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LESSON 3558 Thu 7 Jan 2021 Kushinara Banana Bhumi Pagoda- Free Online Analytical Research and Practice University for “Discovery of Buddha the Awakened One with Awareness Universe” in 116 Classical Languages White Home, Puniya Bhumi Bengaluru, Magadhi karnataka State, Prabuddha Bharat International. AN 5.209 (A iii 251) Gītassara Sutta — A melodic intonation — [gīta+sara] in 29) Classical English,Roman
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LESSON 3558 Thu 7 Jan 2021

Kushinara Banana Bhumi Pagoda- Free Online Analytical Research and Practice University
for “Discovery of Buddha the Awakened One with Awareness Universe” in 116 Classical Languages
White Home,
Puniya Bhumi Bengaluru,
Magadhi karnataka State,

Prabuddha Bharat International.

AN 5.209 (A iii 251)

Gītassara Sutta

— A melodic intonation —


in 29) Classical English,Roman

Critique of melodious chanting Edit

Ghitassara Sutta Edit
In the Ghitassara Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya 5.209), the Buddha teaches:

Bhikkhus, there are five dangers of reciting the Dhamma with a musical intonation. What five?
Oneself gets attached to the sound, others get attached to the sound, householders are annoyed, saying, “Just as we sing, these sons of the Sakyan sing”, the concentration of those who do not like the sound is destroyed, and later generations copy it.
These, monks, are the five dangers of reciting the Dhamma with a musical intonation.[10]

of chanting Edit
John Daido Loori justified the use of chanting sutras by referring to
Zen master Dōgen.[11] Dōgen is known to have refuted the statement
“Painted rice cakes will not satisfy hunger”. This statement means that
sutras, which are just symbols like painted rice cakes, cannot truly
satisfy one’s spiritual hunger. Dōgen, however, saw that there is no
separation between metaphor and reality. “There is no difference between
paintings, rice cakes, or any thing at all”.[12] The symbol and the
symbolized were inherently the same, and thus only the sutras could
truly satisfy one’s spiritual needs.

To understand this non-dual relationship experientially, one is told to
practice liturgy intimately.[13] In distinguishing between ceremony and
liturgy, Dōgen states, “In ceremony there are forms and there are
sounds, there is understanding and there is believing. In liturgy there
is only intimacy.” The practitioner is instructed to listen to and speak
liturgy not just with one sense, but with one’s “whole body-and-mind”.
By listening with one’s entire being, one eliminates the space between
the self and the liturgy. Thus, Dōgen’s instructions are to “listen with
the eye and see with the ear”. By focusing all of one’s being on one
specific practice, duality is transcended. Dōgen says, “Let go of the
eye, and the whole body-and-mind are nothing but the eye; let go of the
ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear.” Chanting intimately
thus allows one to experience a non-dual reality. The liturgy used is a
tool to allow the practitioner to transcend the old conceptions of self
and other. In this way, intimate liturgy practice allows one to realize
emptiness (sunyata), which is at the heart of Zen Buddhist teachings.


There are, bhikkhus, these five drawbacks of reciting the Dhamma with a
sustained melodic intonation.

Which five?

1. Oneself gets attached to that intonation,
2. others get attached to that
3.householders get angry:
4. ‘Those ascetics who are followers of the Sakyans’ son sing in the
same way that we do!’,
5. there is a break in concentration for those striving [to produce]
musicality, and the
upcoming generations imitate what they see.

These, bhikkhus, are the five drawbacks of reciting the Dhamma with a
sustained melodic intonation.

Those monks who are followers of the Sakyans’ son chant in the same
way that Buddha and monks do

Traditional chanting Edit

In Buddhism, chanting is the traditional means of preparing the mind for
meditation, especially as part of formal practice (in either a lay or
monastic context). Some forms of Buddhism also use chanting for
ritualistic purposes.

While the basis for most Theravada chants is the Pali Canon, Mahayana
and Vajrayana chants draw from a wider range of sources.

Theravada chants Edit

Buddhist monks chanting
In the Theravada tradition, chanting is usually done in Pali, sometimes
with vernacular translations interspersed.[1] Among the most popular
Theravada chants[1] are:

Buddhabhivadana (Preliminary Reverence for the Buddha)[2]
Tiratana (The Three Refuges)[3]
Pancasila (The Five Precepts)[3]
Buddha Vandana (Salutation to the Buddha)[4]
Dhamma Vandana (Salutation to his Teaching)[5]
Sangha Vandana (Salutation to his Community of Noble Disciples)[6]
Upajjhatthana (The Five Remembrances)[7]
Metta Sutta (Discourse on Loving Kindness)[8]
Reflection on the Body (recitation of the 32 parts of the body).
The traditional chanting in Khmer Buddhism is called Smot.[9]

Mahayana sutra chants Edit

Chanting in the sutra hall
Since Japanese Buddhism is divided in thirteen doctrinal schools, and
since Chan Buddhism, Zen and Buddhism in Vietnam – although sharing a
common historical origin and a common doctrinal content – are divided
according to geographical borders, there are several different forms of
arrangements of scriptures to chant within Mahayana Buddhism.:

Daily practice in Nichiren buddhism is chanting the five character of
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (homage to the true dharma of the Lotus Sutra). A
Mahayana sutra that reveals the true identity of Shakyamuni as a Buddha
who attained enlightenment numberless kalpas ago. Kumarajiva’s
translation, which is widely honoured, is entitled the Lotus Sutra of
the wonderful law (Myoho Renge Kyo). The mystic relationship between the
law and the lives of the people courses eternally through past,
present, and future, unbroken in any lifetime. In terms of space, the
Nichiren proclaims that the heritage of the ultimate law flows within
lives of his disciples and lay supporters who work in perfect unity for
the realization of a peaceful world and happiness for all humanity.
Nichiren practitioners will chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo - the true aspect
of all the phenomena and recite certain chapters from the Lotus Sutra,
in particular the 2nd and 16th chapters.
Pure Land Buddhists chant nianfo, Namu Amida Butsu or Namo Amituofo
(Homage to Amitabha Buddha). In more formal services, practitioners will
also chant excerpts from the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life or
occasionally the entire Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life (a sutra not
unique for Pure Land Buddhism, but chanted in the evening by
Chan-buddhists and Tendai-buddhists as well).
Popular with Zen, Shingon or other Mahayana practitioners is chanting
the Prajñāpāramitā Hridaya Sūtra (Heart Sutra), especially during
morning offices. In more formal settings, larger discourses of the
Buddha (such as the Diamond Sutra in Zen temples and the Lotus Sutra in
Tendai temples) may be chanted as well.
Particularly in the Chinese, Vietnamese and the Japanese traditions,
repentance ceremonies, involving paying deep reverence to the buddhas
and bodhisattvas, as well as executing rituals to rescue and feed hungry
ghosts, are also occasionally practiced. There is no universally used
form for these two practices, but several different forms, the use of
which follows doctrinal and geographical borders. Within Chan, it is
common to chant Sanskrit formulae, known as dhāraṇīs, especially in the
Vajrayana chants Edit
In the Vajrayana tradition, chanting is also used as an invocative
ritual in order to set one’s mind on a deity, Tantric ceremony, mandala,
or particular concept one wishes to further in themselves.

For Vajrayana practitioners, the chant Om Mani Padme Hum is very popular
around the world as both a praise of peace and the primary mantra of
Avalokitesvara. Other popular chants include those of Tara,
Bhaisajyaguru, and Amitabha.

Tibetan monks are noted for their skill at throat-singing, a specialized
form of chanting in which, by amplifying the voice’s upper partials,
the chanter can produce multiple distinct pitches simultaneously.
Japanese esoteric practitioners also practice a form of chanting called

Non-canonical uses of Buddhist chanting Edit

There are also a number of New Age and experimental schools related to
Buddhist thought which practise chanting, some with understanding of the
words, others merely based on repetition. A large number of these
schools tend to be syncretic and incorporate Hindu japa and other such
traditions alongside the Buddhist influences.

While not strictly a variation of Buddhist chanting in itself, Japanese
Shigin (詩吟) is a form of chanted poetry that reflects several principles
of Zen Buddhism. It is sung in the seiza position, and participants are
encouraged to sing from the gut - the Zen locus of power. Shigin and
related practices are often sung at Buddhist ceremonies and
quasi-religious gatherings in Japan.

Gautama Buddha
Not to be confused with the Chinese monk Budai (the “laughing Buddha”)
or Budha in Hindu astrology.
For the film, see Gautama Buddha (film).
“Buddha” and “Gautama” redirect here. For the Buddhist title, see Buddha
(title). For other uses, see Buddha (disambiguation) and Gautama
The Buddha (also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama[note
3] or Buddha Shakyamuni) was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator,
spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in Ancient India (c.
5th to 4th century BCE).[5][6][7][note 4] He is revered as the founder
of the world religion of Buddhism, and worshipped by most Buddhist
schools as the Enlightened One who has transcended Karma and escaped the
cycle of birth and rebirth.[8][9][10] He taught for around 45 years and
built a large following, both monastic and lay.[11] His teaching is
based on his insight into duḥkha (typically translated as “suffering”)
and the end of dukkha – the state called Nibbāna or Nirvana.

Gautama Buddha
Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg
A statue of the Buddha from Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India, circa 475 CE.
The Buddha is depicted teaching in the lotus position, while making the
Dharmacakra mudrā.
Sanskrit name
Siddhārtha Gautama
Pali name
Siddhattha Gotama
Other names
Shakyamuni (”Sage of the Shakyas”)
Siddhartha Gautama
c. 563 BCE or 480 BCE
Lumbini, Shakya Republic (according to Buddhist tradition)[note 1]
c. 483 BCE or 400 BCE (aged 80)[1][2][3]
Kushinagar, Malla Republic (according to Buddhist tradition)[note 2]
Śuddhodana (father)
Maya Devi (mother)
Known for
Founder of Buddhism
Other names
Shakyamuni (”Sage of the Shakyas”)
Senior posting
Kassapa Buddha
The Buddha was born into an aristocratic family in the Shakya clan but
eventually renounced lay life. According to Buddhist tradition, after
several years of mendicancy, meditation, and asceticism, he awakened to
understand the mechanism which keeps people trapped in the cycle of
rebirth. The Buddha then traveled throughout the Ganges plain teaching
and building a religious community. The Buddha taught a middle way
between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Indian
śramaṇa movement.[12] He taught a spiritual path that included ethical
training and meditative practices such as jhana and mindfulness. The
Buddha also critiqued the practices of Brahmin priests, such as animal

A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the title
Buddha, which means “Awakened One” or “Enlightened One”.[13] Gautama’s
teachings were compiled by the Buddhist community in the Suttas, which
contain his discourses, and the Vinaya, his codes for monastic practice.
These were passed down in Middle-Indo Aryan dialects through an oral
tradition.[14][15] Later generations composed additional texts, such as
systematic treatises known as Abhidharma, biographies of the Buddha,
collections of stories about the Buddha’s past lives known as Jataka
tales, and additional discourses, i.e, the Mahayana sutras.[16][17]

Names and titles

Besides “Buddha” and the name Siddhārtha Gautama (Pali: Siddhattha
Gotama), he was also known by other names and titles, such as Shakyamuni
(”Sage of the Shakyas”).[18][note 5]

In the early texts, the Buddha also often refers to himself as Tathāgata
(Sanskrit: [tɐˈtʰaːɡɐtɐ]). The term is often thought to mean either
“one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata) or “one who has thus come”
(tathā-āgata), possibly referring to the transcendental nature of the
Buddha’s spiritual attainment.[19]

A common list of epithets are commonly seen together in the canonical
texts, and depict some of his spiritual qualities:[20]

Sammasambuddho – Perfectly self-awakened
Vijja-carana-sampano – Endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct.
Sugato – Well-gone or Well-spoken.
Lokavidu – Knower of the many worlds.
Anuttaro Purisa-damma-sarathi – Unexcelled trainer of untrained people.
Satthadeva-Manussanam – Teacher of gods and humans.
Bhagavathi – The Blessed one
Araham – Worthy of homage. An Arahant is “one with taints destroyed, who
has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the
burden, reached the true goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is
completely liberated through final knowledge.”
Jina – Conqueror. Although the term is more commonly used to name an
individual who has attained liberation in the religion Jainism, it is
also an alternative title for the Buddha.[21]
The Pali Canon also contains numerous other titles and epithets for the
Buddha, including: All-seeing, All-transcending sage, Bull among men,
The Caravan leader, Dispeller of darkness, The Eye, Foremost of
charioteers, Foremost of those who can cross, King of the Dharma
(Dharmaraja), Kinsman of the Sun, Helper of the World (Lokanatha), Lion
(Siha), Lord of the Dhamma, Of excellent wisdom (Varapañña), Radiant
One, Torchbearer of mankind, Unsurpassed doctor and surgeon, Victor in
battle, and Wielder of power.[22]

Historical person

Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical
facts of the Buddha’s life. Most people accept that the Buddha lived,
taught, and founded a monastic order during the Mahajanapada era during
the reign of Bimbisara (c. 558 – c. 491 BCE, or c. 400 BCE),[23][24][25]
the ruler of the Magadha empire, and died during the early years of the
reign of Ajatashatru, who was the successor of Bimbisara, thus making
him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain tirthankara.[26][27]
While the general sequence of “birth, maturity, renunciation, search,
awakening and liberation, teaching, death” is widely accepted,[28] there
is less consensus on the veracity of many details contained in
traditional biographies.[29][30][31]

The times of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain. Most historians in
the early 20th century dated his lifetime as c. 563 BCE to 483
BCE.[1][32] Within the Eastern Buddhist tradition of China, Vietnam,
Korea and Japan, the traditional date for the death of the Buddha was
949 B.C.[1] According to the Ka-tan system of time calculation in the
Kalachakra tradition, Buddha is believed to have died about 833 BCE.[33]
More recently his death is dated later, between 411 and 400 BCE, while
at a symposium on this question held in 1988,[34][35][36] the majority
of those who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years
either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha’s death.[1][37][note 4] These
alternative chronologies, however, have not been accepted by all
historians.[43][44][note 6]

Historical context

Historical context

Ancient kingdoms and cities of India during the time of the Buddha
(circa 500 BCE)
According to the Buddhist tradition, Gautama was born in Lumbini, now in
modern-day Nepal, and raised in Kapilavastu, which may have been either
in what is present-day Tilaurakot, Nepal or Piprahwa, India.[note 1]
According to Buddhist tradition, he obtained his enlightenment in Bodh
Gaya, gave his first sermon in Sarnath, and died in Kushinagar.

