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Undertaking the five precepts is part of regular lay devotional practice, both at home and at the local temple. However, the extent to which people keep them differs per region and time. People keep them with an intention to develop themselves, but also out of fear of a bad rebirth. The first precept consists of a prohibition of killing, both humans and all animals.

  • Abstain from taking life.
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Scholars have interpreted Buddhist texts about the precepts as an opposition to and prohibition of capital punishment, [6] suicide, abortion [7] [8] and euthanasia. With regard to abortion, Buddhist countries take the middle ground, by condemning though not prohibiting it.

The Buddhist attitude to violence is generally interpreted as opposing all warfare, but some scholars have raised exceptions. The second precept prohibits theft. The third precept refers to adultery in all its forms, and has been defined by modern teachers with terms such as sexual responsibility and long-term commitment. The fourth precept involves falsehood spoken or committed to by action, as well as malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip. The fifth precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs or other means.

Buddhist attitudes toward smoking differ per time and region, but are generally permissive. In modern times, traditional Buddhist countries have seen revival movements to promote the five precepts. As for the West, the precepts play a major role in Buddhist organizations. They have also been integrated in mindfulness training programs, though many mindfulness specialists do not support this because of the precepts' religious import.

Lastly, many conflict prevention programs make use of the precepts. Buddhist scriptures explain the five precepts as the minimal standard of Buddhist morality. Thus, the precepts are rules or guidelines to develop mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. Comparing different parts of Buddhist doctrine, the five precepts form the basis of the eight precepts , which are lay precepts stricter than the five precepts, similar to monastic precepts. The ten—eleven bodhisattva precepts presuppose the five precepts, and are partly based on them. In conclusion, the five precepts lie at the foundation of all Buddhist practice, and in that respect, can be compared with the ten commandments in Christianity and Judaism [4] [5] or the ethical codes of Confucianism.

The Five Precepts

The five precepts were part of early Buddhism and are common to nearly all schools of Buddhism. In some schools of ancient Indic Buddhism, Buddhist devotees could choose to adhere to only a number of precepts, instead of the complete five. The prohibition on killing had motivated early Buddhists to form a stance against animal sacrifice, a common ritual practice in ancient India.

In Early Buddhist Texts , the role of the five precepts gradually develops. First of all, the precepts are combined with a declaration of faith in the triple gem the Buddha, his teaching and the monastic community. Next, the precepts develop to become the foundation of lay practice. Lastly, the precepts, together with the triple gem, become a required condition for the practice of Buddhism, as lay people have to undergo a formal initiation to become a member of the Buddhist religion.

In countries in which Buddhism was adopted as the main religion without much competition from other religious disciplines, such as Thailand, the relation between the initiation of a lay person and the five precepts has been virtually non-existent. In such countries, the taking of the precepts has become a sort of ritual cleansing ceremony.

People are presumed Buddhist from birth without much of an initiation. The precepts are often committed to by new followers as part of their installment, yet this is not very pronounced.

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However, in some countries like China, where Buddhism was not the only religion, the precepts became an ordination ceremony to initiate lay people into the Buddhist religion. Chinese Buddhists interpreted the fifth precept strictly, even more so than in Indic Buddhism.

Five Precepts | Nan Tien Temple

For example, the monk Daoshi c. However, in some parts of China, such as Dunhuang , considerable evidence has been found of alcohol consumption among both lay people and monastics. Later, from the 8th century onward, strict attitudes of abstinence led to a development of a distinct tea culture among Chinese monastics and lay intellectuals, in which tea gatherings replaced gatherings with alcoholic beverages, and were advocated as such. In Thailand, a leading lay person will normally request the monk to administer the precepts by reciting the following three times:.

After this, the monk administering the precepts will recite a reverential line of text to introduce the ceremony, after which he guides the lay people in declaring that they take their refuge in the three refuges or triple gem. He then continues with reciting the five precepts: [45] [46]. After the lay people have repeated the five precepts after the monk, the monk will close the ceremony reciting:. The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times in the Chinese Buddhist Canon , in slightly different forms.

