If you have done even a small amount of study into Buddhism, you already know that the Buddha dug his numbered lists. The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Hindrances, the Seven Factors of Awakening, etc. These lists are useful tools in the practice and help us identify areas of focus. I have decided that for the month of August, I am going to launch a project to focus on one of the foundational lists of the Dharma, the Five Precepts.

The Five Precepts are a challenging aspect of Buddhist practice, despite seeming to be one of the most straightforward pieces of the Buddha’s teaching. These precepts establish the backbone of Buddhist ethics, and are offered as practical guidelines to allow the practice to thrive, not so much as a list of moral prohibitions. You will see items on the list translated different ways, but here’s one translation that I have seen –

I undertake…

to abstain from killing any living being

to abstain from taking that which is not freely given

to abstain from sexual misconduct

to abstain from false or malicious speech

to abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind

Five Precepts

At a glance, all of these instructions seem pretty straight forward, but as I have studied, I have found them to be more complex than a surface reading might indicate.

I will be posting about my thoughts and observations of the precepts in general and individually in upcoming posts, but I wanted to put out this post to launch a project that I will be undertaking in the month of August; The 31 Day Precept Project. During the month of August, I will be focusing on studying and attempting to apply all five precepts in a more thorough way than I previously have. 

I started adopting elements of the precepts fairly early in my practice, albeit in a somewhat piecemeal and haphazard way. My efforts regarding the precepts have largely been focused on non-harming, and I have had brief periods of toying with abstaining from intoxicants, but I have long been curious about what the effects of more prolonged adherence to the precepts would be. The Buddha always took a “try this and see how it works” approach, and I’ve decided to take him up on that and see how my practice is affected by spending some time working with these guidelines.

My intent over the month of this project is to share what I am learning, and to document some of my experience. In the next few days, probably running into the start of August, I will be posting about the precepts themselves. I welcome feedback and discussion about this project, and I hope to hear from some of my fellow practitioners as I go along.