One of Gautama’s usual names was “Sakamuni” or “Sakyamunī” (”Sage of the
Shakyas”). This and the evidence of the early texts suggests that he
was born into the Shakya clan, a community that was on the periphery,
both geographically and culturally, of the eastern Indian subcontinent
in the 5th century BCE.[65] The community was either a small republic,
or an oligarchy. His father was an elected chieftain, or oligarch.[65]
Bronkhorst calls this eastern culture Greater Magadha and notes that
“Buddhism and Jainism arose in a culture which was recognized as being

The Shakyas were an eastern sub-Himalayan ethnic group who were
considered outside of the Āryāvarta and of ‘mixed origin’
(saṃkīrṇa-yonayaḥ, possibly part Aryan and part indigenous). The laws of
Manu treats them as being non Aryan. As noted by Levman, “The
Baudhāyana-dharmaśāstra (–4) lists all the tribes of Magadha as
being outside the pale of the Āryāvarta; and just visiting them required
a purificatory sacrifice as expiation” (In Manu 10.11, 22).[67] This is
confirmed by the Ambaṭṭha Sutta, where the Sakyans are said to be
“rough-spoken”, “of menial origin” and criticised because “they do not
honour, respect, esteem, revere or pay homage to Brahmans.” [67] Some of
the non-Vedic practices of this tribe included incest (marrying their
sisters), the worship of trees, tree spirits and nagas.[67] According to
Levman “while the Sakyans’ rough speech and Munda ancestors do not
prove that they spoke a non-Indo-Aryan language, there is a lot of other
evidence suggesting that they were indeed a separate ethnic (and
probably linguistic) group.”[67] Christopher I. Beckwith identifies the
Shakyas as Scythians.[68]

Apart from the Vedic Brahmins, the Buddha’s lifetime coincided with the
flourishing of influential Śramaṇa schools of thought like Ājīvika,
Cārvāka, Jainism, and Ajñana.[69] Brahmajala Sutta records sixty-two
such schools of thought. In this context, a śramaṇa refers to one who
labors, toils, or exerts themselves (for some higher or religious
purpose). It was also the age of influential thinkers like Mahavira,[70]
Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana,
and Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, as recorded in Samaññaphala Sutta, whose
viewpoints the Buddha most certainly must have been acquainted
with.[71][72][note 8] Indeed, Śāriputra and Moggallāna, two of the
foremost disciples of the Buddha, were formerly the foremost disciples
of Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, the sceptic;[74] and the Pali canon frequently
depicts Buddha engaging in debate with the adherents of rival schools
of thought. There is also philological evidence to suggest that the two
masters, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Rāmaputta, were indeed historical
figures and they most probably taught Buddha two different forms of
meditative techniques.[75] Thus, Buddha was just one of the many śramaṇa
philosophers of that time.[76] In an era where holiness of person was
judged by their level of asceticism,[77] Buddha was a reformist within
the śramaṇa movement, rather than a reactionary against Vedic

Historically, the life of the Buddha also coincided with the Achaemenid
conquest of the Indus Valley during the rule of Darius I from about
517/516 BCE.[79] This Achaemenid occupation of the areas of Gandhara and
Sindh, which lasted about two centuries, was accompanied by the
introduction of Achaemenid religions, reformed Mazdaism or early
Zoroastrianism, to which Buddhism might have in part reacted.[79] In
particular, the ideas of the Buddha may have partly consisted of a
rejection of the “absolutist” or “perfectionist” ideas contained in
these Achaemenid religions.[79]

Earliest sources
Main article: Early Buddhist Texts

The words “Bu-dhe” (𑀩𑀼𑀥𑁂, the Buddha) and “Sa-kya-mu-nī ” (
𑀲𑀓𑁆𑀬𑀫𑀼𑀦𑀻, “Sage of the Shakyas”) in Brahmi script, on Ashoka’s
Lumbini pillar inscription (circa 250 BCE)
No written records about Gautama were found from his lifetime or from
the one or two centuries thereafter. But from the middle of the 3rd
century BCE, several Edicts of Ashoka (reigned c. 269–232 BCE) mention
the Buddha, and particularly Ashoka’s Lumbini pillar inscription
commemorates the Emperor’s pilgrimage to Lumbini as the Buddha’s
birthplace, calling him the Buddha Shakyamuni (Brahmi script: 𑀩𑀼𑀥
𑀲𑀓𑁆𑀬𑀫𑀼𑀦𑀻 Bu-dha Sa-kya-mu-nī, “Buddha, Sage of the
Shakyas”).[80] Another one of his edicts (Minor Rock Edict No. 3)
mentions the titles of several Dhamma texts (in Buddhism, “dhamma” is
another word for “dharma”),[81] establishing the existence of a written
Buddhist tradition at least by the time of the Maurya era. These texts
may be the precursor of the Pāli Canon.[82][83][note 9]

Bharhut inscription: Bhagavato Sakamunino Bodho (𑀪𑀕𑀯𑀢𑁄
𑀲𑀓𑀫𑀼𑀦𑀺𑀦𑁄 𑀩𑁄𑀥𑁄 “The illumination of the Blessed Sakamuni”),
circa 100 BCE.[84]
“Sakamuni” is also mentioned in the reliefs of Bharhut, dated to circa
100 BCE, in relation with his illumination and the Bodhi tree, with the
inscription Bhagavato Sakamunino Bodho (”The illumination of the Blessed

The oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts are the Gandhāran Buddhist
texts, found in Afghanistan and written in Gāndhārī, they date from the
first century BCE to the third century CE.[85]

On the basis of philological evidence, Indologist and Pali expert Oskar
von Hinüber says that some of the Pali suttas have retained very archaic
place-names, syntax, and historical data from close to the Buddha’s
lifetime, including the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta which contains a detailed
account of the Buddha’s final days. Hinüber proposes a composition date
of no later than 350–320 BCE for this text, which would allow for a
“true historical memory” of the events approximately 60 years prior if
the Short Chronology for the Buddha’s lifetime is accepted (but he also
points out that such a text was originally intended more as hagiography
than as an exact historical record of events).[86][87]

John S. Strong sees certain biographical fragments in the canonical
texts preserved in Pali, as well as Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit as the
earliest material. These include texts such as the “Discourse on the
Noble Quest” (Pali: Ariyapariyesana-sutta) and its parallels in other

Traditional biographies

One of the earliest anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha, here
surrounded by Brahma (left) and Śakra (right). Bimaran Casket, mid-1st
century CE, British Museum.[89][90]
Biographical sources
The sources which present a complete picture of the life of Siddhārtha
Gautama are a variety of different, and sometimes conflicting,
traditional biographies. These include the Buddhacarita, Lalitavistara
Sūtra, Mahāvastu, and the Nidānakathā.[91] Of these, the
Buddhacarita[92][93][94] is the earliest full biography, an epic poem
written by the poet Aśvaghoṣa in the first century CE.[95] The
Lalitavistara Sūtra is the next oldest biography, a
Mahāyāna/Sarvāstivāda biography dating to the 3rd century CE.[96] The
Mahāvastu from the Mahāsāṃghika Lokottaravāda tradition is another major
biography, composed incrementally until perhaps the 4th century CE.[96]
The Dharmaguptaka biography of the Buddha is the most exhaustive, and
is entitled the Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra,[97] and various Chinese
translations of this date between the 3rd and 6th century CE. The
Nidānakathā is from the Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka and was
composed in the 5th century by Buddhaghoṣa.[98]

The earlier canonical sources include the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (MN 26),
the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta (DN 16), the Mahāsaccaka-sutta (MN 36), the
Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14), and the Achariyabhuta Sutta (MN 123), which
include selective accounts that may be older, but are not full
biographies. The Jātaka tales retell previous lives of Gautama as a
bodhisattva, and the first collection of these can be dated among the
earliest Buddhist texts.[99] The Mahāpadāna Sutta and Achariyabhuta
Sutta both recount miraculous events surrounding Gautama’s birth, such
as the bodhisattva’s descent from the Tuṣita Heaven into his mother’s

Nature of traditional depictions

Nature of traditional depictions

Māyā miraculously giving birth to Siddhārtha. Sanskrit, palm-leaf
manuscript. Nālandā, Bihar, India. Pāla period
In the earliest Buddhist texts, the nikāyas and āgamas, the Buddha is
not depicted as possessing omniscience (sabbaññu)[100] nor is he
depicted as being an eternal transcendent (lokottara) being. According
to Bhikkhu Analayo, ideas of the Buddha’s omniscience (along with an
increasing tendency to deify him and his biography) are found only
later, in the Mahayana sutras and later Pali commentaries or texts such
as the Mahāvastu.[100] In the Sandaka Sutta, the Buddha’s disciple
Ananda outlines an argument against the claims of teachers who say they
are all knowing [101] while in the Tevijjavacchagotta Sutta the Buddha
himself states that he has never made a claim to being omniscient,
instead he claimed to have the “higher knowledges” (abhijñā).[102] The
earliest biographical material from the Pali Nikayas focuses on the
Buddha’s life as a śramaṇa, his search for enlightenment under various
teachers such as Alara Kalama and his forty-five-year career as a

Traditional biographies of Gautama often include numerous miracles,
omens, and supernatural events. The character of the Buddha in these
traditional biographies is often that of a fully transcendent (Skt.
lokottara) and perfected being who is unencumbered by the mundane world.
In the Mahāvastu, over the course of many lives, Gautama is said to
have developed supramundane abilities including: a painless birth
conceived without intercourse; no need for sleep, food, medicine, or
bathing, although engaging in such “in conformity with the world”;
omniscience, and the ability to “suppress karma”.[104] As noted by
Andrew Skilton, the Buddha was often described as being superhuman,
including descriptions of him having the 32 major and 80 minor marks of a
“great man,” and the idea that the Buddha could live for as long as an
aeon if he wished (see DN 16).[105]

The ancient Indians were generally unconcerned with chronologies, being
more focused on philosophy. Buddhist texts reflect this tendency,
providing a clearer picture of what Gautama may have taught than of the
dates of the events in his life. These texts contain descriptions of the
culture and daily life of ancient India which can be corroborated from
the Jain scriptures, and make the Buddha’s time the earliest period in
Indian history for which significant accounts exist.[106] British author
Karen Armstrong writes that although there is very little information
that can be considered historically sound, we can be reasonably
confident that Siddhārtha Gautama did exist as a historical figure.[107]
Michael Carrithers goes a bit further by stating that the most general
outline of “birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and
liberation, teaching, death” must be true.[108]

Previous lives

The legendary Jataka collections depict the Buddha-to-be in a previous
life prostrating before the past Buddha Dipankara, making a resolve to
be a Buddha, and receiving a prediction of future Buddhahood.
Legendary biographies like the Pali Buddhavaṃsa and the Sanskrit
Jātakamālā depict the Buddha’s (referred to as “bodhisattva” before his
awakening) career as spanning hundreds of lifetimes before his last
birth as Gautama. Many stories of these previous lives are depicted in
the Jatakas.[109] The format of a Jataka typically begins by telling a
story in the present which is then explained by a story of someone’s
previous life.[110]

Besides imbuing the pre-Buddhist past with a deep karmic history, the
Jatakas also serve to explain the bodhisattva’s (the Buddha-to-be) path
to Buddhahood.[111] In biographies like the Buddhavaṃsa, this path is
described as long and arduous, taking “four incalculable ages”

In these legendary biographies, the bodhisattva goes through many
different births (animal and human), is inspired by his meeting of past
Buddhas, and then makes a series of resolves or vows (pranidhana) to
become a Buddha himself. Then he begins to receive predictions by past
Buddhas.[113] One of the most popular of these stories is his meeting
with Dipankara Buddha, who gives the bodhisattva a prediction of future

Another theme found in the Pali Jataka Commentary (Jātakaṭṭhakathā) and
the Sanskrit Jātakamālā is how the Buddha-to-be had to practice several
“perfections” (pāramitā) to reach Buddhahood.[115] The Jatakas also
sometimes depict negative actions done in previous lives by the
bodhisattva, which explain difficulties he experienced in his final life
as Gautama.[116]


Birth and early life

Map showing Lumbini and other major Buddhist sites in India. Lumbini
(present-day Nepal), is the birthplace of the Buddha,[50][note 1] and is
a holy place also for many non-Buddhists.[note 10]

The Lumbini pillar contains an inscription stating that this is the
Buddha’s birthplace
The Buddhist tradition regards Lumbini, in present-day Nepal to be the
birthplace of the Buddha.[117][note 1] He grew up in Kapilavastu.[note
1] The exact site of ancient Kapilavastu is unknown.[118] It may have
been either Piprahwa, Uttar Pradesh, in present-day India,[60] or
Tilaurakot, in present-day Nepal.[64] Both places belonged to the Sakya
territory, and are located only 15 miles (24 km) apart.[64]

The earliest Buddhist sources state that the Buddha was born to an
aristocratic Kshatriya (Pali: khattiya) family called Gotama (Sanskrit:
Gautama), who were part of the Shakyas, a tribe of rice-farmers living
near the modern border of India and Nepal.[119][58][120][note 11] the
son of Śuddhodana, “an elected chief of the Shakya clan”,[7] whose
capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing
Kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha’s lifetime. Gautama was the family
name. According to later biographies such as the Mahavastu and the
Lalitavistara, his mother, Maya (Māyādevī), Suddhodana’s wife, was a
Koliyan princess. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was
conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks
entered her right side,[122][123] and ten months later[124] Siddhartha
was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became
pregnant, she left Kapilavastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth.
However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a
garden beneath a sal tree.

The early Buddhist texts contain very little information about the birth
and youth of Gotama Buddha.[125][126] Later biographies developed a
dramatic narrative about the life of the young Gotama as a prince and
his existential troubles.[127] They also depict his father Śuddhodana as
a hereditary monarch of the Suryavansha (Solar dynasty) of Ikṣvāku
(Pāli: Okkāka). This is unlikely however, as many scholars think that
Śuddhodana was merely a Shakya aristocrat (khattiya), and that the
Shakya republic was not a hereditary monarchy.[128][129][130] Indeed,
the more egalitarian gana-sangha form of government, as a political
alternative to Indian monarchies, may have influenced the development of
the śramanic Jain and Buddhist sanghas, where monarchies tended toward
Vedic Brahmanism.[131]

The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated in Theravada
countries as Vesak.[132] Buddha’s Birthday is called Buddha Purnima in
Nepal, Bangladesh, and India as he is believed to have been born on a
full moon day.

According to later biographical legends, during the birth celebrations,
the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode, analyzed the
child for the “32 marks of a great man” and then announced that he would
either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great religious
leader.[133][134] Suddhodana held a naming ceremony on the fifth day and
invited eight Brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave similar
predictions.[133] Kondañña, the youngest, and later to be the first
arhat other than the Buddha, was reputed to be the only one who
unequivocally predicted that Siddhartha would become a Buddha.[135]

Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant
religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest,
which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the
human condition.[136] According to the early Buddhist Texts of several
schools, and numerous post-canonical accounts, Gotama had a wife,
Yasodhara, and a son, named Rāhula.[137] Besides this, the Buddha in the
early texts reports that “‘I lived a spoilt, a very spoilt life, monks
(in my parents’ home).”[138]

The legendary biographies like the Lalitavistara also tell stories of
young Gotama’s great martial skill, which was put to the test in various
contests against other Shakyan youths.[139]

See also: Great Renunciation

The “Great Departure” of Siddhartha Gautama, surrounded by a halo, he is
accompanied by numerous guards and devata who have come to pay homage;
Gandhara, Kushan period
While the earliest sources merely depict Gotama seeking a higher
spiritual goal and becoming an ascetic or sramana after being
disillusioned with lay life, the later legendary biographies tell a more
elaborate dramatic story about how he became a mendicant.[127][140]

The earliest accounts of the Buddha’s spiritual quest is found in texts
such as the Pali Ariyapariyesanā-sutta (”The discourse on the noble
quest,” MN 26) and its Chinese parallel at MĀ 204.[141] These texts
report that what led to Gautama’s renunciation was the thought that his
life was subject to old age, disease and death and that there might be
something better (i.e. liberation, nirvana).[142] The early texts also
depict the Buddha’s explanation for becoming a sramana as follows: “The
household life, this place of impurity, is narrow - the samana life is
the free open air. It is not easy for a householder to lead the
perfected, utterly pure and perfect holy life.”[143] MN 26, MĀ 204, the
Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and the Mahāvastu all agree that his mother and
father opposed his decision and “wept with tearful faces” when he
decided to leave.[144][145]

Prince Siddhartha shaves his hair and becomes a sramana. Borobudur, 8th
Legendary biographies also tell the story of how Gautama left his palace
to see the outside world for the first time and how he was shocked by
his encounter with human suffering.[146][147] The legendary biographies
depict Gautama’s father as shielding him from religious teachings and
from knowledge of human suffering, so that he would become a great king
instead of a great religious leader.[148] In the Nidanakatha (5th
century CE), Gautama is said to have seen an old man. When his
charioteer Chandaka explained to him that all people grew old, the
prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a
diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic that inspired
him.[149][150][151] This story of the “four sights” seems to be adapted
from an earlier account in the Digha Nikaya (DN 14.2) which instead
depicts the young life of a previous Buddha, Vipassi.[151]

The legendary biographies depict Gautama’s departure from his palace as
follows. Shortly after seeing the four sights, Gautama woke up at night
and saw his female servants lying in unattractive, corpse-like poses,
which shocked him.[152] Therefore, he discovered what he would later
understand more deeply during his enlightenment: suffering and the end
of suffering.[153] Moved by all the things he had experienced, he
decided to leave the palace in the middle of the night against the will
of his father, to live the life of a wandering ascetic.[149] Accompanied
by Chandaka and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama leaves the palace,
leaving behind his son Rahula and Yaśodhara.[154] He traveled to the
river Anomiya, and cut off his hair. Leaving his servant and horse
behind, he journeyed into the woods and changed into monk’s robes
there,[155] though in some other versions of the story, he received the
robes from a Brahma deity at Anomiya.[156]

According to the legendary biographies, when the ascetic Gautama first
went to Rajagaha (present-day Rajgir) to beg for alms in the streets,
King Bimbisara of Magadha learned of his quest, and offered him a share
of his kingdom. Gautama rejected the offer but promised to visit his
kingdom first, upon attaining enlightenment.[157][158]

