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Presentation and explaination of each one of the 8 precepts.

the 8 precepts

group of nuns sitting, respectfully earing a teaching

The persons who observe all the time eight precepts (otherwise the nine or the ten): The nuns. (sīladhara).

See also: Nuns' discipline

Meaning and usefulness

As a part of the tradition, in Buddhist countries, the laity wishing to cultivate a pure mind do observe the eight precepts. Usually, these people follow the five basic precepts at all times. These five precepts are already extremely beneficial on their own. They are so natural that many people being inclined to a virtuous living, do observe them without being aware of it.

Being zealous in improving their conduct and being detached from things deemed to be relatively futile, some people have had the habit to observe the eight precepts for an approximate one day period weekly. Buddhist countries following the lunar calendar, it will be about new moon, full moon and half-moon days. Admittedly, anyone can undertake the observance of the eight precepts any day whatsoever (for example each Sunday) or even better, at any time, as it is the case regarding nuns. Usually, yogīs who come to do a retreat in a meditation centre are requested to follow these eight precepts.

What are these eight precepts meant for? Their usefulness is so obvious: To purify one's mind. To train it to be more aware of things, to be less indulging into bad or useless things. All this to enable us to perform good actions. In fact, those are not so much good things that ought to be done, but essentially evil ones to be avoided. Indeed, it is not that much about good things that ought to be performed, but essentially bad things that ought to be avoided. The simple fact to refrain from committing these evil actions, that IS a good action indeed. Good actions mainly lie in doing from time to time little efforts that lie in avoiding bad habits, bad reflexes, bad things. The secret of a clean country doesn't lie that much in not cleaning it but in not making it dirty instead. Well, what does apply to a country also does in the same way concerning our own mind.

Doesn't Buddha teach us that the greatest, the best, the most beneficial, the most honorable among all good actions is the mental noticing? In other parlance, the minimum effort that lies in observing the perceptions as they do appear. This direct insight into reality, obtained by this mere sustenance of attention, in Pali, Buddha calls it "vipassanā".

At a time during which we turn our attention to a physical or mental object, which action do we perform? None! We just give to the mind the opportunity to know, to see directly, face to face, the object that appears. That is to say what is being perceived: What is heard, what is touched, what is seen, what is smelt, what is tasted and what is thought. On the other hand, at this moment, during which we simply turn our attention on the sensation that is being perceived, we do abstain. We do abstain from everything as a whole. We do nothing else except ABSTAINING.

Thus, the eight precepts lie in abstaining. Abstaining from all things that can be detrimental, unhealthy, painful, to ourselves or our environment. All these precepts are extremely easy to observe as all we have to do is Not to do. All the difficulties only lie in the fact to avoid to do detrimental things, to prevent oneself from indulging into bad habits, that, according to the various classes of individuals, can be more less strongly ingrained in these latter. Besides, all the job of mental purification mainly rests on this point, whether for monks or lay men. It is a training aimed at avoiding bad habits.

Each of these precepts corresponds to a very specific spirit. They are reference points that are of precious help in our daily lives. They do enable us to develop a right and virtuous conduct.

To observe these precepts, once the refuge into Buddha, dhamma and saṃgha has been taken, what is sufficient lies in reciting them one by one, in Pali. So that each one could understand what he does recite, here is a summarized meaning of these precepts:

All these precepts are ending by the words: "veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi. " Which could be translated by: " I will refrain from doing this, so as to develop a good conduct. "

The eight precepts

1st precept

«pānātipātā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from being harmful to living beings.»

That is to say: I will not kill, I will cause injuries to other beings, whatever and whoever they are. Not even to the mosquitoes that bite me.

2nd precept

«adinnādānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from stealing.»

That is to say: I will not appropriate others' property, I will not take possession of that which has not been given to me. I will not even take the metro, even for a station distance, without paying.

3rd precept

«abrahmacariyā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from all sexual practices.»

That is to say: No copulation, no masturbation. I will even avoid to indulge in petting.

Beware: When we only deal with the five precepts, the 3rd thus becomes:

«kamesu miccacara veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from all inconvenient sexual practices.»

That is to say: I will not commit adultery, I will not indulge into any illegal sexual relationship, neither through prostitution, etc.

4th precept

«musāvādā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from uttering lies.»

That is to say: I will not lie, I will be honest while facing all situations. Whatever one might think and whatever the intention underlying it might be, a lie will always bear a negative result. I will even avoid to speak ill of anyone, swear and indulge in vain talks. (this precept is perhaps the most difficult to observe).

5th precept

«surāmeraya majjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.»

That is to say: I will not consume any substance likely to intoxicate my body or my mind, such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc. I will even avoid to drink too much coffee. Due to health reasons, the medicines are authorised.

6th precept

«vikālabhojanā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from eating after noon time.»

That is to say: I will never consume any solid foods after the solar noon (which, in Paris, befalls around 1:30 P.M. during the summer time, and around 12:30 A.M. during the winter time) and this, until the following dawn. During this period, I will no even drink milk, which is considered as a solid food, as it is very nourishing. In case of severe hunger or a great lack of energy, honey, molasses, liquid sugars, oil and butter are also authorised.

7th precept

«nacca gīta vādita visukadassanā mālā gandha vilepana dhārana mandana vibhūsanaṭṭhānā veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments.»

That is to say: I will not listen to some music, I will not watch any show whatsoever, I will not watch films, neither go for entertainment, nor read any fashion magazines, play games, etc.

I will not wear perfumes, I will not arrange my body for an aesthetic purpose (make up, fashion clothes, sophisticated hair dressing, jewellery, etc.) I will even avoid dressing myself in an attractive way. For health reasons, skin care products are authorised.

8th precept

«uccāsayana mahāsayana veramaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādhiyāmi.» «I will refrain from lining or seating on high and luxurious places.»

That is to say: I will not sit or lie down on places located higher than those of the noble ones (bhikkhu, bhikkhunī or sāmaṇera, kings, etc.) or in places reserved for these beings.

See also: ten precepts

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Origin: Teaching given in France

Author: Moine Dhamma Sāmi

Date: 2001, November

Translator: Thierry Lambrou

Date of translation: 2002

Update: 2005, June the 14th