I used to think the Buddhist precepts were something you swore to uphold, not quite like the 10 commandments, but similar. They seem like pretty good things to aspire to, and maybe if we all “did” them then the world would be a better place. Of course its explained right away in most literature that these are more suggestions than rules, in fact it is understood that there may be times when it is more proper to break a precept than to uphold it.
However, these days Ive come to a sort of realization about the precepts, and as usual I’m finding that my notions about how they ‘work’ was a bit backward.You see, in Buddhism there is the implicit understanding that we know right from wrong, we don’t really have to be threatened by divine punishment because karma isn’t some supernatural force of punishment and reward, its simply the natural effect of a natural cause. So the precepts aren’t there to teach you how to behave, they are there to show you how Buddhas behave naturally!
All of us are Buddhas, unfortunately most of us aren’t aware of it. The Buddha (literally translated as ‘the awakened one’ or ‘the enlightened one’) isn’t some mysterious or mythical persona, its me and you when we see the truth as it really is, its us when we are living honestly in each moment without the bullshit and biases.
I realised that the precepts are an example of how all of us act when we are no longer deluded by greed, aversion, or ignorance. Naturally, without having to be told! The formal precepts aren’t the Buddhist way of saying “hey you, do this OR ELSE!” rather, it is the Buddhist way of saying “See these precept things? they are the way the world works when we are at our best” You don’t need someone to tell you not to kill, you already KNOW not to kill, in fact, every fiber of your natural being tells you not to kill. It takes a lot of delusion (in the form of years of conditioning) to even be able to kill. The precept against killing just reminds you of this fact, it isn’t there to force you to do anything.
The precepts are a way to act ‘as if’. As if you are already awakened, enlightened, whatever you choose to call it. Its a way to reconnect with that natural part of ourselves that wants to live in harmony with the rest of the universe. Once you get a little taste of the real you its damn near impossible to go back to being deluded again, by taking the precepts seriously you are giving yourself a sample of a more profound and honest part of yourself.