Are You A Buddhist?

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preceptsIt doesn’t matter if you have taken refuge in the Buddha, meditate regularly, have a spiritual guide or do some elaborate ritual practice, if you do not follow the five precepts you cannot, in all honesty, call yourself a Buddhist. I understand this statement will ruffle some feathers, but I strongly believe it to be so.

Buddha made it quite clear that Buddhism is an inward journey and the start of the journey is trying to follow the precepts. The precepts are as follows:

  • Refrain from killing or causing others to kill.
  • Refrain from wrong speech, such as lying, speaking harsh words and gossiping.
  • Refrain from stealing.
  • Refrain from sexual misconduct. This means that you should not harm anyone with the sexual act.
  • Refrain from intoxicants and illegal drugs, as these cloud your judgement and may cause you to indulge in the previous four precepts.

These precepts are not commandments, but a set of principles we should do our best to follow. When we follow them our minds become clear, still and calm, so we are able to sit in meditation with a peaceful mind. It is extremely difficult to sit meditating when are minds are riddled with guilt or disturbed by some unwholesome act we have committed.

Another thing the precepts do is to stop us from harming another being with our actions. If we refrain from lying, gossiping and using harsh words, we will not harm anyone with our speech. If we refrain from stealing, sexual misconduct and killing, we will not be harming anyone with our bodies, and if we refrain from taking mind-altering substances, our minds will be clear and we will not do things to harm others. So, by following these precepts we are helping ourselves and others – a win-win situation.

It seems to me that the precepts are being overlooked or just seen as too basic to bother with. I am not just talking about practitioners here but also teachers. Many Rinpoches and spiritual teachers struggle to follow these precepts, even though they teach them. If the teacher can’t follow his own words, what chance has the practitioner got

I understand that the precepts are not very sexy and many people prefer to do some medieval tantric practice, but you will never gain an end to your suffering if you kill, steal, lie and so on. So the precepts are not basic, they are essential.

I would advise you to check your teachers very carefully. If they are not following the precepts I suggest you drop them like a hot potato, because you will never learn anything from them, and in fact, they will probably end up holding you back.

I would further suggest you recite the precepts in the morning before you get out of bed. It only takes 15 seconds to recite them and it will ensure you start the day in a positive way. During the day you can do a quick review session and see how you have done. If you have strayed away from a precept, note it and resolve not to do it again. Please do not beat yourself up if you have strayed a bit. Guilt is not a useful emotion. None of us are perfect and we all stray from the path from time to time. The more we keep the precepts in mind, the more they will become a habit.




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  1. Mark Johnson

    I am glad someone is telling it like it is about the precepts. Thank you Ven. Yeshe for this. In this modern world of endless indulgence in sensual pleasures, people don’t want to bother with basic morality. Somehow they hope to indulge in things like illicit sexuality, drinking and drugs and still make spiritual progress. Well, you can give it a try if you like, but I think chances are that you will only increase your suffering. The Buddha taught observation of the precepts as the basic foundation for spiritual progress. I think there are no shortcuts around this one. Keeping the precepts will help the mind settle and prepare us for real progress in the Noble Eightfold Path.

  2. Tsondru Namkha

    All Vajrayana Buddhists drink alcohol in their feasts. Refrain from extremes…

  3. yesherabgyeyeshe rabgye

    Mark, thank you for your comments.

    Tsondru, it is only advanced practitioners in Vajrayana Buddhism that are allowed to drink alcohol and not all practitioners. Though I must say, if you are an advanced practitioner why would you want to?

    Roger, actually Buddha died and left us his teachings. What I have written comes from his sutras. They are not just my words.

    • Kat

      Thank you for this ‘are you a Buddhist?’ blog. I struggle with the first precept as I use a lot of fly spray at this time of the year or my house is full of flies – I’ve tried lots of things to get rid of them without killing them (keep the house very clean, leave doors and windows open so they can fly on through, keep doors and windows shut so they don’t get in etc). The other four I follow because when I haven’t is when I have experienced intense and prolonged utter misery. Alcohol seems to be a precept (the not drinking of) that gets people riled up. I don’t know about other countries, but in NZ the consumption of alcohol is a major factor in domestic violence, sexual misconduct, financial budgeting mismanagement, hospitals being full on Friday and Saturday nights (but increasingly on other nights of the week as well), road toll (death and injury), crime, and disease including liver and heart diseases and diabetes. It destroys families, friendships, and lives. Many people don’t know that alcohol causes brain damage, particularly in teenagers who are very vulnerable as their brains are changing and the alcohol can seriously and organically interfere with that. Alcohol is so ubiquitous in our society that it is considered as necessary to life as water, so people get very agitated and defensive at the suggestion that perhaps one could live life perfectly happily while refraining completely from consuming alcohol. Alcohol is not necessary to life, and as it destroys so many lives I would be very happy to see it banned. NZ has a plan to be cigarette-free by 2025. NZ banned the over-the-counter sale of products containing pseudoephedrine a few years ago because of it’s use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Because of the misery methamphetamine causes a few people, the rest of us cannot buy a very effective cold/flu suppressant. To put it into perspective, I may have to suffer the symptoms of a cold/flu unless I get a prescription from the doctor, so that the number of people suffering the consequences of methamphetamine production and use can be reduced. That seems entirely reasonable to me!

      • Karma Yeshe Rabgye

        Hi Kat

        Thank you for taking the time to comment on the blog.

        I agree the first precept is very hard, but we just have to do our best. Everyone has to decide just how far they go with the precepts, as they are only guidelines.

        I totally agree with what you say about alcohol. It is a silent killer, but will never be banned because it brings in so much tax money for governments.

        I hope you don’t catch a cold!

        Thank you for your comments.

  4. Francesco Isolani

    Sorry, but you are wrong.
    Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.

    Sura, meraya and majja are all distilled forms of alcohol. Like Vodka or Moonshine. The Buddha said do not consume these things to the point of heedlessness. If you look into the work of Michael Pollan, specifically the book The Botany of Desire, you will see that in fact, all of our ancestors drank alcohol in the form of naturally fermented beverages, because it was safer to drink these beverages than it was to drink water. Substances such as marijuana and even opium poppy were considered medicines, not intoxicants in the Buddhas day.

    I am a buddhist because I believe in the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and the three marks of existence.

    Was Chogyam Trungpa a Buddhist?

    • Karma Yeshe Rabgye

      There are always two sides to an argument, but that doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. It is all a matter of perspective.

      I am not one to judge if chogyam trungpa was a Buddhist or not. He certainly taught Buddhism, but a lot of his actions were unbuddhist.

  5. cynthiafrench549644608

    Have you ever thought about “worshipping or following the precepts of a dead god?”Maybe Budda never himself sought to be worshipped but I know of too many people who do worship him as god to not ask the question. Even those who worship Krishna say he too is dead. So here is my second question. Why would you worship the dead, when you can worship the alive and almighty God? The One who actually made everything, Who keeps all things in order and together just by his very thought? He says He came to bring you peace and light to your lives that He actually has a plan to prosper you and not to harmyou

    • Karma Yeshe Rabgye

      I do not see Buddha or any other person, living or dead, as a god, so I cannot answer your question. Thanks for your comment.

  6. SGC

    Reblogged this on Always A Beginner and commented:
    Please don’t ignore this because you’re not interested in Buddhism. This is useful advice for _anyone_ seeking a more peaceful existence.

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