How many of you have been thoroughly frustrated in your endeavor to follow the precepts? I know I have. How many of us have taken a moment or two to question why? Let me share what I have found: You can't follow the precepts.
There, how is that for some insight? Okay, let me explain. Most of us come to Buddhism because we want to change. We stumble across Zen, find a teacher, and a peaceful sangha, and suddenly we feel like this could be the answer to the deep yearning within that pulls at us. Then, with a little study, we find that to change we need to discipline ourselves and that the precepts are an essential part of this discipline. So, we go about our days trying not to lie, not to steal or speak of the errors and faults of others - only to find that within 72 hours we've got the gatha of atonement memorized!
Why? Because you can't follow the precepts.
What is happening is that you - the ego - are trying to use a tool of death to better yourself. The precepts are skillful means for awakening, not for self-betterment. You are already complete and perfect, but don't know it. The precepts are designed to bring to death the beliefs, the ideas and opinions that keep you separate from living in harmony with Life, as it is. That's why, as long as you believe that adhering to the precepts will make you a better person, you will continually remain frustrated in your efforts.
However, if you take up being mindful of each moment as you experience it, with the precepts as a foundational basis on how to respond to what life brings, you will find that the innate wisdom you used to do so, will always respond in accordance with the precepts. You will merge with the natural flow of Life instead of fighting against it. Your actions will be in harmony with the precepts. Then, you will come to understand exactly why: Zen is a discipline until it flowers as an expression!