The five precepts have been adopted for millennia by those who desire to cultivate wisdom, that is, clear awareness and benevolent intention. They are traditionally phrased as abstentions, that is, the focus is on noting the emergence of unwholesome self-states and turning attention away from them and alternatively orienting towards wholesome self-states. This is based on the assumption that we must cultivate an ethical foundation that fosters mental clarity, kindness, compassion and generosity in order to have the internal stability and discipline to cultivate spiritual transcendence.
I wholeheartedly support this concept. However, for several years, I’ve been uncomfortable with the term “precept”, as it seems to be outdated and rule-oriented. Therefore, I’m offering the use of the word “commitment”, which seems to me to have a more contemporary understanding. Also, recent psychological research indicates the power of commitment to organize thoughts and behaviors to achieve goals or realize values. To me, commitment represents direction and action, like the way a compass heading is useful in combination with a map to find our way through unfamiliar territory (and the future always has some element of unfamiliarity, even if it’s slight).
The commitment process involves holding the commitment sincerely in awareness, and using that reference to reorient back towards the goal or value it represents. It also has more power when we enlist another person to be an “accountability partner” in the process—not to harass or criticize, but to know what the commitment is, and be interested in how the commitment affects daily life.
I also have included the commitment to daily meditation practice, as the insights and discipline that comes from the practice makes following through on the commitments much more likely. I hope this is helpful in your process of spiritual development, and I wish you well.
THE FIVE PRECEPTS (pañca-sikkhāpada)
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not give
- I undertake the training rule to avoid sexual misconduct
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech
- I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.
THE PRECEPTS REWORDED AS COMMITMENTS
Because I am committed to conditioning the mind away from confusion and impulsive reactivity, towards clear awareness and benevolent intention, I will practice the following:
- I will be mindful of my behavior, organized by benevolent intention, in order to promote well-being for myself and others
- I will be mindful of my internal and external speech, organized by benevolent intention, in order to promote clarity and confidence in relationships
- I will be mindful of the prerogatives and possessions of others, organized by benevolent intention, in order to respect interpersonal boundaries
- I will be mindful of my sensual desires, organized by benevolent intention, in order to keep the mind undistracted and to respect the sensual prerogatives of others
- I will be mindful of avoiding substances and behaviors that distract and dull the mind, in order to promote mental clarity and benevolent intention.
- I will practice mindfulness meditation on a daily basis, in order to develop the insights and discipline to bring the other commitments to fulfillment.