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The Five Precepts


1. Refrain from taking the life of sentient beings.*
2. Refrain from speaking what is not true.
3. Refrain from taking what is not offered.
4. Refrain from sexual misconduct.
5. Refrain from the use of intoxicants.

*The keeping of this precept requires a vegan or lacto-vegetarian diet.

The Importance Of Keeping The Precepts

Spoken By The Supreme Master Ching Hai, Los Angeles Center, U.S.A.

July 13, 1997 (Originally In Au Lac Language)

Those people who don't want to follow me to practice should just try to remain vegetarians and keep the five precepts in order to come back in human form again. The five precepts are good for people to come back as human beings, whereas one could end up becoming something else lower than human beings, if one goes below these precepts. It is like going to school. There are elementary schools and high schools. Based on which standard are we able to be qualified for elementary school? And which standard for high school, which standard for college?

There are also gifted students who are able to jump directly to college from high school and it is also possible that some jump directly to college from elementary school. They are very few in number, like those who have become completely enlightened. They are still young and they also have practiced for years, but the reason that they became saints is that they are gifted. The gifted saint (Master laughs), not wooden statue of a saint. (Master playing with words.)

For example, in following Supreme Master Ching Hai, practice is just too hard, sitting is just too long for us, and we have to be a vegetarian. Then just keeping the five precepts is fine. It means no killing; no telling lies; no committing adultery, only one husband and one wife; no drinking alcohol and gambling; and so on. Then one will, someday, be able to come back as a human being again. It's not that I am threatening or forcing you to keep the precepts for me. It's just the law of nature.

If we are able to keep the precepts ourselves then even if we do not practice to become saints or Buddhas, we are entitled to come back as human beings living healthy and happy lives with less suffering. If we are unable to keep the precepts, our standard is indeed lower than that of human beings and then we'll come back as other beings, for example, animals, ghosts, demons and the like. They are one level lower than human beings. If we are above the five precepts and we continue our practice to keep many other more subtle precepts, then we are entitled to become saints or Buddhas.

For example, sometimes we think that if we do not go to bed with just anyone and by not going to bed with another person's wife, we assume that we have not violated any precepts. But it is not so. Having that thought alone or just a lustful look is already a violation, if we do it deliberately. The degree of violation is less when we do it unintentionally. But it is not that we don't commit any violation at all. It is also considered a violation but of a lesser degree.

When we are already married and have children but we still intentionally use our words to seduce others, entice others with our eyes or invoke something impure in our hearts, that alone makes us violate the precepts; since violations include thoughts, speech and actions and not actions alone.

Thought creates speech and speech creates action. If we don't have any thoughts, we are unable to say anything. Without thoughts, our body would not be able to act. Therefore, there are three kinds of violations. The delicate ones are from our mind. The coarser ones are in our actions. And when we add our words, it's finished. Hence, we should be careful at all times. If we want to come back as a human being, we must keep the precepts properly.

I'm not saying not to touch anyone's hand or foot, not to kiss anyone, then it means I have not violated any precepts. It's still considered a violation anyway, if we intentionally have desired thoughts and constantly look at others with lustful eyes everywhere we go. We indeed commit a violation. It is because we have trained ourselves into bad habits.

Our Thoughts Are Recorded In Our Body Cells

Our minds automatically follow the created path and continue on their way. Then it is more difficult for us to retrain them. Whatever the mind thinks, the body will follow. This is because our cells record all the things dictated by our minds. It records all the things that our minds have focused on. It then lives in our genes, our cells, in the structure of our bodies. Then it accumulates more and more each day and is difficult to cleansed away.

Therefore, you see that it is tough for people who are alcoholics to give it up. The more they drink, the harder it is for them to stop. When people smoke, it becomes a habit which urges them to smoke constantly. The mind has already registered it: "Eh, how come there is nothing today? Each day I record exactly how many milligrams of nicotine have been consumed, so how come we have nothing today?" Then it continues asking. It becomes a habit. It's just like the extramarital affairs between a man and a woman which could become a bad habit, a habit of being indecent, being seductive.

It is natural that our bodies keep demanding these things. Sometimes, since it has accumulated too much, our whole body, all our cells continue having the craving for these things. At that time, our mind is so weak that it is unable to fight back. Thus, we keep falling down on that road. The more we fall, the more we are dragged down. When it gets too heavy we are unable to stand up again. Then one has to come back. One must come back as a human being in order to satisfy the insatiable desires. Not until he has been beaten up, struck down, and unbearably buried, is he able to open his eyes, able to get tired of it, and able to stand on his feet. It could take a long time, a few hundred years even.

We Should Train Ourselves To Be Alert Right Away

Therefore, when our minds induce us into doing such things, we must alert ourselves; we must wake ourselves up at once and immediately recite the Holy Names. We must quickly get back on the right path, and then it'll go away. Otherwise, if we keep obeying our mind to do this and that, we'll be dragged down with it. Even if we practice meditation, it'll be a waste of effort. We only meditate two and a half hours a day, and we may not be able to sit long enough anyway.

