Leading a Buddhist Life
and the
Five Precepts

The fundamental Buddhism is summarised by Shakyamuni in the Dhammapada:

Not to do any evil,
To cultivate good,
To purify one's mind,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.

It is simple but not easy. When a kid is three years old, he knows it. However, when he is over 80 years old, he cannot really practice it in his daily life.


Morality is the preliminary stage on the path to attain Buddhahood. It is a necessary condition, though not sufficient, leading to wisdom. It is absolutely essential for enlightenment.

Morality in Buddhism is a rational and practical mode based on verifiable facts and individual experience, which is regarded as the one of the most perfect moral code ever known in the world.

What is the criterion of morality according to Buddhism?

In the admonition given by the Buddha to young Rahula, there is the answer.

If there is a deed, Rahula, you wish to do, reflect thus: Is this deed conducive to my harm, or to others' harm, or to that of both? Then is this a bad deed entailing suffering. From such a deed, you must desist.

If there is a deed you wish to do, reflect thus: Is this deed not conducive to my harm, nor to others' harm, nor to that of both? Then is this a good deed entailing happiness. Such a deed you must do again and again.

Thus, in assessing morality, a Buddhist takes into consideration of the interests of both himself and others - animals not excluded.

To understand the exceptionally high standard of morality, one can vigorously study

Sigalovada Sutra
Vyagghapajja Sutra
Mangala Sutra
Mutta Sutra
Parabhara Sutra
Vassla Sutra
Dhammika Sutra

Good deeds are essential for one's emancipation, but when once the ultimate goal of holy life or enlightenment is attained, one transcends both good and evil. Morality is a means to an end, but not an end in itself.

Three Poisons / Three Evil Roots 3 Poisons

In Flower Adornment Sutra, it says that

For all bad Karma created in the past,
Based upon beginningless greed, hatred and delusion,
And born of body, mouth and mind,
I now repent and reform.

It is the well known Repentance Verse in Buddhism. In Buddhism, the distinction between what is good and what is bad is simple. It hinges on the intention or motivation from which an action originates. The deed which is associated with greed/attachment, hatred/ill will, delusion/stupidity is evil.

Greed, hatred and delusion are called the Three Poisons or Three Evil Roots, which are the primary source of all evil deed. It is the Three Poisons that create all bad Karma, resulting all kinds of suffering in accordance with the Principle of Cause and Effect. The Three Poisons are also obstacles to the attainment of good Karma. Thus we have to abandon them by all means.

Greed Greed
Greed is the cause of many offences. The five greedy desires are: wealth, sex, fame, eating and sleeping.

Greedy desire is endless and therefore can never be satisfied. The lesser the greedy desire, the happier and more satisfied we are. The best prescription to deal with greed is in giving away.

Anger Anger
Hatred to people is another cause of evil deed. We should not lose temper and get angry when we are unhappy. We should be calm and patient.

Delusion Delusion
It means the persistent belief in something false and distorted. We have to observe and think in an objective and rational manner, so as to avoid prejudice and misunderstanding. For instance, if we don't believe in cause and effect, and then commit offence frequently and heavily, we will suffer from the retribution.

Five Precepts 5 Precepts

Buddhism is the most profound and wholesome education directed by the Buddha towards all people. Five precepts are the curriculum of Buddhist teaching, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism. By observing precepts, not only do you cultivate your moral strength, but you also perform the highest service to your fellow beings. The Five Precepts are:

1. Do not kill
2. Do not steal
3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
4. Do not make false speech
5. Do not take intoxicants

These are the basic precepts that all people should practice and abide by. As a result, you will live in Three Good Paths (Gods, Demigods & Human), not in Three Evil Paths (Hell, Hungry Ghosts & Animals), enjoy all the blessings, happiness and freedom in Human and Deva Realm.

1. Do not Kill Do not Kill

One must not deliberately kill any living creatures, either by committing the act oneself, instructing others to kill, or approving of or participating in act of killing. It is a respect to others' lives.

One should not deprive others (animals not excluded) of the right to live. If one is hurt or killed, one's family, relatives, friends will suffer. It is the cause of rebirth in Three Evil Paths. The effect of killing to the performer are brevity of life, ill health, handicapped and fear.

In observing the first precept, one tries to protect life whenever possible. Furthermore, one cultivates the attitude of loving kindness to all beings by wishing that they may be happy and free from harm.

2. Do not Steal Do not Steal

It is a respect to other's properties and the right to own property. If something is not given, one may not take it away by stealing, by force or by fraud. Besides these, one should avoid misusing money or property belonging to the public or other persons. In a broader sense, the second precept also means that one should not evade one’s responsibilities. If an employee is lazy and neglects the duties or tasks assigned to him, he is, in a way, "stealing" time that should have been spent on his work.

In its broadest sense, observing the second precept also means that one cultivates the virtue of generosity. A Buddhist gives to the poor and sick because of their need. He makes offerings to the monks, nuns and masters because he respects the qualities they possess. He is generous in his gifts to his parents, teachers and friends because of the advice, guidance and kindness they have shown him.

Besides giving material things to the needy and the worthy, Buddhists should also offer sympathy and encouragement to those who are hurt or discouraged. It is said, however, that the best of all gifts is the gift of the Dharma in the form of teaching it or in the production and distribution of Buddhist books.

Greed is one of the Three Poisons, which leads us to attachment and suffering. The bad effect of stealing are poverty, misery, disappointment, etc.

3. Do not Indulge in Sexual Misconduct Do not Indulge in Sexual Misconduct

Though the moral standards are different in different countries and in different times, rape, adultery and other abnormal sexual behaviour that involve physical and mental injury to others should be prohibited. It is also a matter of respect for people and personal relationships.

