Precepts for Ethical Conduct

National Headquarters  |  June 7, 2019

The code of moral and ethical conduct in Buddhism for lay (as in non-monastic) practitioners of all traditions, is called the Five Precepts (Sanskrit: pañcaśīla), or Five Rules of Training (Sanskrit: pañcaśikṣapada). Undertaking to uphold the five precepts is typically part of the taking refuge ceremony to formally become a Buddhist.

The five precepts, and how one vows to uphold them in the Jing Si Dharma Lineage tradition of Tzu Chi, are:

  1. Do not kill
    Understanding that life is sacred and that all living creatures share the same desire to live, we will not take life. Out of respect for life, we will strive to protect the lives of all living beings.
  2. Do not steal
    Understanding that it isn’t right to take anything that does not belong to us, we will respect what belongs to others and not steal. Knowing that there are so many people who have so much less than us, we vow to practice generosity and give what we can to help people in need.

  3. Do not commit sexual misconduct
    Understanding that sexual misconduct can cause great harm and suffering, destroying our lives and the lives of others, we will not have sexual relations outside of marriage or engage in other forms of sexual immorality. Knowing that the integrity of the family is vital for the nurturing of ethics, morality, and a sound and healthy society, we will try to promote wholesome family values by practicing these values ourselves and making ours a model family.

  4. Do not lie
    Understanding that our integrity rests vitally on the trustworthiness of our word, we will not tell lies or speak to deceive. As our words can hurt others tremendously, we will also strive not to speak abusively, hatefully, or harshly; and refrain from speaking insincere words of flattery, gossiping, or bearing tales, which creates division. We will instead cultivate loving and compassionate speech, so our words can help comfort, encourage, heal, and inspire others.
  5. Do not drink alcohol
    Understanding that using alcohol impairs our judgment and may cause us to take actions that can harm ourselves and others, we will not touch alcohol. We hope our example can also influence others to refrain from alcohol, fostering a safer society.

The five Buddhist precepts are contained in the Noble Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught as the path to the cessation of suffering and liberation from samsara (the cycle of rebirth). In this context, they’re part of ethical conduct (right speech, right behavior, right livelihood), which in combination with the practice of wisdom and mental discipline (or meditation), encompass the path.

The precepts are also the second of the Six Perfections that one aims to develop as a Buddhist. The essence of the moral or virtuous conduct one strives to perfect and maintain, is to avoid causing harm to others, directly or indirectly. The cultivation of love and compassion for all living beings is part of the practice, as when these qualities are fully developed, we naturally avoid harming others.

Members of Tzu Chi also adhere to an additional five precepts that Dharma Master Cheng Yen added in response to the circumstances of modern society. Of the total ten precepts that they follow, numbers six to ten, and how one vows to uphold them, are:

6.Do not smoke, use drugs, or chew betel nuts
Understanding that smoking, using narcotics, and chewing betel nuts harm our health and create addictions that disrupt our lives, we will keep away from these products and develop a wholesome, healthy lifestyle. 

7. Do not gamble or speculate
Understanding that gambling is to profit at others’ expense and that it can destroy our lives and our family, we will not gamble or get involved in speculation, such as playing the stock market or engaging in other high-risk or get-rich-quick schemes. We will earn money in an honest way, through hard work. We know this will give our lives a solid foundation and true security. 

8. Be filial to your parents and moderate in speech and attitude
Understanding how deeply indebted we are to our parents – for giving us life, raising and nurturing us, and toiling away to give us what opportunities they could – we will strive to show our gratitude by being filial and good to them. We will be considerate of their feelings, try to fulfill their needs, and genuinely care about their physical and psychological well being. Where we have differences in views, we will try to be understanding of where they are coming from and use only gentle, loving words to convey our views. We will always treat them in a loving manner and with a positive attitude, while also learning to treat others in such a manner. 

9. Abide by traffic laws
Understanding that not following traffic regulations can cause accidents and create suffering for others and ourselves, we will always drive mindfully, in accordance with the law. Knowing that to keep everyone safe, we need all citizens to abide by traffic laws, we will try to encourage this by setting an example through our own actions. 

10. Do not participate in politics or demonstrations 
Understanding that demonstrations have the potential to cause greater division, unrest, and conflict in society, we will not take part in them. We will dedicate ourselves to constructive actions that help foster love between people and peace and harmony in our society. Knowing that Tzu Chi can carry out its work only if it remains politically neutral – focusing only on truly and practically relieving the suffering of ordinary citizens – we will not be involved in political activities or engage in any actions that could cause Tzu Chi to be turned into a political instrument. 

Upholding the precepts demands mindful vigilance in every moment, which in turn deepens one’s awareness of the potential impact of any action. As explained by Dharma Master Yin Shun, Master Cheng Yen’s Mentor, they’re a powerful practice:

Based on the foundation of the precepts, you can develop authentic contemplation. The principle of contemplation means giving undivided attention with an uncluttered, undisturbed mind that knows what you are doing at any point in time. Pure contemplation ensures that you will not go down the wrong path.

The sections in italics were written by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team, based on Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings in Chinese.

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