Buddhism Basics

What are Precepts in Buddhism?

Learn what the precepts are in Buddhism, and what they mean to you.

Buddhism has various sets of rules known as “precepts”, which are similar to commandments or ethical rules in other religions except that they were not commanded by a god or supernatural being.

The First Precepts

When the Buddha was about to die, he instructed his followers to use the code of monastic conduct to be their teacher in his absence.  By honoring that request, the teachings of the Buddha and the entire religion has endured for 2,600 years.

Why Precepts?

The precepts were created to ensure that:

  • The monastic order was regulated
  • Ensuring the correct Dharma (teachings) endure

Precepts in Buddhism help to ensure the monastic order is regulated, and to ensure the correct teachings of the Buddha (Dharma) endure.

Monastic Precepts

The reason there are so many monastic precepts (compared to those for laypersons) is to prevent unwholesome conduct and wrongdoing.  The Buddhist monastic rules can be found in a set of scripture known as the Vinaya.  As violations occurred in the monastic order, the Buddha would created rules which became the precepts.

The Five Precepts

These precepts are for both laity and monastics, followed by both Mahayana and Theravada branches, and ensure morality.

  1. To refrain from killing/harming
  2. To refrain from stealing/taking what is not yours
  3. To refrain from sexual misconduct
  4. To refrain from lying
  5. To refrain from consuming intoxicants

The Eight Precepts

In addition to the five precepts, three more are followed by monastics (and also by laypersons, typically when they are on retreat or when they want to follow a monastic values):

  1. Refrain from eating at inappropriate times
  2. Refrain from attending performances of music and dance
  3. Refrain from wearing perfumes or from sleeping in luxuurious beds

Specific Precepts

There are also many different types of precepts depending on who you are, your gender, and if you are a monastic or a layperson.  Precepts such as these are known as “specific precepts”.

Bodhisattva Precepts

In addition to specific precepts,  Mahayana Buddhism has a special set of precepts that apply to both monastics and laypersons (of both genders) known as the “Bodhisattva Precepts”, which are 16 precepts in total.  These are in addition to specific precepts and are intended for those who wish to liberate themselves, and other living beings from suffering.  They come mainly from the Brahma Net Sutra (which has 10 major, and 48 minor Bodhisattva precepts).  There are three categories of the Bodhisattva Precepts:

  • Proper Conduct
  • Wholesome Deeds
  • Benefiting Living Beings

The 10 major precepts, known as the “Ten Grand Precepts” are:

  1. Not killing/harming
  2. Not stealing/taking what is not yours
  3. Not misusing sex
  4. Not lying
  5. Not abusing intoxicants
  6. Not talking about others errors and faults
  7. Not elevating oneself and blaming others
  8. Not being stingy
  9. Not being angry
  10. Not speaking ill of the Three Treasures

The “Three Pure Precepts”  are:

  1. To do no evil
  2. To do good
  3. To save all beings

The “Three Refuges” are:

  1. I take refuge in the Buddha
  2. I take refuge in the Dharma
  3. I take refuge in the Sangha

Featured Image: CC0 photo via Pixabay
Copyright © Alan Peto. All Rights Reserved.

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