Question: If I have broken something in a shop accidentally and no one knows about it, can I simply walk away? If I do so, would I be breaking any precept?
Answer: You should pay for it. If not, the second precept against stealing and the fourth precept against lying are broken, as there is destruction of another’s property (which is similar in spirit to taking what is not given) and deceit of feigning innocence.
Question: But it was an accident!
Answer: Even for larger accidents, such as those involving traffic, drivers are also expected to pay for damages. Although accidental in nature, the one who was not mindful, leading to the accident, is still culpable. If you are a driver, whose car was smashed into by someone careless, surely, you will deem it appropriate that the person owns up to the mistake of being unmindful and pays for the damages, instead of doing a hit-and-run? We should not do to others what we do not wish others to do to us.
Question: What if I cannot afford to pay?
Answer: You can simply state the case, and work out some instalment arrangement. Remember – you are essentially paying a fee not just for your mistake of being unmindful, but for learning a lesson on the importance of mindfulness too. Not only should you pay for it to cover the owner’s loss, it helps to register the lesson better too – hopefully with greater mindfulness!
Deeper down, you should already know that making amends for your mistake is important – which is why you asked about it, due to uneasiness of having walked away. In the first place, it is not true that no one knew about the accident – as you were there and you know all about it. And if the matter is unresolved, you would always know it too, making yourself suffer needlessly from guilt, that you can simply resolve immediately.