This is the third talk in a speaker series titled Ethics, Action, and the Five Precepts. How does the training precept of refraining from stealing differ from the Biblical Commandment of “thou shall not steal?” The precept of not to steal is based on the Buddha’s teaching of ending suffering. Instead of a black and white rule, this precept is meant to protect our mind from impulses to take what is not freely given. At the deepest level, this precept is designed to end tanha, our thirst, our grasping, our greed. It is a raft that carries us to liberation, rather than a rule to be clung to.
This talk was given as a part of the series "Where Rubber Meets the Road: A Series on Mindful Living." Most of us come to the Buddhist practice because of meditation, and not for the precepts. In our Western culture, we have an antipathy to ethical practices. It sounds to us that ethics is about right and wrong, and rules of conduct that involve judgment. However, ethical practices according to the Buddhist understanding is an investigation to the cessation of suffering. In the Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths, the fourth truth is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. Three of the Eightfold Paths -- right speech, right action, and right livelihood -- deal with ethical practices. It's the way we live off the cushion; the way we live in interaction with other people. Notice that sila is a growth out of the Eightfold Paths, and the Eightfold Paths is the way of being without suffering. Notice also that sila consists of forms of practices, just like meditation, instead of commandments. So in our ethical practices, we ask ourselves, "What is the best action in the circumstances? What can I say or do that won't enhance suffering?" We investigate in our hearts in terms of understanding dukkha and the end of dukkha.