Precepts 101: Is it wrong to eavesdrop?

So a student shared with me a question on whether eavesdropping is against the precept on stealing.

This is a common situation where people start applying Buddhism in their daily life.  They start literally applying it everywhere, including where it is probably not needed.

You see, take eavesdropping for example.  It is just plain bad manners and rude to eavesdrop.  We don’t need to bring in the precepts or religion to tell us that we should not eavesdrop.

But if we are in a bus and some other passengers decides to chat so loud that it becomes difficult not to overhear their conversation, it is still not us “stealing” their conversation.  Although it would be good to not focus on it just as well.

When we are in a busy food court having lunch with our friend, surely bits and pieces of fellow lunchers’ conversation would spill over, hopefully without their lunch!  We have the ability to tune into and focus on our friend, filtering out the chatter from the others.

So likewise, we can do that when we are alone, we can tune out, so that we do not listen in on others’ conversation.

Lastly, even if we do not formally observe the precepts through the ceremony, if we take things without asking or outrightly steal, we are not absolved of the consequences of stealing.

Respecting others’ right to their property, we undertake the precept to abstain from stealing.

Keep Calm, Breathe, Be Happy. ^_^