The Five Precepts, or five rules of training, constitute the basic code of ethics to be respected by lay followers of Buddhism. The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Within the Buddhist doctrine, they are meant to develop mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. With regard to their fundamental role in Buddhist ethics, they have been compared with the ten commandments in Abrahamic religions or the ethical codes of Confucianism.
- 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
- to abstain from taking life
- to abstain from taking what is not given
- to abstain from sensuous misconduct
- to abstain from false speech
- to abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind
- The five lay precepts are to abandon killing, stealing, unwise and unkind sexual behavior, lying, and taking intoxicants (alcohol, illegal drugs, and misuse of prescription medicines). At the time of formally taking refuge in a ceremony, you can also take one or more of the five precepts.
- Avoid killing, avoid stealing, avoid lying, avoid sexual abuse, avoid drugs and chemicals that pollute the body and mind... These are the basic guidelines which Buddha related to the general population. It should be the basic guidelines from which Buddhism relates to religions.
- 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.