The First Precept: To Kill or Not to Kill

Given the complexity of life in contemporary society, killing or involvement with killing is unavoidable. Biological, social, or political demands can conflict with the intention not to take life. We eat food and wear clothes produced by processes that involve someone taking the lives of animals. We kill insects and rodents to prevent them from invading our homes or spreading disease.

We kill in subtler ways as well. A harsh word may instantly kill years of trust. A derisive comment may kill inspiration in another person. We may kill a relationship by taking the other person for granted. Again, we do such things because we are reacting to some perceived threat.

Precepts are descriptions of how a person who is awake does behave. They help us to wake up to what is. They are not rigid rules. No rule can cover all possible circumstances.

Deep questions about values and ethics arise around the issues of abortion, life support, and elective suicide for those with debilitating and terminal illnesses. In these and other circumstances, call up compassion so that you see clearly, go empty in all the complexities so you know what is, and in that knowing act without hesitation.

Most people regard freedom as the ability to do whatever they want. In Buddhist practice, however, freedom means freedom from an agitated or clouded mind. As you cultivate this three-step practice, you discover a deeper freedom in your life: your every action becomes an expression of what you are — the union of compassion and emptiness.

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