|Lay Buddhist Practices|
|English||five precepts, five virtues|
(IPA: [pjɪ̀ɴsa̰ θìla̰ ŋá bá θìla̰])
|Chinese||五戒 pinyin: wǔjiè
(Cantonese Jyutping: ng5 gaai3)
(rōmaji: go kai)
|Khmer||បញ្ចសីល, និច្ចសីល, សិក្ខាបទ៥, សីល៥
(Panchasel, Nechsel, Sekhabot Pram, Sel Pram)
|Thai||เบญจศีล, ปัญจศีล, ศีลห้า
(RTGS: Benchasin, Panchasin, Sin Ha)
|Glossary of Buddhism|
The Five Precepts (Pali: pañcasīlāni; Sanskrit pañcaśīlāni) constitute the basic code of ethics undertaken by upāsaka and upāsikā ("lay followers") of Buddhism. The precepts in all the traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. A precept is a general rule intended to regulate behaviour or thought.
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 lay people undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.
Additionally, in the Theravada schools of Buddhism, the bhikkhuni lineage died out, and women renunciates practicing Theravadin Buddhism have developed unofficial options for their own practice, dedicating their life to religion, vowing celibacy, living an ascetic life and holding eight or ten precepts. They occupy a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained monastic and similar to that of the sāmaṇerī. In Thailand, they are called maechi (Thai: แม่ชี, IPA: [mɛ̂ː tɕʰiː]); in Sri Lanka, they are dasa sil mata; the Burmese thilashin are also now found in Nepalese Theravadin Buddhism as well; and in South East England, the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery founded by Ajahn Chah has siladhara.
Pali training rules
|1.||I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing.||Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.|
|2.||I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.||Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.|
|3.||I undertake the training rule to avoid sexual misconduct.||Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.|
|4.||I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.||Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.|
|5.||I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.||Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.|
In the fifth precept sura, meraya and majja are kinds of alcoholic beverages. In some modern translations, Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā, is rendered more broadly, variously, as, intoxicants, liquor and drugs, etc. The Vinaya allows the use of alcohol when taken as part of medicinal treatments.
In the Pāli Canon, the following typifies elaborations that 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.
And how is one made impure in three ways by bodily action? There is the case where a certain person takes life, is a hunter, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. He takes what is not given. He takes, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. He engages in sensual misconduct. He gets 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. This is how one is made impure in three ways by bodily action.
According to the Buddha, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are unskillful.
In the Pāli 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 unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests...
The five precepts are explained in Buddhism as means to building of good character, or an expression of such character. Another explanation is that they help devotees to avoid harm to themselves and others. Devotees who have just started keeping the precepts, will have to exercise considerable restraint. When they become used to the precepts, they start to embody them more naturally.
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). In recitation, the characters 某甲 should be substituted with your name:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- "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 for upāsakas and upāsikās who wish to practice Buddhism more strictly than through adherence to the five precepts. The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behaviour, as do the five precepts, and on leading a more ascetic life.
- 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.
In Theravāda Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, laypeople will often spend one day a week (on the Uposatha days: the new moon, first-quarter moon, full moon and last-quarter moon days) in a vihara and practicing the eight precepts.
- Refrain from killing living creatures.
- Refrain from stealing.
- Refrain from unchastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
- Refrain from incorrect speech.
- 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 garlands (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 Mahāyāna schools, a lay practitioner who has taken the precepts is called an upāsaka or upāsikā (layman or laywoman). In Theravāda Buddhism, any lay follower is in theory called an upāsaka or upāsikā; in practice, everyone is expected to take the precepts. Additionally, traditional Theravāda lay devotional practice (Pali: pūja) includes daily rituals taking refuge in the Three Jewels and undertaking to observe the five precepts. Thus, the five precepts are at the core of Buddhist morality. Nevertheless, Buddhists do not all follow them with the same strictness.
A 1966 survey in Cambodia showed that Buddhists considered the first precepts the most important. In the first precept, the abstinence of taking of life includes abstaining from taking the lives of animals. This is interpreted to even include small insects. Nevertheless, it has also been pointed out that in the early Buddhist doctrine the seriousness of taking life depends on the intelligence and spiritual attainments of that living being. Thus, the killing of a spiritually accomplished master is regarded as more severe than the killing of another more average human being, and the killing of a human being as more severe than the killing of a snake, for example. But all killing is condemned. In some traditional communities, such as in Kandal Province in Cambodia, it was uncommon for Buddhists to slaughter animals, to the extent that meat had to be bought from not-Buddhists.
The prohibition on killing has motivated early Buddhists to form a stance against animal sacrifice, a common ritual practice in ancient India. It did, at least according to the Pāli Canon, not lead them to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, however. Indeed, in several Pāli texts vegetarianism is described as irrelevant in the spiritual purification of the mind. There are prohibitions on certain types of meat, however, especially those which are condemned by society. The idea of abstaining from killing animal life has also led to a prohibition on professions that involve trade in flesh or living beings, but not to a full prohibition of all agriculture that involves cattle.
In the upholding or violation of the precepts, intention is crucial. In the Pali scriptures an example is mentioned of a person stealing an animal only to set it free, which was not seen as an offense of theft. As for the fifth precept, this is regarded as important, because drinking alcohol is condemned for the lack of self-control it leads to.
In modern times, adherence to the precepts among Buddhist is less strict than it traditionally was. This is especially so for the third precept. For example, in Cambodia in the 1990s and 2000s standards with regard to sexual restraint were greatly relaxed. Some Buddhist movements and communities have tried to go against this trend. In Cambodia, a millenarian movement led by Chan Yipon propagated the revival of the five precepts. And in the 2010s, the Supreme Sangha Council in Thailand started a nationwide program called "The Villages Practicing the Five Precepts", aiming to promote to uphold the precepts, with an extensive classification and reward system. On a similar note, human rights organizations in Southeast Asia have attempted to advocate respect for human rights by referring to the five precepts as a guiding principle.
- Anagarika – one who keeps the Eight Precepts on a more permanent basis, or as preparation to ordain.
- Buddhist ethics
- Buddhist initiation ritual
- Dhammika Sutta
- Patimokkha – 227 rules for monks (bhikkhus) and 311 for nuns (bhikkhunis)
- Five Precepts (Taoism)
- In Pali and Sanskrit, "five precepts" is more literally translated as pañca-sikkhāpada and pañca-sikśāpada, respectively. Thus, for instance, Harvey (2007, p. 199) translates pañca-sīla as "five virtues."
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- Mcdermott 1989, pp. 271–2.
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