In Buddhism, a precept is a principle or inner virtue by which an enlightened individual lives and conducts one’s self. Mahayana Buddhists, in addition to the ten grand precepts, also pledge to maintain the three pure precepts. The three pure precepts are to do no evil, to do good and to save all beings.
Three pure precepts in the Dhammapada
One can find the origin of the three pure precepts in the Dhammapada, verse 183; which instructs the Buddhist to confront all evil, to create good and to cleanse one’s mind. In Buddhism, evil isn’t necessarily an outside force responsible for evil (like Satan) or that only some people possess evil. Rather, evil is a state of being created through our thoughts, words, and actions caused by the three root poisons of greed, ignorance, and anger. These all stem from desire and attachment.
Instead of creating evil, we need to condition ourselves to create, to purify the mind in a manner in which good manifests with our thoughts, words, and actions. This builds onto the earlier precept with its call for compassion, to let go of self-motivations and dualism by realizing that we are not separate individuals from the rest of the world.
The final precept tells the Buddhist to save all beings, that is to build upon the compassion precept by realizing that enlightenment isn’t just for one individual, but for all. A “good” Buddhist sees the plights of others and desires to help them in their actualization and enlightenment. We need to embrace life and others.
Regardless of what school of Buddhism one chooses, the precepts are similar virtues that have one main goal: ending the karmic cycle of suffering by devoting oneself to right thought, right action, and right livelihood.
Liberation, the fourth truth, is possible through following the Eightfold Path and is ultimately the goal of every Buddhist. Liberation is possible through acts of selflessness, overcoming anger, ignorance, desire, greed, etc. It is the act of getting rid of attachments that are toxic and slowly eat away at the soul.
It is important to remember that we are what we create. Karma is not hidden or mysterious. We must take a deeper look within ourselves to understand our suffering and then work to overcome that suffering with the precepts of avoiding or confront evil, do good, and help others which tie into the ethical code of conduct: right thought, right action, and right livelihood.