Five Precepts

Buddhist 5 Precepts – What are the Five Rules of Buddhism?

The Five Precepts, also known as the five rules of training are the code of ethics for anyone willing to practice Buddhism. These precepts are

  • Do not kill 
  • Do Not Steal 
  • Do not partake in any sexual Misconduct 
  • Do not lie (Dishonesty) 
  • Do not take Intoxicants 

In as much as the five precepts are the foundation of Buddhism, Buddhists do not practice it the same way. It takes time and discipline to be able to exhibit such a lifestyle. That is only when a follower can live naturally with the precepts. Precepts are no longer the lifestyles of monks’ and old men, it is now generally practiced. Whether it is because of the fear of rebirth to hell, or bad repercussions, or because they are passed down from Buddha, more people are embracing them.

Buddhists in East Asia use these precepts to initiate new believers. It used to be a revered ceremony only to be carried out by monks, which involves many things, including getting a new name. This is believed to help the lay followers keep the precept

What do the Five Precepts Contain

1.) Do not kill

This also involves not self-harming, selling harmful substances, trading, or manufacturing weapons. This includes humans and animals. Some give an exception to animals like rodents, roaches, and the like. There is a school of thought that this is against abortion, euthanasia, or death sentence under the law. But some countries where Buddhism is practiced also practice the death penalty. While some Buddhists are against war, some are not. Killing, to some followers, also include waste or resources lack of compassion. Using plants for survival is not treated as killing as plants do not exhibit reactions.

2.) Do Not Steal

This is simply not taking what was not given to you or what you do not own. Borrowing without plans to return, internet scamming, taking or giving bribes, falsifying documents, unlawful transactions, fraud, cheating all fall under the breaking of this precept. Not doing all these and more are incomplete adherence to this precept. 

3.) Do Not Partake in Any Sexual Misconduct

Any sexual acts outside matrimony is considered non-adherence to this precept. Prostitutes, rapists, pedophiles are all promoting unhappy homes and lives by doing these acts. Admiring someone from afar is not considered to be a violation of this precept, if your thoughts remain pure.

Keeping this precept can promote happier and stable families.

In modern terms, this might include masturbation and other acts that involve sexual transactions outside a commitment bound under law or blood ties, especially relating to children. In modern times, gambling, borrowing without returning are breaking this precept. As studies have shown that violators believe money is the most important thing in life as against those who keep the precept. Some professions believed to violate it are those who work in gambling industries. 

4.) Do not lie (Dishonesty)

Do not tell lies could also mean telling untrue words, spreading false information, or things you are unsure of. Badmouthing, flattery, exaggeration, cursing, and nagging are also considered as lies in some practices. Lies can be major, minor, or convenient lies. 

  • Major Lies – this is mainly about fellows that claim to be what and who they are not. 
  • Minor Lies – those who hide the truth, or twist it are in this category.
  • Lies of Convenience – This has to with a pure intention, to keep another from losing hope or feeling hurt.

5.) Do not take Intoxicants

This precept addresses excess alcohol and intoxication by other means like drugs; Marijuana, opium, amphetamine, sniffing glue, morphine. Keeping to this is believed to promote awareness and make someone more responsible. And these can be in how we eat, behave, work, and interact with life around us. Some scholars even believe that even though you can have a slip in the other 4 precepts, you can’t in the 5th. 

The fifth precept prohibits Daoshi, in China back in the years believe alcohol is an avenue for idleness and neglectfulness. Although, in some cases, the use of alcohol has been considered to be for the greater good. Like when it is used medically. Chinese in earlier years believe the rewards of breaking this precept could be sickness and diseases, poverty, being the fool of the community, and rebirth in hell. . Others think the rewards might also be being a nag, pessimist, and being unintelligent. 

The Percepts in Practice

It is important to adhere to the 5th precept because, alcohol can make one slow, uncontrollable, and that would make a follower not adhere to the other 

However, in some countries like Thailand, Tibet, and Laos, drinking is not uncommon, as some even allow smoking. Smoking is allowed for some monks, but we believe well-trained monks are not likely to smoke. 

Der-Ian Yeh Theresa, a scholar of Peace studies concluded that these precepts talk about all that has to do with human relationships; physically, verbally, economically, and as well as conflict resolution and management in families or our outside environment. 

The initial four precepts out of these Five Precepts are precepts that put a check on behaviors that could lead to transgressions or sins. They, therefore, can be looked at as rules to stop evil actions. Staying away from alcohol is a characteristic of the Buddhist’s Five Precepts. 

The reason for this is when considered alone, alcohol is not sinning. Nonetheless, it plays a role in people committing a crime and losing their self-discipline. Due to this, the last precept can be seen as a rule to stop actions that might affect other people’s wellbeing. When one drinks, their awareness of conscience and shame becomes dull. This, therefore, makes it important to stay away from drinking.

As a religion, Buddhism gives a lot of attention to wisdom. One, however, cannot stay wise, clear-minded, and sober after drinking. Modern Adoption of the precepts.

