Precept 2 – Abstain from Taking What is not Given

If there is one unique commonality I have noticed about the precepts is that many lack any real instruction or teaching.  For instance, precept number three (3): I take upon myself the rule of training to abstain from sexual misconduct. So what does that exactly mean?

But I digress.

The second Buddhist precept: I take upon myself the rule of training to abstain from taking what is not given,  is similar to precept three …. What does it mean, exactly?  The Christian commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is said to flow into the Buddhist second precept. Whether any appropriation of another’s possessions can be called “stealing” may be arguable.

Some say, “Not to take what is not given,” is clear and everyone knows what it implies. The bonds in which that injunction holds him are strict but unambiguous. But is the precept limited to only ‘stealing?’ I mean if I take a pen bought and paid for by the company to whom I work, have I taken what is not given?  If I find a quarter laying on the parking lot, I have taken?  Should I have taken it?

It is certainly clear, I will not steal.  But if a husband sneaks money from the joint checking account once a week to have a lunch with coworkers, has he not taken something not freely given?  If I call in sick only to walk outside for fresh air during the day, have I not take a day’s pay from my employer?  In telling a white lie, have I not taken the truth?

Dr. Paul Dahlke indicated that theft is included, but the rule goes much further than that. But he never expounded upon what ‘…further than that means.’   Maybe at the end of the day, we should all look to Stephen Covey who so eloquently stated, “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside us will affect us.”

I will admit, in this complex world, I sometimes struggle with the second precept, not because it is right, but because, at times, the precept can be so darn vague. However, looking back upon my own mistakes, all I can point to is that the most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial emotions rather than from the heart, others will sense that we are not genuine. We simply won’t be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.



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