Five Precepts

Five Precepts

Buddhist term
pi= pañcasīlāni
sa= pañcaśīlāni
(Cantonese Jyutping: ng5 gaai3)
ja-Latn=go kai
en=five precepts,
five virtues
my=ပဉ်စသီလ "or"
my-Latn=IPA|pyì̃sa̰ θìla̰ pyinsa. thila. "or"
IPA|ŋá bá θìla̰ nga: ba: thila.
The Five Precepts (Pali: "pañca-sīla"; Sanskrit: "pañca-śīla") [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."] constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. The Five Precepts are commitments to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist devotional practices.

The Buddha is said to have taught the five precepts out of compassion, and for the betterment of society. Thus they are to be undertaken voluntarily rather than as commandments from a god. The precepts are intended to help a Buddhist live free from remorse, so that they can progress more easily on the Path.

Pali texts

Pali literature provides the scriptures and commentary for traditional Theravadin practice.

Pali training rules

The following are the five precepts ("pañca-sikkhāpada") [As indicated in the translation below, "sikkhāpada" is also translated as "training rule" (e.g., [ Gunaratana, 2007)] and "rule of training" (e.g., Harvey, 2007, p. 199; and, [ Khantipalo, 1982/95).] ] or five virtues ("pañca-sīla") rendered in English and Pali:

1.I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life."PāIAST|ṇātipātā veramaIAST|ṇī sikkhāpadaIAST|ṃ samādiyāmi."
2.I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given."Adinnādānā veramaIAST|ṇī sikkhāpadaIAST|ṃ samādiyāmi."
3.I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct."Kāmesu micchācāra veramaIAST|ṇī sikkhāpadaIAST|ṃ samādiyāmi."
4.I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech."Musāvāda veramaIAST|ṇī sikkhāpadaIAST|ṃ samādiyāmi."
5.I undertake the training rule to abstain from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness. [Based on [ Gunaratana (2007).] Gunaratana includes this translation of the Five Precepts within the context of what he refers to as the Eight Lifetime Precepts.] "Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaIAST|ṭṭhānā veramaIAST|ṇī sikkhāpadaIAST|ṃ samādiyāmi." [The Pali can be found, for instance, in Elgiriye Indaratana (2002), p. 2.]


In the Pali Canon, the following typifies elaborations that frequently accompany these identified training rules:

According to the Buddha, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are never skillful. [ [ Thanissaro (2006).] Thanissaro, in part, references MN 9, "Sammā-diIAST|ṭṭhi Sutta", to support this statement.]


In the "Abhisandha Sutta" (AN 8.39), the Buddha said that undertaking the precepts is a gift to oneself and others:

In the next canonical discourse, the Buddha described the minimal negative consequences of breaking the precepts. [AN 8.40 [ (Thanissaro, 1997c).] ]

Chinese texts

The Chinese version as found in the "Supplement to the Canon" ( _zh. 續藏經 "Xùzàng Jīng") hardly differs from the Pali: []

# As the Buddha refrained from killing until the end of his life, so I too will refrain from killing until the end of my life.
_zh. 如諸佛盡壽不殺生,我某甲亦盡壽不殺生
# As the Buddha refrained from stealing until the end of his life, so I too will refrain from stealing until the end of my life.
_zh. 如諸佛盡壽不偷盜,我某甲亦盡壽不偷盜
# As the Buddha refrained from sexual misconduct until the end of his life, so I too will refrain from sexual misconduct until the end of my life.
_zh. 如諸佛盡壽不淫欲,我某甲亦盡壽不邪淫
# As the Buddha refrained from false speech until the end of his life, so I too will refrain from false speech until the end of my life.
_zh. 如諸佛盡壽不妄語;我某甲亦盡壽不妄語
# As the Buddha refrained from alcohol until the end of his life, so I too will refrain from alcohol until the end of my life.
_zh. 如諸佛盡壽不飲酒,我某甲亦盡壽不飲酒

Other precepts

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.

Eight Precepts

The Eight Precepts are the precepts for Buddhist lay men and women who wish to practice a bit more strictly than the usual five precepts for Buddhists. The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behaviour, and on leading a more ascetic lifestyle. The five precepts, however, focus only on avoiding morally bad behaviour.

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, [ Anguttara Nikaya 8.43] and on the right and wrong ways of practicing the eight precepts. [ Anguttara Nikaya 3.70]

#I undertake to abstain from taking life (both human and nonhuman).
#I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (stealing).
#I undertake to abstain from all sexual activity.
#I undertake to abstain from telling lies.
#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 eating once, 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.

