Buddhist Reflection: “Backsliding” & The 5 Precepts


Every now and again it happens that I slide off what I call the “Buddhist Wagon”. It’s when I get so wrapped up in my busy life that I neglect my practice. By neglect I mean not meditating (at least) every day, visiting my sangha, adhering to the Five Precepts, things like that. In the beginning of my practice it used to be that it would take me months to  bounce back from these periods of backsliding. As I’ve cultivated mindfulness and become more aware of myself I find that I catch myself in these moments much quicker. I notice almost immediately when I’m not feeling balanced, focused, or centered.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the craziness of day-to-day life. It occurs when we’re not in the present moment–when we’re too busy worrying about work deadlines, social calendars, relationships, finances, and our personal dramas. In other words, real life. But it’s during those times that we need our spiritual practice the most. It’s what grounds us during our most chaotic times. When we have a solid foundation the path is always clear no matter the circumstances of our environment.

Whenever I find myself backsliding I always go to the place where I first began my practice–my sangha. So last Sunday I stuffed down all my usual excuses not to go, bundled up, braved the cold weather, and made the twenty-five minute drive to the other side of town to attend meditation with Lotus in the Desert. I honestly can’t remember when I last visited my Buddhist community. It was sometime during the summer I believe. However, it never matters. Whether I visited last week or last year the members of my sangha are always welcoming, never making me feel bad for not attending. Turns out I picked a good Sunday to go. Not only was there a visiting Buddhist nun leading the group but it was the Sunday that members can take (or retake) the Five Precepts.

The Five Precepts are an essential part of the Buddhist practice. They are not a list of must follow rules but are more an ethical code of conduct for lay practitioners. The idea is that a person cannot be successful in following the Buddhist path nor can they gain wisdom without following the precepts, which are as follows:

I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.

I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech*.

I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

*Incorrect  speech is often described as: abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter.

Pretty simple right? Not really. The first two precepts are pretty straightforward but the rest are not. What’s sexual misconduct? How do you define incorrect speech? Should we refrain from all intoxicants or only the ones that lead to carelessness? There aren’t any answers to these questions. And while there are only five precepts they are all pretty easy to forget if we neglect to be mindful of them. I know I have which is why I was very happy to retake them last Sunday. More than anything I needed to be reminded of my foundation. I left my sangha feeling much better than when I arrived and even decided to commit to dedicating myself to the precepts once a month.

Will I fall off again? Absolutely. The trick is being aware of the fact that I’ve fallen and knowing how to put myself back on track. With Buddhism it’s not about the situation. It’s about being aware of it. 🙂


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