In Buddhism, The Five Precepts are equivalent to a code of conduct or rules to follow if you’re to live a truly Buddhist life. They’re created to help people act morally in their day-to-day lives and help them reach enlightenment – this is the main aim of Buddhist teaching.
Buddhist principles teach that actions can gauge a person’s morality and whether they harm others or cause suffering.
The main goal of Buddhism is to reduce suffering in your life and the lives of others, so these precepts aim to help people do this.
Buddhist ethics are mainly concerned with the actions and principles of people and whether they are helpful or harmful to the aims of reducing suffering and achieving enlightenment. There’s an emphasis on personal spiritual development, and the general goal of a Buddhist is to reach nirvana, which is a state of true enlightenment.
These five precepts of Buddhism can be seen as a representation of Buddhist values and principles. If one follows them in their everyday life, they can work towards reaching enlightenment and living a truly Buddhist lifestyle. Buddhists don’t worship a single God, and these precepts aren’t seen as the orders of a deity, in the same way, some other religions are structured.
They’re guides to help follow the path to enlightenment, to ensure that they accumulate good karma and, as such, can come closer to achieving enlightenment. Buddhists believe you can reach this state by working on your morality through meditation and following these precepts.
Some monks follow hundreds of precepts, but these five are the main guidelines for the everyday individual who practices Buddhism.
The First Precept
The First Precept is to refrain from taking life; this applies to humans and animals and means we shouldn’t kill anything that lives.
Many Buddhists choose to be vegetarian to fully follow this precept, as they don’t want to break it by contributing to the death of an animal for food; some interpret this precept as a principle against all wars, and many Buddhists do apply it in this sense. So it’s similar to the Bible’s commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,’ although Buddhist precepts aren’t framed in the same way – they’re seen more as guidelines to follow rather than strict rules. Buddhism also doesn’t follow a deity in the same way as Christianity, so the precepts aren’t seen as God-given commands.
The Second Precept
The Second Precept is to refrain from taking what is not given to you. It is typically interpreted as not stealing since this is a clear way of harming others and causing suffering. Taking what is not shown can also be read to discourage exploitation and taking advantage of people. Dishonest acts like this aren’t in line with Buddhist morality.
The Third Precept
The Third Precept of Buddhism is to refrain from sexual misconduct or the misuse of the senses. It typically applies to things like adultery and being unfaithful – we shouldn’t overindulge in sex or commit sexual offenses. Buddhist monks and people who follow the faith very seriously may take vows of celibacy, as sex could be a distraction from reaching true enlightenment. Celibacy is also a way of guaranteeing you adhere to this third precept.
The Fourth Precept
The Fourth Precept is that one should refrain from wrong speech. It is typically interpreted to mean lying, misleading and gossiping. Instead, Buddhists following this precept should say useful, considered, and well-meaning things. Speech is tied in with listening, and when following this precept, one should be a good listener and avoid speaking out of turn and causing suffering through speech and interactions.
The Fifth Precept
The fifth and final precept is to refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind. It means you shouldn’t use drugs, alcohol, and other intoxicants, as they can hinder your journey toward enlightenment and cause suffering.
The aim of abstaining from intoxicants is to achieve a clear and alert mind that can focus properly on meditation and reaching enlightenment. Some Buddhists also apply this to one’s thoughts and use this precept for mindfulness. However, if one is to have a truly clear mind, one needs to be aware of their thoughts, motivations, feelings, and actions – one way of being acutely aware of all these is by practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a technique rooted in Buddhism, and it’s the practice of being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, living truly in the present, and clearing one’s mind of all other thoughts. It can be practiced through meditation, another key element of Buddhism that can help people reach an enlightened state.
Buddhists believe that meditating helps them gain wisdom, as by acting morally and ethically, they can grow their knowledge.
Meditation also becomes easier the more it is practiced, helping Buddhists to rid their minds of negativity.
Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Buddhist principles of mindfulness are based on four key things we should be mindful of: our bodies, our feelings, our minds themselves, and “phenomena,” or “the world around us.”
By training and being mindful of these four foundations, Buddhists believe they can see these things for what they are beyond our conceptual ideas.
Training in the four foundations of mindfulness allows us to see reality with more clarity and serenity.
What is Enlightenment?
In Buddhist texts, it’s explained that people are meant to develop their character to strive toward achieving enlightenment. These precepts are a handy step towards doing this.
If one follows these precepts, one can ensure their thoughts and actions align with Buddhist morality and work towards reaching the true state of Nirvana. It can be done with thoughtful meditation, living out these precepts through your actions, and trying to reduce your suffering and the suffering of others.
The state of enlightenment is wisdom, contentment, and knowledge of the self. It’s often defined as the realization of all truth about life. Buddha is said to have achieved this through meditation under a tree. Supposedly, Buddha lived around 2500 years ago. He was from a rich and powerful family and lived in a palace. Here, he didn’t see much of the suffering in the outside world. Then, one day, he left the palace to see widespread death, illness, and despair.
His life and story inspire Buddhism, as when he encountered suffering in the world, he realized that suffering is inevitable in life. The only way to reconcile this is through meditation and reaching enlightenment. Once he had achieved this, people started to refer to him as ‘Buddha,’ which can loosely be translated as a teacher.
Enlightenment means knowing one’s place in the world and having full knowledge and control over one’s mind. Buddhists feel this level of enlightenment is the only true way to understand and reduce suffering.