What should I do when I violate a precept?

Some people worry too much over the violation of precepts, as if it were something fatal. The fear of violation is so great that they dare not take the precepts. Some think that they will take the precepts only when there is no possibility of violating them. The reality is that we may break the precepts. No one is perfect when he/she just begins to observe the precepts and even after some time of upholding the precepts, faults may occur. In fact, it is because we cannot keep the precepts perfectly that we need to take and keep them. They are a tool for us to develop our mindfulness and to prevent us from doing unwholesome actions. Hence, the precepts should be understood as a tool to train ourselves.

When we violate the precepts, the best thing to do is to sincerely and truthfully confess to the Buddha by imagining the Buddha in front of you. Sincerely acknowledge the transgression and say, “I am aware that I violated the precepts of […..], “I know it is not beneficial to […..].”

Next, reflect on how and why the transgression arose. Was it due to lack of mindfulness? Greed? Anger? Ignorance? Carelessness? Then make a determined decision not to do the action again.

In examining our actions and intentions in this way, we are constantly refining them. In the past, we may have used to do many harmful actions, were unaware of them or did not care. Now, we are aware of them, regret them and are motivated not to do them again. This helps us to develop our mindfulness and work against our three “poisonous” attitudes of attachment, ill-will, and ignorance.

Do not feel guilty over transgressions. Rather, regret them, learn from them, and be strongly determined to change. Our negative habitual energy is strong and causes us to violate the precepts. The fact that we are aware of our transgression and making an effort to change, will certainly decrease that negative habitual energy.

We need to keep in mind that upholding the precepts is a constant transformation of ourselves. We need to be patient and keep working to improve by saying to ourselves each time we confess, “From now on, I will try to do better.”

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