing those things is not in violation of the precepts." These people are wrong. The precept against intoxicants also prohibits smoking tobacco, taking drugs, and using all intoxicating substances—including marijuana and opium.
Once there was a layman who received the five precepts. At first they were very important to him and he strictly observed them. After a time, his old bad habits surfaced and he longed for a taste of wine. He thought, "Among the five precepts, the one against drinking is really unnecessary. What's wrong with a little glass of wine?" He bought several pints of brandy and downed them. As he was drinking, the neighbor's little chicken ran into his house. "They've sent me a snack!" he thought. "I'll put this chicken on the menu to help send down my brandy." He then grabbed the bird？ and killed it. (This is a distinctly Chinese story and not a Western story. Why? Chinese people like to eat hors d'oeuvres with their alcohol. Westerners don't need snacks to send off their wine. So, this layman couldn't possibly have been a Westerner.)Anyway, because he drank the wine, he wanted the meat and thus broke the precept against killing. Since he took the chicken without the owner's permission, he also broke the precept against stealing. Then the neighbor lady walked in and said, "Say, did you see my chicken?"
Drunk as he was, and full of chicken, he slurred, "No.. .I didn't see no chicken. Your old pu.. .pu.. .pullet didn't run over here." So saying, he broke the precept against lying. Then he took a look at the woman—she was quite pretty—and forthwith he broke the precept against sexual misconduct. A little drink of brandy led him to transgress all five of the precepts. Therefore, the precept against taking intoxicants is also very important.
You may be wondering, "You have said that to keep the precepts is to do no evil and to practice all good deeds, but I wonder if this is really the case?"
If you have your doubts, then of course there will be problems. But if you have no doubts, your good roots will certainly deepen and grow stronger. What is more, when you receive the five precepts, for each precept you receive, five Dharma-protecting good spirits come to support you and protect you. After receiving the five precepts, if you keep them well, you can turn disasters into lucky occurrences and transform difficulties into auspicious events. You will encounter no tragedies or calamities. Those are the advantages of keeping the precepts.
Last night we talked about Amitabha Buddha, and today we shall continue. Everyone has now taken refuge with Amitabha Buddha; we are now Amitabha Buddha's disciples. We should be deeply ashamed of our past conduct and repent of the offenses we have committed through the three types of karma.
To be continued