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Rules emerge naturally in a society in which everyone is interconnected with everyone else. "Do not kill," "Do not steal," "Do not engage in wrongful sexual activity," "Do not lie," and "Do not indulge in intoxicating drink"--these are basic rules common to all societies. In Buddhism, obeying such prohibitions is referred to as keeping the precepts. The five basic rules just cited are called the Five Precepts for lay Buddhists.

Rules tend to prohibit certain actions and thus seem to curtail our freedom. Many people consider these rules or precepts outdated and not worth heeding. But if we ignore them, we will wander off the Way and come to great harm. Only then will wander off the Way and come to great harm. Only then will we realized that such precepts exist for a reason, that they are what protects and supports us, as well as society.

The Five Precepts are fairly clear, I believe. Here I would like to comment on the first of the five, the injunction not to take life. All religions have this rule.

Societies have laws against killing others, and doing so is against all accepted morals. Yet there is no end to killing in this world and to the fear that it breeds.

"Do not kill" is also a call to value the things of daily life. Never should we kill another human being; we should also avoid killing all forms of life, plant or animal. At the same time, we should treasure the things we use every day. "What a waste," we say when a still serviceable object is discarded. Disregard for inanimate things eventually leads to disrespect for living things as well, and in the end can even threaten human existence. Just think of the way we have polluted the world and wasted our precious natural resources.