Ascetic life and Awakening

Ascetic life and Awakening
See also: Enlightenment in Buddhism
Main articles: Moksha and Nirvana (Buddhism)
All sources agree that the ascetic Gautama practised under two teachers
of yogic meditation.[159][160][161] According to MN 26 and its Chinese
parallel at MĀ 204, after having mastered the teaching of Ārāḍa Kālāma
(Pali: Alara Kalama), who taught a meditation attainment called “the
sphere of nothingness”, he was asked by Ārāḍa to become an equal leader
of their spiritual community.[162][163] However, Gautama felt
unsatisfied by the practice because it “does not lead to revulsion, to
dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to knowledge, to awakening, to
Nibbana”, and moved on to become a student of Udraka Rāmaputra (Pali:
Udaka Ramaputta).[164][165] With him, he achieved high levels of
meditative consciousness (called “The Sphere of Neither Perception nor
Non-Perception”) and was again asked to join his teacher. But, once
more, he was not satisfied for the same reasons as before, and moved

Majjhima Nikaya 4 also mentions that Gautama lived in “remote jungle
thickets” during his years of spiritual striving and had to overcome the
fear that he felt while living in the forests.[167]

The gilded “Emaciated Buddha statue” in an Ubosoth in Bangkok
representing the stage of his asceticism
After leaving his meditation teachers, Gotama then practiced ascetic
techniques.[168] An account of these practices can be seen in the
Mahāsaccaka-sutta (MN 36) and its various parallels (which according to
Analayo include some Sanskrit fragments, an individual Chinese
translation, a sutra of the Ekottarika-āgama as well as sections of the
Lalitavistara and the Mahāvastu).[169] The ascetic techniques described
in the early texts include very minimal food intake, different forms of
breath control, and forceful mind control. The texts report that he
became so emaciated that his bones became visible through his skin.[170]

According to other early Buddhist texts,[171] after realising that
meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening, Gautama discovered
“the Middle Way”—a path of moderation away from the extremes of
self-indulgence and self-mortification, or the Noble Eightfold
Path.[171] His break with asceticism is said to have led his five
companions to abandon him, since they believed that he had abandoned his
search and become undisciplined. One popular story tells of how he
accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata.[172]

The Mahabodhi Tree at the Sri Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya
Following his decision to stop extreme ascetic practices, MĀ 204 and
other parallel early texts report that Gautama sat down to meditate with
the determination not to get up until full awakening (sammā-sambodhi)
had been reached.[173] This event was said to have occurred under a
pipal tree—known as “the Bodhi tree”—in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.[174]

Likewise, the Mahāsaccaka-sutta and most of its parallels agree that
after taking asceticism to its extremes, the Buddha realized that this
had not helped him reach awakening. At this point, he remembered a
previous meditative experience he had as a child sitting under a tree
while his father worked.[175] This memory leads him to understand that
dhyana (meditation) is the path to awakening, and the texts then depict
the Buddha achieving all four dhyanas, followed by the “three higher
knowledges” (tevijja) culminating in awakening.[176]

Miracle of the Buddha walking on the River Nairañjanā. The Buddha is not
visible (aniconism), only represented by a path on the water, and his
empty throne bottom right.[177] Sanchi.
Gautama thus became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One”. The title
indicates that unlike most people who are “asleep”, a Buddha is
understood as having “woken up” to the true nature of reality and sees
the world ‘as it is’ (yatha-bhutam).[13] A Buddha has achieved
liberation (vimutti), also called Nirvana, which is seen as the
extinguishing of the “fires” of desire, hatred, and ignorance, that keep
the cycle of suffering and rebirth going.[178] According to various
early texts like the Mahāsaccaka-sutta, and the Samaññaphala Sutta, a
Buddha has achieved three higher knowledges: Remembering one’s former
abodes (i.e. past lives), the “Divine eye” (dibba-cakkhu), which allows
the knowing of others’ karmic destinations and the “extinction of mental
intoxicants” (āsavakkhaya).[170][179]

According to some texts from the Pali canon, at the time of his
awakening he realised complete insight into the Four Noble Truths,
thereby attaining liberation from samsara, the endless cycle of
rebirth.[180][181][182] [note 12]

As reported by various texts from the Pali Canon, the Buddha sat for
seven days under the bodhi tree “feeling the bliss of deliverance.”[183]
The Pali texts also report that he continued to meditate and
contemplated various aspects of the Dharma while living by the River
Nairañjanā, such as Dependent Origination, the Five Spiritual Faculties
and Suffering.[184]

The legendary biographies like the Mahavastu and the Lalitavistara
depict an attempt by Mara, the Lord of the desire realm, to prevent the
Buddha’s nirvana. He does so by sending his daughters to seduce the
Buddha, by asserting his superiority and by assaulting him with armies
of monsters.[185] However the Buddha is unfazed and calls on the earth
(or in some versions of the legend, the earth goddess) as witness to his
superiority by touching the ground before entering meditation.[186]
Other miracles and magical events are also depicted.

First sermon and formation of the saṅgha

Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, India, site of the first teaching of the Buddha
in which he taught the Four Noble Truths to his first five disciples
According to MN 26, immediately after his awakening, the Buddha
hesitated on whether or not he should teach the Dharma to others. He was
concerned that humans were overpowered by ignorance, greed, and hatred
that it would be difficult for them to recognise the path, which is
“subtle, deep and hard to grasp.” The Nyingma scholar Khenchen Palden
Sherab Rinpoche states the Buddha spent forty-nine days in meditation to
ascertain whether or not to begin teaching.[187] However, the god
Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some “with little
dust in their eyes” will understand it. The Buddha relented and agreed
to teach. According to Analayo, the Chinese parallel to MN 26, MĀ 204,
does not contain this story, but this event does appear in other
parallel texts, such as in an Ekottarika-āgama discourse, in the
Catusparisat-sūtra, and in the Lalitavistara.[173]

According to MN 26 and MĀ 204, after deciding to teach, the Buddha
initially intended to visit his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Udaka
Ramaputta, to teach them his insights, but they had already died, so he
decided to visit his five former companions.[188] MN 26 and MĀ 204 both
report that on his way to Vārānasī (Benares), he met another wanderer,
called Ājīvika Upaka in MN 26. The Buddha proclaimed that he had
achieved full awakening, but Upaka was not convinced and “took a
different path”.[189]

MN 26 and MĀ 204 continue with the Buddha reaching the Deer Park
(Sarnath) (Mrigadāva, also called Rishipatana, “site where the ashes of
the ascetics fell”)[190] near Vārānasī , where he met the group of five
ascetics and was able to convince them that he had indeed reached full
awakening.[191] According to MĀ 204 (but not MN 26), as well as the
Theravāda Vinaya, an Ekottarika-āgama text, the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya,
the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya, and the Mahāvastu, the Buddha then taught them
the “first sermon”, also known as the “Benares sermon”,[190] i.e. the
teaching of “the noble eightfold path as the middle path aloof from the
two extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.”[191] The
Pali text reports that after the first sermon, the ascetic Koṇḍañña
(Kaundinya) became the first arahant (liberated being) and the first
Buddhist bhikkhu or monastic.[192] The Buddha then continued to teach
the other ascetics and they formed the first saṅgha: the company of
Buddhist monks.

Various sources such as the Mahāvastu, the Mahākhandhaka of the
Theravāda Vinaya and the Catusparisat-sūtra also mention that the Buddha
taught them his second discourse, about the characteristic of
“not-self” (Anātmalakṣaṇa Sūtra), at this time[193] or five days
later.[190] After hearing this second sermon the four remaining ascetics
also reached the status of arahant.[190]

The chief disciples of the Buddha, Mogallana (chief in psychic power)
and Sariputta (chief in wisdom).
The first vassana was spent at Varanasi when the sangha was formed.
According to the Pali texts, shortly after the formation of the sangha,
the Buddha traveled to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, and met with King
Bimbisara, who gifted a bamboo grove park to the sangha.[203]

The Buddha’s sangha continued to grow during his initial travels in
north India. The early texts tell the story of how the Buddha’s chief
disciples, Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna, who were both students of the
skeptic sramana Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta, were converted by
Assaji.[204][205] They also tell of how the Buddha’s son, Rahula, joined
his father as a bhikkhu when the Buddha visited his old home,
Kapilavastu.[206] Over time, other Shakyans joined the order as
bhikkhus, such as Buddha’s cousin Ananda, Anuruddha, Upali the barber,
the Buddha’s half-brother Nanda and Devadatta.[207][208] Meanwhile, the
Buddha’s father Suddhodana heard his son’s teaching, converted to
Buddhism and became a

The remains of a section of Jetavana Monastery, just outside of ancient
Savatthi, in Uttar Pradesh.
The early texts also mention an important lay disciple, the merchant
Anāthapiṇḍika, who became a strong lay supporter of the Buddha early on.
He is said to have gifted Jeta’s grove (Jetavana) to the sangha at
great expense (the Theravada Vinaya speaks of thousands of gold

Formation of the bhikkhunī order

Mahāprajāpatī, the first bhikkuni and Buddha’s stepmother, ordains
The formation of a parallel order of female monastics (bhikkhunī) was
another important part of the growth of the Buddha’s community. As noted
by Analayo’s comparative study of this topic, there are various
versions of this event depicted in the different early Buddhist
texts.[note 13]

According to all the major versions surveyed by Analayo, Mahāprajāpatī
Gautamī, Buddha’s step-mother, is initially turned down by the Buddha
after requesting ordination for her and some other women. Mahāprajāpatī
and her followers then shave their hair, don robes and begin following
the Buddha on his travels. The Buddha is eventually convinced by Ānanda
to grant ordination to Mahāprajāpatī on her acceptance of eight
conditions called gurudharmas which focus on the relationship between
the new order of nuns and the monks.[212]

According to Analayo, the only argument common to all the versions that
Ananda uses to convince the Buddha is that women have the same ability
to reach all stages of awakening.[213] Analayo also notes that some
modern scholars have questioned the authenticity of the eight
gurudharmas in their present form due to various inconsistencies. He
holds that the historicity of the current lists of eight is doubtful,
but that they may have been based on earlier injunctions by the
Buddha.[214][215] Analayo also notes that various passages indicate that
the reason for the Buddha’s hesitation to ordain women was the danger
that the life of a wandering sramana posed for women that were not under
the protection of their male family members (such as dangers of sexual
assault and abduction). Due to this, the gurudharma injunctions may have
been a way to place “the newly founded order of nuns in a relationship
to its male counterparts that resembles as much as possible the
protection a laywoman could expect from her male relatives.”[216]

Later years

Procession of King Prasenajit of Kosala leaving Sravasti to meet the
Buddha. Sanchi[217]

Ajatasattu worships the Buddha, relief from the Bharhut Stupa at the
Indian Museum, Kolkata
According to J.S. Strong, after the first 20 years of his teaching
career, the Buddha seems to have slowly settled in Sravasti, the capital
of the Kingdom of Kosala, spending most of his later years in this

As the sangha grew in size, the need for a standardized set of monastic
rules arose and the Buddha seems to have developed a set of regulations
for the sangha. These are preserved in various texts called “Pratimoksa”
which were recited by the community every fortnight. The Pratimoksa
includes general ethical precepts, as well as rules regarding the
essentials of monastic life, such as bowls and robes.[218]

In his later years, the Buddha’s fame grew and he was invited to
important royal events, such as the inauguration of the new council hall
of the Shakyans (as seen in MN 53) and the inauguration of a new palace
by Prince Bodhi (as depicted in MN 85).[219] The early texts also speak
of how during the Buddha’s old age, the kingdom of Magadha was usurped
by a new king, Ajatasattu, who overthrew his father Bimbisara. According
to the Samaññaphala Sutta, the new king spoke with different ascetic
teachers and eventually took refuge in the Buddha.[220] However, Jain
sources also claim his allegiance, and it is likely he supported various
religious groups, not just the Buddha’s sangha exclusively.[221]

As the Buddha continued to travel and teach, he also came into contact
with members of other śrāmana sects. There is evidence from the early
texts that the Buddha encountered some of these figures and critiqued
their doctrines. The Samaññaphala Sutta identifies six such sects.[222]

The early texts also depict the elderly Buddha as suffering from back
pain. Several texts depict him delegating teachings to his chief
disciples since his body now needed more rest.[223] However, the Buddha
continued teaching well into his old age.

One of the most troubling events during the Buddha’s old age was
Devadatta’s schism. Early sources speak of how the Buddha’s cousin,
Devadatta, attempted to take over leadership of the order and then left
the sangha with several Buddhist monks and formed a rival sect. This
sect is said to have also been supported by King Ajatasattu.[224][225]
The Pali texts also depict Devadatta as plotting to kill the Buddha, but
these plans all fail.[226] They also depict the Buddha as sending his
two chief disciples (Sariputta and Moggallana) to this schismatic
community in order to convince the monks who left with Devadatta to

All the major early Buddhist Vinaya texts depict Devadatta as a divisive
figure who attempted to split the Buddhist community, but they disagree
on what issues he disagreed with the Buddha on. The Sthavira texts
generally focus on “five points” which are seen as excessive ascetic
practices, while the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya speaks of a more comprehensive
disagreement, which has Devadatta alter the discourses as well as
monastic discipline.[228]

At around the same time of Devadatta’s schism, there was also war
between Ajatasattu’s Kingdom of Magadha, and Kosala, led by an elderly
king Pasenadi.[229] Ajatasattu seems to have been victorious, a turn of
events the Buddha is reported to have regretted.

Last days and parinirvana
Metal relief
This East Javanese relief depicts the Buddha in his final days, and
Ānanda, his chief attendant.
The main narrative of the Buddha’s last days, death and the events
following his death is contained in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (DN 16)
and its various parallels in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan.[231]
According to Analayo, these include the Chinese Dirgha Agama 2,
“Sanskrit fragments of the Mahaparinirvanasutra”, and “three discourses
preserved as individual translations in Chinese”.[232]

The Mahaparinibbana sutta depicts the Buddha’s last year as a time of
war. It begins with Ajatasattu’s decision to make war on the Vajjian
federation, leading him to send a minister to ask the Buddha for
advice.[233] The Buddha responds by saying that the Vajjians can be
expected to prosper as long as they do seven things, and he then applies
these seven principles to the Buddhist Sangha, showing that he is
concerned about its future welfare. The Buddha says that the Sangha will
prosper as long as they “hold regular and frequent assemblies, meet in
harmony, do not change the rules of training, honor their superiors who
were ordained before them, do not fall prey to worldly desires, remain
devoted to forest hermitages, and preserve their personal mindfulness.”
He then gives further lists of important virtues to be upheld by the

The early texts also depict how the Buddha’s two chief disciples,
Sariputta and Moggallana, died just before the Buddha’s death.[235] The
Mahaparinibbana depicts the Buddha as experiencing illness during the
last months of his life but initially recovering. It also depicts him as
stating that he cannot promote anyone to be his successor. When Ānanda
requested this, the Mahaparinibbana records his response as

Ananda, why does the Order of monks expect this of me? I have taught the
Dhamma, making no distinction of “inner” and “ outer”: the Tathagata
has no “teacher’s fist” (in which certain truths are held back). If
there is anyone who thinks: “I shall take charge of the Order”, or “the
Order is under my leadership”, such a person would have to make
arrangements about the Order. The Tathagata does not think in such
terms. Why should the Tathagata make arrangements for the Order? I am
now old, worn out . . . I have reached the term of life, I am turning
eighty years of age. Just as an old cart is made to go by being held
together with straps, so the Tathagata’s body is kept going by being
bandaged up . . . Therefore, Ananda, you should live as islands unto
yourselves, being your own refuge, seeking no other refuge; with the
Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other
refuge. . . Those monks who in my time or afterwards live thus, seeking
an island and a refuge in themselves and in the Dhamma and nowhere else,
these zealous ones are truly my monks and will overcome the darkness
(of rebirth).

