The purpose of practicing Buddhism is to live in harmony with oneself and with others. To get a better idea of this, you can think of your relationships as consisting of concentric circles: the innermost circle is yourself, the next circle outward is your family and close relationships, the third circle outwards is human society at large, and the final and widest circle is all living beings. To be Buddhist is to strive to feel and act compassionately for all the beings in all of these circles, beginning with the inner circles, and working outward as our practice matures. Ultimately, when one achieves the highest levels of compassion, these circles are no longer seen as dividing lines between groups and species; in fact, they disappear… One sees all beings as equally important as oneself; discrimination and opposition no longer exists.
It would be difficult to achieve this all at once, especially in the beginning. As one enters the Buddhist practice, one feels a bit confused and uncertain. This is natural and normal. In his great wisdom, the Buddha understood this, and gave us some teachings and guidelines on how to dissolve the dissatisfactions of life and attain peace and serenity within oneself and with others. As we understand, accept, and live by the guidelines, we gradually begin to feel more comfortable and more at ease with ourselves, with others, and ultimately, with all creatures. Life becomes less fraught with unease, and more filled with inner stability and satisfaction with things as they are. At this point, the guidelines become less about rules and restrictions and more about being our guardians and mentors, and we see them as blessings.
In this section we present Five Guidelines to Wholesome Living, a small but concrete set of reminders about how to attain harmony within oneself and with others. Then, when one is ready for a higher level of commitment, and can proceed to practicing the Ten Virtues which encompass the Guidelines to Wholesome Living, but also go beyond them towards practicing the path of caring for all living beings. We call this the bodhisattva path, the path of an awakened being.