Recently, people are not as committed to the precepts like they were among the Buddhists. In Cambodia, some followers had to raise awareness of the perceived relaxed precept that addressed sexual violence around 1990 and early 2000. A popular council even took it further by incentivizing adherence to the precepts. These precepts have been adopted in western organizations that practice Buddhism. They are used as guides to set up ethical codes.

The Overall Meaning of the Five Precepts 

The role of these five precepts is to live in unity and peace with one another. When you do not kill, you have not harmed. When you do not steal you have not taken what belongs to others and probably makes them happy. When you have not been immoral sexually, you have maintained the honor and respect of others. When you do not lie or intoxicated, you have not insulted your intelligence or another person’s intelligence.

Contrary to what non-believers say about not allowing oneself to be free by taking these precepts, it is the opposite, as violations of these precepts have gotten more people jailed.

Comparison with Human Rights

According to Keown, precepts are the basis of human rights. These two have many similarities. Some of which are;

  • Right to life
  • Right to own properties
  • Right to have a faithful partner and to be one.
  • Right to honesty
  • Right to safety

History of the Five Precepts

The five precepts became a part of Buddhism not long after the religion was formed. Also, they were taught in almost all Buddhism schools. When Buddhism started newly, the five precepts were considered an ethic of restraint. They played a role in purifying an individual’s being, as well as helping an individual become enlightened. Additionally, they played an important role in keeping unwholesome tendencies under restraint. 

At the onset, the five precepts had the Pancasila as their base. They were also based on prohibitions meant for pre-Buddhist Brahmanic priests. Unlike the fifth precept which was quite new to the practice of Buddhism, the other four had very close similarities to the Pancasila. 

Although it is best for Buddhists to strictly follow every precept, certain schools that taught ancient Indic Buddhism and gave room for Buddhist devotees to adhere to any number of precepts they wanted to adhere to. They did not have to adhere to the five. Although Buddhist devotees of certain schools could choose to practice any precepts they wanted to, certain schools that ended up surviving much later were not clear on these practices. Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism which survived much later had certain ambiguity with this practice. While some Mahayana texts gave Buddhist devotees the freedom to make a choice, some others did not. Unlike Mahayana text, Theravada text did not give room for the discussion of this text in any way.

Since killing was prohibited, early Buddhists were not in support of the sacrifice of animals. This, however, was a ritual that was popularly practiced in India. Pali Canon also revealed that early Buddhists failed to take it upon themselves to live the vegan lifestyle.

Development of the 5 Precepts of Buddhism

It took a while for the five precepts’ roles to develop and this development was very gradual. At the start, these precepts were not practiced in isolation. They were practiced in combination with a faith declaration in the Buddha, the mystic community, and Buddha’s teaching. After this phase, the precepts go through development that makes them a foundation for lay practice. To a large extent, lots of people see these precepts as a condition that is necessary for the mind to develop. At the third point in the texts, the triple gem and the precepts are mentioned together. This gives the impression that the precepts are a part of the triple gem. Finally, for Buddhism to be practiced, the precepts, alongside the triple gem are made a needed condition. This is because before laypeople could practice Buddhism, they needed to go through a formal religion.

As Buddhism moved out of India and into different parts of the world and got adopted by different people, the precepts’ role began to undergo changes. Certain countries adopted Buddhism as their national religion and it did not have to compete with other religions for any attention. One of those countries is Thailand. In such countries, the five precepts and a layperson getting initiated had n relationship. These countries adopted the precepts as a ritual cleansing occasion. This because it was easy to presume people were Buddhist from birth. They, theretofore, did not need a lot of initiation. On the other hand, in countries in which Buddhism was one of the many religions, the situation was different. One of those countries is China. In such countries, lay people needed to be initiated into Buddhism and the precepts played the role of an ordination ceremony.

The five precepts got introduced into China in the first centuries CE. This was done in their bodhisattva and sravakayana formats. In this period, Buddhist teachers were responsible for the promotion of abstaining from alcohol. Unlike different thought systems and Daoism that put a lot of emphasis on moderation over absolute abstinence, the fifth concept got a very strict interpretation from Buddhists in China. Their interpretation was even stricter than that of Indic Buddhists. An example of this is the monk Daoshi that dedicated a huge part if his writings to abstaining from alcohol. Nonetheless, there are pieces of evidence of the consumption of alcohol in certain parts of China like Dunhuang. This alcohol consumption was not just among lay people but also among monastics. 

The Late Century

During the late century and forward, there was strict abstinence from alcohol among lay individuals and Chinese monastics. Due to this, tea culture was developed. Gatherings in which alcoholic beverages were taken got replaced with tea gatherings. There are various reasons for the formation of these very strict lifestyles. One of them was the availability of religious writings. Apart from these religious writings, there is a probability that the A Lushan Rebellion that took place in 775 had a major role to play. The initiations of these five precepts into everyday Chinese lives linked them to Karma, Confucian virtue, a Daoist worldview, medicine, and Chinese cosmology.

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