THE FIVE PRECEPTS

THE BUDDHIST MORAL CONDUCTS

By Ashin Sudhamma  (Ajan Chainoi)

Introduction

In practical life a lay adherent is traditionally required to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, to observe the five basic principles of moral conduct. The five precepts are the basic principles of Buddhism best known to most people. It is customary for Buddhist people to be explained during almost every religious ceremony and those present at the ceremonies generally make a formal declaration of their intention to comply with the five precepts. People in Buddhist countries must have seen or heard monks enunciating the five precepts ever since the time when they were still very young and did not understand them. Consequently it is of interest to consider the extent to which most people realize the importance of the five precepts and what they think of them, especially as most of the five precepts prescribe a code of conduct that is widely different from the general practice of human being.

 
The Five Precepts (Pancasila)

In discussing the five precepts, there are some important points to be noted. Rules or principles of moral conduct such as the five precepts of Buddhism are to be found in every religion. For instance, other religions such as Hindu, Christianity, and Islam also encourage people to practice of these five precepts. But there are some differences in their outlook. Therefore, these five precepts can be called "the universal law". If we examine these precepts carefully, we come to know that they promote unity, harmony, and peace in society. Without practicing these precepts, there would be no peace in society and any society cannot go far. The five precepts are stated as follow:

1. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking of life.
2. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants and drugs.
 
The First Precept

The first precept is refraining from taking or destroying or sanctioning the destruction of a living being implying anything that has life, from insects up to and including human being. Though this precept prohibits the killing of living beings, in terms of its underlying purpose, it can also be understood to prohibit injuring, maiming, and torturing as well.

 

It is a fact that all life has a desire to safeguard itself and to make itself comfortable and happy or in other word all beings desire happiness. (sukhakamani bhuta). This is an ethical assumption on which the Buddhist concept of respecting rights of others is found. Since life is dear to every living being (sabbesam jivitam piyam), the Buddha advices that "having taken oneself as an example, one should neither harm nor kill". It should be noted here that Buddhist thought extends the right of animal life as well. Because of this, Buddhism always encourages us to practice loving kindness and non-violence. Therefore, the life of every individual should be respected.

One who abstains from killing enjoys many blessings both in this life and the next. The result of taking of life, on the other hand, leads to rebirth in states of suffering, as an animal, ghost or denizen of hell. If it is not strong enough to give this result, or is modified by some good counteractive Kamma, the rebirth may be a human one, but it will be full of misery. Deformity of body, disease, and shortness of the life span are some of the evil results of the Kamma of taking of life.

 
The Second Precepts

The second precept of good conduct is abstaining from taking things that are not given. The word "taking, the immoral volition to take other's belongings" is known as the immoral act of stealing. This precept deals with the theft. It is an injunction against any form of stealing. One should avoid that which is not given and he, perceiving this, does not steal or condone stealing. Everything that is not given he should avoid.

There are many different kinds of taking what is not given. One is stealing secretly without the knowledge of the owner as a midnight bank theft and pickpocket etc. Another type is robbery taking what is not given by force, either by snatching someone's belongings away from him or by compelling him to hand them over by means of threats. A third type is fraudulence, laying false claims or telling lies in order to gain someone's possessions. Another type is deceit using deceptive means to deprive someone's article or to gain his money as when storekeepers use false weights and measures or when people produce counterfeit bills for use. One can be called "committed stealing" if he used the above different kinds of taking the property of others. Therefore, one should avoid these kinds of stealing.

 

The results that accrue to the person who committed stealing, are the following: great suffering in an unhappy state for a long period or if by virtue of other merits the theft should be reborn as a human being, he would lack possession in this new state. He would be unable to keep it and would be subject to danger from kings, murderers, floods, and fire. He would be unable to enjoy sensual pleasures and would be discontented and despised by the people. One who abstains from taking things that are not given, would be able to enjoy many blessings both in this life and the next.

 
The Third Precept

The third precept of moral conduct is the training rule to abstain from misconduct in regard to sense pleasure. This precept is to refrain from sexual intercourse to any woman belonging to others. Regarding to this, Venerable Hammalawa Saddhatissa mentions in his book "Buddhist Ethics" that the third precept deals with refraining from any wrong conduct in sexual activities. Regarding the sexual control to be practiced by the ordinary layman, there are many different kinds of woman given in the text to which one should give protection and should not have sex with them, such as a woman under the protection of her parents, of her brothers, of her sisters etc. Any woman belongs to these categories, one should not have sex with them and they have to be avoided.

