Further to our reflections on ethical behavior, the second of the five precepts is: “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.”
Different ways to transgress the second precept are (1) stealing (secretly taking what is not given), (2) robbery (taking what is not given by force), (3) fraudulence (laying false claims or telling lies in order to gain someone else’s possessions), and (4) deceit (using deceptive means to deprive someone of an article or to gain his money).
(from an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi – http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html#prec2)
Most of us wouldn’t admit to doing any of these things, even in subtle ways, but it can still be a useful self-inquiry. Have we ever included misleading information on an application for a loan or a job? Do we help ourselves to whatever is available at work? If transport or other services use the “honor system”, do we abuse that? Are (possibly mild) forms of fraudulence or deceit required by our work?
By becoming conscious of the second precept we invite a specific type of mindfulness, a careful scrutiny of our own intentions and behavior. We can sharpen our perception of what others consider theirs and where the boundaries are. An awareness of our desire to have what others have can be brought into focus, and we might strengthen and refine our honesty. It could also give us confidence in maintaining an upright form of livelihood.
We are beset by desirable images that stimulate our greed. This is not stealing, but it may be the root motivation that could make taking what is not given seem reasonable. Keeping the second precept in mind might help us to check our greed by ringing the alarm when we notice it, allowing us to let the feeling pass without acting on it. Every time we do this, the greedy root is weakened.
All three of the unwholesome roots may be at work motivating a person to break the second precept. Greed or hatred can suffice, but must be accompanied by delusion if we think it’s OK to take what’s not ours.
We can also counter any impulse we might feel in this direction with acts of generosity. When we offer food, material goods, time, or friendship, we are opening our hearts to others; we are giving so others may freely accept our offerings. And generosity often inspires more generosity, in ourselves and others.