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The five precepts (Pali: pañcasīlāni; Sanskrit: pañcaśīlāni)[note 1]) constitute the basic code of ethics undertaken by upāsaka and upāsikā (lay followers) of Buddhism. The precepts in all the traditions are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

Translations of
Five Precepts
Pali pañcasīlāni
(Devanagari: पञ्चसीलानि)
Sanskrit pañcaśīlāni
(Devanagari: पञ्चशीलानि)
Bengali পঞ্চশীলানি
Burmese ပဉ္စသီလ ငါးပါးသီလ
(IPA: [pjɪ̀ɴsa̰ θìla̰ ŋá bá θìla̰])
Chinese 五戒 pinyin: wǔjiè
(Cantonese Jyutping: ng5 gaai3)
Japanese 五戒
(rōmaji: go kai)
Khmer បញ្ចសីល, និច្ចសីល, សិក្ខាបទ៥, សីល៥
(Panchasel, Nechsel, Sekhabot Pram, Sel Pram)
Korean 오계
(RR: ogye)
Mon သဳ မသုန်
([sɔe pəsɔn])
Sinhalese පන්සිල්
Thai เบญจศีล, ศีล ๕
(RTGS: Benchasin, Sin Ha)
Vietnamese Ngũ giới
Indonesian Pancasila, Pancasila
Glossary of Buddhism

Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist devotional practices. They are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that lay people undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.[1]

Additionally, in the Theravāda school of Buddhism, the bhikkhuni lineage died out, and women renunciates practicing Theravadin Buddhism have developed unofficial options for their own practice, dedicating their life to religion, vowing celibacy, living an ascetic life and holding eight or ten precepts. They occupy a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained monastic, similar to that of the sāmaṇerī. In Thailand, they are called maechi (Thai: แม่ชี)[2][3]; in Sri Lanka, they are dasa sil mata; in Burma, thilashin (now found in Nepalese Theravāda Buddhism as well); and in South East England, the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery founded by Ajahn Chah has siladhara.



Though also referring to moral discipline in its entirety, śīla (Sanskrit; Pali: sīla) is used to refer to the five precepts.[4]


In Pāli traditionEdit

The following are the five precepts,[5] rendered in English and Pāli:[6][7][8]

1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from being harmful to living things. Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given. Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
3. I undertake the training rule to avoid sexual misconduct. Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech. Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
5. I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.

In the fifth precept sura, meraya and majja are kinds of alcoholic beverages. In some modern translations, Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā, is rendered more broadly, variously, as, intoxicants, liquor and drugs, etc. The monastic discipline allows the use of alcohol when taken as part of medicinal treatments.[9]

In Chinese Mahāyāna traditionEdit

The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times in the Chinese texts, in slightly different forms,[10][11][12] and each temple or tradition has different ordination ceremonies.

One ceremonial version of the precepts can be found in the Treatise on Taking Refuge and the Precepts (simplified Chinese: 归戒要集; traditional Chinese: 歸戒要集; pinyin: Guījiè Yāojí).

  1. As all Buddhas refrained from killing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from killing until the end of my life.
  2. As all Buddhas refrained from stealing until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from stealing until the end of my life.
  3. As all Buddhas refrained from sexual misconduct until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from sexual misconduct until the end of my life.
  4. As all Buddhas refrained from false speech until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from false speech until the end of my life.
  5. As all Buddhas refrained from alcohol until the end of their lives, so I too will refrain from alcohol until the end of my life.

The same treatise outlines the option of undertaking fewer than all five precepts,[13] though nearly all modern ceremonies involve undertaking all five precepts.[citation needed] Some modern teachers, such as the Taiwanese teacher Yin-Shun, have used simplified formulas for the five precepts.[14]

Textual analysisEdit

Buddhist scriptures explain the five precepts as the minimal standards of Buddhist morality.[15] They are regarded as means to building good character, or as an expression of such character. The texts also describe them as helping devotees to avoid harm to themselves and others.[16] In the Pāli Canon, the five precepts are described as gifts toward oneself and others.[17] Moreover, the Buddha mentions the consequences of breaking the precepts.[18][19]

In the upholding or violation of the precepts, intention is crucial. In the Pāli scriptures, an example is mentioned of a person stealing an animal only to set it free, which was not seen as an offense of theft.[20] There are several virtues which are the principles behind the precepts, and are cultivated through them.[4] For example, the first precept is connected to non-harming (Pāli, Sanskrit: ahiṃsa). The first precept is not motivated by a principle of preserving life, but rather by respect for dignity of life.[21]

