‘In most religions, precepts are considered to be the commandments or laws of god. They form the basis of the religion itself and they must be adhered to strictly. But in Buddhism the precepts are fundamentally different. Keeping the precepts is not the aim of Buddhist life. Perhaps this sounds strange to you but it is the fact in Buddhism. Master Dogen said that following the precepts is only the custom of Buddhists; it is not their aim. He felt that the precepts were only standards by which to judge our behavior. As such they are very useful to us, but we should be careful not to make them the aim of our life.
The precepts have been described as a fence which surrounds a wide, beautiful meadow. We are the cows in that meadow. As long as we stay within the fence our life is safe and serene and we can play freely in the meadow; but when we step outside the fence we find ourselves on shaky ground – we have entered a dangerous situation and we should return to the pasture. When we do, our life becomes safe and manageable again.’ (from a talk on the Precepts)