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The Second Precept (Not taking what is not given)

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  • The Second Precept (Not taking what is not given)

    There are many subtle layers to this precept - as I understand it, it is not just to refrain from stealing but is more than that, it is to refrain from taking what is not given.

    What are the practical ways this presents in your life and how do you manage to deal with them? By sharing our strategies we can help each other to understand the refinements involved and how to meet them.

    As part of following this precept I try to ensure I do not take from the government what is rightfully or honestly theirs when it comes to paying taxes, for instance. However, this plays out in many subtle ways in my life and I am forever finding myself having to find new ways to deal with situations and stand up for my values graciously. What great training and mindfulness practice it is, I am forever grateful for the training the precepts provide.

    For example, we recently had a tradesman around. We had already paid the basic rate for his work but during the job there were some extras to pay for. With one example, he said, "That will be $25 if you pay cash" but $27.50 if I have to give you an invoice.

    "I'd like an invoice thank you" I said, "I like to pay my GST". The response I got could basically be summed up as "You're mad!" It was also made clear to me that it was a bother to prepare an invoice.

    It would have been very easy to have quit at this stage and just to have made it easy for everyone. I had some guilt arise about burdening him with more work. I also had some thoughts arise tempting me to save my money and just pay cash, it was easy to say, "oh it's just such a small amount who cares, the Government won't miss it, the Govt. won't know" ... but I knew.

    I knew if I paid cash although it would save me money, and save him work, we were basically stealing money from the government. So I just said, "I'd like to pay the GST please".

    This scenario is played out regularly with several trades people, and at much higher amounts. It shows me how easy it is not to follow this precept.

    I think the theory on the precepts is one thing, but living them in a world isn't so easy. What examples do you have for this precept and how have you dealt with them?

  • #2
    Having been in the past one who caught thieves for a living I could go on and on. But I won't. LOL. Again, as you point out Rachel, it's the subtleties that need close attention.
    Also, being now a tradesman as you put it, I find myself in situation where I could charge a lot more money for something but simply don't. I know that my conscience would really sting me, word would get out that I was dishonest and I would lose the opportunity for more work, and I would be really upset with myself for violating one of the precepts.
    I did, some time back, look at my girlfriend's email when she wasn't home. I had had suspicions that she was communicating with her ex-boyfriend and was crazy about wanting to know (that's an entirely different subject). As it turned out, she wasn't guilty in reality and I was so upset at what I had done that I confessed not long after she got home. I was really very upset after having realized that I had taken what was not freely given. She was very kind about it and told me that I was welcome to look at or through anything she had anytime I wanted. from then on, if ever an urge arose, I just remind myself of how badly I felt as though I had wounded the buddha himself, as I did wound my own buddha-nature and impede my progress on the path in allowing such a desire to be fulfilled as to spy on someone. I have no more bad feelings about it, I have let it go. But the sting of my transgression remained. That's all the reminder I need to stay on the path with regard to the 2nd precept. I have also seen firsthand many times how truth is stranger than fiction. I find it easy now to tell the truth about myself without exaggeration because I realize that even if someone were to believe me, any impression I made is not all that important to them anyway. More importantly, I realize that needing to impress anyone is a short-lived excitement and not worth the effort. Sooner or later, a liar, a thief, an exaggerator is caught up and can't escape his/her kamma wippakka.

    Another two cents' worth....

    Jerrod : )


    • #3
      What about taking sick leave to practice?


      • #4

        That depends on the means used to get the sick leave in order to practice. If one must lie to his employer in gaining this sick leave, then it would be a violation of the precepts to not lie as well as not to take what is not freely given. Of course the intention of employers is to give time to a sick employee for them to recuperate from an illness, surgery, etc... or to have surgeries and the like. If one asks one's employer "May I use some of my sick days for a buddhist retreat I would like to attend?" and the employer grants it, then nothing is taken that is not given. While one could argue that using sick leave for the sake of mental well being such as that which is sought at retreats may be technically correct, it would be the spirit of the words or intention that would be the determining factor. I would say likely that this could be creating some non-beneficial kamma for one arguing such a point, because such a point is a little toward the frivolous side and would not necessarily qualify as right speech. Now if one were to feel quite emotionally or mentally unwell and sought for time to take refuge for counsel at a monastery, maybe the argument could be justly made. I would find it unlikely that a lot of employers would agree with this though and instead want you to see a doctor or qualified psychologist, therapist, etc. You raise an excellent question. Thanks for sharing this idea. I hope my reasoning is helpful by way of answer to you. I am sure there are other people here with much to add who are well more qualified than I.