In practiceEdit

Lay followers undertake these training rules at the same time as they become Buddhists.[citation needed] In Mahāyāna schools, a lay practitioner who has taken the precepts is called an upāsaka or upāsikā (layman or laywoman).[citation needed] In Theravāda Buddhism, any lay follower is in theory called an upāsaka or upāsikā; in practice, everyone is expected to take the precepts. Additionally, traditional Theravāda lay devotional practice (Pali: pūja) includes daily rituals taking refuge in the Three Jewels and undertaking to observe the five precepts. Thus, the five precepts are at the core of Buddhist morality. Nevertheless, Buddhists do not all follow them with the same strictness.[5]

Devotees who have just started keeping the precepts, will typically have to exercise considerable restraint. When they become used to the precepts, they start to embody them more naturally.[22]

First preceptEdit

A 1966 survey in Cambodia showed that Buddhists considered the first precepts the most important.[5] In the first precept, the abstinence of taking of life includes abstaining from taking the lives of animals. This is interpreted to even include small insects. Nevertheless, it has also been pointed out that in the early Buddhist doctrine the seriousness of taking life depends on the intelligence and spiritual attainments of that living being. Thus, the killing of a spiritually accomplished master is regarded as more severe than the killing of another "more average" human being, and the killing of a human being as more severe than the killing of a snake, for example. But all killing is condemned.[23] In some traditional communities, such as in Kandal Province in Cambodia, it was uncommon for Buddhists to slaughter animals, to the extent that meat had to be bought from not-Buddhists.[5]

The prohibition on killing has motivated early Buddhists to form a stance against animal sacrifice, a common ritual practice in ancient India. It did, at least according to the Pāli Canon, not lead them to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, however. Indeed, in several Pāli texts vegetarianism is described as irrelevant in the spiritual purification of the mind. There are prohibitions on certain types of meat, however, especially those which are condemned by society. The idea of abstaining from killing animal life has also led to a prohibition on professions that involve trade in flesh or living beings, but not to a full prohibition of all agriculture that involves cattle.[24]

Second preceptEdit

This precept is often translated as "I undertake to refrain from taking what is not freely given." It is worded this way as to discourage bribery and extortion as a form of stealing.

Third preceptEdit

In modern times, adherence to the precepts among Buddhist is less strict than it traditionally was. This is especially so for the third precept. For example, in Cambodia in the 1990s and 2000s standards with regard to sexual restraint were greatly relaxed.[25]

Fourth preceptEdit

In lay practice this precept is often understood as "I undertake to refrain from lying." But Uposatha practioners and monks view it as refraining from not just lying but idle chat and gossip.

Fifth preceptEdit

As for the fifth precept, this is regarded as important, because drinking alcohol is condemned for the lack of self-control it leads to.[20]

At the social and institutional levelEdit

Several modern teachers have written about the five precepts in a wider scope, with regard to social and institutional relations.[26]

Revival movementsEdit

Some Buddhist movements and communities have tried to go against the trend of less strict adherence of the precepts. In Cambodia, a millenarian movement led by Chan Yipon propagated the revival of the five precepts.[25] And in the 2010s, the Supreme Sangha Council in Thailand started a nationwide program called "The Villages Practicing the Five Precepts", aiming to promote to uphold the precepts, with an extensive classification and reward system.[27][28] On a similar note, human rights organizations in Southeast Asia have attempted to advocate respect for human rights by referring to the five precepts as a guiding principle.[29]

Implications for theory of ethicsEdit

Bioethicist Damien Keown has proposed that the five precepts' role in Buddhist doctrine as rules that cannot be violated may indicate a deontological perspective in Buddhist ethics.[30] On the other hand, he has also suggested virtue ethics.[31] Philosopher William Edelglass points out that the precepts are based on virtues.[4]

