Introduction to the Precepts
We will find that all of the precepts start with the same phrase “I undertake the training…”
So first, what does it mean to say “I undertake the training?”
Well, undertake could be defined as “To commit oneself to and begin (an enterprise or responsibility); take on.
guarantee or affirm something; give as a formal pledge”
It is indeed a commitment we are making. And the tone of ‘given as a pledge’ fits very well. So we start off with ‘giving our pledge’ But what are we pledging to?
Training is an action word. It is learning (or teaching) a particular skill or, in the case of the precepts, a type of behavior.
So when we state we will undertake the training, we state that we are accepting the pledge to practice the behavior - the behavior of loving-kindness, the behavior of generosity and so on. This is not a commitment to just believing a thing or having faith in a path, but instead to act. Acting in loving-kindness, being generous, keeping an active focus on moderation and contentment.
And we realize that when we take these pledges it isn’t that we will just make the commitment once and be done with it. On a nice day, sitting in sangha with our community, we may be fully centered and make a 100% commitment to the training of positive speech…and after a few hours we fall back into old habits of standing around the water cooler, caught up in the gossip of who wore what to sangha that day.
We should not be too hard on ourselves. Like taking a shower, we can’t just do it once and be done. We refresh this training on a regular basis. And a wonderful thing happens - we find that as time passes, the duration of our commitment seems to extend from minutes, to hours, to days. The practice sticks for longer and we stay focused on our new way of life longer. As we experience the benefits, it becomes easier to apply effort into that practice. We see the improvement in our lives and in the lives around us and we look forward to committing ourselves more fully to our training.