Of all the precepts, this is the one that I think the "first glance" view is most remote from my deeper interpretation of the advice. On first glance, this precept looks like "don't disparage the guru, the teachings, or the church." Of course, that's good advice. All the precepts are good advice. You shouldn't talk trash about people, writings and organizations that are earnestly trying to make sense of this life.
However, it may surprise you to know that of all the precepts this is undoubtably the one I see violated most frequently and most consistently by people who refer to themselves as Buddhists. In fact, some Buddhist teachers, publications and organizations practically seem to exist for the purpose of violating this precept.
What do I mean? The very heart of this entire practice, for me, is the effort to see things as they really are. That is, to see the interdependent wholesome nature of reality, what a Christian might call seeing God's face in all of creation. These teachings are not a method to divide, rank, or give rise to any kind of good/bad dualism. The Buddha did not teach people to follow him, or to ascribe to his authority. The dharma does not exclude anything. There is nothing that doesn't teach dharma continuously. The sangha, the community, includes everything, excludes nothing and no one.
The three treasures are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. To use English words, the three treasures are awakened beings, the teachings of the awakened beings and the community of those who seek awakening. "Awakening," in this context, is coming to know the reality in which we find ourselves.
It begins when a person calls themselves a Buddhist in order to distinguish themselves somehow. Of course, I am willing to call myself a Buddhist when asked, when filling out a form, or if it is useful in some way that people know this. That's not a violation of this precept. But the moment that I or anyone else calls themselves a Buddhist with the notion that this makes them better in some way, they are violating this precept.
The Buddha taught unity, wholesomeness, generosity, kindness, compassion and wisdom. He did not teach discrimination, egotism, pride, or any kind of notion that his experience was anything other than just like everyone else's. In fact, he told his followers specifically to not follow his teachings because they were his, or because someone they admired told them to. The Buddha told everyone to test these teachings for themselves, take up what worked for them and discard the rest.
He likened his teachings to a raft for crossing a river. You leave a raft at the river when you've crossed it. You don't carry it with you. You don't venerate a raft when there's no river to cross. You don't honor a raft that doesn't float. The Buddha made it very clear that what he was teaching was intended to be taken up as a method for someone to find their own way, to walk their own path, to be who they are to be. That's what his teachings were to be *used* for. They are to be *used* only a method to realize one's own Truth.
So, when anyone takes up Buddhism as a way to be better, to be different, to be anything other than authentically who they are, the are ABUSING the teachings.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like "well, I'm a Buddhist, so I don't __________." You can fill in that blank with "eat meat" or "get angry" or "suck like Christians do." I've heard all of that. This is a violation of this precept.
In fact, I don't identify myself as a Buddhist except when it is useful to someone somehow. Honestly, the further I get into my study and practice the more I identify with the teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Confusicianism, etc. One of the greatest books of dharma I've read recently was written by Steven Hawking. The dharma is everywhere, we are all dealing with it, and just because something comes out of the mouth of someone in a robe means nothing to me.
In fact, I'll go even further. I'm beginning to think that people who wear Buddhist robes in anything other than a very formal ritualistic context, that is, to assist in the conduct of a formal ceremony where everyone needs to know who is in the robe in order to conduct it (think a wedding, funeral, etc), are violating this precept. Yes, that's right, wearing robes (or any other external declaration of religious piety) to zazen (meditation sessions) might well be a violation of this precept in my view, particularly when there are others present who don't have robes to wear.
Who do you think you are? Why are you using these teachings to promote the notion that there's a difference between you and other people? Stop it, please.
You see, the entire problem comes back to the individually-indentifiable separately-existing Self. This is the problem, this is the thing that leads everyone astray, this notion is singularly responsible for all of mankind's suffering. Anyone using the an awakened being, the teachings of the awakened, or the community of those who seek to wake up as a way to promote the notion that there's anyone, anywhere or anything that is not included is abusing this precious treasure. That's not what these teachings are about. It is not why the Buddha devoted his life to teaching, and it is not why humanity has continued to organize around promoting these teachings for the 2550-odd years since Siddhartha Gotama spoke to some old friends about what he realized about life while sitting under a tree.
These teachings exist, and I am devoting myself to this way of life, in order to free people from the notion that they are not enough, just as they are, to put an end to the self-imposed confusion and suffering brought about by our confused minds. There's nothing you have to believe or stop believing, nothing you have to become, nothing you have to accomplish in order to wake up to the simple, beautiful, liberating Truth of your very own human life. You simply need to step out of your own way. These teachings can show you how to do that.
To assert that the Buddha taught anything else is an abuse of him, this knowledge, and all those who have kept it vibrant right up until today. So, a follower of the Way does not abuse the three treasures.