Sexual desire is one of the main causes of rebirth in the Six Paths. If we wish to end the birth and death cycle, we should not indulge in sexual misconduct or any other abnormal form of sexual relationship.

The effect of sexual misconduct are having many enemies, always being hated, and union with undesirable wives and husbands.

4. Do not Lie Do not Lie

To refrain from telling lies is to show respect for the truth. No good can come from telling lies, be it out of fun or malice. When a Buddhist observes the fourth precept, he refrains from telling lies or half-truths that exaggerate or understate, and instead cultivates the virtue of truthfulness. Once people uphold the respect for truth, there will be fewer quarrels and misunderstandings and fewer cases of false accusations in the courts of justice. Society will then become more peaceful and orderly.

5. Do not Take Intoxicant Do not take Intoxicant

Buddhism emphasises wisdom. Taking intoxicant will descend and lose the seed of wisdom. Intoxicants, such as drugs, liquor, smoking, etc., are harmful to health. It seems that taking intoxicant is not hurting others. However, if we are drunk and lose our consciousness, we may easily commit evil deeds and hurt others. Therefore, one who breaks this precept will tend to break all other precepts along with it.

The fifth precept is based on respect for mental health. It guard against the loss of control of one’s mind. It is particularly important to those who meditate because, by refraining from taking intoxicants, they can more easily cultivate awareness, attention and clarity of mind. Thus the observance of the fifth precept not only contributes to happiness in the family and peace in society, it also prepares a person for the practice of Mental Development.

Conditions In Violating Precepts

Five conditions of panatipata (Killing)

1. The being must be alive.
2. There must be the knowledge that it is a live being.
3. There must be an intention to cause death.
4. An act must be done to cause death.
5. There must be death, as the result of the said act.

If all the said five conditions are fulfilled, the first precept is violated.

Five conditions of Adinnadana (Stealing)

1. The property must be in the possession of another person.
2. There must be the knowledge that the property is in the possession of another person.
3. There must be an intention to steal.
4. There must be an act done to steal.
5. By that act the property must have been taken.

If all the said five conditions are fulfilled, the second precept is violated.

Four conditions to kamesumicchacara (Sexual Misconduct)

1. It must be a man or a woman with whom it is improper to have sexual intercourse.
2. There must be an intention to have such sexual misconduct with such man or woman.
3. There must be an act done to have such intercourse.
4. There must be enjoyment of the contact of the organs.

If all the said four conditions are fulfilled, the third precept is violated.

Four conditions of musavada (Telling lies)

1.The thing said must be untrue.
2. There must be an intention to deceive.
3.There must be an effort made as a result of the said intention.
4. The other must know the meaning of what is said.

If these conditions are fulfilled, the fourth precept is violated.

Three conditions of taking intoxicant

1. It is intoxicant.
2. There must be an intention to consume.
3. It is consumed.

If these conditions are fulfilled, the fifth precept is violated. However, taking intoxicant for medical purpose does not violate this precept.

The Ten Good Deeds 10 Good Deeds

1. Do not kill
2. Do not steal
3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
4. No lying
5. No double-tongued speech
6. No abusive speech
7. No irresponsible speech
8. No greed
9. No hatred
10. No delusion

The first three are the first three of Five Precepts; these are Body deeds. The last three are the Three Poisons, these are Mind deeds. The remaining four is an elaboration of the evil deeds performed by Speech. Body, speech and mind are the three means of actions.

Apart from avoiding the evil actions, one can take positive attitude in performing the good actions. The Ten Meritorious Deeds allow people to gain a happy and peaceful life as well as to develop knowledge and understanding. The Ten Meritorious Deeds are:

1. Charity
2. Morality / Taking Precepts
3. Mental cultivation / Meditation
4. Reverence or respect
5. Services in helping others
6. Transference of merits
7. Rejoicing in the merits of others
8. Preaching and teaching Dharma
9. Listening to the Dharma
10. Straightening one's own views

To fulfil all these requirements, one will be re-born in the Deva Realm. One will enjoy all kinds of happiness and blessings except the suffering of Five Forms of Decaying.

Five Forms of Decaying  are:

When the devas are dying, there are five symptoms:
1. the flowers around the crown
2. the clothes being dirty
3. having unpleasant smell in the body
4. sweating in armpit
5. Being unhappy in seat

Eight Precepts 8 Precepts

The Eight Precepts consist of the Five Precepts described above and three others, namely:

1. to refrain from taking food after midday;
2. to abstain from indulging in songs, dances, music and shows as well as the use of ornaments, perfumes and cosmetics;
3. to refrain from using a high or luxurious seat or bed.

The Eight Precepts are usually observed on new moon and full moon days. These precepts may be difficult for a lay Buddhist to follow. Therefore, their observance is entirely voluntary. Those who make the attempt are those who wish to experience the disciplined life of renunciation lived by member of the Order.

In observing the sixth precept, for example, the lay Buddhist eats one or two simple meals between dawn and noon and avoids taking food beyond that. This cuts down the time spent on meals and allows him more time to spend on mediation. As for the seventh precept, the lay Buddhist refrains from enjoying songs, dances, music and shows during this period of observance so that he will not be distracted by sensual pleasures that may give rise to unwholesome thoughts. At the same time, by refraining from the use of ornaments, perfumes and cosmetics, he becomes more aware that physical beauty is impermanent and that one should not be vain. By observing the eighth precept, the lay Buddhist experiences a simple way of life with the minimum of luxuries.

Observing the sixth, seventh and eighth precepts requires more effort on the lay Buddhist’s part because he has to restrain himself from indulging in the physical comforts and pleasures that he may be so accustomed to in everyday life. The purpose is to enable him to detach himself from all the distractions of normal activity in order to gain a better understanding of the real nature of life.

 Part of the information of this page is extracted from

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