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Translations of
English five precepts,
five virtues
Pali पञ्चसीलानि
Sanskrit पञ्चशीलानि
Bengali পঞ্চশীলানি
Burmese ပဉ္စသီလ or

Chinese 五戒 pinyin: wǔjiè
(Cantonese Jyutping: ng5 gaai3)
Japanese 五戒
(rōmaji: go kai)
Sinhala පන්සිල්
Thai ศีลห้า
Glossary of Buddhism

The Five Precepts (Pali: pañca-sīlāni; Sanskrit: pañca-śīlāni)[1] constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers (Upāsaka and Upāsikā) of the Buddha Gautama in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. The Five Precepts are commitments to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. 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 laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice.[2]

Pali texts

Pali literature provides the scriptures and commentary for traditional Theravadin practice.

Pali training rules

The following are the five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada)[3] or five virtues (pañca-sīla) rendered in English and Pali:

1.I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.ātipātā veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi.
2.I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.Adinnādānā veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi.
3.I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.Kāmesu micchācāra veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi.
4.I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.Musāvāda veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi.
5.I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi.[4]

For more on the first precept, see ahimsa. In some modern translations, Surā-meraya-majja-pamādaṭṭhānā, is rendered more broadly, variously, as, intoxicants, liquor and drugs, etc.


In the Pali Canon, the following typifies elaborations that frequently accompany these identified training rules:

... There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He does not take, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man.
... There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, "Come & tell, good man, what you know": If he doesn't know, he says, "I don't know." If he does know, he says, "I know." If he hasn't seen, he says, "I haven't seen." If he has seen, he says, "I have seen." Thus he doesn't consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech.[5]

According to the Buddha, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are never skillful.[6]


In the Abhisandha Sutta (AN 8.39), the Buddha said that undertaking the precepts is a gift to oneself and others:

... In [undertaking the five precepts], he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the ... gift, the ... great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. This is the ... reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing; to welfare & to happiness.[7]

In the next canonical discourse, the Buddha described the minimal negative consequences of breaking the precepts.[8]

Chinese texts

The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times in the canon in slightly different forms,[9][10][11] and each temple or tradition has slightly different ordination ceremonies.

One ceremonial version of the precepts can be found in the Treatise on Taking Refuge and the Precepts (歸戒要集):

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

The same Treatise on Taking Refuge and the Precepts (歸戒要集) outlines the option of undertaking fewer than all five precepts,[12] though nearly all modern ceremonies involve undertaking all five precepts. Certainly, committing more skillful and fewer unskillful actions is beneficial. But before entering nirvana, the Buddha said his disciples should take the precepts as their teacher,[13] so few ceremonies are held for partial precept undertaking. There are exceptions, however.[14][15][16]

Other precepts

Different Buddhist traditions adhere to other lists of precepts that have some overlap with the Five Precepts. The precise wording and application of any of these vows is different by tradition.

Eight Precepts

Template:LayTheravadaPractices The Eight Precepts are the precepts for Buddhist lay men and women who wish to practice a bit more strictly than the usual five precepts for Buddhists. The eight precepts focus both on avoiding morally bad behaviour, and on leading a more ascetic lifestyle. The five precepts, however, focus only on avoiding morally bad behaviour.

In Theravada Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, Buddhist laymen and laywomen will often spend one day a week (on the Uposatha days: the new moon, first-quarter moon, full moon and last-quarter moon days) living in the monastery, and practicing the eight precepts.

The Buddha gave teachings on how the eight precepts are to be practiced,[17] and on the right and wrong ways of practicing the eight precepts.[18]

  1. I undertake to abstain from causing harm and taking life (both human and non-human).
  2. I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given (stealing).
  3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake to abstain from wrong speech: telling lies, deceiving others, manipulating others, using hurtful words.
  5. I undertake to abstain from using intoxicating drinks and drugs, which lead to carelessness.
  6. I undertake to abstain from eating at the wrong time (the right time is eating once, after sunrise, before noon).
  7. I undertake to abstain from singing, dancing, playing music, attending entertainment performances, wearing perfume, and using cosmetics and garlands (decorative accessories).
  8. I undertake to abstain from luxurious places for sitting or sleeping, and overindulging in sleep.

