A precept is a rule of moral conduct. Christians and Jews are familiar with the set of precepts known as the Ten Commandments. There are others within these two religions; for example, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a precept.
Buddhism also has precepts. These include the Three Pure Precepts and the Ten Great Precepts. As tempting as it is to find precise parallels between, say, the Ten Commandments and the Ten Great Precepts, it must be understood that the purpose of following these precepts is significantly different.
In Christianity or Judaism, one obeys the Ten Commandments in order to avoid Divine Punishment.
In Buddhism, one follows the Precepts because it ultimately makes sense for one to do so. To follow the path of Buddhism is to recognize that (as pointed out in the Four Noble Truths) life is filled with frustration and unhappiness. If we want to change this - if we want to replace the frustration and unhappiness with peace of mind and joy - then we have to do certain things to accomplish this change.
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