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Why Should One Uphold Precepts?

Some people get nervous when they hear the word“precepts," thinking either that they will be restricted by them, or that they may not be allowed do many things and lose the freedom to do whatever they want in their daily life. Therefore, they may decide solely to learn from Buddha's teaching, without cultivating an intention to accept the precepts.

Protection for Buddhist Practitioners

In fact, the above is a misunderstanding of the meaning, function and content of the precepts. The function of Buddhist precepts is not to prohibit practitioners from saying or doing anything, but, rather, to remind them not to do things that may cause harm, both to themselves and others. In other words, Buddhist precepts function to protect practitioners. For instance, four of the Five Precepts-No Killing, No Stealing, No Sexual Misconduct, and No Verbal Misconduct- are fundamental principles guiding people's behaviors. As for the Fifth Precept of Abstaining from Alcohol, its function is to protect practitioners from losing control of their mind. Therefore, the Five Precepts and the Bodhisattva Precepts are like protective shields which allow one to a) feel peaceful in the practice, b) cultivate an appropriate sense of shame, c) repent frequently, and d) regulate behavior at any given time, in order to continually uplift one's character.    

To uphold the precepts means that one is willing to accept the Buddha's guidance; to learn from the wisdom of Buddhadharma; to let an illuminated teacher be one's guiding light in the practice, and to happily become a true Buddhist. 
One usually receives the Five Precepts during a refuge-taking ceremony.  Not only are they the five fundamental principles for Buddhists, but they are also the fundamentals of all Buddhist precepts. As practitioners start to learn from Buddha's deeds of body, speech, and mind, they practice correcting their mistakes and performing good deeds in daily life.
Upholding the precepts helps stabilize one's personality, words, and actions.  It helps uplift one's character and bring one a strong affability and calmness.

With Peaceful Mind and Body Come Fewer Vexations

Upholding precepts not only protects one's body from harm, but it can also transform internal vexations . Vexation usually results from a temporary emotion of greed, anger, obsession, etc. In a state of vexation, the mind becomes like the sun which is covered by clouds. In this situation, precepts can remind us to keep ourselves on the right track, which is analogous to seeing past the cloud so that the sun leads one in the right direction. For example, one who used to unintentionally say hurtful words begins to remind himself of the precept of No Verbal Misconduct, and stops himself from hurting others carelessly; in fact, he may even start to learn compassionate and soft words. This precept thus helps him to cultivate wisdom and compassion. 
The aim of Buddhist precepts is not only to ask practitioners to stop doing bad deeds, but also to guide them to do good deeds as much as possible. This in turn serves to purify the body and mind, as well as fulfill the value of the Bodhisattva Path, which emphasizes helping oneself by helping others. Receiving, learning, and u
pholding precepts not only can motivate us to do good deeds, say good words, and transform misfortune, but can also lead us to attain Buddhahood.


50 Questions about Receiving Buddhist Precepts(受戒50問), Dharma Drum Publishing Corp.

Extended Reading:

How Does One Uphold the Precept of Abstaining from Drinking Alcohol?
​Would Upholding the Precepts Cause Any Inconvenience in One's Daily Life?