        • #5
          Originally posted by Martin Cross View Post
          What about taking sick leave to practice?
          Yes I agree with Jerrod - if you are lying to your employer about why you are taking sick leave and either stating or implying or pretending to be sick when you are not - then the precepts are not being followed. If you have been honest with your employer about why you are taking sick leave and he/she approves then it may not be, although you are still not sick eh? So irrespective of the employer are you taking sick leave for reasons other than for those which it is intended, in which case, in my limited knowledge it is still not following the precept.
          Could you use your holiday leave instead? There is no better holiday.


          • #6
            All these precepts are multi layered (onions)! My father once told me that stealing was the worst crime anyone could commit. When I asked why he said " when you dont tell the truth, you are stealing the other persons right to know the truth, when you take what is not yours, you steal the other persons right to have what is their's and their peace and happiness". So stealing, in his opinion, was the worst crime. Wise old soul my dad is.


            • #7
              Thanks for the replies.No I dont take sick leave to practice.I am one of the few people in my work group who has any sick leave left,I am not going to draw any inferences here.Also much the same in my last job.Which when I left I left behind the better part of 6 months leave.Good to get your support as I often think am I stupid.Hard to go against the flow and live in sansara.


              • #8
                Yes it is hard to go against the flow, well done Martin you help inspire the rest of us. I know of people who would take sick leave when they are not sick, and who would look down on those who don't do likewise. I know of people who would not pay taxes if they can get away from it, and who think this is the norm, that the tax office is the enemy to be beaten, and who expect all to follow suit.

                Choosing to do things differently does take courage. That is why it is good to have the forum to provide support and reassurance when we are swimming against the stream.

                (If we all lived in a Buddhist world where everyone was trying to keep the precepts I suspect it may be easier!)

                I run my own business and I try my hardest to make ethical decisions all the time, and to treat each customer/client fairly. At times this means saying no to money, which may allow worry to arise in me at times. Also, others think I am odd and find it difficult to comprehend that I would turn down their requests/offers/deals, etc. But in the end it is my own heart and mind that matters, and that is the final call, and that is when swimming against the stream brings rewards far more than their approval.


                • #9
                  Sometimes at work, when business is slow, I check the Facebook updates or other internet activities. I never really challenged this behavior until recently. It is not what my employer is paying me for. I am starting to think of this in terms of the 2nd precept...


                  • #10
                    Nice differentiation Shad, well done. I guess there are probably things you can be doing to help your employer instead.
                    Similarly, I am trying to monitor my use of phone calls and try not to use the work phone for any personal calls. I am the employer so it is not because of that but because all phone bills are tax deductible items, so if I am making a personal call then I am getting a tax deduction to which I am not really entitled, aren't I? I find this a tricky one at a very practical level, maybe I should pay the business back for any personal calls if I do make them ... I hadn't thought of that until just this moment.


