Receiving and upholding precepts is a major practice in Buddhism. In the three learnings, the first learning is Precepts. Before the Buddha passed into nirvana, the Buddha told his disciples to take the precepts as teacher. Hence precepts are very important in Buddhism. We should treat precepts as the Buddha, as it represents the spirit of Buddhism. However, many misunderstood the precepts. While the precepts tell us "refrain from..", or "no not..", they are only on the surface, not the essence or the heart of the precepts.
When many people hear "I'm going to receive the precepts. Do you want to receive the precepts along with me?", they stumble and avoid taking the precepts. Many people are afraid of taking the precepts because of the numbers and what they refrain people from doing, such as drinking alcohol, or smoking, or drugs. While precepts do restrict us from doing certain things we may want to do, there is more to precepts than that.
It is not at every moment that we break the precepts.For example, right now as you are reading this, you are upholding the precepts!! Isn't it easy? If we think about it in another way, if reading this article took you 5 minutes, you have upholded the precepts for 5 minutes already. Why? Because during this 5 minutes, have you harmed anyone? Have you lied to anyone? Have you stole anything? Did you violate anyone? Did you drink until you are very drunk? I believe that none of you have violated the precepts as you are reading this. It is only during some moments when we do not have the confidence, or we stumble and have internal conflicts that we break the precepts. Just as we are going on with our lives, as long as we are careful and be mindful of our actions, we can also uphold the precepts.
There is also the other side of precepts that we normally do not talk about. Precepts are not only about "do nots". They are also about "dos". The "dos" are the precepts that we don' normally think about. The precepts are meant to keep us pure. Therefore it means that we also have to wholesome actions. For example, the six paramitas, 37 Bodhisattvas practices are also precepts that we should uphold. Have we contemplate on whether our speech has benefited or harmed others? Have we considered whether our actions have provided safety for others? Doing wholesome actions, speaking wholesome words, and thinking wholesome thoughts are all precepts that we should also uphold. In every action we do, is it pure? If they are, are are upholding the purity of the precepts.
More importantly, we should maintain the spirit of upholding the precepts. Precepts are not in the numbers that we see, but in the spirit, the heart. Precepts are not there to restrict us, but to protect us and others, and give us freedom. While others think of precepts as restrictions, we do not see the bigger picture. If we do not uphold the "refrains" and "do nots", we may create a community of fear. Imagine if there aren't laws in a country, people will get away with murder, theft, rape, or abusing alcohol to the extent that they may injure someone. Hence laws are there to protect its citizens, so that they won't be afraid outside of their homes. It is the same for precepts. Upholding precepts is a form of giving. It is the giving of fearlessness. When we uphold the precepts, we don't harm others with our actions. This is also the spirit of holding the precepts: to create a safer community for us, and everyone.
If everyone can uphold the five precepts, people are able to trust each other, and not fear for their lives. The precepts are more than just "refrains" or "do nots". They are the essence of being a Buddhist. Upholding the precepts is being compassionate to ourselves and to others. Upholding the precepts, thus, is not in only the actions, but also the mind. That is the purity of the precepts. There are times, maybe for a few seconds, minutes, or hours, that we are upholding the purity of the precepts. If we can do this, and extend it to a day, a week, we will not have trouble receiving and upholding the precepts.