Mahaparinibbana scene, from the Ajanta caves
After traveling and teaching some more, the Buddha ate his last meal,
which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda.
Falling violently ill, Buddha instructed his attendant Ānanda to
convince Cunda that the meal eaten at his place had nothing to do with
his death and that his meal would be a source of the greatest merit as
it provided the last meal for a Buddha.[237] Bhikkhu and von Hinüber
argue that the Buddha died of mesenteric infarction, a symptom of old
age, rather than food poisoning.[238][239]

The precise contents of the Buddha’s final meal are not clear, due to
variant scriptural traditions and ambiguity over the translation of
certain significant terms. The Theravada tradition generally believes
that the Buddha was offered some kind of pork, while the Mahayana
tradition believes that the Buddha consumed some sort of truffle or
other mushroom. These may reflect the different traditional views on
Buddhist vegetarianism and the precepts for monks and nuns.[240] Modern
scholars also disagree on this topic, arguing both for pig’s flesh or
some kind of plant or mushroom that pigs like to eat.[note 14] Whatever
the case, none of the sources which mention the last meal attribute the
Buddha’s sickness to the meal itself.[241]

As per the Mahaparinibbana sutta, after the meal with Cunda, the Buddha
and his companions continued traveling until he was too weak to continue
and had to stop at Kushinagar, where Ānanda had a resting place
prepared in a grove of Sala trees.[242][243] After announcing to the
sangha at large that he would soon be passing away to final Nirvana, the
Buddha ordained one last novice into the order personally, his name was
Subhadda.[242] He then repeated his final instructions to the sangha,
which was that the Dhamma and Vinaya was to be their teacher after his
death. Then he asked if anyone had any doubts about the teaching, but
nobody did.[244] The Buddha’s final words are reported to have been:
“All saṅkhāras decay. Strive for the goal with diligence (appamāda)”
(Pali: ‘vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā’).[245][246]

He then entered his final meditation and died, reaching what is known as
parinirvana (final nirvana, the end of rebirth and suffering achieved
after the death of the body). The Mahaparinibbana reports that in his
final meditation he entered the four dhyanas consecutively, then the
four immaterial attainments and finally the meditative dwelling known as
nirodha-samāpatti, before returning to the fourth dhyana right at the
moment of death.[247][243]

Piprahwa vase with relics of the Buddha. The inscription reads:
…salilanidhane Budhasa Bhagavate… (Brahmi script:
…𑀲𑀮𑀺𑀮𑀦𑀺𑀥𑀸𑀦𑁂 𑀩𑀼𑀥𑀲 𑀪𑀕𑀯𑀢𑁂…]) “Relics of the Buddha
Posthumous events
See also: Śarīra and Relics associated with Buddha
According to the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the Mallians of Kushinagar spent
the days following the Buddha’s death honoring his body with flowers,
music and scents.[248] The sangha waited until the eminent elder
Mahākassapa arrived to pay his respects before cremating the body.[249]

The Buddha’s body was then cremated and the remains, including his
bones, were kept as relics and they were distributed among various north
Indian kingdoms like Magadha, Shakya and Koliya.[250] These relics were
placed in monuments or mounds called stupas, a common funerary practice
at the time. Centuries later they would be exhumed and enshrined by
Ashoka into many new stupas around the Mauryan realm.[251][252] Many
supernatural legends surround the history of alleged relics as they
accompanied the spread of Buddhism and gave legitimacy to rulers.

According to various Buddhist sources, the First Buddhist Council was
held shortly after the Buddha’s death to collect, recite and memorize
the teachings. Mahākassapa was chosen by the sangha to be the chairman
of the council. However, the historicity of the traditional accounts of
the first council is disputed by modern scholars.[253]


Main article: Buddhist philosophy § The Buddha and early Buddhism
Tracing the oldest teachings
One method to obtain information on the oldest core of Buddhism is to
compare the oldest versions of the Pali Canon and other texts, such as
the surviving portions of Sarvastivada, Mulasarvastivada, Mahisasaka,
Dharmaguptaka,[254][255] and the Chinese Agamas.[256][257] The
reliability of these sources, and the possibility of drawing out a core
of oldest teachings, is a matter of dispute.[258][259][260][261]
According to Tilmann Vetter, inconsistencies remain, and other methods
must be applied to resolve those inconsistencies.[254][note 15]

According to Lambert Schmithausen, there are three positions held by
modern scholars of Buddhism:[264]

“Stress on the fundamental homogeneity and substantial authenticity of
at least a considerable part of the Nikayic materials.”[note 16]
“Scepticism with regard to the possibility of retrieving the doctrine of
earliest Buddhism.”[note 17]
“Cautious optimism in this respect.”[note 18]
Regarding their attribution to the historical Buddha Gautama
“Sakyamuni”, scholars such as Richard Gombrich, Akira Hirakawa,
Alexander Wynne and A.K. Warder hold that these Early Buddhist Texts
contain material that could possibly be traced to this


The Bodhisattva meets with Alara Kalama, Borobudur relief.
According to scholars of Indology such as Richard Gombrich, the Buddha’s
teachings on Karma and Rebirth are a development of pre-Buddhist themes
that can be found in Jain and Brahmanical sources, like the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.[270] Likewise, samsara, the idea that we are
trapped in cycle of rebirth and that we should seek liberation from this
through non-harming (ahimsa) and spiritual practices, pre-dates the
Buddha and was likely taught in early Jainism.[271]

In various texts, the Buddha is depicted as having studied under two
named teachers, Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. According to
Alexander Wynne, these were yogis who taught doctrines and practices
similar to those in the Upanishads.[272]

The Buddha’s tribe of origin, the Shakyas, also seem to have had
non-Vedic religious practices which influenced Buddhism, such as the
veneration of trees and sacred groves, and the worship of tree spirits
(yakkhas) and serpent beings (nagas). They also seem to have built
burial mounds called stupas.[67]

Tree veneration remains important in Buddhism today, particularly in the
practice of venerating Bodhi trees. Likewise, yakkas and nagas have
remained important figures in Buddhist religious practices and

In the Early Buddhist Texts, the Buddha also references Brahmanical
devices. For example, in Samyutta Nikaya 111, Majjhima Nikaya 92 and
Vinaya i 246 of the Pali Canon, the Buddha praises the Agnihotra as the
foremost sacrifice and the Gayatri mantra as the foremost meter.[note

The Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence[note 20] may also
reflect Upanishadic or other influences according to K.R. Norman.[274]

According to Johannes Bronkhorst, the “meditation without breath and
reduced intake of food” which the Buddha practiced before his awakening
are forms of asceticism which are similar to Jain practices.[275]

The Buddhist practice called Brahma-vihara may have also originated from
a Brahmanic term;[276] but its usage may have been common in the
sramana traditions.[258]

Teachings preserved in the Early Buddhist Texts

Teachings preserved in the Early Buddhist Texts

Gandharan Buddhist birchbark scroll fragments
Main article: Early Buddhist Texts
The Early Buddhist Texts present many teachings and practices which may
have been taught by the historical Buddha. These include basic doctrines
such as Dependent Origination, the Middle Way, the Five Aggregates, the
Three unwholesome roots, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
According to N. Ross Reat, all of these doctrines are shared by the
Theravada Pali texts and the Mahasamghika school’s Śālistamba

A recent study by Bhikkhu Analayo concludes that the Theravada Majjhima
Nikaya and Sarvastivada Madhyama Agama contain mostly the same major
doctrines.[278] Likewise, Richard Salomon has written that the doctrines
found in the Gandharan Manuscripts are “consistent with non-Mahayana
Buddhism, which survives today in the Theravada school of Sri Lanka and
Southeast Asia, but which in ancient times was represented by eighteen
separate schools.”[279]

These basic teachings such as the Four Noble Truths tend to be widely
accepted as basic doctrines in all major schools of Buddhism, as seen in
ecumenical documents such as the Basic points unifying Theravāda and

Critique of Brahmanism

Buddha meets a Brahmin, at the Indian Museum, Kolkata
In the early Buddhist texts, the Buddha critiques the Brahmanical
religion and social system on certain key points.

The Brahmin caste held that the Vedas were eternal revealed (sruti)
texts. The Buddha, on the other hand, did not accept that these texts
had any divine authority or value.[280]

The Buddha also did not see the Brahmanical rites and practices as
useful for spiritual advancement. For example, in the Udāna, the Buddha
points out that ritual bathing does not lead to purity, only “truth and
morality” lead to purity.[note 21] He especially critiqued animal
sacrifice as taught in Vedas.[280] The Buddha contrasted his teachings,
which were taught openly to all people, with that of the Brahmins’, who
kept their mantras secret.[note 22]

He also critiqued numerous other Brahmanical practices, such astrology,
divination, fortune-telling, and so on (as seen in the Tevijja sutta and
the Kutadanta sutta).[282]

The Buddha also attacked the Brahmins’ claims of superior birth and the
idea that different castes and bloodlines were inherently pure or
impure, noble or ignoble.[280]

In the Vasettha sutta the Buddha argues that the main difference among
humans is not birth but their actions and occupations.[283] According to
the Buddha, one is a “Brahmin” (i.e. divine, like Brahma) only to the
extent that one has cultivated virtue.[note 23] Because of this the
early texts report that he proclaimed: “Not by birth one is a Brahman,
not by birth one is a non-Brahman; - by moral action one is a

The Aggañña Sutta explains all classes or varnas can be good or bad and
gives a sociological explanation for how they arose, against the
Brahmanical idea that they are divinely ordained.[284] According to
Kancha Ilaiah, the Buddha posed the first contract theory of
society.[285] The Buddha’s teaching then is a single universal moral
law, one Dharma valid for everybody, which is opposed to the Brahmanic
ethic founded on “one’s own duty” (svadharma) which depends on
caste.[280] Because of this, all castes including untouchables were
welcome in the Buddhist order and when someone joined, they renounced
all caste affiliation.[286][287]

Analysis of existence
The early Buddhist texts present the Buddha’s worldview as focused on
understanding the nature of dukkha, which is seen as the fundamental
problem of life.[288] Dukkha refers to all kinds of suffering, unease,
frustration, and dissatisfaction that sentient beings
experience.[289][290] At the core of the Buddha’s analysis of dukkha is
the fact that everything we experience is impermanent, unstable and thus

A common presentation of the core structure of Buddha’s teaching found
in the early texts is that of the Four Noble Truths.[292] This teaching
is most famously presented in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (”The
discourse on the turning of the Dharma wheel”) and its many
parallels.[293] The basic outline of the four truths is as

There is dukkha.
There are causes and conditions for the arising of dukkha. Various
conditions are outlined in the early texts, such as craving (taṇhā), but
the three most basic ones are greed, aversion and delusion.[294]
If the conditions for dukkha cease, dukkha also ceases. This is
“Nirvana” (literally ‘blowing out’ or ‘extinguishing’).[295]
There is path to follow that leads to Nirvana.
According to Bhikkhu Analayo, the four truths schema appears to be based
“on an analogy with Indian medical diagnosis” (with the form: “disease,
pathogen, health, cure”) and this comparison is “explicitly made in
several early Buddhist texts”.[293]

In another Pali sutta, the Buddha outlines how “eight worldly
conditions”, “keep the world turning around…Gain and loss, fame and
disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.” He then explains how
the difference between a noble (arya) person and an uninstructed
worldling is that a noble person reflects on and understands the
impermanence of these conditions.[296]

The Buddha’s analysis of existence includes an understanding that karma
and rebirth are part of life. According to the Buddha, the constant
cycle of dying and being reborn (i.e. saṃsāra) according to one’s karma
is just dukkha and the ultimate spiritual goal should be liberation from
this cycle.[297] According to the Pali suttas, the Buddha stated that
“this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not
discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and
fettered by craving.”[298]

The Buddha’s teaching of karma differed to that of the Jains and
Brahmins, in that on his view, karma is primarily mental intention (as
opposed to mainly physical action or ritual acts).[289] The Buddha is
reported to have said “By karma I mean intention.”[299] Richard Gombrich
summarizes the Buddha’s view of karma as follows: “all thoughts, words,
and deeds derive their moral value, positive or negative, from the
intention behind them.”[300]

For the Buddha, our karmic acts also affected the rebirth process in a
positive or negative way. This was seen as an impersonal natural law
similar to how certain seeds produce certain plants and fruits (in fact,
the result of a karmic act was called its “fruit” by the Buddha).[301]
However, it is important to note that the Buddha did not hold that
everything that happens is the result of karma alone. In fact when the
Buddha was asked to state the causes of pain and pleasure he listed
various physical and environmental causes alongside karma.[302]

Dependent Origination

Schist Buddha statue with the famed Ye Dharma Hetu dhāraṇī around the
head, which was used as a common summary of Dependent Origination. It
states: “Of those experiences that arise from a cause, The Tathāgata has
said: ‘this is their cause, And this is their cessation’: This is what
the Great Śramaṇa teaches.”
In the early texts, the process of the arising of dukkha is most
thoroughly explained by the Buddha through the teaching of Dependent
Origination.[289] At its most basic level, Dependent Origination is an
empirical teaching on the nature of phenomena which says that nothing is
experienced independently of its conditions.[303]

The most basic formulation of Dependent Origination is given in the
early texts as: ‘It being thus, this comes about’ (Pali: evam sati idam
hoti).[304] This can be taken to mean that certain phenomena only arise
when there are other phenomena present (example: when there is craving,
suffering arises), and so, one can say that their arising is “dependent”
on other phenomena. In other words, nothing in experience exists
without a cause.[304]

In numerous early texts, this basic principle is expanded with a list of
phenomena that are said to be conditionally dependent.[305][note 24]
These phenomena are supposed to provide an analysis of the cycle of
dukkha as experienced by sentient beings. The philosopher Mark Siderits
has outlined the basic idea of the Buddha’s teaching of Dependent
Origination of dukkha as follows:

given the existence of a fully functioning assemblage of psycho-physical
elements (the parts that make up a sentient being), ignorance
concerning the three characteristics of sentient existence—suffering,
impermanence and non-self—will lead, in the course of normal
interactions with the environment, to appropriation (the identification
of certain elements as ‘I’ and ‘mine’). This leads in turn to the
formation of attachments, in the form of desire and aversion, and the
strengthening of ignorance concerning the true nature of sentient
existence. These ensure future rebirth, and thus future instances of old
age, disease and death, in a potentially unending cycle.[289]
The Buddha saw his analysis of Dependent Origination as a “Middle Way”
between “eternalism” (sassatavada, the idea that some essence exists
eternally) and “annihilationism” (ucchedavada, the idea that we go
completely out of existence at death).[289][304] This middle way is
basically the view that, conventionally speaking, persons are just a
causal series of impermanent psycho-physical elements.[289]

Metaphysics and personal identity
Closely connected to the idea that experience is dependently originated
is the Buddha’s teaching that there is no independent or permanent self
(Sanskrit: atman, Pali: atta).[303]

Due to this view which (termed anatta), the Buddha’s teaching was
opposed to all soul theories of his time, including the Jain theory of a
“jiva” (”life monad”) and the Brahmanical theories of atman and
purusha. All of these theories held that there was an eternal unchanging
essence to a person which transmigrated from life to

While Brahminical teachers affirmed atman theories in an attempt to
answer the question of what really exists ultimately, the Buddha saw
this question as not being useful, as illustrated in the parable of the
poisoned arrow.[308]

For the Buddha’s contemporaries, the atman was also seen to be the
unchanging constant which was separate from all changing experiences and
the inner controller in a person.[309] The Buddha instead held that all
things in the world of our experience are transient and that there is
no unchanging part to a person.[310] According to Richard Gombrich, the
Buddha’s position is simply that “everything is process”.[311] However,
this anti-essentialist view still includes an understanding of
continuity through rebirth, it is just the rebirth of a process (karma),
not an essence like the atman.[312]

Perhaps the most important way the Buddha analyzed individual experience
in the early texts was by way of the five ‘aggregates’ or ‘groups’
(khandha) of physical and mental processes.[313][314] The Buddha’s
arguments against an unchanging self rely on these five aggregate
schema, as can be seen in the Pali Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta (and its
parallels in Gandhari and Chinese).[315][316][317]

According to the early texts, the Buddha argued that because we have no
ultimate control over any of the psycho-physical processes that make up a
person, there cannot be an “inner controller” with command over them.
Also, since they are all impermanent, one cannot regard any of the
psycho-physical processes as an unchanging self.[318][289] Even mental
processes such as consciousness and will (cetana) are seen as being
dependently originated and impermanent and thus do not qualify as a self

As noted by Gombrich, in the early texts the Buddha teaches that all
five aggregates, including consciousness (viññana, which was held by
Brahmins to be eternal), arise dependent on causes.[319] That is,
existence is based on processes that are subject to dependent
origination. He compared samsaric existence to a fire, which is dynamic
and requires fuel (the khandas, literally: “heaps”) in order to keep

As Rupert Gethin explains, for the Buddha:

