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I'm really interested in Buddhism, but I have a hard time motivating myself to follow the five precepts. I don't particularly want to stop eating meat, let alone stop drinking and/or smoking.

Can I still move along the Buddhist path? In the path to the disappearance of suffering?

Thanks!

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You don't have to be a vegetarian if you follow Theravada Buddhism. The Buddha himself left it up to the individual preference. Only certain later Buddhist schools started demanding the followers to become vegetarian.

But you have to stop drinking as it leads to heedlessness and breaking of the other 4 precepts. Smoking does not break the precepts, but it's an addiction and very bad for your health.

Being a Buddhist only requires you to take the refuge in the Triple-gem, but you will not get far in Buddhism without keeping to the five precepts.

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You don't need to stop eating meat.

Drinking and smoking are not compatible with the path of the Buddha. The more you follow the path of the Buddha, the less you will do these things. So you can step on the path if you smoke and drink - everyone has to start somewhere - but you are not a follower of the path if you do those things.

Notice how these things are not satisfying you because you are looking for something else (Buddhism currently). Buddhism will help you understand your craving for these things (and anything) and its role in your suffering.

Good luck.

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The five precepts are training rules, not strong prohibitions.

When you undertake them, you can increase your compliance over time.

For e.g. from drinking alcohol habitually, you can reduce it to the occasional social drink, and then reduce further.

But before undertaking the five precepts, you may want to learn the basics of Buddhist teachings first - the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Gaining Right View is the first step on the path.

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I don't particularly want to stop eating meat, let alone stop drinking and/or smoking.

A reason (perhaps a good reason) to stop doing these things is that (or is if) they're a cause of suffering.

If you ever decide that

  1. They cause suffering
  2. You are able to stop, and happier without
  3. You want to avoid causes of suffering

... then you may decide to stop.

Until then (or before then, i.e. now) I'd guess that your interest in (studying, practising, meeting with) Buddhism might help with any or all of the above 3, and help with other things besides.

I read someone say that if you can't keep 5 precepts, it's better to keep 4 (or 3) than none.

Something like the "Kalama sutta" suggests you aren't expected to practice what you haven't understood or realised for yourself (though it also recommends behaviour that's "praised by the wise" ... which can help you learn from or avoid other people's mistakes too).

I think someone wrote that alcohol is associated with suffering; even just a little alcohol is associated with at least a little suffering; but I think that's something you have to decide (for yourself and for the people around you) -- people telling you things may not suffice.

What you wrote might be a false dichotomy:

  • Either drink and smoke and eat meat and enjoy life
  • Or move along the Buddhist path and stop enjoying life

I find I enjoy life more with less (or no) alcohol, smoke, or meat -- I might still "enjoy life" (e.g. meet people socially) but choose to avoid alcohol (and smoke and meat) because having observed them for a while I decided that these interfere with (are not associated with) happiness.

See also Is moderate drinking acceptable in Buddhism? for a variety of opinions on the subject.

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Five precepts are not about forcing oneself to do something unnatural that reduces one's enjoyment of life. It's not like that at all! :)

Instead, in the beginning we tend to be a little confused about ways to enjoy life, and while thinking we're pursuing enjoyment, we sometimes hurt ourselves. It's like a kid eating playdough thinking he enjoys it but in fact only getting sick in the stomach.

What precepts are really about is our mental and emotional stability. They are the opposite of getting carried away and eating playdough.

  1. To abstain from killing.

What this really about is anger management. Every time we let ourselves to get carried away by anger we end up doing/saying stupid things and then regretting it later. So being able to control anger and (verbal or actual) violence based on anger is beneficial to us and to others.

  1. To abstain from taking what is not given.

This is about desire management. Every time we get an urge or an obsession to posses something - that's not us anymore. We become slaves of an idea or an image we have caught somewhere. It's like a mental virus that makes us sick with disease of wanting something. We are not free anymore. So being able to not get obsessed with desires is a matter of mental/emotional health, that leads to freedom to chose what we do based on rationally expected result, not on an irrational urge.

  1. To avoid sexual misconduct.

This is similar to the above. Desire to enjoy pleasant sensations gets us into a condition of tunnel vision. We no longer have clear idea of what we do, what are its sideeffects, what results we may expect for ourselves, and how we may be hurting others. Instead, our actions should be based on clear and rational understanding of the expected results, not on seeking pleasure. Sexual pleasure is one case, but pleasure of any kind is a false misleading promise. We may enjoy eating five pounds of icecream, and then get sick with a cold. Instead, if we eat strategically, with health in mind, we end up being healthy. Similarly, if we engage in sex with the goal of communicating our feelings for the other person, and with the goal of procreation - we end up creating the positive effect, because we are not blinded by desire, we see and know what we are doing every step of the way.

  1. To abstain from false speech

False speech and negative speech are almost always motivated by fear and hatred. It either is done in order to protect oneself, or to put the blame on the other or both. It seems that by engaging in false speech we're benefiting ourselves. But in fact we hurt ourselves a lot more, because by doing that we're increasing division and isolation, we build an invisible glass wall between ourselves and others. The more we do it, the lonelier we become.

  1. To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

This one is obviously hurting oneself by putting oneself in the position of reduced mental capacity, confused understanding of one's environment, and decreased control over one's actions. Driving while drunk is an obvious example, but the point here is not even literal intoxication, it is subjecting oneself to any situation when one is confused and out of control to the point when one is hurting oneself. This could be indulging in video games, or watching too many TV series, or hanging with bad company - immersing oneself into any strong influence that leads to loss of critical capacity and awareness is a way to make oneself helpless and eventually hurt oneself.

So as you can see the five precepts are not about being harsh on ourselves - it's the opposite. Five precepts are about taking care of ourselves by being balanced, rational, and aware of one's state, one's actions, and their results.

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On Being a Lay Follower.

But what makes it hard to keep precepts? And no need to worry or hope that compromises might come, Buddha Dhamma does not really desire for you, while trades will and seldom, especially when not rejoicing in virtue, one would not fall into their bounds. Your qualities of desires make your destiny.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial use or other lower wordily gains by ways of exchange or trade.]

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