 

The results that accrue to the person who committed sexual misconduct, are the following: suffering in an unhappy stat for a long period; when reborn as a human being by virtue of merits acquired in a previous existence the birth would occur in a lower form of mankind. Such a person would have many enemies, would be disliked by the people, would be destitute; unable to procure comfortable lodgings, food, and clothes, and would be full of anger and rage.

The good results, that accrue to the person who abstained from sexual misconduct, are the following: great happiness or comfort in an happy state; when reborn as a human being, the birth would occur in a higher form of mankind and such a person would be able to enjoy many blessings both in this life and the next.

 
The Fourth Precept

The fourth precept of moral conduct is the training rule to abstain from false speech. This precept also deals with refraining from telling lies, which implies practicing of disciplined language. This precept is very important to be practiced by everyone in any society. It also implies trustworthiness. Without trustworthiness among individuals, any society would not go further. It only can established through language. Language is the most wonderful tool that people has produced. It depends on how we use language; it can make a person good and at the same time it can destroy him. Therefore, using of language properly is very important for the smooth functioning society.

 

According to the Buddha, if one tells lies, one can do anything. This idea is clearly seen in the Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, that the Buddha advised his son, Samanera Rahula not to tell lies. He gave a simile to one who tells lies can do anything like a king elephant in a war that uses all part of his body, can do anything to serve the purpose.

This precept is not violated merely by speaking what is false, but by speaking what is false with the intention of representing that as true; thus it is equivalent to lying or deceptive speech. The violation is said to arouse bodily or verbal action. The use of speech to deceive is obvious, but the body also can be used as an instrument of communication as in writing, hand signals, and gestures and thus can be used to deceive others. However, one should, therefore, avoid any kinds of telling lies as mentioned above.

 

The evil consequences resulting from false speech are the following: suffering in an unhappy state for a long period; when reborn as a human being by virtue of merits, the birth would occur in a lower form of mankind. Such a person would be a stammer and a gag-toothed person, would have no influence or power upon the people. One who abstains from telling lies would be able to enjoy many blessings both in this life and the next and would never be a stammer etc.

 
The Fifth Precept

The fifth precept of moral conduct is abstaining from taking intoxicants and drugs. One should not take intoxicating drinks and drugs because of two reasons. One is something to do with physical and the other with mental factor. If a person mentally is not fit, from him society would not get anything. Anything that stands for intoxicants and drugs is prohibited. The reason is that the ethical norm was introduced in agricultural society, if liquor is partaken, then physical and mental strength of a man would disappear, then could not do anything for the development of society. For this reason, any society decides this type of things, liquor and other things that make one weak physically and mentally should not be taken.

 

Taking intoxicants can influence the ways in which a man interacts with others and leading it to the violation of all five precepts. Under the influence of intoxicants a man, who might otherwise be restrained, can become heedless, and engage in killing, stealing, adultery, and lying. Abstinence from intoxicants is prescribed on the grounds that it is essential to the self-protection of the individual and for establishing the well being of family and society. The precept thus prevents the misfortunes that result from the use of intoxicants: loss of wealth, quarrels and crimes, bodily disease, loss of reputation, shameless conduct, negligence, and madness.

 
Conclusion

So far we have dealt with the Buddha's fundamental society. The five precepts as we have discussed above, are the foundation of the Buddhist moral conduct. It begins with these precepts. Therefore, one should practice oneself in this morality. By practicing these precepts, it will lead one to the ultimate goal of Nibbana, the true happiness.

References
1. Henry Weerasinghe, Education for Peace- the Buddha's way, Colombo, 1992.
2. H. Saddhatissa, Buddhist Ethics- the Path to Nirvana, London, 1987.
3. Narada Mahathera, the Buddha and His Teachings, Kandy, 1973.
4. Phra Sasana Sobhana- Thailadn, Moral Conduct (Sila), (Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, Taiwan, 1997).
5. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Going for Refuge- Taking the Precepts, Kandy, 1981.
6. D.J. Subasinghe, Buddhist Rules for the Laity, Taiwan, 1993.

7. Francis Story, The Buddhist Outlook, Kandy, 1973.

 

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