Can we observe the Precepts without going through the official ceremony?

Some people say that they are already keeping the precepts and are spiritual, and feel there is no need to go through the official ceremony. In fact, they argue that they are better than those who go through it but do not uphold the precepts.

The ceremony is a time when we can express our faith, confidence and commitment. By participating in the ceremony, we express our determination and commitment to observe these Five Precepts in our daily life. It means we have strong faith in these Five Precepts as a framework for us to transform our life; without faith, it will be difficult to observe/practise the Precepts. In the ceremony, we publicly accept the Five Precepts with a strong intention to use them as a guideline for living an ethical life. In other words, we are committed to live a virtuous life, with dignity and mindfulness, to be in harmony with all beings around us; in short, to bring our actions into harmony with our spiritual ideals.

The Pali word Sila (morality) has the connotation of virtue, skillfulness, nobleness and wholesomeness. By taking part in the official precepts ceremony, we formally take on the qualities of Sila in the presence of a spiritual mentor, the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and arahants. Therefore there are only benefits and no harm in participating in the precept ceremony when we are intent on living virtuously.

The Buddhist Five Precepts provide a wholesome foundation for personal and social growth, by providing practical and universal principles for a good life and the cultivation of virtues. It is based on the principle of non-harming and has the effect of harmonising our true interest for the well-being of others, and the universal laws. Action taken without regard for ethical principles leads to relationships scarred by competitiveness, exploitation, and aggression. In contrast, actions guided by ethical principles promote harmony among people, bringing about peace, cooperation and mutual respect.

The Buddhist Five Precepts are not commandments imposed by force; rather, they are a course of training that we take on willingly. They are not taken to please a supreme being, but for our own cultivation. The Five Precepts function as the core training in moral discipline and form an integral part of a Buddhist’s life. They are used to help us become better people and are not to be taken as a burden we feel compelled to shoulder. The upholding of the precepts includes recitation of the precepts daily, mindfulness, self-discipline and reflection. It requires a high level of sincerity, honesty and inner discipline.

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