What Are the Precepts? 

back the head of a buddha statue showing secular dharma and religion

A Buddha statue at Borobudur Temple, a 9th-century Buddhist temple in Indonesia | uskarp / Alamy Stock Photo

Ethical conduct holds a central place in the Buddha’s path of practice. Living ethically is encouraged both as a way to be of benefit to all sentient beings, and also as an important pathway to cultivating a mind that is free from suffering and delusions. 

The Buddha’s basic set of guidelines for an ethical life are what’s known as the five precepts. The precepts are essential to the aim of liberating oneself from suffering, and act as a set of practical instructions to support one’s daily conduct while advancing on the path to enlightenment. 

For over 2,500 years, Buddhists have committed to the precepts as a way of training the mind in wisdom and compassion. These five guidelines are to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false and harmful speech, and intoxication. 

Learn more about each precept, and the way they are interpreted in different Buddhist lineages and cultures, in this deck. 

Discover Level 3, Deck 1: 

The First Precept: Abstain from Killing: The Buddha’s first guideline for an ethical life asks us to refrain from taking life. 

The Second Precept: Abstain from Taking What Is Not Given: The second precept, refraining from stealing, can also help us to cultivate contentment and generosity. 

The Third Precept: Refrain from Sexual Misconduct: The way this precept is interpreted tends to vary based on time and place. 

The Fourth Precept: Abstain from False and Harmful Speech: The fourth precept is often viewed in the context of the practice of right speech, one of the branches of the eightfold path. 

The Fifth Precept: Refrain from Intoxicants: The fifth precept has led to a great deal of debate about what constitutes harmful consumption. 


Recommended Reading: 


Tricycle is more than a magazine

Gain access to the best in sprititual film, our growing collection of e-books, and monthly talks, plus our 25-year archive

Subscribe now