I am a complex flow of physical and mental phenomena, but peel away
these phenomena and look behind them and one just does not find a
constant self that one can call one’s own. My sense of self is both
logically and emotionally just a label that I impose on these physical
and mental phenomena in consequence of their connectedness.[321]
The Buddha saw the belief in a self as arising from our grasping at and
identifying with the various changing phenomena, as well as from
ignorance about how things really are.[322] Furthermore, the Buddha held
that we experience suffering because we hold on to erroneous self

Worldly happiness
As noted by Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Buddha as depicted in the Pali suttas
does not exclusively teach a world transcending goal, but also teaches
laypersons how to achieve worldly happiness (sukha).[325]

According to Bodhi, the “most comprehensive” of the suttas that focus on
how to live as a layperson is the Sigālovāda Sutta (DN 31). This sutta
outlines how a layperson behaves towards six basic social relationships:
“parents and children, teacher and pupils, husband and wife, friend and
friend, employer and workers, lay follower and religious guides.” [326]
This Pali text also has parallels in Chinese and in Sanskrit

In another sutta (Dīghajāṇu Sutta, AN 8.54) the Buddha teaches two types
of happiness. First, there is the happiness visible in this very life.
The Buddha states that four things lead to this happiness: “The
accomplishment of persistent effort, the accomplishment of protection,
good friendship, and balanced living.”[329] Similarly, in several other
suttas, the Buddha teaches on how to improve family relationships,
particularly on the importance of filial love and gratitude as well as
marital well-being.[330]

Regarding the happiness of the next life, the Buddha (in the Dīghajāṇu
Sutta) states that the virtues which lead to a good rebirth are: faith
(in the Buddha and the teachings), moral discipline, especially keeping
the five precepts, generosity, and wisdom (knowledge of the arising and
passing of things).[331]

According to the Buddha of the suttas then, achieving a good rebirth is
based on cultivating wholesome or skillful (kusala) karma, which leads
to a good result, and avoiding unwholesome (akusala) karma. A common
list of good karmas taught by the Buddha is the list of ten courses of
action (kammapatha) as outlined in MN 41 Saleyyaka Sutta (and its
Chinese parallel in SĀ 1042).[332][333]

Good karma is also termed merit (puñña), and the Buddha outlines three
bases of meritorious actions: giving, moral discipline and meditation
(as seen in AN 8:36).[334]

The Path to Liberation

Gandharan sculpture depicting the Buddha in the full lotus seated
meditation posture, 2nd-3rd century CE

Buddha Statues from Gal Vihara. The Early Buddhist texts also mention
meditation practice while standing and lying down.
Liberation (vimutti) from the ignorance and grasping which create
suffering is not easily achieved because all beings have deeply
entrenched habits (termed āsavas, often translated as “influxes” or
“defilements”) that keep them trapped in samsara. Because of this, the
Buddha taught a path (marga) of training to undo such habits.[289][335]
This path taught by the Buddha is depicted in the early texts (most
famously in the Pali Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and its numerous
parallel texts) as a “Middle Way” between sensual indulgence on one hand
and mortification of the body on the other.[293]

One of the most common formulations of the path to liberation in the
earliest Buddhist texts is the Noble Eightfold Path.[336][note 25] There
is also an alternative formulation with ten elements which is also very
commonly taught in the early texts.[338]

According to Gethin, another common summary of the path to awakening
wisely used in the early texts is “abandoning the hindrances, practice
of the four establishments of mindfulness and development of the
awakening factors.”[339]

The early texts also contain many different presentations of the
Buddha’s path to liberation aside from the Eightfold Path.[338]
According to Rupert Gethin, in the Nikayas and Agamas, the Buddha’s path
is mainly presented in a cumulative and gradual “step by step” process,
such as that outlined in the Samaññaphala Sutta.[340][note 26] Early
texts that outline the graduated path include the
Cula-Hatthipadopama-sutta (MN 27, with Chinese parallel at MĀ 146) and
the Tevijja Sutta (DN 13, with Chinese parallel at DĀ 26 and a
fragmentary Sanskrit parallel entitled the
Vāsiṣṭha-sūtra).[338][342][343] Other early texts like the Upanisa sutta
(SN 12.23), present the path as reversions of the process of Dependent
Origination.[344][note 27]

Some common practices which are shared by most of these early
presentations of the path include sila (ethical training), restraint of
the senses (indriyasamvara), mindfulness and clear awareness
(sati-sampajañña) and the practice of jhana (meditative
absorption).[338] Mental development (citta bhāvanā) was central to the
Buddha’s spiritual path as depicted in the earliest texts and this
included meditative practices.

Regarding the training of right view and sense restraint, the Buddha
taught that it was important to reflect on the dangers or drawbacks
(adinava) of sensual pleasures. Various suttas discuss the different
drawbacks of sensuality. In the Potaliya Sutta (MN 54) sensual pleasures
are said by the Buddha to be a cause of conflict for all humans
beings.[346] They are said to be unable to satisfy one’s craving, like a
clean meatless bone given to a dog.[347] Sensuality is also compared to
a torch held against the wind, since it burns the person holding on to
it.[348] According to the Buddha, there is “a delight apart from sensual
pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine
bliss.” The Buddha thus taught that one should take delight in the
higher spiritual pleasures instead of sensual pleasure.[349] This is
explained with the simile the leper, who cauterizes his skin with fire
to get relief from the pain of leprosy, but after he is cured, avoids
the same flames he used to enjoy before (see MN 75, Magandiya

Numerous scholars such as Vetter have written on the centrality of the
practice of dhyāna to the teaching of the Buddha.[351] It is the
training of the mind, commonly translated as meditation, to withdraw the
mind from the automatic responses to sense-impressions, and leading to a
“state of perfect equanimity and awareness
(upekkhā-sati-parisuddhi).”[352] Dhyana is preceded and supported by
various aspects of the path such as seclusion and sense restraint.[353]

Another important mental training in the early texts is the practice of
mindfulness (sati), which was mainly taught using the schemas of the
“Four Ways of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana, as taught in the Pali
Satipatthana Sutta and its various parallel texts) and the sixteen
elements of “Mindfulness of Breath” (Anapanasati, as taught in the
Anapanasati Sutta and its various parallels).[note 28]

Because getting others to practice the path was the central goal of the
Buddha’s message, the early texts depict the Buddha as refusing to
answer certain metaphysical questions which his contemporaries were
preoccupied with, (such as “is the world eternal?”). This is because he
did not see these questions as being useful on the path and as not being
“connected to the goal”.[354]

The early Buddhist texts depict the Buddha as promoting the life of a
homeless and celibate “sramana”, or mendicant, as the ideal way of life
for the practice of the path.[355] He taught that mendicants or
“beggars” (bhikkhus) were supposed to give up all possessions and to own
just a begging bowl and three robes.[356] As part of the Buddha’s
monastic discipline, they were also supposed to rely on the wider lay
community for the basic necessities (mainly food, clothing, and

The Buddha’s teachings on monastic discipline were preserved in the
various Vinaya collections of the different early schools.[356]

Buddhist monastics, which included both monks and nuns, were supposed to
beg for their food, were not allowed to store up food or eat after noon
and they were not allowed to use gold, silver or any

Socio-political teachings
The early texts depict the Buddha as giving a deflationary account of
the importance of politics to human life. Politics is inevitable and is
probably even necessary and helpful, but it is also a tremendous waste
of time and effort, as well as being a prime temptation to allow ego to
run rampant. Buddhist political theory denies that people have a moral
duty to engage in politics except to a very minimal degree (pay the
taxes, obey the laws, maybe vote in the elections), and it actively
portrays engagement in politics and the pursuit of enlightenment as
being conflicting paths in life.[360]

In the Aggañña Sutta, the Buddha teaches a history of how monarchy arose
which according to Matthew J. Moore is “closely analogous to a social
contract.” The Aggañña Sutta also provides a social explanation of how
different classes arose, in contrast to the Vedic views on social

Other early texts like the Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta and the
Mahāsudassana Sutta focus on the figure of the righteous wheel turning
leader (Cakkavatti). This ideal leader is one who promotes Dharma
through his governance. He can only achieve his status through moral
purity and must promote morality and Dharma to maintain his position.
According to the Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta, the key duties of a
Cakkavatti are: “establish guard, ward, and protection according to
Dhamma for your own household, your troops, your nobles, and vassals,
for Brahmins and householders, town and country folk, ascetics and
Brahmins, for beasts and birds. let no crime prevail in your kingdom,
and to those who are in need, give property.”[361] The sutta explains
the injunction to give to the needy by telling how a line of
wheel-turning monarchs falls because they fail to give to the needy, and
thus the kingdom falls into infighting as poverty increases, which then
leads to stealing and violence.[note 29]

In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, the Buddha outlines several principles
that he promoted among the Vajjian tribal federation, which had a
quasi-republican form of government. He taught them to “hold regular and
frequent assemblies”, live in harmony and maintain their traditions.
The Buddha then goes on to promote a similar kind of republican style of
government among the Buddhist Sangha, where all monks had equal rights
to attend open meetings and there would be no single leader, since The
Buddha also chose not to appoint one.[361] Some scholars have argued
that this fact signals that the Buddha preferred a republican form of
government, while others disagree with this position.[361]

Scholarly views on the earliest teachings
Main article: Presectarian Buddhism

The Buddha on a coin of Kanishka I, c. 130 CE.
Numerous scholars of early Buddhism argue that most of the teachings
found in the Early Buddhist texts date back to the Buddha himself. One
of these is Richard Gombrich, who argues that since the content of the
earliest texts “presents such originality, intelligence, grandeur
and—most relevantly—coherence…it is hard to see it as a composite
work.” Thus he concludes they are “the work of one genius.”[362]

Peter Harvey also agrees that “much” of the Pali Canon “must derive from
his [the Buddha’s] teachings.”[363] Likewise, A. K. Warder has written
that “there is no evidence to suggest that it [the shared teaching of
the early schools] was formulated by anyone other than the Buddha and
his immediate followers.”[265]

Furthermore, Alexander Wynne argues that “the internal evidence of the
early Buddhist literature proves its historical authenticity.”[364]

However, other scholars of Buddhist studies have disagreed with the
mostly positive view that the early Buddhist texts reflect the teachings
of the historical Buddha. For example, Edward Conze argued that the
attempts of European scholars to reconstruct the original teachings of
the Buddha were “all mere guesswork.”[365]

Other scholars argue that some teachings contained in the early texts
are the authentic teachings of the Buddha, but not others. For example,
according to Tilmann Vetter, the earliest core of the Buddhist teachings
is the meditative practice of dhyāna.[351][note 30] Vetter argues that
“liberating insight” became an essential feature of the Buddhist
tradition at a later date. He posits that the Fourth Noble Truths, the
Eightfold path and Dependent Origination, which are commonly seen as
essential to Buddhism, are later formulations which form part of the
explanatory framework of this “liberating insight”.[367]

Lambert Schmithausen similarly argues that the mention of the four noble
truths as constituting “liberating insight”, which is attained after
mastering the four dhyānas, is a later addition.[262] Also, according to
Johannes Bronkhorst, the four truths may not have been formulated in
earliest Buddhism, and did not serve in earliest Buddhism as a
description of “liberating insight”.[368]

Physical characteristics

Main article: Physical characteristics of the Buddha
In early sources

Buddhist monks from Nepal. According to the earliest sources, the Buddha
looked like a typical shaved man from northeast India.
Early sources depict the Buddha’s as similar to other Buddhist monks.
Various discourses describe how he “cut off his hair and beard” when
renouncing the world. Likewise, Digha Nikaya 3 has a Brahmin describe
the Buddha as a shaved or bald (mundaka) man.[369] Digha Nikaya 2 also
describes how king Ajatasattu is unable to tell which of the monks is
the Buddha when approaching the sangha and must ask his minister to
point him out. Likewise, in MN 140, a mendicant who sees himself as a
follower of the Buddha meets the Buddha in person but is unable to
recognize him.[370]

The Buddha is also described as being handsome and with a clear
complexion (Digha I:115; Anguttara I:181), at least in his youth. In old
age, however, he is described as having a stooped body, with slack and
wrinkled limbs.[371]

The 32 Signs
Various Buddhist texts attribute to the Buddha a series of extraordinary
physical characteristics, known as “the 32 Signs of the Great Man”
(Skt. mahāpuruṣa lakṣaṇa).

According to Analayo, when they first appear in the Buddhist texts,
these physical marks were initially held to be imperceptible to the
ordinary person, and required special training to detect. Later though,
they are depicted as being visible by regular people and as inspiring
faith in the Buddha.[372]

These characteristics are described in the Digha Nikaya’s Lakkhaṇa Sutta
(D, I:142).[373]

Gautama Buddha in other religions

Buddha depicted as the 9th avatar of god Vishnu in a traditional Hindu

Buddha as an avatar at Dwaraka Tirumala temple, Andhra Pradesh

Gautama Buddha, Buddhist temple, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Main article: Gautama Buddha in world religions
Some Hindus regard Gautama as the 9th avatar of Vishnu.[note
10][374][375] However, Buddha’s teachings deny the authority of the
Vedas and the concepts of Brahman-Atman.[376][377][378] Consequently
Buddhism is generally classified as a nāstika school (heterodox,
literally “It is not so”[note 31]) in contrast to the six orthodox
schools of Hinduism.[381][382][383] In Sikhism, Buddha is mentioned as
the 23rd avatar of Vishnu in the Chaubis Avtar, a composition in Dasam
Granth traditionally and historically attributed to Guru Gobind

Classical Sunni scholar Tabari reports that Buddhist idols were brought
from Afghanistan to Baghdad in the ninth century. Such idols had been
sold in Buddhist temples next to a mosque in Bukhara, but he does not
further discuss the role of Buddha. According to the works on Buddhism
by Al-Biruni (973–after 1050), views regarding the exact identity of
Buddha was diverse. Accordingly, some regarded him as the divine
incarnate, others as an apostle of the angels or as an Ifrit and others
as an apostle of God sent to human race. By the 12th century,
al-Shahrastani even compared Buddha to Khidr, described as an ideal
human. Ibn Nadim, who was also familiar with Manichean teachings, even
identifies Buddha as a prophet, who taught a religion to “banish Satan”,
although not mention it explicitly. However, most Classical scholars
described Buddha in theistic terms, that is apart from Islamic

Nevertheless the Buddha is regarded as a prophet by the minority
Ahmadiyya[386] sect, generally considered deviant and rejected as
apostate by mainstream Islam.[387][388] Some early Chinese
Taoist-Buddhists thought the Buddha to be a reincarnation of Laozi.[389]

Disciples of the Cao Đài religion worship the Buddha as a major
religious teacher.[390] His image can be found in both their Holy See
and on the home altar. He is revealed during communication with Divine
Beings as son of their Supreme Being (God the Father) together with
other major religious teachers and founders like Jesus, Laozi, and

The Christian Saint Josaphat is based on the Buddha. The name comes from
the Sanskrit Bodhisattva via Arabic Būdhasaf and Georgian
Iodasaph.[392] The only story in which St. Josaphat appears, Barlaam and
Josaphat, is based on the life of the Buddha.[393] Josaphat was
included in earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology (feast day 27
November)—though not in the Roman Missal—and in the Eastern Orthodox
Church liturgical calendar (26 August).

In the ancient Gnostic sect of Manichaeism, the Buddha is listed among
the prophets who preached the word of God before Mani.[394]

In the Baháʼí Faith, Buddha is regarded as one of the Manifestations of

Artistic depictions

Main article: Buddhist art
Some of the earliest artistic depictions of the Buddha found at Bharhut
and Sanchi are aniconic and symbolic. During this early aniconic period,
the Buddha is depicted by other objects or symbols, such as an empty
throne, a riderless horse, footprints, a Dharma wheel or a Bodhi
tree.[395] The art at Sanchi also depicts the Jataka narratives of the
Buddha in his past lives.[396]

Other styles of Indian Buddhist art depict the Buddha in human form,
either standing, sitting crossed legged (often in the Lotus Pose) or
laying down on one side. Iconic representations of the Buddha became
particularly popular and widespread after the first century CE.[397]
Some of these depictions of the Buddha, particularly those of Gandharan
Buddhism and Central Asian Buddhism, were influenced by Hellenistic art,
a style known as Greco-Buddhist art.[398]

These various Indian and Central Asian styles would then go on to
influence the art of East Asian Buddhist Buddha images, as well as those
of Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhism.

Gallery showing different Buddha styles

A Royal Couple Visits the Buddha, from railing of the Bharhut Stupa,
Shunga dynasty, early 2nd century BC.

Depictions of Gautama Buddha in film
The life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, has been the subject of
several films.

