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Observing the Precepts Allows One to Feel at Ease

The scientific study of habits has recently become a prominent study area, as good habits can make a significant difference in one's life. The Buddha had already established the precepts, which serve as beneficial habits to help people in their self-cultivation. Observing the precepts serves as the code of conduct for Buddhists. They allow us to curb our desires as well as purify the body and mind, thereby allowing us to reduce afflictions and move closer toward achieving liberation.
Hui-Min Qiu
The COVID pandemic has been plaguing the world in recent years. People wore surgical masks, washed their hands religiously, practiced social distancing, and halted many unnecessary social events. Many organizations even canceled major events to prevent cluster infections. Even though the pandemic has caused us many inconveniences and limitations in daily life, self-discipline has allowed people to safeguard both themselves and the general public. Through the practices of moderation, cultivation in virtuous Dharma, and protecting oneself and others through self-cultivation, Buddhist precepts allow us to achieve liberation and attain Buddhahood.

Protection Through Self-Restraint
At first glance, "self-restraint" often gives people a sense of being constrained or having no freedom. It can even foster a mentality of resistance, similar to how precepts may come across as cumbersome, conservative, and outdated—that, is out of touch with human emotions. However, just as traffic lights can be seen either as a form of constraint or protection, the inability to drive through without obstruction may seem restrictive. However, this rule actually helps to ensure smooth traffic flow and prevent accidents, thereby serving as a form of protection.
"People are usually rather ambivalent. Although they desire freedom, they would rather have less trouble than more freedom." Venerable Master Chang Kuan, the Vice Dean of the Dharma Drum Sangha University, found that people have an excessive imagination regarding freedom. He once conducted an experiment during a meditation session where he let the first group of students freely choose their seating positions during the first incense-burning, while the second group had pre-assigned positions during the second incense-burning. The students' feedback showed that sitting in the assigned seats was more convenient and time-saving. This indicates that people prefer to sacrifice some degree of freedom to ensure smooth progress in their tasks or work. Therefore, 2,600 years ago, the Buddha established precepts to reduce people's troubles and afflictions, stabilize their bodies and minds, and develop their wisdom. Hence, precepts can also be seen as a supportive condition for self-cultivation.
"Sila" (in Sankrit) refers to the precepts that Buddhists observe, which are a set of guidelines observed by the Seven Classes of Disciples, also known as "pratikmosa." 
The word "sila" has the connotation of behavior, habit, personality, ethics, and devotion. The term is also referred to as "siksapada," "sila-vrata," "samvara," and "irya-patha."

If one can appreciate the fact that the spirit of precepts stems from the intention to protect lives and show compassion to all sentient beings, one is able to use the method of the "Golden Rule Theorem" to empathize with others—that is, to be unwilling to see others suffer and thus willing to restrain oneself. This means that we have learned a bit about "non-self" and have a slight taste of it. This is training towards achieving the goal of "non-self."

Extended Reading:

Observing the Precepts Allows One to Feel at Ease

To Observe Precepts, One Needs to Have the Right View and Follow the Middle Path

Using the Psychology of Habit to Create the Right Conditions for Keeping the Precepts

Keeping Precepts, a Life Experiment

Q1: I love and enjoy freedom. So what if I lose my freedom after receiving the precepts?

Q2: Why are we afraid of taking the precepts when we clearly know that it is good for us? How do we overcome this uncertainty?

Q3: Is there any room for flexibility in upholding the precepts? If so, how do we maintain this flexibility without losing the spirit of the precepts?

Q4: Is it enough to just do good deeds regularly, or is it necessary to also observe the precepts? How should the precepts be broadly applied in our daily lives?

Q5: How do we encourage our family and friends to observe the precepts? What if they cannot take the whole precepts all at once?

Resource: Humanity Magazine #445 (人生雜誌第445期)
Translated by: Ariel Shen (沈純湘)
Edited by: Denise, Keith Brown
Photo: Wen-Ling Tseng (曾文玲)