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Precepts

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A precept (sikkhàpada) is a self-imposed rule or discipline. The moral rules that all who call themselves Buddhists are obliged to live by are called the five Precepts (pa¤casãla).

The Five Precepts

They are:

  1. not to harm living beings
  2. not to steal
  3. not to sexually exploit others
  4. not to lie
  5. not to take alcohol or other intoxicating drugs

In following these Precepts one gradually develops a respect for the life of others, for their property, their dignity, their right to know the truth and a respect for the clarity of one’s own mind. The Buddha called the practice of these Precepts a consideration to others which ‘creates love and respect and which is conducive to helpfulness, non-dispute, harmony and unity’ (A.III,287).

On another occasion he called virtue ‘freedom-giving’ and ‘conducive to concentration’ (A.III,132). He also mentioned that one of the most important benefits of practicing the Precepts is that one experiences ‘the happiness of being blameless’ (D.I,70).

The Eight Precepts

In addition to these Precepts, serious Buddhists will try to practice the eight Precepts (aññhasãla) at least on the New Moon and Full Moon days of every month. The eight Precepts are:

  1. not to harm living beings
  2. not to steal
  3. not to engage in any sexual activity
  4. not to lie
  5. not to take alcohol or other intoxicating drugs
  6. not to eat after midday
  7. to abstain from dancing, singing, playing or listening to music, personal adornment and makeup
  8. not to use high seats or beds

The Ten Precepts

It will be noticed that while the five Precepts pertain to moral behaviour, the last three of the eight Precepts add behaviour that is conducive to simplicity, peace and reflection. Novice monks and nuns are expected to practice the ten Precepts (dasasãla) in preparation for their monastic life. These ten are:

  1. not to harm living beings
  2. not to steal
  3. to abstain from sexual behaviour
  4. not to lie
  5. not to take alcohol or intoxicating drugs
  6. not to eat after midday
  7. to abstain from dancing, singing and musical entertainment
  8. to abstain from adornment and makeup
  9. not to use high seats or couches
  10. not to use gold and silver i.e. money.

The ten Precepts are most likely meant as a summary of the core precepts to be followed by monastics.

References

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