Other preceptsEdit

Different Buddhist traditions adhere to other lists of precepts that sometimes overlap with the five precepts. The precise wording and application of any of these vows is different per tradition. The eight Precepts are for upāsakas and upāsikās who wish to practice Buddhism more strictly. The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behavior, as do the five precepts, and on leading a more ascetic life. The ten precepts refer to the precepts or training rules for śrāmaṇeras (novice monks) and śrāmaṇerīs (novice nuns).[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In Pali and Sanskrit, "five precepts" is more literally translated as pañca-sikkhāpada and pañca-sikśāpada, respectively. Thus, for instance, Harvey (2007, p. 199) translates pañca-sīla as "five virtues."[further explanation needed]


  1. ^ McFarlane, Stewart (2001). Harvey, Peter, ed. Buddhism. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 187. 
  2. ^ Nancy J. Barnes (1996). Christopher S. Queen; Sallie B. King, eds. Buddhist Women and the Nuns' Order in Asia. Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist liberation Movements in Asia. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-7914-2843-6. 
  3. ^ Karma Lekshe Tsomo (2008). Buddhist Women in a Global Multicultural Community. Malaysia: Sukhi Hotu Dhamma Publications. p. 227. 
  4. ^ a b c Edelglass 2013, p. 479.
  5. ^ a b c d Ledgerwood 2008, p. 152.
  6. ^ "Access to Insight: the Panca Sila (with Pali)". Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  7. ^ "Buddhist Ethics". buddhanet. Retrieved December 6, 2013. 
  8. ^ Elgiriye Indaratana (2002), p. 2.
  9. ^ Horner, I.B. (1969). The Book of the discipline. (Vinaya-Piṭaka). Sacred books of the Buddhists. 13. Luzac. pp. 385–6. 
  10. ^ "CBETA T18 No. 916". Archived from the original on 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  11. ^ "CBETA T24 No. 1488". 2008-08-30. Archived from the original on 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  12. ^ "CBETA X60 No. 1129¡mÂk§Ùn¶°¡n¨÷3". 2008-08-30. Archived from the original on 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  13. ^ starting on line 0682c05(07) Archived 2008-11-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Yin-Shun, Venerable (1998). Wing H. Yeung, M.D., ed. The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions from a Modern Chinese Master. Translated by Wing H. Yeung. Wisdom Publications. pp. 86–87. ISBN 0-231-11286-6. 
  15. ^ Gowans, Christopher W. (2013). "Ethical Thought in Indian Buddhism" (PDF). In Emmanuel, Steven M. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 440. ISBN 978-0-470-65877-2. 
  16. ^ MacKenzie 2017, p. 2.
  17. ^ "Abhisanda Sutta" [Rewards]. Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight. 1997. AN 8.39. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  18. ^ AN 8.40 (Thanissaro, 1997c).
  19. ^ AN 4.111 "Kesi Sutta: To Kesi the Horsetrainer" (Thanissaro, 1997)
  20. ^ a b Mcdermott 1989, p. 275.
  21. ^ Keown 2013, p. 616.
  22. ^ MacKenzie 2017, p. 10.
  23. ^ Mcdermott 1989, pp. 271–2.
  24. ^ Mcdermott 1989, pp. 273–4, 276.
  25. ^ a b Ledgerwood 2008, p. 153.
  26. ^ Queen, Christopher S. (2013). "Socially Engaged Buddhism: Emerging Patterns of Theory and Practice" (PDF). In Emmanuel, Steven M. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 532. ISBN 978-0-470-65877-2. 
  27. ^ สมเด็จวัดปากน้ำชงหมูบ้านรักษาศีล 5 ให้อปท.ชวนประชาชนยึดปฎิบัติ  [Wat Paknam's Somdet proposes the Five Precept Village for local administrators to persuade the public to practice]. Khao Sod (in Thai). Matichon Publishing. 15 October 2013. p. 31. Retrieved 18 January 2017 – via Matichon E-library. 
  28. ^ 39 ล้านคนร่วมหมู่บ้านศีล 5 สมเด็จพระมหารัชมังคลาจารย์ ย้ำทำต่อเนื่อง [39 million people have joined Villages Practicing Five Precepts, Somdet Phra Maharatchamangalacharn affirms it should be continued]. Thai Rath (in Thai). Wacharapol. 11 March 2017. Archived from the original on 21 November 2017. 
  29. ^ Ledgerwood 2008, p. 154.
  30. ^ Keown 2013, p. 618.
  31. ^ Edelglass 2013, p. 481.
  32. ^ "The Ten Precepts: dasa-sila", edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight, 26 May 2010, . Retrieved on 20 September 2013.


External linksEdit