The Eight Precepts of Buddhism

This post is a reference on the Eight Precepts of Buddhism. The Eight Precepts are a special set of vows that expand on the Five Precepts, which are the most fundamental standard of conduct for Buddhist lay disciples to follow. The Eight Precepts however are intended for special occasions or holidays as a way to live as a “novice monk or nun” for a day. As with all Buddhist precepts, they are entirely voluntary, but a very useful way to put the Buddhist teachings into practice.

The Eight Precepts are:

  1. I undertake the precept to abstain from taking life.1
  2. I undertake the precept to from taking what is not given.
  3. I undertake the precept to abstain from sexual activity.2
  4. I undertake the precept to abstain from false speech.
  5. I undertake the precept to abstain from liquors, wines, and other intoxicants, which are the basis for heedlessness.3
  6. I undertake the precept to abstain from eating food at the improper time (e.g. after noon-time).4
  7. I undertake the precept to abstain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing ornaments, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.5
  8. I undertake the precept to abstain from from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.6

As one is choosing to live more like a novice monk or nun for a day, the key here is the spirit humility and simplicity without all the usual distractions and noise of daily life. One is taking a break from the material world for a day. During Buddhist sabbath days, this may be observed, or during holidays as well.

Usually, during such times, one verbally takes the precepts at dawn before a clergy in good standing, or a Buddhist altar or image. These vows last until the following dawn when one verbally relinquishes them. They may then choose to renew their vow to follow the Five Precepts or not.

1 This means to intentionally end the life of another sentient being, either by yourself or through others (e.g. conspiring).

2 This is intended to be followed in the spirit of total celibacy, including hugging, kissing one’s partner, etc.

3 This can even include social drinking. The Buddha described intoxicants as having no merit, and can cause one to commit the other four harmful acts above. Indeed, it happens all the time, even for otherwise normal well-adjusted people.

4 After noon, one can still consume beverages like tea, coffee, juice, etc. According to Bodhi Monastery, even vegetable broth (just broth) is also permissible. This was based on the Buddhist tradition of not taking too many alms from the community.

5 Again, as Bodhi Monastery explains, this does not include personal hygiene products (deodorant) or wearing one’s wedding band.

6 A regular bed or chair is probably fine, but it’s best to avoid anything particularly luxurious or high or ostentatious.

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