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Intro to Buddhism: What Are the Five Buddhist Precepts?
This article was part of an older newsletter from Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth called Dharma Mirror. We re-publish it today with some light edits.
The Five Great Gifts
A Summary of the Five Precepts
The five Precepts are basic ethical guidelines taught by the Buddha for lay practitioners. The precepts are:
- To refrain from killing. The central tenet of Buddhism is ahimsa, or non-harming, which teaches the sanctity of all life—humans, animals, plants, and even the environment. Hence, the first precept helps us engender compassion for ourselves and all living beings.
- To refrain from taking things not given. Aside from outright stealing, this may also include consuming more than necessary, wasting resources, or exploitation. Instead, the Buddha encouraged us to practice dana, or generosity.
- To refrain from sexual misconduct. This precept pertains to avoiding causing harm through sexual behavior. This includes sexual assaults, infidelity, promiscuity, and for some Buddhists, premarital sex. Being aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, we can exercise responsibility and strengthen the integrity of our personal relationships.
- To refrain from lying. This precept invites us to use words wisely, truthfully, and kindly. Just as actions of the body can inflict harm, so too can words. Buddhists aim to seek truth and wisdom; lying and deception only increase delusion and ignorance.
- To refrain from taking intoxicants. Buddhism emphasizes wisdom and clarity of mind. It teaches us to “look within” to find our Buddha nature. Intoxicants such as alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs cloud our minds and thus impair our ability to practice. Furthermore, when intoxicated, we are prone to transgress the previous four precepts.
The precepts are taken voluntarily, usually in a formal ceremony. In the Abhisanda Sutta, the Buddha called the five Precepts the “five great gifts” that bestow “freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from the oppression of limitless numbers of beings.”
The five precepts fall under the “right speech”, “right action”, and “right livelihood” of the Eightfold Path and are prerequisites for the cultivation of concentration and wisdom. With the practice of upholding the precepts, we are more observant of our body and speech, leading us towards mental stillness and clarity, and ultimately, liberation from suffering.