Ten Precepts

The Ten Precepts (Pali: dasasila or samanerasikkha) may refer to the precepts (training rules) for [Buddhist] samaneras (novice monks) and "samaneris" (novice nuns). They are used in most Buddhist schools.

#Refrain from killing living things.
#Refrain from stealing.
#Refrain from un-chastity (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.

Traditional praxis

The laity undertake to follow these training rules at the same time as they become Buddhists. In Mahayana countries a lay practitioner who has undertaken the precepts is called an upasaka. In Theravada countries 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 the daily taking of refuge in the Triple Gem and undertaking to observe the five precepts.


The precepts are considered differently in a Mahayana context to that of the Theravada school of thought.

According to Theravada, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are never skillful [Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "Getting the Message" [ article link at Access to Insight] ] , but Mahayana schools consider this a beginners view. [For instance, Aitken (1984), pp. 16 passim, refers to three frameworks used by Zen teachers: the Hinayana or "literal" view, the Mahayana or "compassionate" view, and the Buddha-nature or "essential" view. Aitken (1984, p. 16) cautions though that these terms "should not be confused in this usage with sectarian or geographic interpretatons. They refer to attitudes, not necessarily to beliefs of people living in Sri Lanka or Japan."] The reason for this is that Theravada rejects any realisation of non-duality in favour of the Pali Canon alone. In the written form, the precepts may appear similar to the Judeo-Christian commandments. However, to the Mahayana schools the first precept, for example, does not mean "thou shall not kill". Rather, the precept of not killing highlights a deeper understanding that one cannot see things in these terms. That is to say, one cannot find anything fixed to call a victim or a specific entity to call a killer. Ultimately, one can find nothing fixed at all. It is this flux that the precepts point to. By engaging these precepts, one is engaging in the effort to be awake in the non-conceptual, non-dualistic reality.

Contemporary Theravada scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi takes that position that, while non-dualistic philosophies assert that enlightened beings are beyond the proscriptions of conventional moral codes, in the Pali Canon the Buddha's teaching maintains a clear distinction between moral and immoral behaviors, a distinction that applies as much to the arahant as to the layperson. [ [ Bodhi (1994-95/98).] In referring to "philosophies of non-duality," Bodhi parenthetically identifies "particularly in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra" and subsequently alludes to the notion of "crazy wisdom" that, for instance, was popularized by Chogyam Trungpa.] An arahant would rather die than intentionally kill an insect.Fact|date=February 2008


*Aitken, Robert (1984). "The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics". NY: North Point Press. ISBN 0-86547-158-4.
*Bhikkhu Bodhi (1994-95). "Dhamma and Non-duality". Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2007-11-09 from "Access to Insight" (1998) at
*Bhante Gunaratana (2007). "Taking the Eight Lifetime Precepts". Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Bhavana Society" at
*Elgiriye Indaratana Maha Thera (2002). "Vandanā: The Album of IAST|Pāḷi Devotional Chanting & Hymns". Penang, Malaysia: Mahindarama Dhamma Publication. Retrieved 2008-02-16 from "Buddha Dharma Education Association" at
*Harvey, Peter (2007). "An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and practices". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31333-3.
*Khantipalo (1982). "Lay Buddhist Practice: The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence" (Wheel No. 206/207). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" (1995) at
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997a). "Abhisanda Sutta: Rewards" (AN 8.39). Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" at
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997b). "Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta: To Cunda the Silversmith" (AN 10.176). Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" at
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997c). "Vipaka Sutta: Results" (AN 8.40). Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" at
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2006). "Getting the Message". Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" at
* [] "In This Very Life: The Liberation Teachings of the Buddha" by Sayadaw U. Pandita, A Buddhist Library 1992

ee also

*Anagarika - one who keeps the Eight Precepts on a more permanent basis, or as preparation to ordain.
*Dhammika Sutta
*Patimokkha – 227 rules for monks (bhikkhus) and 311 for nuns (bhikkhunis)

External links

*Bullitt, John T. (2005). "The Five Precepts: Pañca-sila". Retrieved 2008-02-15 from "Access to Insight" at
* [ Eight precepts] at Access to Insight website
* [ The Ten Precepts] on Access to Insight website
* [ Buddhist Precepts] , search for "Samanerasikkha"

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