However, if all day long we drag ourselves down with such thoughts, then we will, indeed, go down. It drags us for 21 or 22 hours while we drag it for only two and a half hours counting the time in which we nod our head back and forth. It is not long enough at all. Two and a half hours is meant for us to train ourselves into living a life of purity. We no sooner have adequately trained ourselves then it drags our whole being away. Therefore, we are unable to catch up.

We also go outside and eat carelessly, eat the wrong food. We eat anything that resembles vegetarian food. Since we are not yet purified, we won't be able to tell the difference. When our level of purity is higher, then we'll be able to tell the difference immediately upon tasting it. When our stomach reacts to something, we will later vomit or our body will feel uneasy. Then we quickly know that we have eaten something impure during the day. Or during our meditation in the evening, we'll have horrible or low level experiences. We also quickly know why. Or else, the inner Master will come and tell us that we have eaten something impure during the day. For example it's like that.

When we are able to see the inner Master, we are already at a high level. Otherwise, how could She come and tell if we were not able to see Her at all. We were there ourselves but heard nothing. Truly, Master is with us 24 hours a day. However, since we are blind and deaf, we can't hear anything. We just listen to the bad recordings of our minds. If everyone was able to hear the inner voice of Master then there would be no one who would violate the precepts, no one who would be prone to seduction.

I give everyone the opportunity to fight for themselves. If I happened to choose them, then there would not be many left who would be able to sit here. Even the high level practitioners could be affected by others when going outside. There is also the surrounding magnetic field. There are many kinds of things around, so practicing is not always easy. It's not only that spiritual practice is already difficult for us, if we bring more trouble to ourselves then we are finished.

Even God and saints are helpless. It's not we violate the precepts then someone will do us harm. We lower our level ourselves, and thus someday we will have to pull it up ourselves. It is like a student who fails to study hard and makes trouble in school or something. He will definitely stay in the same grade or be kicked out of school. Thus, he will have to come back to school again after he is fed up. We have to start from the beginning; we have to prove to the teacher that we are okay now.

You should take care of yourselves. Try to remain vegetarian and keep the precepts. Sometimes, if we practice diligently, we will know immediately if we have unintentionally eaten any meat based foods. When we go home, we may find a lot of pimples on our face. If not, ghosts may come and pull our feet during sleep at night. We may see nothing but total darkness during our meditation. We might become ill, with a stomach ache and headache.

We may be angry at Master for no reason. (Master laughs) It's true; you can check with the people who have fallen in their faith. I can tell you that 99% of it is due to eating wrong food or violating the precepts. Gradually, you may leave me completely, because they are two opposite paths and the more we walk on them, the farther they are away from each other. Even if we don't leave each other, how can two people, one heading North, the other heading South, be able to meet each other again?

It's not that you leave me at all, you just separate yourself from your self by yourself. Since the two magnetic fields are different, it's not possible for us to like each other. It is referred to as like attracts like. If people walk a different road then sooner or later they'll leave us. Therefore, the people who left me are, in fact, not leaving me at all; they're just leaving their own selves. They leave behind their ideal, their vow; they leave behind the path of honor, the gracious path that they selected in the past in favor of the other in darkness, with no end in sight, the road that has no future.

Of course, everyone has his own right to choose, and no one is able to force another against his own will. Therefore, during the initiation I never forced you to follow this path for the rest of your life at all. No coercion whatsoever. I gave advice and that's all I did. I advised that you stay on the beautiful road that you chose. Otherwise, if we choose to walk on the other road then it'd be all wrong. We'd be distanced from each other later on.

Therefore, you should know immediately those who have left me. First, they are back to being meat eaters. Second, they violate the precepts. The magnetic field is different by itself, because our bodies are representative of what we have eaten.

For example, when we eat animal based foods, the food itself is contaminated with poison which comes from the animal when being killed. We become toxic and ill as well. This is only the physical aspect. The spiritual aspect is different. The consciousness of an animal is different from that of human beings. Plant or vegetable based foods are less conscious and are unlike that of the animal which is too strong. Because the animals themselves also desire to live and are afraid to die, they have their own stronger magnetic field.

Therefore, they know how to walk, how to mate, how to love each other, and how to fight each other because of the opposite sex. They also know how to fight for their material possessions, their own sanctuary, whereas, trees or plants never engage in this kind of fighting. They belong more to the static group. They stand still. They only rely on the wind to carry their pollen to each other so that they'll be able to blossom and bear fruit.

Animals are more active. They naturally search for the opposite sex in order to have their offspring. So they also have their own jealousy, their own possessive nature which is extremely cruel. The carnivorous ones are more cruel. For example, the elephant, the rabbit or that kind only bite back or attack us when they get over irritated. As for the tigers, no need to say. We don't need to annoy them, they annoy us. They look for us to have a bite to eat. If not, they look for other animals. For example, it's like that.