The five precepts can be found in many places in the Early Buddhist Texts. On the other hand, living a life in violation of the precepts is believed to lead to rebirth in an unhappy destination. The precepts are normative rules, but are formulated and understood as "undertakings" [57] rather than commandments enforced by a moral authority, [58] [59] according to the voluntary and gradualist standards of Buddhist ethics. In other words, all living beings are alike in that they want to be happy and not suffer.

Comparing oneself with others, one should therefore not hurt others as one would not want to be hurt.

Abstain from taking life

In the upholding or violation of the precepts, intention is crucial. Upholding the precepts is sometimes distinguished in three levels: to uphold them without having formally undertaken them; to uphold them formally, willing to sacrifice one's own life for it; and finally, to spontaneously uphold them. These consist of injuring a Buddha, killing an arahant , killing one's father or mother, and causing the monastic community to have a schism.

Lay followers often undertake these training rules in the same ceremony as they take the refuges. The five precepts are at the core of Buddhist morality.

The Pragmatism of Five Precepts

Nevertheless, Buddhists do not all follow them with the same strictness. When they become used to the precepts, they start to embody them more naturally. Observing precepts was seen to be mostly the role of a monk or an elderly lay person. Scholar of religion Richard Jones concludes that the moral motives of Buddhists in adhering to the precepts are based on the idea that renouncing self-service, ironically, serves oneself. In East Asian Buddhism, the precepts are intrinsically connected with the initiation as a Buddhist lay person. The texts describe that in the ritual the power of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas is transmitted, and helps the initiate to keep the precepts. The ordained lay person is then given a religious name. The restrictions that apply are similar to a monastic ordination, such as permission from parents.


In very solemn occasions, or for very pious devotees, the precepts may be taken as a group rather than each separately. On the other hand, when people took a vow to keep the precepts, and then broke them afterwards, the negative karma was considered larger than in the case no vow was taken to keep the precepts. Several modern teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Sulak Sivaraksa have written about the five precepts in a wider scope, with regard to social and institutional relations.

In these perspectives, mass production of weapons or spreading untruth through media and education also violate the precepts. The first precept prohibits the taking of life of a sentient being. It is violated when someone intentionally and successfully kills such a sentient being, having understood it to be sentient and using effort in the process. However, it has also been pointed out that the seriousness of taking life depends on the size, intelligence, benefits done and the spiritual attainments of that living being.

Killing a large animal is worse than killing a small animal also because it costs more effort ; killing a spiritually accomplished master is regarded as more severe than the killing of another "more average" human being; and killing a human being is more severe than the killing an animal. But all killing is condemned.

The description of the first precept can be interpreted as a prohibition of capital punishment. Ordering another person to kill is also included in this precept, [9] [95] therefore requesting or administering euthanasia can be considered a violation of the precept, [9] as well as advising another person to commit abortion. Interpretations of how Buddhist texts regard warfare are varied, but in general Buddhist doctrine is considered to oppose all warfare. At the same time, though, the Buddha is often shown not to explicitly oppose war in his conversations with political figures.

He may have believed such involvement to be futile, or detrimental to Buddhism. Nevertheless, at least one disciple of the Buddha is mentioned in the texts who refrained from retaliating his enemies because of the Buddha, that is King Pasenadi Sanskrit: Prasenajit. The texts are ambiguous in explaining his motives though. In the chronicle, the king is saddened with the loss of life after a war, but comforted by a Buddhist monk, who states that nearly everyone who was killed did not uphold the precepts anyway.

Field studies in Cambodia and Burma have shown that many Buddhists considered the first precept the most important, or the most blamable. Early Buddhists did not adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. 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.

For example, the Thai Santi Asoke movement practices vegetarianism.