The Ten Precepts
The sramanera/sramanerika (novice) vow consist of ten precepts,
which can be listed in a more expanded way as thirty-six precepts.
The ten are to abandon:
- killing (To break from the root, one must kill a human
being with intention);
- taking what is not given (stealing) (To break from the
root, one must steal something that could bring about legal
intervention in one's society);
- sexual intercourse (To break from the root, one must have
intention and experience orgasm. This refers to heterosexual
or homosexual contact.);
- lying (To break from the root, one must lie about one's
- taking intoxicants (This includes alcohol and recreational
- singing, dancing, playing music;
- wearing perfume, ornaments or cosmetics to beautify the
- sitting on a high or expensive bed or throne;
- eating after midday;
- touching gold, silver or precious objects (including money).
Precepts 1-4 are root precepts and deal with actions that
are by nature negative. Precepts 6-10 are branch precepts
and deal with actions that are to be avoided because of a
precept established by the Buddha.
The Thirty-six Precepts
One should avoid:
- taking a human life;
- killing an animal or insect;
- for selfish reasons, doing an action which may kill an
animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, using
water that contains insects without straining it; digging
a hole in the earth without considering the creatures that
might die as a result; cutting grass; overburdening an animal,
which causes its death;
- while doing something for others, doing an action which
may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for
example, splashing water which has insects on a dry place;
- sexual intercourse;
- stealing, taking what has not been given. This includes
borrowing things and not returning them, not paying fees
and taxes one is required to;
- lying in which one claims to have spiritual realizations
or powers that one does not have;
- accusing a pure bhikshu or bhikshuni of transgressing
one of the four root precepts (parajika) when he or she
- insinuating that a pure bhikshu or bhikshuni has transgressed
one of the four root precepts when he or she has not;
- causing disunity among the sangha community through untrue
slander or taking sides in a disagreement;
- supporting someone who is creating disunity in the sangha
community, taking sides in the dispute;
- doing actions which obliterate lay people's faith in the
sangha; for example complaining untruthfully to lay people
that action brought by the sangha against oneself was unfair;
- telling others lies;
- criticizing the storekeeper in the monastery of giving
more to those who are near to him or her instead of sharing
them with all, when this is not the case;
- criticizing directly or by insinuation that the storekeeper
in the monastery of not giving oneself a share of the food
or other things equal to that given to other monastics,
when this is not the case;
- claiming that a monastic gave a teaching in return for
a little food, which is not the case;
- criticizing a bhikshu or bhikshuni by saying that he or
she transgressed a precept in the second group (sanghavasesa)
when this is not the case;
- abandoning the training, for example, rejecting the good
advice of a nun or monk; criticizing the Pratimoksha Sutra;
- covering the vegetables with rice; covering the rice with
- taking intoxicants;
- singing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons;
- dancing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons;
- playing music with self-attachment or for nonsensical
- wearing ornaments;
- wearing cosmetics;
- wearing perfumes;
- wearing the rosary like jewelry, wearing flower garlands;
- sitting on an expensive throne;
- sitting on an expensive bed;
- sitting on a high throne;
- sitting on a high bed;
- eating after midday (Exceptions: if one is ill, if one
is traveling, or if one cannot meditate properly without
- touching gold, silver or precious jewels (includes money);
- wearing lay people's clothing and ornaments; letting one's
hair grow long;
- not wearing the robes of a Buddhist monastic;
- disrespecting or not following the guidance of one's ordination
master. (Precepts 34-36 are called the three degenerating
Five Conditions Conducive to Keeping One's
- External: cultivate a relationship with a spiritual mentor
who keeps pure ethical discipline and who knows the Vinaya
well, and rely on his/her teachings.
- Internal: develop mindfulness and introspective alertness
with a pure motivation.
- Know the actions that one has to abstain from.
- Attend the sojung ceremony to purify and restore the training
- Rely on conducive circumstances (shelter, clothes, food,
The Ten Precepts as Explained by Thich
- Do not kill living beings (any creatures that move and
breathe). Have compassion and love all beings as a mother
loves her children. Do not yourself kill or tell anyone
else to kill. Do not eat meat from animals that have been
killed. When you are overwhelmed by impatience, practice
mindfulness and do not say: "It would be better if
he were dead!" or wish silently that someone were dead.
Consider all beings as your own marrow, your parents, your
children or yourself. Embrace all of them in your heart
with love, and wish all of them liberation from suffering.
- Do not steal even a small amount of money or things of
little value like hay, wool or grain. Do not take anything
which the legitimate owner has not given you. Do not talk
or think too much about buying things. Do not be carried
away by beautiful forms, sounds, scents or tastes so that
you feel you have to have them. Do not crave for clothes.
Guard the six senses.
- Keep your heart and your body pure. Do not talk or think
about sexual behavior in a way which waters the seeds of
sexual desire. When your mind is not attached it is as free
as space and knows no obstacles. Be mindful of the six senses.
Your body is made of the four great elements: earth, water,
fire and air. Your body is not you and is always changing.
It is better to keep your mind and your heart free from
- Speak only after thinking. Do not spread news that you
have not witnessed with your own eyes or heard with your
own ears. Do not fabricate stories or help others to fabricate.
Do not dispute about politics and the situation in the world.
Devote yourself to studying the precepts and mindful manners.
The most important thing to attain is liberation from suffering.
Do not waste your energy in talking about less important
- Monks and nuns are not allowed any kind of alcoholic drinks
or intoxicants. Wine ruins virtue, the family, our health
and our life. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol
and drugs does not have the clarity of mind to meditate
and practice mindfulness. If we continue to drink and take
drugs, we shall be bound to the wheel of samsara.
- Do not adorn yourself with garlands of flowers, perfumes,
jewelry, luxurious or colorful clothes and attractive accessories.
Clothes must be simple and dark in color. Be humble and
walk with your head lowered. Instead of thinking about perfumes
and garlands, practice transforming the unwholesome mental
concomitants, and be eager to realize the truth through
the teachings in order to bring happiness to beings.
- Novices are not allowed to use high seats ornamented with
gold, silver and precious fabrics. Do not desire such luxury,
talk about it or make efforts to acquire it. Do not use
elegant mats, painted fans, bracelets or rings. Liberation
from suffering is much more important than these things.
You should practice the path of understanding, be diligent
in meditation, grow in stability, and learn to let go.
- Do not let yourself be carried away by listening to music
and watching dancing. Your body should be used for serving
the Dharma and not sense pleasures. Use music to honor the
Buddha and chant sutras. Let your joy be healthy and not
cause you to be caught in the world. Reading the sutras
and meditating on the deep meaning is a great pleasure.
Do not use cars unnecessarily. Free yourself from attachment,
and focus on complete freedom and the vehicle which will
take you out of the fear of impermanence.
- Do not accumulate or talk with craving about money or
precious things. You have started on the path to perfect
purity. The Dharma is your most precious treasure, and your
daily task is to understand more deeply its meaning. Letting
go will free you from ill-being. The practice of letting
go is something you can do for the whole of your life. If
you enjoy that practice, it will remove all the obstacles.
- Do not eat too much. Do not eat or invite others to eat
when the community is not eating. Do not eat just because
the food looks good. Take the foods which keep you in good
health. The joy of meditation is an important spiritual