History Edit

The first known film about the life of Buddha was Buddhadev (English
title: Lord Buddha) which was produced by the well-known Indian
filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke (1870–1944) in 1923.

Two years later, another important Buddha film was released, The Light
of Asia (Hindi title: Prem Sanyas). This movie was made by the German
filmmaker Franz Osten (1875–1956). Himansu Rai (1892–1940) played the
Buddha. Its title suggests that the script was based on the book The
Light of Asia composed by the British poet Sir Edwin Arnold, which was
issued by the Theosophical Society in 1891. In fact, its contents
deviate deliberately from Arnold’s book. The film was a greater success
in Europe than in India. It gives a somewhat romantic picture of the
life of Buddha. Buddhadev as well as The Light of Asia were silent

On March 20, 1952, a Japanese feature film representing the life of
Buddha had its premiere, Dedication of the Great Buddha. Director
Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896–1982) directed the picture under the Japanese
film company Daiei Eiga. It was nominated for the 1953 Cannes Film

Another film about Buddha was a documentary film entitled Gotama the
Buddha. It was released by the government of India in 1957 as part of
the Buddha’s 2500th birthday celebration. Rajbans Khanna acted as
director and Bimal Roy as producer. It got an honorable mention at the
Cannes film festival in 1957. It is a black-and-white film consisting of
beautiful images of natural environments, archeological sites, reliefs
and paintings, ancient ones from Ajanta as well as modern ones
accompanied by a voice over relating the history of Buddha.

The film Angulimal (1960) was not directly based on the life of Buddha,
but on the life of a dacoit and killer who used to loot and kill
innocent people and cut off their fingers and who made a garland of such
fingers to wear around his neck, thus he got the name Angulimal
(Angluli: finger, mala: garland). The film depicts an incident where the
dreaded dacoit once met the Buddha when Buddha was passing by a forest
and goes ahead to kill him, but was corrected by the compassion of

The fifth film about Buddha was a Japanese one, Shaka, produced by Kenji
Misumi in 1961. It was shown in the USA in 1963 under the title Buddha.
On February 13, 1964 a Korean film about the life of the Buddha had its
premiere, Seokgamoni, the Korean translation of the Sanskrit
Shakyamuni, which in Mahayana Buddhism is the term for the historical

In 1997 the Indian producer G.A. Sheshagiri Rao made a Buddha film. It
was simply entitled Buddha. This one did not roll in cinemas, but it was
only sold on DVD. This one is also the longest movie about Buddha, as
it consists of five DVDs with approximately 180 minutes film each.

In 2008, K. Raja Sekhar produced another Buddha film entitled Tathagata
Buddha. The original film was in Telugu, but later it was dubbed in
Hindi. This film relates Buddha’s life story until its end, his
parinirvana. The film is available on DVD.

It is known that Buddhists in countries like Sri Lanka and Burma abhor
the very idea of any human being impersonating the Buddha in a film.[1]
After its release in 1925 The Light of Asia was banned in Sri Lanka and
the Malay States (contemporary West Malaysia).[2]
List of films on the life of Buddha Edit

Date English title Original title Country Notes IMDB
1923 Lord Buddha Buddhadev India Silent film by Dadasaheb Phalke [1]
1925 The Light of Asia Prem Sanyas Germany/India Silent film by Franz
Osten [2]
1952 Dedication of the Great Buddha Daibutsu kaigen (大仏開眼) Japan Film by
Teinosuke Kinugasa [3]
1957 Gotoma the Buddha India Documentary produced by Bimal Roy.
Director was Rajbans Khanna [4]
1960 Angulimaal India
1961 Buddha Shaka Japan Film by Kenji Misumi [5]
1964 Shakyamuni Buddha Seokgamoni South Korea Film by Il-ho Jang [6]
1967 Gautama the Buddha India Rerelease of Bimal Roy’s documentary [7]
1980 The Story of Buddha 釋迦牟尼 (佛祖降臨) Hong Kong/Taiwan
1989 Buddha India Short documentary [8]
1993 Little Buddha France/Italy/Liechtenstein/United Kingdom Film by
Bernardo Bertolucci, where the life of Buddha is enacted as a
story-within-a-story [9]
1997 Buddha India Serial produced by G. Adi Sheshagiri Rao. Director
was P.C. Reddy
2001 Life of Buddha La Vie de Bouddha France/India Documentary produced
by Martin Meissonnier
2004 The Legend of Buddha India 2D animation film [10]
2007 The Life of Buddha Phra Phuttajao Thailand 2D animation film
produced by Wallapa Phimtong
2008 Tathagatha Buddha: The Life & Times of Gautama Buddha India
Hindi film on DVD produced by K. Raja Sekhar [3]
2009 The Rebirth of Buddha Buddha Saitan (仏陀再誕) Japan Happy
Science-sponsored film [11]
2010 The Buddha US Produced and directed by David Grubin [4][5]
2011 Buddha: The Great Departure 手塚治虫のブッダ-赤い砂漠よ!美しく- Japan Anime film
based on the manga series Buddha by Osamu Tezuka [12]
2013 Siddhartha The Buddha Sri Siddhartha Gautama (ශ්‍රී සිද්ධාර්ථ ගෞතම)
Sri Lanka Directed by Saman Weeraman
2013 A Journey of Samyak Buddha अ जर्नी आफ सम्यक बुद्ध India
Screenplayed and directed by Praveen Damle, based on Dr. Babasaheb
Ambedkar’s book The Buddha and His Dhamma.
2013 Biography of Buddha 釋迦牟尼佛傳 Hong Kong directed by Kwok Fai Lee
2014 Buddha: The Inner Warrior India et al. To be directed by Indian
film maker Pan Nalin, official website of the movie [13]
2014 Buddha 2: The Endless Journey BUDDHA 2: 手塚治虫のブッダ~終わりなき旅 Japan

Five precepts
This article is about the five precepts in Buddhism. For Taoism, see
Five Precepts (Taoism).
The Five precepts (Sanskrit: pañcaśīla; Pali: pañcasīla) or five rules
of training (Sanskrit: pañcaśikṣapada; Pali: pañcasikkhapada)[4][5][note
1] is the most important system of morality for Buddhist lay people.
They constitute the basic code of ethics to be undertaken by lay
followers of Buddhism. The precepts are commitments to abstain from
killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and
intoxication. Within the Buddhist doctrine, they are meant to develop
mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. They
are sometimes referred to as the Śrāvakayāna precepts in the Mahāyāna
tradition, contrasting them with the bodhisattva precepts. The five
precepts form the basis of several parts of Buddhist doctrine, both lay
and monastic. With regard to their fundamental role in Buddhist ethics,
they have been compared with the ten commandments in Abrahamic
religions[6][7] or the ethical codes of Confucianism. The precepts have
been connected with utilitarianist, deontological and virtue approaches
to ethics, though by 2017, such categorization by western terminology
had mostly been abandoned by scholars. The precepts have been compared
with human rights because of their universal nature, and some scholars
argue they can complement the concept of human rights.

Stone plaque with five precepts shortly described in English, engraved
in the stone.
Plaque with the five precepts engraved, Lumbini, Nepal
Translations of
five precepts
pañcaśīla (पञ्चशील), pañcaśikṣapada (पञ्चशिक्षपद)
pañcasīla, pañcasīlani,[1] pañcasikkhāpada, pañcasikkhāpadani[1]
ပဉ္စသီလ ငါးပါးသီလ
(IPA: [pjɪ̀ɰ̃sa̰ θìla̰ ŋá bá θìla̰])
(Pinyin: wǔjiè)
(rōmaji: go kai)
បញ្ចសីល, និច្ចសីល, សិក្ខាបទ៥, សីល៥
(UNGEGN: Sel[2])
(RR: ogye)
သဳ မသုန်
([sɔe pəsɔn])
(pan sil[3])
เบญจศีล, ศีล ๕
(RTGS: Benchasin, Sin Ha)
Ngũ giới
Glossary of Buddhism
The five precepts were common to the religious milieu of 6th-century BCE
India, but the Buddha’s focus on awareness through the fifth precept
was unique. As shown in Early Buddhist Texts, the precepts grew to be
more important, and finally became a condition for membership of the
Buddhist religion. When Buddhism spread to different places and people,
the role of the precepts began to vary. In countries where Buddhism had
to compete with other religions, such as China, the ritual of
undertaking the five precepts developed into an initiation ceremony to
become a Buddhist lay person. On the other hand, in countries with
little competition from other religions, such as Thailand, the ceremony
has had little relation to the rite of becoming Buddhist, as many people
are presumed Buddhist from birth.

Undertaking and upholding the five precepts is based on the principle of
non-harming (Pāli and Sanskrit: ahiṃsa). The Pali Canon recommends one
to compare oneself with others, and on the basis of that, not to hurt
others. Compassion and a belief in karmic retribution form the
foundation of the precepts. Undertaking the five precepts is part of
regular lay devotional practice, both at home and at the local temple.
However, the extent to which people keep them differs per region and
time. People keep them with an intention to develop themselves, but also
out of fear of a bad rebirth.

The first precept consists of a prohibition of killing, both humans and
all animals. Scholars have interpreted Buddhist texts about the precepts
as an opposition to and prohibition of capital punishment,[8] suicide,
abortion[9][10] and euthanasia.[11] In practice, however, many Buddhist
countries still use the death penalty. With regard to abortion, Buddhist
countries take the middle ground, by condemning though not prohibiting
it. The Buddhist attitude to violence is generally interpreted as
opposing all warfare, but some scholars have raised exceptions found in
later texts.
The second precept prohibits theft and related activities such as fraud
and forgery.
The third precept refers to adultery in all its forms, and has been
defined by modern teachers with terms such as sexual responsibility and
long-term commitment.
The fourth precept involves falsehood spoken or committed to by action,
as well as malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip.
The fifth precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs or other
means.[12][13] Early Buddhist Texts nearly always condemn alcohol, and
so do Chinese Buddhist post-canonical texts. Buddhist attitudes toward
smoking is to abstain from tobacco due to its severe addiction.
In modern times, traditional Buddhist countries have seen revival
movements to promote the five precepts. As for the West, the precepts
play a major role in Buddhist organizations. They have also been
integrated in mindfulness training programs, though many mindfulness
specialists do not support this because of the precepts’ religious
import. Lastly, many conflict prevention programs make use of the

Role in Buddhist doctrine Edit

Wheel with eight spokes, with the different aspects of the Buddhist
eight-fold written on them
The Noble Eightfold Path, of which the five precepts are part.
Buddhist scriptures explain the five precepts as the minimal standard of
Buddhist morality.[14] It is the most important system of morality in
Buddhism, together with the monastic rules.[15] Śīla (Sanskrit; Pali:
sīla) is used to refer to Buddhist precepts,[16] including the five.[4]
But the word also refers to the virtue and morality which lies at the
foundation of the spiritual path to enlightenment, which is the first of
the three forms of training on the path. Thus, the precepts are rules
or guidelines to develop mind and character to make progress on the path
to enlightenment.[4] The five precepts are part of the right speech,
action and livelihood aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path, the core
teaching of Buddhism.[4][17][note 2] Moreover, the practice of the five
precepts and other parts of śīla are described as forms of merit-making,
means to create good karma.[19][20] The five precepts have been
described as social values that bring harmony to society,[21][22] and
breaches of the precepts described as antithetical to a harmonious
society.[23] On a similar note, in Buddhist texts, the ideal, righteous
society is one in which people keep the five precepts.[24]

Comparing different parts of Buddhist doctrine, the five precepts form
the basis of the eight precepts, which are lay precepts stricter than
the five precepts, similar to monastic precepts.[4][25] Secondly, the
five precepts form the first half of the ten or eleven precepts for a
person aiming to become a Buddha (bodhisattva), as mentioned in the
Brahmajala Sūtra of the Mahāyāna tradition.[4][26][27] Contrasting these
precepts with the five precepts, the latter were commonly referred to
by Mahāyānists as the śrāvakayāna precepts, or the precepts of those
aiming to become enlightened disciples (Sanskrit: arhat; Pali: arahant)
of a Buddha, but not Buddhas themselves. The ten–eleven bodhisattva
precepts presuppose the five precepts, and are partly based on them.[28]
The five precepts are also partly found in the teaching called the ten
good courses of action, referred to in Theravāda (Pali:
dasa-kusala-kammapatha) and Tibetan Buddhism (Sanskrit:
daśa-kuśala-karmapatha; Wylie: dge ba bcu).[15][29] Finally, the first
four of the five precepts are very similar to the most fundamental rules
of monastic discipline (Pali: pārajika), and may have influenced their

In conclusion, the five precepts lie at the foundation of all Buddhist
practice, and in that respect, can be compared with the ten commandments
in Christianity and Judaism[6][7] or the ethical codes of

History Edit

The five precepts were part of early Buddhism and are common to nearly
all schools of Buddhism.[31] In early Buddhism, the five precepts were
regarded as an ethic of restraint, to restrain unwholesome tendencies
and thereby purify one’s being to attain enlightenment.[1][32] The five
precepts were based on the pañcaśīla, prohibitions for pre-Buddhist
Brahmanic priests, which were adopted in many Indic religions around 6th
century BCE.[33][34] The first four Buddhist precepts were nearly
identical to these pañcaśīla, but the fifth precept, the prohibition on
intoxication, was new in Buddhism:[30][note 3] the Buddha’s emphasis on
awareness (Pali: appamāda) was unique.[33]

In some schools of ancient Indic Buddhism, Buddhist devotees could
choose to adhere to only a number of precepts, instead of the complete
five. The schools that would survive in later periods, however, that is
Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, were both ambiguous about this
practice. Some early Mahāyāna texts allow it, but some do not; Theravāda
texts do not discuss this practice at all.[36]

The prohibition on killing had motivated early Buddhists to form a
stance against animal sacrifice, a common ritual practice in ancient
India.[37][38] According to the Pāli Canon, however, early Buddhists did
not adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.[25][38]

In Early Buddhist Texts, the role of the five precepts gradually
develops. First of all, the precepts are combined with a declaration of
faith in the triple gem (the Buddha, his teaching and the monastic
community). Next, the precepts develop to become the foundation of lay
practice.[39] The precepts are seen as a preliminary condition for the
higher development of the mind.[1] At a third stage in the texts, the
precepts are actually mentioned together with the triple gem, as though
they are part of it. Lastly, the precepts, together with the triple gem,
become a required condition for the practice of Buddhism, as lay people
have to undergo a formal initiation to become a member of the Buddhist
religion.[30] When Buddhism spread to different places and people, the
role of the precepts began to vary. In countries in which Buddhism was
adopted as the main religion without much competition from other
religious disciplines, such as Thailand, the relation between the
initiation of a lay person and the five precepts has been virtually
non-existent. In such countries, the taking of the precepts has become a
sort of ritual cleansing ceremony. People are presumed Buddhist from
birth without much of an initiation. The precepts are often committed to
by new followers as part of their installment, yet this is not very
pronounced. However, in some countries like China, where Buddhism was
not the only religion, the precepts became an ordination ceremony to
initiate lay people into the Buddhist religion.[40]

Map marking part of China
In 8th-century China, people held strict attitudes about abstinence of
In China, the five precepts were introduced in the first centuries CE,
both in their śrāvakayāna and bodhisattva formats.[41] During this time,
it was particularly Buddhist teachers who promoted abstinence from
alcohol (the fifth precept), since Daoism and other thought systems
emphasized moderation rather than full abstinence. Chinese Buddhists
interpreted the fifth precept strictly, even more so than in Indic
Buddhism. For example, the monk Daoshi (c. 600–683) dedicated large
sections of his encyclopedic writings to abstinence from alcohol.
However, in some parts of China, such as Dunhuang, considerable evidence
has been found of alcohol consumption among both lay people and
monastics. Later, from the 8th century onward, strict attitudes of
abstinence led to a development of a distinct tea culture among Chinese
monastics and lay intellectuals, in which tea gatherings replaced
gatherings with alcoholic beverages, and were advocated as such.[42][43]
These strict attitudes were formed partly because of the religious
writings, but may also have been affected by the bloody An Lushan
Rebellion of 775, which had a sobering effect on 8th-century Chinese
society.[44] When the five precepts were integrated in Chinese society,
they were associated and connected with karma, Chinese cosmology and
medicine, a Daoist worldview, and Confucian virtue ethics.[45]

