Earlier this week I was chatting with a friend and the Five Precepts came up. (Because that’s the kind of Dharma Dorks we are…)
They said the Fourth Precept, “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from false speech”, is the most important. Because, they said, if you behave according to all the other precepts, you’ll never have to lie about your behavior.
I gave them a pass in the moment, but having mulled it over, I don’t think this argument holds up. It leaves the skillfulness of one’s conduct to the values and morality of the tribe(s) in which one is embedded.
I have been embedded in several toxic tribes, including my time in the military, where it was completely appropriate to kill things and to use alcohol and to abuse sense pleasures. And then to brag about that behavior. There was some fun in that kind of living… but it never felt safe.
My experience of dhamma friendships is completely different. I absolutely feel safe. And I believe that sense of safety comes, in large part, from a modified first precept: not causing harm.
Of course, surrounded by others who choose to not cause harm, we would feel safer. But what has surprised me is realizing that when I myself chose to not cause harm, I felt safer. It may sound counterintuitive, but I have experienced that cooling my own aggression has concurrently cooled my fear. The aggressive neurology, which I believed was keeping me safe, was actually feeding a neurology of fear. Go figure.
So, friend, if you’re reading this, it’s the (modified) first for me. I undertake the training precept to not cause harm.
PS: I haven’t tried asking for comments before, but if it’s interesting to you, and you have an opinion about which of the precepts is most important, I’d love to hear about it. Comment below! :)