Five Precepts

basic code of ethics for Buddhist lay people

The Five Precepts, also known as Pancha Sila or five rules of training constitute the basic code of ethics to be undertaken by lay followers of Buddhism. The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

Plaque with the five precepts engraved, Lumbini Park, Nepal


  • The broad category of moral conduct has been codified throughout the history of Buddhism, beginning in the Buddha’s time, into five precepts for conduct. The number of precepts for the behavior if monks has run into the hundreds in some sects. For laypeople, the Theravada tradition has five precepts. These five precepts have common elements with most moral conducts in the other major traditions. Some aspects, especially the precept to refrain from taking life, have been a continuing focus of attention throughout the history of Buddhism.
  • The Five Precepts
  1. to abstain from taking life
  2. to abstain from taking what is not given
  3. to abstain from sensuous misconduct
  4. to abstain from false speech
  5. to abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind
Five Precepts of Buddhism Explained, By Buddhaghosa, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review


  • Buddhists accept that human life has a deeper purpose than sensual enjoyments, wealth, power, social status, and praise gained in this life, and that a fortunate rebirth, liberation, and awakening are valuable in the long term. Since afflictions prevent us from actualizing our spiritual purpose, we want to reduce and eventually eliminate them. The various levels of ethical codes guide us to subdue our physical, verbal, and mental actions. Here “ethical code” refers to a set of precepts taken in the presence of a spiritual mentor, and “precepts” refers to the particular trainings set out in that ethical code.
  • These are the words of the Buddha from the Dhammapada:
    Whoever destroys living beings, speaks false words, who in the world takes that which is not given to him, or goes too with another's wife, or takes distilled, fermented drinks -- whatever man indulges thus extirpates the roots of himself even here in this very world. (Dhp. 246-7)
    So these actions are to be avoided if one wishes to be not only human in body but also to have a human mind. And birth as a human being depends to a great extent upon the practice of the Five Precepts which are also called "the Dhamma for human beings" (manussa-dhamma). The practice of these precepts makes this human world bearable, but when such practice declines then it becomes a place of suffering and distress.

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