Ten Precepts

The Ten Precepts (Pali: dasasila or samanerasikkha) refer to the precepts (training rules) for Buddhist samaneras (novice monks) and samaneris (novice nuns). They are used in most Buddhist schools.

  1. Refrain from killing living things.
  2. Refrain from stealing.
  3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
  4. Refrain from lying.
  5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
  6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
  7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs (performances).
  8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
  9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
  10. Refrain from accepting money.

Sixteen Precepts

Within the Zen tradition there are generally sixteen precepts the first five of the last set of them being the standard five precepts. Sometimes these precepts (especially the last ten) are called the Bodhisattva precepts. Additionally, in some traditions such as the white plum lineage the precepts have been formed in the affirmative instead of the negative.[19]

(Three Treasures)

  1. Taking refuge in the Buddha
  2. Taking refuge in the Dharma
  3. Taking refuge in the Sangha

(Three Pure Precepts)

  1. Not Creating Evil
  2. Practicing Good
  3. Actualizing Good For Others

(Ten Grave Precepts)

  1. Affirm life; Do not kill
  2. Be giving; Do not steal
  3. Honor the body; Do not misuse sexuality
  4. Manifest truth; Do not lie
  5. Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind
  6. See the perfection; Do not speak of others' errors and faults
  7. Realize self and other as one; Do not elevate the self and blame others
  8. Give generously; Do not be withholding
  9. Actualize harmony; Do not be angry
  10. Experience the intimacy of things; Do not defile the Three Treasures

Traditional praxis

The laity undertake to follow these training rules at the same time as they become Buddhists. In Mahayana countries a lay practitioner who has undertaken the precepts is called an upasaka. In Theravada countries any lay follower is in theory called an upasaka (or upasika, feminine), though in practice everyone is expected to take the precepts anyway.

Additionally, traditional Theravada lay devotional practice (puja) includes the daily taking of refuge in the Triple Gem and undertaking to observe the five precepts.


The precepts are considered differently in a Mahayana context to that of the Theravada school of thought.

According to Theravada, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying are never skillful[20]. Some schools of Mahayana Buddhism disagree with this[21]. For example, they might condone the act of murdering a mass murderer.

Contemporary Theravada scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi takes that position that, while non-dualistic philosophies assert that enlightened beings are beyond the proscriptions of conventional moral codes, in the Pali Canon the Buddha's teaching maintains a clear distinction between moral and immoral behaviors, a distinction that applies as much to the arahant as to the layperson.[22]

See also


  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."
  2. Stewart McFarlane in Peter Harvey, ed., Buddhism. Continuum, 2001, page 187.
  3. As indicated in the translation below, sikkhāpada is also translated as "training rule" (e.g., Gunaratana, 2007) and "rule of training" (e.g., Harvey, 2007, p. 199; and, Khantipalo, 1982/95).
  4. The Pali can be found, for instance, in Elgiriye Indaratana (2002), p. 2.
  5. AN 10.176 (Thanissaro, 1997b).
  6. Thanissaro (2006). Thanissaro, in part, references MN 9, Sammā-diṭṭhi Sutta, to support this statement.
  7. AN 8.39 (Thanissaro, 1997a).
  8. AN 8.40 (Thanissaro, 1997c).
  12. starting on line 0682c05(07)
  13., line p0019a07(06)
  17. Anguttara Nikaya 8.43
  18. Anguttara Nikaya 3.70
  19. "precepts in the mountains and rivers order".  "Three versions of the zen precepts in the Soto lineage".  "An example of the precepts in the Rinzai lineage".  Slightly different versions of these precepts exist. Among the larger differences, the third precept is sometimes rendered as relating to desires in general (do not be greedy). "A description of the precepts slightly different from the previous". 
  20. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "Getting the Message" article link at Access to Insight
  21. For instance, Aitken (1984), pp. 16 passim, refers to three frameworks used by Zen teachers: the Hinayana or "literal" view, the Mahayana or "compassionate" view, and the Buddha-nature or "essential" view."
  22. Bodhi (1994-95/98). In referring to "philosophies of non-duality," Bodhi parenthetically identifies "particularly in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra" and subsequently alludes to the notion of "crazy wisdom" that, for instance, was popularized by Chogyam Trungpa.

External links

id:Pancasila (Buddha) ja:五戒 ru:Панча Шила (буддизм) th:ศีลห้า tr:Beş İlke zh:五戒