Animal Qualities And Magnetic Fields Affect Us

Therefore, by eating plant based foods, our karmic burden will be less. By eating vegetables, we don't consume with it the cruelty found in animal foods. And now, the animals, due to their magnetic field and their beastly nature, must remain animals. Their intelligence is different than that of human beings. Their emotions and reactions are different because they are only animals. Thus, an animal has its own body structure, magnetic field and its own level of consciousness.

If we happened to eat its meat, its level would obviously be mixed with ours. If we continue to eat more, someday the animal qualities will become greater than the human ones and we will have to become animals. It is so clear that there is no need to be superstitious; there is no need to refer to Buddhism or the law of cause and effect by which one reincarnates into different species.

For example, there is a glass of pure water, nothing in it. Then you drop something like a few drops of ink in it and the water still remains clear. If you continue putting four, five, six, seven drops of ink in the water, then a moment later the whole glass will become as dark as the ink itself. It is turning into ink, because the more drops of ink we have will make it become ink. We can write with this ink, because the ink nature is different from water.

Similarly, human beings' qualities are different from those of animals. If we absorb too many animal qualities, later we will become animals ourselves. At least 80% of our being would become like that. With roughly 70%, it will make us become an animal for sure, because the animal portion is more than that of human after all. For example, with 60-70% we still remain a human being, but we have more animal qualities. Therefore, you see many people that appear to have animal qualities. They don't have human virtues. We can refer to them as that sir or this madam who happens to commit murder, theft, fraud, or tells lies just like singing a song every day. It has become a bad habit. They are human beings with too many animal qualities.

Meanwhile, there are animals, which, regardless of their being animal, have intelligence, wisdom and emotions that slightly resemble those of human beings. It is possible because of their human qualities. They happen to possess more of them than other animals. With 80% animal qualities they will behave more animal than human. Whereas, animals that possess human qualities, roughly 40 or 45%, will become half man, half beast. That's why we see them being so intelligent, so emotional.

There are also people who resemble animals because they have trained themselves to be like an animal. They learn to act like animals. They are unable to control their animal qualities. They accumulated too much day after day, so someday they definitely will be an animal themselves. Even if they became human beings, they would not be much like a human being at all. They would not have the personality of good, decent people. They would not feel ashamed of doing anything immoral.

Then you already understand. (Applause) It's not that I am forcing you to keep this or that precept in a coercive way. It's only my advice. The wisdom, the ancient and secretly kept methods of spiritual practice have been left behind by the enlightened masters. The law of evolution in the universe is just like that. If we know this law of nature, we'll live an easy life. If we don't violate any law then we should not be afraid of any kind of punishment. That's all.

Just like living in the U.S.A. we should know the laws of this country. If we drive recklessly, we will be caught by police and our driving privileges be suspended for a year, for example. We are already aware of the law but we still violate it. Sometimes we can get away with it but it is also difficult. We can do it once or twice, but if we keep doing it as a bad habit, someday we won't be able to get away with it anymore.

We Should Control Ourselves So That We Can Be Our Own Masters

Whenever we violate the precepts, we should quickly stand up. Then, at least we are violating the precepts in the mind only, not in a physical way. If we physically violate them, then there won't be any way to fix it. Don't say that I am strict with you. It is not so. You can do anything you want anyway since it is your life. Freedom of choice. But we should know that each choice has its own consequences. Don't think that because I have chosen this I am great, I am free. It's not freedom. We have the freedom to murder, to steal, and also the freedom to go to jail. (Applause)

Therefore, on this Earth, no one has the right to forbid others at all, because everyone is Buddha, is part of God. But we should know our Godly quality, our Buddha nature. We should live in accordance with Buddha's, God's standard to be able to come back, to control ourselves in order to become our own master.

Becoming a teacher, not a teacher of others, but a teacher of your own "self" is indeed difficult. Being a teacher of others is quite easy. Since ancient times, every enlightened master has become his own teacher. By becoming a teacher of your own "self", others will automatically be attracted by our magnetic field and power. If we just kept on talking, no one would believe in us. Our actions speak louder than our words. Emerson, an American philosopher, once said that: "What you are doing speaks so loudly that I can not hear what you are saying."

If you like me, it's because you like yourself, you wish to become like that. Feeling this way is correct, it's the way we want to live our lives. Therefore, what we like is the true nature of that person, not his physical form. We like what he does, what he represents. Just like when we fall in love with someone, it could be that we are first attracted by that person's physical appearance. But after having lived together for quite a while, we are then attracted by that person's love, nice character and way of living, not the physical appearance anymore. We would get used to watching the physical appearance every day, so we would get bored of watching it all the time no matter how good looking it was. (Applause)