Ceremonies Edit

In Pāli tradition Edit
Asian person holding hands in prayer, facing two monks in brown robes.
In Thailand, a leading lay person will normally request the monk to
administer the precepts.
In the Theravāda tradition, the precepts are recited in a standardized
fashion, using Pāli language. In Thailand, a leading lay person will
normally request the monk to administer the precepts by reciting the
following three times:

“Venerables, we request the five precepts and the three refuges [i.e.
the triple gem] for the sake of observing them, one by one, separately”.
(Mayaṃ bhante visuṃ visuṃ rakkhaṇatthāya tisaraṇena saha pañca
After this, the monk administering the precepts will recite a
reverential line of text to introduce the ceremony, after which he
guides the lay people in declaring that they take their refuge in the
three refuges or triple gem.[47]

He then continues with reciting the five precepts:[48][49]

“I undertake the training-precept to abstain from onslaught on breathing
beings.” (Pali: Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
“I undertake the training-precept to abstain from taking what is not
given.” (Pali: Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
“I undertake the training-precept to abstain from misconduct concerning
sense-pleasures.” (Pali: Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ
“I undertake the training-precept to abstain from false speech.” (Pali:
Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
“I undertake the training-precept to abstain from alcoholic drink or
drugs that are an opportunity for heedlessness.” (Pali:
Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
After the lay people have repeated the five precepts after the monk, the
monk will close the ceremony reciting:

“These five precepts lead with good behavior to bliss, with good
behavior to wealth and success, they lead with good behavior to
happiness, therefore purify behavior.” (Imāni pañca sikkhāpadāni. Sīlena
sugatiṃ yanti, sīlena bhogasampadā, sīlena nibbutiṃ yanti, tasmā sīlaṃ

In other textual traditions Edit
Ancient Asian library with manuscripts
The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times
in the Chinese Buddhist Canon.
See also: Buddhist initiation ritual
The format of the ceremony for taking the precepts occurs several times
in the Chinese Buddhist Canon, in slightly different forms.[51]

One formula of the precepts can be found in the Treatise on Taking
Refuge and the Precepts (simplified Chinese: 归戒要集; traditional Chinese:
歸戒要集; pinyin: Guījiè Yāojí):

As all Buddhas refrained from killing until the end of their lives, so I
too will refrain from killing until the end of my life.
As all Buddhas refrained from stealing until the end of their lives, so I
too will refrain from stealing until the end of my life.
As all Buddhas refrained from sexual misconduct until the end of their
lives, so I too will refrain from sexual misconduct until the end of my
As all Buddhas refrained from false speech until the end of their lives,
so I too will refrain from false speech until the end of my life.
As all Buddhas refrained from alcohol until the end of their lives, so I
too will refrain from alcohol until the end of my life.[52]
Similarly, in the Mūla-Sarvāstivāda texts used in Tibetan Buddhism, the
precepts are formulated such that one takes the precepts upon oneself
for one’s entire lifespan, following the examples of the enlightened
disciples of the Buddha (arahant).[48]

Principles Edit

Precept Accompanying virtues[12][25] Related to human rights[53][54]
1. Abstention from killing living beings Kindness and compassion Right
to life
2. Abstention from theft Generosity and renunciation Right of property
3. Abstention from sexual misconduct Contentment and respect for
faithfulness Right to fidelity in marriage
4. Abstention from falsehood Being honest and dependable Right of human
5. Abstention from intoxication Mindfulness and responsibility Right of
security and safety

Dark beings throw men with mustaches into a large cauldron with a huge
fire underneath it.
Living a life in violation of the precepts is believed to lead to
rebirth in a hell.
The five precepts can be found in many places in the Early Buddhist
Texts.[55] The precepts are regarded as means to building good
character, or as an expression of such character. The Pāli Canon
describes them as means to avoid harm to oneself and others.[56] It
further describes them as gifts toward oneself and others.[57] Moreover,
the texts say that people who uphold them will be confident in any
gathering of people,[15][58] will have wealth and a good reputation, and
will die a peaceful death, reborn in heaven[48][58] or as a human
being. On the other hand, living a life in violation of the precepts is
believed to lead to rebirth in an unhappy destination.[15] They are
understood as principles that define a person as human in body and

The precepts are normative rules, but are formulated and understood as
“undertakings”[60] rather than commandments enforced by a moral
authority,[61][62] according to the voluntary and gradualist standards
of Buddhist ethics.[63] They are forms of restraint formulated in
negative terms, but are also accompanied by virtues and positive
behaviors,[12][13][25] which are cultivated through the practice of the
precepts.[16][note 4] The most important of these virtues is non-harming
(Pāli and Sanskrit: ahiṃsa),[37][65] which underlies all of the five
precepts.[25][note 5] Precisely, the texts say that one should keep the
precepts, adhering to the principle of comparing oneself with

“For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must be so to him
also; and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I
inflict that upon another?”[68]
In other words, all living beings are alike in that they want to be
happy and not suffer. Comparing oneself with others, one should
therefore not hurt others as one would not want to be hurt.[69] Ethicist
Pinit Ratanakul argues that the compassion which motivates upholding
the precepts comes from an understanding that all living beings are
equal and of a nature that they are ‘not-self’ (Pali: anattā).[70]
Another aspect that is fundamental to this is the belief in karmic

Two pendants of amber
A layperson who upholds the precepts is described in the texts as a
“jewel among laymen”.
In the upholding or violation of the precepts, intention is
crucial.[72][73] In the Pāli scriptures, an example is mentioned of a
person stealing an animal only to set it free, which was not seen as an
offense of theft.[72] In the Pāli commentaries, a precept is understood
to be violated when the person violating it finds the object of the
transgression (e.g. things to be stolen), is aware of the violation, has
the intention to violate it, does actually act on that intention, and
does so successfully.[74]

Upholding the precepts is sometimes distinguished in three levels: to
uphold them without having formally undertaken them; to uphold them
formally, willing to sacrifice one’s own life for it; and finally, to
spontaneously uphold them.[75] The latter refers to the arahant, who is
understood to be morally incapable of violating the first four
precepts.[76] A layperson who upholds the precepts is described in the
texts as a “jewel among laymen”.[77] On the other hand, the most serious
violations of the precepts are the five actions of immediate
retribution, which are believed to lead the perpetrator to an
unavoidable rebirth in hell. These consist of injuring a Buddha, killing
an arahant, killing one’s father or mother, and causing the monastic
community to have a schism.[25]

Practice in general Edit

Lay followers often undertake these training rules in the same ceremony
as they take the refuges.[4][78] Monks administer the precepts to the
laypeople, which creates an additional psychological effect.[79]
Buddhist lay people may recite the precepts regularly at home, and
before an important ceremony at the temple to prepare the mind for the

Asian monk smiling
Thich Nhat Hanh has written about the five precepts in a wider scope,
with regard to social and institutional relations.
The five precepts are at the core of Buddhist morality.[49] In field
studies in some countries like Sri Lanka, villagers describe them as the
core of the religion.[79] Anthropologist Barend Terwiel found in his
fieldwork that most Thai villagers knew the precepts by heart, and many,
especially the elderly, could explain the implications of the precepts
following traditional interpretations.[80]

Nevertheless, Buddhists do not all follow them with the same
strictness.[49] Devotees who have just started keeping the precepts will
typically have to exercise considerable restraint. When they become
used to the precepts, they start to embody them more naturally.[81]
Researchers doing field studies in traditional Buddhist societies have
found that the five precepts are generally considered demanding and
challenging.[79][82] For example, anthropologist Stanley Tambiah found
in his field studies that strict observance of the precepts had “little
positive interest for the villager … not because he devalues them but
because they are not normally open to him”. Observing precepts was seen
to be mostly the role of a monk or an elderly lay person.[83] More
recently, in a 1997 survey in Thailand, only 13.8% of the respondents
indicated they adhered to the five precepts in their daily lives, with
the fourth and fifth precept least likely to be adhered to.[84] Yet,
people do consider the precepts worth striving for, and do uphold them
out of fear of bad karma and being reborn in hell, or because they
believe in that the Buddha issued these rules, and that they therefore
should be maintained.[85][86] Anthropologist Melford Spiro found that
Burmese Buddhists mostly upheld the precepts to avoid bad karma, as
opposed to expecting to gain good karma.[87] Scholar of religion Winston
King observed from his field studies that the moral principles of
Burmese Buddhists were based on personal self-developmental motives
rather than other-regarding motives. Scholar of religion Richard Jones
concludes that the moral motives of Buddhists in adhering to the
precepts are based on the idea that renouncing self-service, ironically,
serves oneself.[88]

In East Asian Buddhism, the precepts are intrinsically connected with
the initiation as a Buddhist lay person. Early Chinese translations such
as the Upāsaka-śila Sūtra hold that the precepts should only be
ritually transmitted by a monastic. The texts describe that in the
ritual the power of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas is transmitted, and
helps the initiate to keep the precepts. This “lay ordination” ritual
usually occurs after a stay in a temple, and often after a monastic
ordination (Pali: upsampadā); has taken place. The ordained lay person
is then given a religious name. The restrictions that apply are similar
to a monastic ordination, such as permission from parents.[89]

In the Theravāda tradition, the precepts are usually taken “each
separately” (Pali: visuṃ visuṃ), to indicate that if one precept should
be broken, the other precepts are still intact. In very solemn
occasions, or for very pious devotees, the precepts may be taken as a
group rather than each separately.[90][91] This does not mean, however,
that only some of the precepts can be undertaken; they are always
committed to as a complete set.[92] In East Asian Buddhism, however, the
vow of taking the precepts is considered a solemn matter, and it is not
uncommon for lay people to undertake only the precepts that they are
confident they can keep.[36] The act of taking a vow to keep the
precepts is what makes it karmically effective: Spiro found that someone
who did not violate the precepts, but did not have any intention to
keep them either, was not believed to accrue any religious merit. On the
other hand, when people took a vow to keep the precepts, and then broke
them afterwards, the negative karma was considered larger than in the
case no vow was taken to keep the precepts.[93]

Several modern teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Sulak Sivaraksa have
written about the five precepts in a wider scope, with regard to social
and institutional relations. In these perspectives, mass production of
weapons or spreading untruth through media and education also violates
the precepts.[94][95] On a similar note, human rights organizations in
Southeast Asia have attempted to advocate respect for human rights by
referring to the five precepts as guiding principles.[96]

First precept Edit

Textual analysis Edit
Mayfly on human finger
The first of the five precepts includes abstention from killing small
animals such as insects.
The first precept prohibits the taking of life of a sentient being. It
is violated when someone intentionally and successfully kills such a
sentient being, having understood it to be sentient and using effort in
the process.[74][97] Causing injury goes against the spirit of the
precept, but does, technically speaking, not violate it.[98] The first
precept includes taking the lives of animals, even small insects.
However, it has also been pointed out that the seriousness of taking
life depends on the size, intelligence, benefits done and the spiritual
attainments of that living being. Killing a large animal is worse than
killing a small animal (also because it costs more effort); killing a
spiritually accomplished master is regarded as more severe than the
killing of another “more average” human being; and killing a human being
is more severe than the killing of an animal. But all killing is
condemned.[74][99][100] Virtues that accompany this precept are respect
for dignity of life,[65] kindness and compassion,[25] the latter
expressed as “trembling for the welfare of others”.[101] A positive
behavior that goes together with this precept is protecting living
beings.[13] Positive virtues like sympathy and respect for other living
beings in this regard are based on a belief in the cycle of rebirth—that
all living beings must be born and reborn.[102] The concept of the
fundamental Buddha nature of all human beings also underlies the first

The description of the first precept can be interpreted as a prohibition
of capital punishment.[8] Suicide is also seen as part of the
prohibition.[104] Moreover, abortion (of a sentient being) goes against
the precept, since in an act of abortion, the criteria for violation are
all met.[97][105] In Buddhism, human life is understood to start at
conception.[106] A prohibition of abortion is mentioned explicitly in
the monastic precepts, and several Buddhist tales warn of the harmful
karmic consequences of abortion.[107][108] Bioethicist Damien Keown
argues that Early Buddhist Texts do not allow for exceptions with regard
to abortion, as they consist of a “consistent’ (i.e. exceptionless)
pro-life position”.[109][10] Keown further proposes that a middle way
approach to the five precepts is logically hard to defend.[110] Asian
studies scholar Giulo Agostini argues, however, that Buddhist
commentators in India from the 4th century onward thought abortion did
not break the precepts under certain circumstances.[111]

Traditional painting with the Buddha at the center and numerous animals
around him, illustrating different tales
Buddhist tales describe the karmic consequences of abortion.[108]
Ordering another person to kill is also included in this
precept,[11][98] therefore requesting or administering euthanasia can be
considered a violation of the precept,[11] as well as advising another
person to commit abortion.[112] With regard to euthanasia and assisted
suicide, Keown quotes the Pāli Dīgha Nikāya that says a person upholding
the first precept “does not kill a living being, does not cause a
living being to be killed, does not approve of the killing of a living
being”.[113] Keown argues that in Buddhist ethics, regardless of
motives, death can never be the aim of one’s actions.[114]

Interpretations of how Buddhist texts regard warfare are varied, but in
general Buddhist doctrine is considered to oppose all warfare. In many
Jātaka tales, such as that of Prince Temiya, as well as some historical
documents, the virtue of non-violence is taken as an opposition to all
war, both offensive and defensive. At the same time, though, the Buddha
is often shown not to explicitly oppose war in his conversations with
political figures. Buddhologist André Bareau points out that the Buddha
was reserved in his involvement of the details of administrative policy,
and concentrated on the moral and spiritual development of his
disciples instead. He may have believed such involvement to be futile,
or detrimental to Buddhism. Nevertheless, at least one disciple of the
Buddha is mentioned in the texts who refrained from retaliating his
enemies because of the Buddha, that is King Pasenadi (Sanskrit:
Prasenajit). The texts are ambiguous in explaining his motives
though.[115] In some later Mahāyāna texts, such as in the writings of
Asaṅga, examples are mentioned of people who kill those who persecute
Buddhists.[116][117] In these examples, killing is justified by the
authors because protecting Buddhism was seen as more important than
keeping the precepts. Another example that is often cited is that of
King Duṭṭhagāmaṇī, who is mentioned in the post-canonical Pāli Mahāvaṃsa
chronicle. In the chronicle, the king is saddened with the loss of life
after a war, but comforted by a Buddhist monk, who states that nearly
everyone who was killed did not uphold the precepts anyway.[118][119]
Buddhist studies scholar Lambert Schmithausen argues that in many of
these cases Buddhist teachings like that of emptiness were misused to
further an agenda of war or other violence.[120]

In practice Edit
See also: Religion and capital punishment § Buddhism, and Abortion in
Signals used to indicate vegetarian or non-vegetarian food
In Buddhism, there are different opinions about whether vegetarianism
should be practiced.[25]
Field studies in Cambodia and Burma have shown that many Buddhists
considered the first precept the most important, or the most
blamable.[49][98] In some traditional communities, such as in Kandal
Province in pre-war Cambodia, as well as Burma in the 1980s, it was
uncommon for Buddhists to slaughter animals, to the extent that meat had
to be bought from non-Buddhists.[49][66] In his field studies in
Thailand in the 1960s, Terwiel found that villagers did tend to kill
insects, but were reluctant and self-conflicted with regard to killing
larger animals.[121] In Spiro’s field studies, however, Burmese
villagers were highly reluctant even to kill insects.[66]

Early Buddhists did not adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Indeed, in several
Pāli texts vegetarianism is described as irrelevant in the spiritual
purification of the mind. There are prohibitions on certain types of
meat, however, especially those which are condemned by society. The idea
of abstaining from killing animal life has also led to a prohibition on
professions that involve trade in flesh or living beings, but not to a
full prohibition of all agriculture that involves cattle.[122] In modern
times, referring to the law of supply and demand or other principles,
some Theravādin Buddhists have attempted to promote vegetarianism as
part of the five precepts. For example, the Thai Santi Asoke movement
practices vegetarianism.[62][123]

Furthermore, among some schools of Buddhism, there has been some debate
with regard to a principle in the monastic discipline. This principle
states that a Buddhist monk cannot accept meat if it comes from animals
especially slaughtered for him. Some teachers have interpreted this to
mean that when the recipient has no knowledge on whether the animal has
been killed for him, he cannot accept the food either. Similarly, there
has been debate as to whether laypeople should be vegetarian when
adhering to the five precepts.[25] Though vegetarianism among
Theravādins is generally uncommon, it has been practiced much in East
Asian countries,[25] as some Mahāyāna texts, such as the Mahāparanirvana
Sūtra and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, condemn the eating of meat.[12][124]
Nevertheless, even among Mahāyāna Buddhists—and East Asian
Buddhists—there is disagreement on whether vegetarianism should be
practiced. In the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, biological, social and hygienic
reasons are given for a vegetarian diet; however, historically, a major
factor in the development of a vegetarian lifestyle among Mahāyāna
communities may have been that Mahāyāna monastics cultivated their own
crops for food, rather than living from alms.[125] Already from the 4th
century CE, Chinese writer Xi Chao understood the five precepts to
include vegetarianism.[124]