                    • #11
                      I guess respecting copyright falls under this precept also. I believe not only in my country but all over the world ordinary people don't have much second thoughts when downloading music, movies or software that is subject to copyright. Although a few years ago buying a windows license was not to be consider affordable to me, and it still isn't for most of my fellow countrymen, there are alternative options like Linux. I use Ubuntu (a Linux distribution) for more then a year now. I had to overcome some minor difficulties, but I did it and I got used to the new system.
                      What about Dhamma based material (books, Dhammatalks, etc..) Do you think it is good to impose limitation for the use of such material? Is it good for the dissemination of the teachings? Me and a friend of mine we have been trying to translate to our native language and post on the internet translations of suttas, articles and small books about the early Buddhism even Dhamma-talks. In doing so, we always try to obtain the permission of the author or of the monastery, organization that he is part of. Most of the times we don't get any response. Like it is said by Prof. Gombrich (thank you Bo for the link) most of the Theravada Sangha doesn't make enough efforts to spread the teachings to the world...
                      We formed now an official organization with the purpose of distribute material related to Theravada Buddhism. I hope we will receive more answers to our email if we write on behalf of an organization rather then an individual. There are exceptions to this. Like Bhante Dhammika, that replied to us very promptly and of course gave us the requested permission.
                      So infringing the law of copyright in the case of Dhamma related material would it be a transgression of the second precept?

                      how do you like this kind of attitude?

                      Best wishes


                      • #12
                        Hi Ciprian, I think you are spot on, breaking copyright means you are stealing someone else's material.

                        There are very strict copyright laws in Australia and they are not just about music but also about written material and even in some cases ideas, inventions, etc. I went to a legal seminar on copyright last year and found it of great value.

                        People do not have to apply for copyright for their material to be copyrighted. In Australia at least it is automatic. There are strict penalties for breaking copyright (including copying computer software). It costs me a fortune at work because I buy a licence for each computer, but i feel ripped off by companies such as microsoft so I am hoping to not have to use them in future.

                        The copyright laws vary according to the purpose you are using the material for. It also depends on who is using it. For instance an academic institution has different levels of copyright restrictions than an individual. There are also restrictions on posting of materials, making multiple copies etc. When I was an academic we had all the copyright laws drummed into us. They follow them very carefully. I'd like to see BSWA doing the same if it isn't already. Luckily a lot is for free distribution.

                        It also means if we were to take an article from somewhere else to show people on here, that the source needs to be specified.

                        Following copyright is indeed part of this precept, although I presume copyright law was not around in the time of the Buddha!



                        • #13
                          I agree with you, but I think we need to consider more things..
                          Not breaking the local laws it is one thing, not breaking the 5 precepts is another. Sometimes maybe one follows the laws of the land , but doesn't necessarily mean that is following the precepts also. It is obvious in the case of the first precept.
                          There could be countries with much vaguer laws regarding copyright or even no laws at all, so what would be considered a transgression in Australia, might be ok to do in other countries. But is it also the same regarding the precepts? I think precepts have another origin then mere local social conventions.
                          when I said "how do you like this kind of attitude?" I was not referring to my attitude, but to the copyright policy of the website in the link ascribed to the word "this". To avoid any confusions I will rewrite the link
                          New times, bring new possibilities of doing harm, so I agree that we must readapt and update our moral precepts. I personally always felt that restricting the access to knowledge, be it religious or scientific, has also the not so good aspect of slowing down progress. But we also have to consider that without the protection of the law, the authors might have to chose a different livelihood, so this also would be a loss.
                          The case of the Dhamma related material is very sensible. It might be seen as hindering the free circulation of a good medicine. But the authors of the Dhamma-related books for example, they too must sustain themselves in a way in order to write books. So what would be the best option?

                          May all beings be safe and happy!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Ciprian Salagean View Post
                            Not breaking the local laws it is one thing, not breaking the 5 precepts is another.
                            I agree Ciprian. I often have concerns with people who avoid paying taxes or who make claims for money they haven't actually spent, by saying what they are doing is "legal". Just because it is "legal" doesn't make it right. Just because it is "legal" doesn't mean you are following the 5 precepts.


                            • #15
                              I am walking along a street in Geraldton and on the public footpath were some beautiful frangipani flowers which had fallen down from a tree in someone's garden. The smell was beautiful. I was travelling away from home at the time and staying in a bed and breakfast so picked some up and put them in a glass of water back in my bedroom to brighten up a very dull room.

                              I was a bit taken aback when my landlady said "Where did you steal those from"? I said they were on the footpath.

                              They were in my opinion going to waste. Did I break the precept do you think? They weren't on reflection given to me.



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