Five Fundamental Precepts Establish a Basis for Ethical Behavior

The Buddha taught that if we adopt these five fundamental precepts, we can avoid harming ourselves and harming others. Moreover, if we modify our behavior by respecting these norms, we become more peaceful, tolerant, and open-minded.  And, if we change in this way, our conduct towards others becomes happier and kinder.  We can examine the benefits, and try this experiment in our own life.  Why not try to make the world a calmer, more gentle place?

Traditionally, we can commit to all or some of these precepts–vowing to uphold this behavior. We can also choose to take these precepts for specific time periods, for example on important days of the month or year.

Five Fundamental Precepts

  1. Not to cut off life (kill)
  2. Not to take what has not been given
  3. Avoid speaking falsely
  4. Abstain from improper sexual activity
  5. Avoid becoming intoxicated

Not to Cut Off Life

Four steps complete an act of killing:

  1. Identifying a being to kill
  2. Making a decision to kill
  3. The act of killing
  4. The death of the being and one’s satisfaction of the act of killing

And we can break this precept  direct or indirect means—for example, if we request someone else to kill for us, we have still broken the vow.

Benefits of Keeping the Precept:

  • A long and happy life with little or no sickness
  • A higher rebirth
  • One is able to receive a vajra body, a buddha’s indestructible body

Breaking the Precept Results in Obstacles:

  • Causes one to be killed by others in future lives
  • A short life with many diseases or rebirth in the lower realms
  • An obstacle to achieving enlightened body.

Not to Take What Has Not Been Given / Stealing


Again, in terms of breaking one’s vow not to take what is not given, four steps complete an act of stealing:

  1. Identifying/choosing an object to steal
  2. Having the intention and motive to steal
  3. Actually stealing or taking what was not offered
  4. Having pride and happiness that one has obtained the object

As before, this precept can be broken by direct or indirect means—for example, by requesting someone else to steal for you.

Benefits of Keeping the Precept:

  • In future lifetimes one will have material wealth and enjoyment
  • One will have a higher rebirth
  • It prevents being the victim of theft in future lives
  • One has the karma to possess the marks of the Buddha

Breaking the Precept Results in Obstacles:

  • Rebirth in the lower realms or a life of poverty
  • One’s wealth is stolen easily
  • One is not able to possess the marks of an enlightened being

Avoid Telling Lies, Divisive Speech, Senseless Speech

 Once more, four steps complete the act of telling a lie:

  1. Having a desire or plan to lie, trick, split apart, or confuse
  2. Identifying someone you wish to lie to, trick, split apart, or confuse
  3. Acting out the lie, trickery, divisiveness, gossip, or nonsensical talk
  4. Having pride and/or satisfaction in one’s accomplishment

This also includes physical movement and actions as well as speech (e.g., shaking one’s head or hands, not answering) that cause people to misunderstand.

Benefits of Observing the Precept:

  •  Prayers are more powerful and effective
  • In future lives people will not lie to you or betray you
  • People will believe, respect and trust your words

Breaking the Precept Results in Obstacles:

  • One will cause harm, and therefore cause karma that one is unaware of
  • The pure power of speech and prayer will be lost
  • Your words will be mistrusted, disrespected, unheard, and disbelieved
  • You will be betrayed, unaccepted, and lied to

Abstain From Improper Sexual Activity

Again, we see four steps to complete an act of sexual misconduct:

  1. Forming desirous feelings towards a being who is an inappropriate partner, or against that person’s will
  2. Planning and having the motivation to act out one’s desire
  3. Performing the action
  4. Taking pleasure in the act

And if  one performs sexual misconduct with a celibate or ordained person, one’s parents, a child, or in front of sacred images or objects, consequences become more severe.

Benefits of Observing the Precept:

  • One takes higher rebirth with perfect physical form
  • In future lives one will be beautiful
  • Your physical body will make others calm and you will have a relaxed face that is peaceful

Breaking the Precept Results in Obstacles:

  • One’s mind becomes unclear, senses weak, and meditation disturbed
  • Sexual misconduct causes intense attachment, making enlightenment harder to achieve
  • One’s body in future lives becomes disfigured
  • Obstacles arise for having a perfect enlightened body in the future

Avoid Becoming Intoxicated


Finally, four steps complete the act of becoming intoxicated:

  1. Deliberately seeking out a substance for its intoxicating properties
  2. Planning to use that substance to achieve loss of awareness
  3. Ingesting and enjoying the substance to the point of loss of awareness or bodily harm
  4. Taking pleasure in the ingesting and surrendering to loss of awareness and bodily harm

Benefits of Observing the Precept:

  • Wisdom flourishes and grows
  • Clear sense perceptions and stable emotions
  • Healthy body, stable winds and life force
  • One’s central channel is unhindered, clear

Breaking the Precept Results in Obstacles:

  • Mind will become unclear and the memory will fail
  • Unknowingly one creates unfortunate karma by one’s actions
  • Weak life force and short life
  • Loss of one-pointed concentration
  • Smoking causes 424 illnesses and prevents clarity and guidance at death as it blocks the central channel and chakras
  • Smoking attracts negative spirits and disturbs them