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The 5 Precepts

The Five Precepts in Buddhism

The precepts are five rules of training that form the basis of several parts of Buddhist doctrine, both lay and monastic. 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.

They are also similar to the Yamas and Niyamas in the Yoga tradition of Patanjali.

Lay Meditators sometimes take on the 5 precepts for a certain number of days as a practice.  Others take the vows and try to keep them permanently.

The 5 Precepts:

  1. "I undertake the training-precept to abstain from killing or harming living beings." 

  2. "I undertake the training-precept to abstain from taking what is not freely offered." 

  3. "I undertake the training-precept to abstain from sexual misconduct."

  4. "I undertake the training-precept to abstain from false speech." 

  5. "I undertake the training-precept to abstain from alcoholic drink or drugs that are an opportunity for heedlessness and harm.”

Most of us try not to lie and steal as a life choice. But we may choose to eat meat and drink alcohol on a daily or weekly basis. The Precepts invite us to examine our actions for a time.

A really simple way to use the precepts would be to make a commitment for a week to observe them. Perhaps get up 15 mintues earlier every day for a week to contemplate, journal or meditate. We could observe our behaviors through the lense of the Precepts.

  1. Could I abstain from eating meat or dairy for a few days? Could I abstain from killing bugs for a few days? What might that feel like? Are there any other things I am doing that are not kind, like gossiping?

  2. I don't steal, but are there any other ways that I might take what is not freely offered? We all have divine instincts to share and befriend, but we also have survival instincts. I know that one way that survival instinct shows up is when I am getting in line for a bus and other people are trying to make sure they get on the bus before me. Sometimes I choose generosity and usher people in before more. Other times my body instinctively moves forward before someone else can get in front of me. Why is that? Is it just a body thing, like getting startled? Is there anything that I am doing today that is stealing from the wellbeing of my future self?

  3. As far as sexual misconduct--that is a deeply personal matter. That might be best left for its own blogpost. If you have a romantic partner, it never hurts to reflect on how you have been with them in general the past week. Are you seeing them through the eyes of love? Are you holding any grudges?

  4. We all tell little white lies to spare others from hurt feelings. Maybe that's ok. Do we lie to ourselves? Do we try to do a yoga pose we know we aren't really quite ready for? Or push ourselves to go for the ultimate stretch? Do we keep ourselves trapped in stories about the past? "Right Speech" is technically a different term than truthfulness, but I often think about right speech alongside truthfulness. Right speech is: speaking kindly, at the right time, in the right place, via the right media or sometimes not at all; abstaining from divisive speech, abusive speech, gossip, idle chatter. Do we speak to ourselves with negative self-talk? (PS--there is a word in Pali that I love: samphappalapa. It means "speaking nonsense." I am sure we all have been in conversations that felt like nonsense to us! 😁. Of course we should keep in mind that sometimes people speak of simple things as a way to try to connect to us. And that is lovely. But sometimes I find myself repeating the same thoughts, so I could definitely consider that samphappalapa!

  5. Alcohol and recreational drug use can be used socially and responsibly, but alcohol and drugs are both psychoactive and addictive. It is a slippery slope. And everyone I have spoken to about alchol has shared with me that they have done something while under the influence that they regretted later. Alcohol is involved in many incidents of violence. Alcohol is linked to at least 7 kinds of cancer. Alcohol increases the likelihood that we will say or do something that is not in line with our higher ideals.

Note: For renunciates, there are 10 precepts, which include abstaining from wearing makeup and perfume and sleeping on beds that are too comfortable!

Finally, I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the 10 Commandments, The Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali and the 5 precepts.

You can download the above table:

Commandments, Yamas, Precepts
Download PDF • 47KB

May this serve for the awakening of all! ❤️🙏


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