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama has rejected forms of protest that are self-harming.[63]
Apart from trade in flesh or living beings, there are also other
professions considered undesirable. Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh
gives a list of examples, such as working in the arms industry, the
military, police, producing or selling poison or drugs such as alcohol
and tobacco.[126]

In general, the first precept has been interpreted by Buddhists as a
call for non-violence and pacifism. But there have been some exceptions
of people who did not interpret the first precept as an opposition to
war. For example, in the twentieth century, some Japanese Zen teachers
wrote in support of violence in war, and some of them argued this should
be seen as a means to uphold the first precept.[127] There is some
debate and controversy surrounding the problem whether a person can
commit suicide, such as self-immolation, to reduce other people’s
suffering in the long run, such as in protest to improve a political
situation in a country. Teachers like the Dalai Lama and Shengyan have
rejected forms of protest like self-immolation, as well as other acts of
self-harming or fasting as forms of protest.[63]

Although capital punishment goes against the first precept, as of 2001,
many countries in Asia still maintained the death penalty, including Sri
Lanka, Thailand, China and Taiwan. In some Buddhist countries, such as
Sri Lanka and Thailand, capital punishment was applied during some
periods, while during other periods no capital punishment was used at
all. In other countries with Buddhism, like China and Taiwan, Buddhism,
or any religion for that matter, has had no influence in policy
decisions of the government. Countries with Buddhism that have abolished
capital punishment include Cambodia and Hong Kong.[128]

In general, Buddhist traditions oppose abortion.[111] In many countries
with Buddhist traditions such as Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and Japan,
however, abortion is a widespread practice, whether legal or not. Many
people in these countries consider abortion immoral, but also think it
should be less prohibited. Ethicist Roy W. Perrett, following Ratanakul,
argues that this field research data does not so much indicate
hypocrisy, but rather points at a “middle way” in applying Buddhist
doctrine to solve a moral dilemma. Buddhists tend to take “both sides”
on the pro-life–pro-choice debate, being against the taking of life of a
fetus in principle, but also believing in compassion toward mothers.
Similar attitudes may explain the Japanese mizuko kuyō ceremony, a
Buddhist memorial service for aborted children, which has led to a
debate in Japanese society concerning abortion, and finally brought the
Japanese to a consensus that abortion should not be taken lightly,
though it should be legalized. This position, held by Japanese
Buddhists, takes the middle ground between the Japanese neo-Shinto
“pro-life” position, and the liberationist, “pro-choice” arguments.[129]
Keown points out, however, that this compromise does not mean a
Buddhist middle way between two extremes, but rather incorporates two
opposite perspectives.[110] In Thailand, women who wish to have abortion
usually do so in the early stages of pregnancy, because they believe
the karmic consequences are less then. Having had abortion, Thai women
usually make merits to compensate for the negative karma.[130]

Second precept Edit

Textual analysis Edit
One hand giving money to another hand, held behind a back.
Studies discovered that people who did not adhere to the five precepts
more often tended to pay bribes.
The second precept prohibits theft, and involves the intention to steal
what one perceives as not belonging to oneself (”what is not given”) and
acting successfully upon that intention. The severity of the act of
theft is judged by the worth of the owner and the worth of that which is
stolen. Underhand dealings, fraud, cheating and forgery are also
included in this precept.[74][131] Accompanying virtues are generosity,
renunciation,[12][25] and right livelihood,[132] and a positive behavior
is the protection of other people’s property.[13]

In practice Edit
The second precept includes different ways of stealing and fraud.
Borrowing without permission is sometimes included,[62][80] as well as
gambling.[80][133] Psychologist Vanchai Ariyabuddhiphongs did studies in
the 2000s and 2010s in Thailand and discovered that people who did not
adhere to the five precepts more often tended to believe that money was
the most important goal in life, and would more often pay bribes than
people who did adhere to the precepts.[134][135] On the other hand,
people who observed the five precepts regarded themselves as wealthier
and happier than people who did not observe the precepts.[136]

Professions that are seen to violate the second precept include working
in the gambling industry or marketing products that are not actually
required for the customer.[137]

Third precept Edit

Textual analysis Edit
The third precept condemns sexual misconduct. This has been interpreted
in classical texts to include adultery with a married or engaged person,
fornication, rape, incest, sex with a minor (or a person “protected by
any relative”), and sex with a prostitute.[138] In later texts, details
such as intercourse at an inappropriate time or inappropriate place are
also counted as breaches of the third precept.[139] Masturbation goes
against the spirit of the precept, though in the early texts it is not
prohibited for laypeople.[140][141]

The third precept is explained as leading to greed in oneself and harm
to others. The transgression is regarded as more severe if the other
person is a good person.[140][141] Virtues that go hand-in-hand with the
third precept are contentment, especially with one’s partner,[25][101]
and recognition and respect for faithfulness in a marriage.[13]

In practice Edit
The third precept is interpreted as avoiding harm to another by using
sensuality in the wrong way. This means not engaging with inappropriate
partners, but also respecting one’s personal commitment to a
relationship.[62] In some traditions, the precept also condemns adultery
with a person whose spouse agrees with the act, since the nature of the
act itself is condemned. Furthermore, flirting with a married person
may also be regarded as a violation.[80][138] Though prostitution is
discouraged in the third precept, it is usually not actively prohibited
by Buddhist teachers.[142] With regard to applications of the principles
of the third precept, the precept, or any Buddhist principle for that
matter, is usually not connected with a stance against
contraception.[143][144] In traditional Buddhist societies such as Sri
Lanka, pre-marital sex is considered to violate the precept, though this
is not always adhered to by people who already intend to

In the interpretation of modern teachers, the precept includes any
person in a sexual relationship with another person, as they define the
precept by terms such as sexual responsibility and long-term
commitment.[138] Some modern teachers include masturbation as a
violation of the precept,[146] others include certain professions, such
as those that involve sexual exploitation, prostitution or pornography,
and professions that promote unhealthy sexual behavior, such as in the
entertainment industry.[137]
Fourth precept Edit

Textual analysis Edit
Woman working behind computer.
Work that involves online scams can also be included as a violation of
the fourth precept.
The fourth precept involves falsehood spoken or committed to by
action.[140] Avoiding other forms of wrong speech are also considered
part of this precept, consisting of malicious speech, harsh speech and
gossip.[147][148] A breach of the precept is considered more serious if
the falsehood is motivated by an ulterior motive[140] (rather than, for
example, “a small white lie”).[149] The accompanying virtue is being
honest and dependable,[25][101] and involves honesty in work,
truthfulness to others, loyalty to superiors and gratitude to
benefactors.[132] In Buddhist texts, this precept is considered second
in importance to the first precept, because a lying person is regarded
to have no shame, and therefore capable of many wrongs.[146]
Untruthfulness is not only to be avoided because it harms others, but
also because it goes against the Buddhist ideal of finding the

In practice Edit
The fourth precept includes avoidance of lying and harmful speech.[151]
Some modern teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh interpret this to include
avoiding spreading false news and uncertain information.[146] Work that
involves data manipulation, false advertising or online scams can also
be regarded as violations.[137] Terwiel reports that among Thai
Buddhists, the fourth precept is also seen to be broken when people
insinuate, exaggerate or speak abusively or deceitfully.[80]

Fifth precept Edit

Textual analysis Edit
Glass of red wine
The fifth precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs or other
The fifth precept prohibits intoxication through alcohol, drugs or other
means, and its virtues are mindfulness and responsibility,[12][13]
applied to food, work, behavior, and with regard to the nature of
life.[132] Awareness, meditation and heedfulness can also be included
here.[125] Medieval Pāli commentator Buddhaghosa writes that whereas
violating the first four precepts may be more or less blamable depending
on the person or animal affected, the fifth precept is always “greatly
blamable”, as it hinders one from understanding the Buddha’s teaching
and may lead one to “madness”.[18] In ancient China, Daoshi described
alcohol as the “doorway to laxity and idleness” and as a cause of
suffering. Nevertheless, he did describe certain cases when drinking was
considered less of a problem, such as in the case of a queen
distracting the king by alcohol to prevent him from murder. However,
Daoshi was generally strict in his interpretations: for example, he
allowed medicinal use of alcohol only in extreme cases.[152] Early
Chinese translations of the Tripitaka describe negative consequences for
people breaking the fifth precept, for themselves and their families.
The Chinese translation of the Upāsikaśila Sūtra, as well as the Pāli
version of the Sigālovāda Sutta, speak of ill consequences such as loss
of wealth, ill health, a bad reputation and “stupidity”, concluding in a
rebirth in hell.[18][153] The Dīrghāgama adds to that that alcohol
leads to quarreling, negative states of mind and damage to one’s
intelligence. The Mahāyāna Brahmajāla Sūtra[note 6] describes the
dangers of alcohol in very strong terms, including the selling of
alcohol.[154] Similar arguments against alcohol can be found in
Nāgārjuna’s writings.[155] The strict interpretation of prohibition of
alcohol consumption can be supported by the Upāli Sūtra’s statement that
a disciple of the Buddha should not drink any alcohol, “even a drop on
the point of a blade of grass”. However, in the writing of some
Abhidharma commentators, consumption was condemned or condoned,
depending on the intention with which alcohol was consumed.[156]

In practice Edit
The fifth precept is regarded as important, because drinking alcohol is
condemned for the sluggishness and lack of self-control it leads
to,[72][157] which might lead to breaking the other precepts.[18] In
Spiro’s field studies, violating the fifth precept was seen as the worst
of all the five precepts by half of the monks interviewed, citing the
harmful consequences.[18] Nevertheless, in practice it is often
disregarded by lay people.[158] In Thailand, drinking alcohol is fairly
common, even drunkenness.[159] Among Tibetans, drinking beer is common,
though this is only slightly alcoholic.[155] Medicinal use of alcohol is
generally not frowned upon,[145] and in some countries like Thailand
and Laos, smoking is usually not regarded as a violation of the precept.
Thai and Laotian monks have been known to smoke, though monks who have
received more training are less likely to smoke.[43][160] On a similar
note, as of 2000, no Buddhist country prohibited the sale or consumption
of alcohol, though in Sri Lanka Buddhist revivalists unsuccessfully
attempted to get a full prohibition passed in 1956.[43] Moreover,
pre-Communist Tibet used to prohibit smoking in some areas of the
capital. Monks were prohibited from smoking, and the import of tobacco
was banned.[43]

Thich Nhat Hanh also includes mindful consumption in this precept, which
consists of unhealthy food, unhealthy entertainment and unhealthy
conversations, among others.[137][161]

Present trends Edit

Woman giving a workshop in a classroom
Some scholars have proposed that the five precepts be introduced as a
component in mindfulness training programs.
In modern times, adherence to the precepts among Buddhists is less
strict than it traditionally was. This is especially true for the third
precept. For example, in Cambodia in the 1990s and 2000s, standards with
regard to sexual restraint were greatly relaxed.[162] Some Buddhist
movements and communities have tried to go against the modern trend of
less strict adherence to the precepts. In Cambodia, a millenarian
movement led by Chan Yipon promoted the revival of the five
precepts.[162] And in the 2010s, the Supreme Sangha Council in Thailand
ran a nationwide program called “The Villages Practicing the Five
Precepts”, aiming to encourage keeping the precepts, with an extensive
classification and reward system.[163][164]

In many Western Buddhist organizations, the five precepts play a major
role in developing ethical guidelines.[165] Furthermore, Buddhist
teachers such as Philip Kapleau, Thich Nhat Hanh and Robert Aitken have
promoted mindful consumption in the West, based on the five
precepts.[161] In another development in the West, some scholars working
in the field of mindfulness training have proposed that the five
precepts be introduced as a component in such trainings. Specifically,
to prevent organizations from using mindfulness training to further an
economical agenda with harmful results to its employees, the economy or
the environment, the precepts could be used as a standardized ethical
framework. As of 2015, several training programs made explicit use of
the five precepts as secular, ethical guidelines. However, many
mindfulness training specialists consider it problematic to teach the
five precepts as part of training programs in secular contexts because
of their religious origins and import.[166]

Peace studies scholar Theresa Der-lan Yeh notes that the five precepts
address physical, economical, familial and verbal aspects of
interaction, and remarks that many conflict prevention programs in
schools and communities have integrated the five precepts in their
curriculum. On a similar note, peace studies founder Johan Galtung
describes the five precepts as the “basic contribution of Buddhism in
the creation of peace”.[167]

Theory of ethics

Theory of ethics Edit

Man of age 82
Peace studies founder Johan Galtung describes the five precepts as the
“basic contribution of Buddhism in the creation of peace”.[167]
Studying lay and monastic ethical practice in traditional Buddhist
societies, Spiro argued ethical guidelines such as the five precepts are
adhered to as a means to a higher end, that is, a better rebirth or
enlightenment. He therefore concluded that Buddhist ethical principles
like the five precepts are similar to Western utilitarianism.[63] Keown,
however, has argued that the five precepts are regarded as rules that
cannot be violated, and therefore may indicate a deontological
perspective in Buddhist ethics.[168][169] On the other hand, Keown has
also suggested that Aristotle’s virtue ethics could apply to Buddhist
ethics, since the precepts are considered good in themselves, and
mutually dependent on other aspects of the Buddhist path of
practice.[63][170] Philosopher Christopher Gowans disagrees that
Buddhist ethics are deontological, arguing that virtue and consequences
are also important in Buddhist ethics. Gowans argues that there is no
moral theory in Buddhist ethics that covers all conceivable situations
such as when two precepts may be in conflict, but is rather
characterized by “a commitment to and nontheoretical grasp of the basic
Buddhist moral values”.[171] As of 2017, many scholars of Buddhism no
longer think it is useful to try to fit Buddhist ethics into a Western
philosophical category.[172]

Comparison with human rights Edit
Keown has argued that the five precepts are very similar to human
rights, with regard to subject matter and with regard to their universal
nature.[173] Other scholars, as well as Buddhist writers and human
rights advocates, have drawn similar comparisons.[54][174] For example,
the following comparisons are drawn:

Keown compares the first precept with the right to life.[53] The
Buddhism-informed Cambodian Institute for Human Rights (CIHR) draws the
same comparison.[175]
The second precept is compared by Keown and the CIHR with the right of
The third precept is compared by Keown to the “right to fidelity in
marriage”;[53] the CIHR construes this broadly as “right of individuals
and the rights of society”.[176]
The fourth precept is compared by Keown with the “right not to be lied
to”;[53] the CIHR writes “the right of human dignity”.[176]
Finally, the fifth precept is compared by the CIHR with the right of
individual security and a safe society.[176]
Keown describes the relationship between Buddhist precepts and human
rights as “look[ing] both ways along the juridical relationship, both to
what one is due to do, and to what is due to one”.[176][177] On a
similar note, Cambodian human rights advocates have argued that for
human rights to be fully implemented in society, the strengthening of
individual morality must also be addressed.[176] Buddhist monk and
scholar Phra Payutto sees the Human Rights Declaration as an unfolding
and detailing of the principles that are found in the five precepts, in
which a sense of ownership is given to the individual, to make
legitimate claims on one’s rights. He believes that human rights should
be seen as a part of human development, in which one develops from moral
discipline (Pali: sīla), to concentration (Pali: samādhi) and finally
wisdom (Pali: paññā). He does not believe, however, that human rights
are natural rights, but rather human conventions. Buddhism scholar
Somparn Promta disagrees with him. He argues that human beings do have
natural rights from a Buddhist perspective, and refers to the
attūpanāyika-dhamma, a teaching in which the Buddha prescribes a kind of
golden rule of comparing oneself with others. (See §Principles, above.)
From this discourse, Promta concludes that the Buddha has laid down the
five precepts in order to protect individual rights such as right of
life and property: human rights are implicit within the five precepts.
Academic Buntham Phunsap argues, however, that though human rights are
useful in culturally pluralistic societies, they are in fact not
required when society is entirely based on the five precepts. Phunsap
therefore does not see human rights as part of Buddhist doctrine.[178]

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