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Five precepts

Basic code of ethics for Buddhist lay people / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The five precepts (Sanskrit: pañcaśīla; Pali: pañcasīla) or five rules of training (Sanskrit: pañcaśikṣapada; Pali: pañcasikkhapada)[4][5][note 1] is the most important system of morality for Buddhist lay people. They 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. They are sometimes referred to as the Śrāvakayāna precepts in the Mahāyāna tradition, contrasting them with the bodhisattva precepts. The five precepts 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[6][7] or the ethical codes of Confucianism. The precepts have been connected with utilitarianist, deontological and virtue approaches to ethics, though by 2017, such categorization by western terminology had mostly been abandoned by scholars. The precepts have been compared with human rights because of their universal nature, and some scholars argue they can complement the concept of human rights.

Stone plaque with five precepts shortly described in English, engraved in the stone.
Plaque with the five precepts engraved in English, Lumbini, Nepal
Quick facts: Translations of five precepts, Sanskrit, Pali...
Translations of
five precepts
Sanskritpañcaśīla (पञ्चशील), pañcaśikṣapada (पञ्चशिक्षपद)
Palipañcasīla, pañcasīlani,[1] pañcasikkhāpada, pañcasikkhāpadani[1]
Burmeseပဉ္စသီလ ငါးပါးသီလ
(MLCTS: pjɪ̀ɰ̃sa̰ θìla̰ ŋá bá θìla̰)
(Pinyin: wǔjiè)
(Rōmaji: go kai)
Khmerបញ្ចសីល , និច្ចសីល , សិក្ខាបទ៥ , សីល ៥
(UNGEGN: Panchasel, Necchasel, Sekkhabot pram, Sel pram [2])

(RR: ogye)
Monသဳ မသုန်
([sɔe pəsɔn])
(pan sil[3])
Tibetanབསླབ་པ་ལྔ་ bslab pa lnga
TagalogLimang utos
(Baybayin: ᜎᜒᜋᜅ᜔ ᜂᜆᜓ︀ᜐ᜔)
Thaiเบญจศีล, ศีล ๕
(RTGS: Benchasin, Sin Ha)
Ngũ giới
Glossary of Buddhism

The five precepts were common to the religious milieu of 6th-century BCE India, but the Buddha's focus on awareness through the fifth precept was unique. As shown in Early Buddhist Texts, the precepts grew to be more important, and finally became a condition for membership of the Buddhist religion. When Buddhism spread to different places and people, the role of the precepts began to vary. In countries where Buddhism had to compete with other religions, such as China, the ritual of undertaking the five precepts developed into an initiation ceremony to become a Buddhist layperson. On the other hand, in countries with little competition from other religions, such as Thailand, the ceremony has had little relation to the rite of becoming Buddhist, as many people are presumed Buddhist from birth.

Undertaking and upholding the five precepts is based on the principle of non-harming (Pāli and Sanskrit: ahiṃsa). The Pali Canon recommends one to compare oneself with others, and on the basis of that, not to hurt others. Compassion and a belief in karmic retribution form the foundation of the precepts. 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.

  1. The first precept consists of a prohibition of killing, both humans and all animals. Scholars have interpreted Buddhist texts about the precepts as an opposition to and prohibition of capital punishment,[8] suicide, abortion[9][10] and euthanasia.[11] In practice, however, many Buddhist countries still use the death penalty. With regard to abortion, Buddhist countries take the middle ground, by condemning though not prohibiting it fully. The Buddhist attitude to violence is generally interpreted as opposing all warfare, but some scholars have raised exceptions found in later texts.
  2. The second precept prohibits theft and related activities such as fraud and forgery.
  3. The third precept refers to sexual misconduct, and has been defined by modern teachers with terms such as sexual responsibility and long-term commitment.
  4. The fourth precept involves falsehood spoken or committed to by action, as well as malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip.
  5. The fifth precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs, or other means.[12][13] Early Buddhist Texts nearly always condemn alcohol, and so do Chinese Buddhist post-canonical texts. Smoking is sometimes also included here.

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 into 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.

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