I have been travelling between the East and West teaching for the past ten years and found that as the world becomes more globalised, human beings (both Eastern and Western) suffer from a greater spiritual vacuum. This book has been written to address social problems peculiar to this globalised age and how the Buddhist Five Precepts:
- To abandon killing
- To abandon stealing
- To abandon sexual misconduct
- To abandon lying
- To abandon taking alcohol and illegal drugs and to abandon misusing prescription drugs
… can be an ethical framework for modern living.
Traditionally, religion had great influence over society, and religious scriptures provided the guidelines for ethical behaviour within cultures. Today, as societies become seemingly more materialistic and economies more boundless, the role of religion has weakened tremendously. Modern society tends to view ethics and morality as limiting, and in some cases irrelevant. Some quarters might even have developed the extreme view that religious teachings are an obstacle to individual and societal progress. Overall, I believe our moral values are in decline, particularly in Asia, where economies are booming and many people have replaced religion and moral values with consumerism. Shopping malls have become the new places of worship for the young, and branded goods, the new objects of their idolatry.
With religion losing its place of reverence in our lives, and with no alternative system of secular ethics to replace it, a spiritual vacuum has evolved. Compounding this new emptiness, we are constantly fed with commercial advertisements which nourish the seeds of desire and indulgence. As a result, we fill the blanks in our lives with shopping, eating, drinking, surfing the Internet, doing drugs, gambling, indulging in pornography, or even overworking, causing much confusion and suffering within self and society. We need a medicine for society, something to protect us from social illness and to make us physically, mentally and spiritually healthy again.
All human beings want happiness. To achieve happiness, I believe in Buddhist principles which are universal in nature, with which to direct our lives. The Five Precepts set forth by the Buddha are not commandments. Rather, they are practical guidelines that can govern our behaviour, helping us to live peaceful, wholesome and happy lives. They were developed by the wise via insights born from mindful observation and direct experience of suffering and happiness.
The Five Precepts are based on karma and the interconnected-ness of all beings, whereby we take responsibility for our actions and live with respect for and in harmony with the people and natural environment around us. Karma refers to our actions, which create the cause for what we are experiencing. The Law of Karma is the universal guiding principle for good and bad. It is not based on the concept of reward and punishment, but rather, on self-responsibility, where we are ourselves solely responsible for our own physical, mental and verbal actions and thus, for what we experience due to them. Positive emotions and wholesome behaviours lead us to happiness, whereas negative, unwholesome emotions and behaviours lead us to suffering. In other words, we are responsible for our own happiness and suffering. The Five Precepts are based on the principle of non-–harm – of self and others. It is the path to happiness for ourselves and others. Actually, they are universal ethics that go beyond culture and religion and are relevant at all times, even today. Abiding by them will certainly have a positive impact in making a person happier and healthier, and the world a better place to live in.
It is therefore important for practitioners to sincerely upkeep these ethical principles. Do you really care for yourself? Do you care about life? Do you care about the well-being of society? The Earth? We answer this question not by words alone, but through our actions, that is to say, we do not just study them at an intellectual level. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the values of ethics, one must integrate them into our lives with conviction and use them as a source of our inner strength. By doing this, we will then cultivate peace and develop the power of our minds, which are essential ingredients in living a happy and successful life.
Shi Faxun (aka Bhikkuni Shin), Singapore/Malaysia, 2011