Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby dhammapal » Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:42 am

Hi,

I have called myself a Buddhist for many years but I've been having trouble lately taking the refuges and precepts. I just salute the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha from the Ratana Sutta.

The Buddha said that taking the refuges and precepts sincerely is more meritorious than giving him a meal so it's not as simple as it sounds.

I think to promise to keep the first precept I have to be like a Bodhisatta, and taking it when I know I have exceptions would be breaking the fourth precept against lying and the refuges as well. I got headlice in high school and used poisonous shampoo which I worry could happen again. I wonder if that is one of the reasons that monastics shave their heads.

Do you think I could take the first precept: "I undertake the precept to avoid destroying the life of living beings for the next 24 hours"? Do you think that promising to keep it forever and ever could be eternalism?

I guess that the Metta chant for snakes might help protect me from other parasites. And harm to parasites is the tip of the iceberg regarding the dukkha involved in me consuming food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

Thanks / dhammapal.
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby reflection » Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:45 am

To answer the question in the title, the answer is a simple no. Just like the other parts of the path, the precepts are a training. They are not rules set in stone.
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby Ben » Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:07 pm

Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

- No. But its a good idea to keep your precepts continuously for as long as possible.
Also, keep in mind why you are keeping your precepts. Sila is extremely important but not the only aspect of practice - you also need to develop samadhi and panna.
All the best,

Ben
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby Alobha » Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:28 pm

Do you think I could take the first precept: "I undertake the precept to avoid destroying the life of living beings for the next 24 hours"?


Of course you could, but what would be the use? Neither does it change what you do, nor does it change your intentions for the better.
Should you change the precepts or should the precepts change you?

And harm to parasites is the tip of the iceberg regarding the dukkha involved in me consuming food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

Food, clothing, shelter and medicine are all part of this life. Do you blame yourself for this?
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Apr 18, 2012 2:16 pm

Like all the patimokkha rules, the pancasila have loopholes, they are not expressed anywhere, but there are situations where it is not avoidable yet not deliberate!
The problem with simple things is that the mind wants to make it complex is some way, yet just following the letter and spirit of the rules is very simple, how easy is it to walk down the streat and not stab someone in the neck with a #2 pencil untill they die from it?
how easy is it to just not have something when you can not afford it, instead of taking it without permission?
how easy is it to have consentual relations with someone?
how easy is it not to take intoxicants?
or how about that pesky having to tell the truth?
you seam to be being elevating these things to some mythic feat, a herculean task few can do, when in reality it is the recognising where you are erring and correcting that behaviour which leads to progress on the path with the precepts, and in the path in general.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby dhammapal » Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:49 am

reflection wrote:To answer the question in the title, the answer is a simple no. Just like the other parts of the path, the precepts are a training. They are not rules set in stone.

My dictionary defines "precept" as "a commandment or direction given as a rule of action or conduct".
Do you think it is a mistranslation? No mention of it being for training just as "no-nos".

Thanks / dhammapal.
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby reflection » Thu Apr 19, 2012 4:44 pm

dhammapal wrote:
reflection wrote:To answer the question in the title, the answer is a simple no. Just like the other parts of the path, the precepts are a training. They are not rules set in stone.

My dictionary defines "precept" as "a commandment or direction given as a rule of action or conduct".
Do you think it is a mistranslation? No mention of it being for training just as "no-nos".

Thanks / dhammapal.

Yes, the precepts are not commandments. This is most clear in the precept of abstaining from lying: It takes mindfulness and good will to never lie. People talk so fast, they often lie before they noticed is. So abstaining from lying is not something you just get from making a vow, this is something you train.

Also, the precepts are guidelines. Although probably rare, in some moral dilemmas precepts may interfere with eachother or with other parts of the training. So you can't take them as a commandment. This doesn't mean that you can just ignore the precepts when you feel like it, of course.
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:42 pm

The precepts are phrased "I undertake the rule of training...", why would training be necessary if one were perfect?
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby dhammapal » Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:10 am

Bhikkhu Khantipalo's translation is:
“I undertake the rule of training to refrain from killing living creatures.”

It is a Pacittiya confession offence for a monk to intentionally kill animals or insects. So it is not the end of the world if you intentionally kill some headlice. I don't know what the kammic gravity is though.

Yes the precepts are not for status looking down on non-Buddhists but are working on a skill: killing is never skillful, stealing is never skillful etc. (see Getting the Message by Thanissaro Bhikkhu).

The precepts are for the purpose of concentration and freedom from remorse which naturally leads step by step to Awakening (See AN11:2)

I am memorizing the Ahina Sutta: By a Snake which is a metta chant to ward off dangerous creatures. I'm confident this will reduce the risk of getting headlice.

I thinking I'm worrying too much about hypothetical situations. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote in Precept Meditation to set up the intention to keep the precepts and then be alert to actions that go against that intent. This would include mental actions like aversion for headlice.

A Tibetan teacher said that the prerequisite for human rebirth is good moral discipline saying it is almost a miracle that we've received it given how hard it is. I interpreted her as referring to perfect sila. I am a bit of a perfectionist.

Thanks for listening,

With metta / dhammapal

PS I just had a brilliant thought! I can sincerely undertake the rule of training to refrain from killing living creatures because it might not be for many years into the future that I have the misfortune of getting headlice by which time I might have successfully trained to become more like a Bodhisatta.
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:10 pm

Hi Dhammapal,
Please do not confuse the monastic precept "punishment" for the severity of the breach of a precept.

the monastic precepts are dealing with a number of things not suited for lay people, some being the spiritual danger, the appearance it has, or the social expectations at the time of the rule, the precepts for lay people and novices (dasasila) are worded in quite a general way and can be informed by the patimokkha, but should not be confused with the patimokkha clasification or severity of "punishment".

you do seam to be mixing with mahayana, so have you asked this question on Dharma Wheel?

Just to note I am using punishment as a better word escapes me at present.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Must your sila be perfect to sincerely take 5 precepts?

Postby dhammapal » Mon May 07, 2012 9:17 am

the Buddha transl. Thanissaro wrote:If one with a confident mind were to undertake the training rules — refraining from taking life, refraining from taking what is not given, refraining from illicit sex, refraining from lying, refraining from distilled & fermented drinks that cause heedlessness — that would be more fruitful than... if one with a confident mind were to go to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha for refuge.
From: Velama Sutta: About Velama (On Sequence of Merit)
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

My dictionary defines undertake as "attempt".

With metta / dhammapal.

PS I've almost finished memorizing the metta chant for warding off snakes. While I am concentrating on it I'm not planning to break the first precept re headlice.
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