Have you ever asked, “What should I do, to be a Buddhist?”
Some people will recommend meditation, while others will suggest a refuge taking ceremony. Surprisingly, the way of a lay Buddhist starts with “What should I not do?”
While taking refuge is the first step, observing the Buddhist precepts is the fundamental practice. To be a Buddhist, we adopt a lifestyle that does not harm ourselves and others. Such a lifestyle creates a conducive environment for building peace in our life. When we define our actions according to the precepts, our mind and thoughts will be shaped accordingly. After a period of time, it changes our personality.
So what should a Buddhist avoid doing?
- Avoid killing
- Avoid stealing
- Avoid sexual misconduct
- Avoid lying and harmful speech
- Avoid intoxicants
These 5 precepts define a Buddhist lifestyle. When we live according to this adopted lifestyle and interact with other people, we encounter interesting situations.
I remembered an incidence in China when I was having dinner alone. It was a busy workday and I decided to reward myself with a nice dinner after work. I found a nice seafood restaurant in the hotel and ordered a fish in orange sauce. It sounded appetizingly healthy, and the waitress smiled approvingly too.
After ordering my dinner, I settled down to enjoy the décor of this huge Chinese seafood restaurant. That is when I noticed a row of fish tanks with sad-looking fishes at the other end of the restaurant!
“I hope my fish comes from the fridge and not from those tanks.” I thought to myself.
I was seated close to the kitchen and out came a kitchen staff with a fishing net! My mind recoiled in horror as I debated with myself on what to do next.
“Perhaps another table ordered it. Surely, that is not going to be my fish in orange sauce…”
I saw the waitress who took my order and waved frantically at her. She took out her order memo and came towards me. Maybe she thought I needed something else.
“Is he catching the fish for my order?” I pointed at that kitchen staff with the fishing net. He just reached the fish tanks and was reaching into the tank with his fishing net.
“Yes sir, our seafood is the freshest!” She beamed with pride.
“I cannot eat live fish.” That was a direct translation from my conversation in Mandarin.
“Sir, your fish will be served cooked. That fish will be dead!” I caught her rolling her eyes. She might be amused by my ignorance or irritated with me.
“I am a Buddhist and I shouldn’t kill （杀生）,” I told her in exasperation.
Her eyes registered a recognition while her mouth curled sarcastically. Before I knew what happened, she was screaming at the top of her voice at the kitchen staff beside the fish tank.
“This mister pray to the Buddha and he doesn’t kill (杀生). He doesn’t want the fish anymore.”
The restaurant became quiet for a moment as everyone turned their heads to look at me. I think some were amused and smiling and my face was burning red with embarrassment. Fortunately, they lost interest in me almost immediately. The conversations picked up and people tucked back into their food.
Re-ordering my dinner became a chore because I had to clarify whether the dishes contain any live seafood. I gave up ordering any seafood and had fried rice instead.
Although it was an embarrassing episode for me, I found myself being pleased with my actions. At least the entire restaurant heard about Buddhist precept. Hopefully, they will be curious about my oxymoronic dietary requirement and try to find out more about Buddhism.
Such incidents are not unique and had happened at various stages in life. Like that time when I caught the hand of a fellow soldier, to prevent him from swatting a few mosquitoes feeding on me. That incident caused a minor commotion in my platoon and I was taunted for a week.
Practising Buddhism is more than just meditating at home. It also involves shaping our lifestyles according to the teachings of Buddha. Just like 2,500 years ago, some people may not understand your lifestyle. Some may even make fun of you. However, our practice will leave an impression upon others and that is one way of sharing the teachings of Buddha.
From precepts, peace will arise.
From peace, concentration will arise.
From concentration, wisdom will arise.
May all be well and happy.