Some time ago, Helen asked me to write a blog on Buddhism. I've been unsure where to start because it's a large topic. These days I feel comfortable declaring that I am Buddhist, I certainly spend more time practicing Buddhism than anyone I know who subscribes to a theistic religion spends pursuing their beliefs.
I don't know when I finally became Buddhist, but for quite some time I have been following the five precepts:
1. Refrain from harming living creatures
2. Refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing)
3. Refrain from sexual misconduct
4. Refrain from speaking mistruths
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants
I've experienced that following the precepts leads to a clearer mind and reduces mental suffering. My early experimentations with being a vegan stemmed from the first precept (although I have many other reasons for being a vegan), and the move from occasionally drinking alcohol to completely abstaining also emerged from following the precepts.
Although I feel that my following of the precepts in general is going well, I find the fourth precept to be the most difficult, and I doubt a day goes by when I don't break it. It is sometimes written:
4. Refrain from lying, harsh speech, idle speech and slander
I believe that the best route to achieving the fourth precept is through cultivating Loving Kindness (mettā)