We all need a code of ethics because human being are not innately perfect by nature. We have to train ourselves to be good. This is why good morals is the most important aspect of living. The practice of morality creates an inner sense of tranquility, stability, security, and strength. Once you have created the necessary foundation of morality, both in yourself and in your relationships with others, then you can successfully follow the other steps of the path to inner peace and wisdom.
Moral discipline means that your behavior confirms with the generally accepted standards and cause no distress to other people or to yourself. Buddhist ethics are not arbitrary standards. Laws and social customs also do not form the basis of Buddhist ethics. Buddhist ethics are based on the unchanging laws of nature, which is why the 2,500 year old ethical code is still relevant today.
Though the ethical principles in this section restrain immoral actions, its ultimate purposes is more spiritual and serves as a foundation for finding inner peace. Thus, for moral training to become a proper part of the path, it must be taken up while considering the remaining steps.
The five precepts form the basic code of ethics that Buddhists should confirm to. Note that unlike other religions, these five precepts are training rules, not commandments. Commandments are supposedly divine line imposed upon people. On the other hand, precepts are accepted voluntarily by people, especially when they realize the usefulness of ethics for disciplining the body, speech and mind. Understanding is the reason for following the precepts, not fear of punishment.
While the five precepts below are expressed in a negative form (i.e., do not do these things), we should not think that Buddhist morals consist of only abstaining from evil –we must also do good. Now to the five precepts. Buddhists should refrain from the following:
1) Do not kill living creatures. This is related to compassion since all beings love life and fear death. (see “Can Buddhists Eat Meat?“)
2) Do not steal or take what is not given. This means to have respect for property. Those who take what is not given by force or deception are guilty of breaking this precept. An employer who does not pay his employee an honest wage, commensurate with the work performed, is also guilty of taking what is not given. On the other hand, an employee who collects his or her salary but shirks their duties is equally guilty of lack of respect for property.
3) Do not commit adultery or sexual misconduct. More broadly speaking, this means respect for personal relationships. Beyond that, it means avoiding sexual liaisons with people who are liable to be harmed by such such relationship.
4) Do not lie or have false speech. In addition to not lying, we should avoid spreading rumors, using abusive or vulgar speech. Speech can break lives, create enemies, and start wars, or it can give wisdom, heal division, and create peace.
We often underestimate the power of speech and tend to have little control over what we say. Yet we’ve all been hurt by someone’s words at some point, and we’ve all been encouraged by the words of another. It has been said that a harsh word can wound more deeply than a knife or sword. Whereas a gentle word can change the heart of the mind of the most hardened criminal. To develop a harmonious society, we should control, cultivate and use our speech positively. We should speak words which are truthful, bring harmony, and that are kind and meaningful.
5) Do not take intoxicating drugs and alcohol. (see “Can Buddhists Drink Alcohol?“)