The Five Precepts (Pali: pañca-sīlāni; Sanskrit: pañca-śīlāni) constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers (Upāsaka and Upāsikā) of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada as well as in Mahayana traditions.
The precepts in both traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.
Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist devotional practices.
They are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.
Pali literature provides the scriptures and commentary for traditional Theravadin practice.
Pali training rules
The following are the five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada) or five virtues (pañca-sīla) rendered in English and Pali:
For more on the first precept, see ahimsa. In the fifth precept sura, meraya and majja are kinds of alcoholic beverages.
some modern translations, Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā, is rendered more broadly, variously, as, intoxicants, liquor and drugs, etc.
In the Pali Canon, the following typifies elaborations that frequently accompany these identified training rules:
- “ ... There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life.
He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given.
He does not take, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct.
He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. ”
- “... There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech.
When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, "Come & tell, good man, what you know": If he doesn't know, he says, "I don't know." If he does know, he says, "I know." If he hasn't seen, he says, "I haven't seen." If he has seen, he says, "I have seen." Thus he doesn't consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech.”
According to the Buddha, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are never skillful.
In the Pali Canon, the Buddha describes the Five Precepts as gifts toward oneself and others:
- “ ..."Now, there are these five gifts, five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. Which five?
- "There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking life. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the first gift, the first great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is un-faulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests...”
In the next canonical discourse, the Buddha described the minimal negative consequences of breaking the precepts.
Chinese Mahayana texts
The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times in the canon in slightly different forms, and each temple or tradition has slightly different ordination ceremonies.
One ceremonial version of the precepts can be found in the Treatise on Taking Refuge and the Precepts (simplified Chinese: 归戒要集; traditional Chinese: 歸戒要集; pinyin: Guījiè Yāojí):
1. As all Buddhas refrained from killing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from killing until the end of my life.
Simp. Chinese: 如(Rú) 诸(zhū) 佛(Fó) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 杀(shā) 生(shēng)，我(Wǒ) 某(mŏu) 甲(jiǎ) 亦(yì) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 杀(shā) 生(shēng)
2. As all Buddhas refrained from stealing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from stealing until the end of my life.
Simp. Chinese: 如(Rú) 诸(zhū) 佛(Fó) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 偷(tōu) 盗(dào)，我(Wǒ) 某(mŏu) 甲(jiǎ) 亦(yì) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 偷(tōu) 盗(dào)
Trad. Chinese: 如諸佛盡壽不偷盜，我某甲亦盡壽不偷盜
3. As all Buddhas refrained from sexual misconduct until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from sexual misconduct until the end of my life.
Simp. Chinese: 如(Rú) 诸(zhū) 佛(Fó) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 淫(yín) 欲(yù), 我(Wǒ) 某(mŏu) 甲(jiǎ) 亦(yì) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 邪(xié) 淫(yín)
Trad. Chinese: 如諸佛盡壽不淫欲，我某甲亦盡壽不邪淫
4. As all Buddhas refrained from false speech until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from false speech until the end of my life.
Simp. Chinese: 如(Rú) 诸(zhū) 佛(Fó) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 妄(wàng) 语(yǔ), 我(Wǒ) 某(mŏu) 甲(jiǎ) 亦(yì) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 妄(wàng) 语(yǔ)
Trad. Chinese: 如諸佛盡壽不妄語，我某甲亦盡壽不妄語
5. As all Buddhas refrained from alcohol until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from alcohol until the end of my life.
Simp. Chinese: 如(Rú) 诸(zhū) 佛(Fó) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 饮(yǐn) 酒(jiǔ), 我(Wǒ) 某(mŏu) 甲(jiǎ) 亦(yì) 尽(jìn) 寿(shòu) 不(bù) 饮(yǐn) 酒(jiǔ)
Trad. Chinese: 如諸佛盡壽不飲酒，我某甲亦盡壽不飲酒
The same treatise outlines the option of undertaking fewer than all five precepts, though nearly all modern ceremonies involve undertaking all five precepts. Certainly, committing more skillful and fewer unskillful actions is beneficial.
But before entering nirvana, the Buddha said his disciples should take the precepts as their teacher, so few ceremonies are held for partial precept undertaking.
There are exceptions, however.
In concise terms, the late Dharma Master Yin-Shun, listed the Five Precepts simply as (translation by Wing H. Yeung, M.D.):
- "Do not kill." (Unintentional killing is considered less offensive)
- "Do not steal." (Including misappropriating someone's property)
- "Do not engage in improper sexual conduct." (e.g. sexual contact not sanctioned by secular laws, the Buddhist monastic code, or by one's parents and guardians)
- "Do not make false statements." (Also includes pretending to know something one doesn't)
- "Do not drink alcohol."
Different Buddhist traditions adhere to other lists of precepts that have some overlap with the Five Precepts.
The precise wording and application of any of these vows is different by tradition.
The Eight Precepts are precepts for Buddhist lay men and women who wish to practice Buddhism more strictly than through adherence to the usual five precepts.
The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behaviour, as do the five precepts, and on leading a more ascetic life.
In Theravada Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, Buddhist laymen and laywomen will often spend one day a week (on the Uposatha days: the new moon, first-quarter moon, full moon and last-quarter moon days) living in the monastery, and practicing the eight precepts.
The Buddha gave teachings on how the eight precepts are to be practiced, and on the right and wrong ways of practicing the eight precepts.
- I undertake to abstain from causing harm and taking life (both human and non-human).
- I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (for example stealing, displacements that may cause misunderstandings).
- I undertake to abstain from sexual activity.
- I undertake to abstain from wrong speech: telling lies, deceiving others, manipulating others, using hurtful words.
- I undertake to abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs, which lead to carelessness.
- I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is after sunrise, before noon).
- I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
- I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping, and overindulging in sleep.
The Ten Precepts (Pali: dasasila or samanerasikkha) refer to the precepts (training rules) for Buddhist sramaneras (novice monks) and sramaneris (novice nuns). They are used in most Buddhist schools.
- Refrain from killing living things.
- Refrain from stealing.
- Refrain from unchastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
- Refrain from lying.
- Refrain from taking intoxicants.
- Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
- Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
- Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
- Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
- Refrain from accepting money.
Lay followers undertake these training rules at the same time as they become Buddhists. In Mahayana schools a lay practitioner who has taken the precepts is called an upasaka.
In Theravada, any lay follower is in theory called an upasaka (or upasika, feminine), though in practice everyone is expected to take the precepts anyway.
Additionally, traditional Theravada lay devotional practice (puja) includes daily rituals taking refuge in the Triple Gem and undertaking to observe the five precepts.
Five precepts (panca-sila, wu jie): These precepts apply to all Buddhists, whether lay or ordained.
They are :
- (1) not killing;
- (2) not stealing;
- (3) not engaging in prohibited sexual activity;
- (4) not engaging in wrong speech;
- (5) not drinking, serving, or dealing in intoxicants or taking substances that befuddle or numb the mind.
The precepts taken by lay Buddhists:
- 1. Do not kill.
- 2. Do not steal.
- 3. Do not engage in sexual misconduct.
- 4. Do not lie.
- 5. Do not use intoxicants.
It is essential for the rebirth in human realms.