There is a lot about Buddhism I do not understand, not being a Buddhist myself; but one thing I do know – the majority of Buddhists I have met have a peace about them that far exceeds the average person.
So I’ve been doing a little bit of studying and questioning (mostly from our own Buddhism editor here at BellaOnline, Jeanette Stingley), and these are the things that I believe anyone can benefit from, whether they proclaim themselves a Buddhist or not.
Some Buddhist take vows based upon The 5 Precepts. These very much resemble a few of the 10 commandments, and I would imagine some of the paths of other religions also.
These precepts are:
1. Avoid harming living creatures
2. Avoid taking what is not yours
3. Avoid sexual misconduct
4. Avoid harmful speech
5. Avoid intoxicants
Some Buddhists take the “Avoid harming living creatures” to its ultimate conclusion and become vegetarians. Others believe that it is only necessary to not be cruel to animals (like the inhumane treatment of veal and geese used for foix gras). In your own life, you would need to make the decision for yourself as to where to draw the line, which gives you peace.
“Avoid taking what is not yours” or avoid stealing. There is a subtle difference between the two. The first literally implies only to take that which is given to you (or bought from) by another, the second allows taking items which belong to no-one (like blackberries growing wild along the road). But really, if we think about it, someone owns that land – so technically those blackberries do belong to someone. So that is where the distinction comes in.
“Avoid Sexual Misconduct” – boy this one is going to cause some debate! Some take this to mean no sexual relations outside of marriage at all – so virginity until marriage. Others believe it means being faithful to the person you are with at the time, being in a committed relationship, but marriage is not necessary. And still others believe it means not spreading STDs. Now personally I believe that last one is pushing the definition a little. True, it IS harmful to pass on a sexually transmitted disease, so practicing safe sex would seem to fall into this category, but most sexual encounters do carry an element of emotional attachment, so to treat it casually can also fall into this category. Basically, I believe it would be safe to treat the other person as you yourself would wish (or you would wish your child) to be treated.
What all does “Avoid Harmful Speech” encompass? Lying and cursing automatically come to mind. But other less obvious, but more insidious culprits are; gossip, back-handed compliments, ridicule, and speaking behind another’s back.
We all know what gossip is; spreading stories about others that may or may not be true – but tend to get a little juicer with each telling, and always hurt someone in the process. Backhanded compliments are things like “Your face is so pretty, if only you could lose the weight you’d be perfect!” Ridicule – enough said, we’ve all seen (or maybe been) the bully that makes fun of the little kid in the playground. Then there is talking behind a persons's back or "backstabbing". Meaning you are nice to someone to their face, but viciously rip them apart or make fun of them when they are no longer in the room.
Finally we come to “Avoid Intoxicants” . Once again, some Buddhists take this to the obvious extreme conclusion of no drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or any other unnatural substance (prescription medications are not included in this list, because they are meant for healing and not for recreation I am told – thanks for the info Alexandra!). This viewpoint is already shared by other religions, including the Christian Baptists. However, some may take the stance that these substances may be used as long as the state of intoxication is not reached. In other words – don’t get drunk, don’t overindulge.
All 5 of these “precepts” or ideals are paths that anyone can follow, and will lead to a healthier life; both in body and in spirit. These are basic guidelines that will help anyone to become a better person by focusing on these “rules” that are really just morality defined. Originally intended for the Buddhist priesthood, the level to which a layperson follows each precept is up to the individual and his or her conscience.
Guilt eats at a soul, so by doing good and steering away from these areas that can cause the most guilt in a person’s life, it frees the soul to be happy and healthy.