The Five Precepts in Buddhism – Panchasila

By Asoka Devendra
Courtesy : Vesak Lipi

The Five Precepts of Buddhism
It must be asserted that the Pancha Sila (Five Precepts) do not necessarily make a person a Buddhist, but to be a real Buddhist, one has to observe the five precepts. This poses the question, “who is a Buddhist?” The simplest answer is, a Buddhist is one who takes refuge in the “Triple Gem” (Tissrana), namely the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

There are many analogies personifying these Refuges, such as :

The Buddha – The perfect physician for all mental disorders
The Dhamma – The unfailing and universal panacea
The Sangha – The model nurse

The Triple Gem is also described as follows:

The Buddha – The acme of universal wisdom
The Dhamma – The perfect code of discipline
The Sangha – The exemplary model for a layman

The entire Dhamma rests on three foundations, Sila (purity of conduct) Samadhi (Tranquility) and Panna (Insightful wisdom). These are cyclically related and rises spirally upwards towards a perfect goal. SILA is at the base of the Dhamma edifice, and is constituted at its elementary level of five factors. These factors are also found in a modified form in the theistic religious, as well. But these factors derive their strength and cohesion in the Buddha Dhamma, by being associated with the Triple Gem, Hence the practise of the asserveration three times of the confidence in the Triple Gem by the Buddhists prior to accepting the precepts, ensures the power of the precepts.

Compassion and the five assertations
The essence of the Pancha Si/a is the firm commitment to the exercise of Boundless Compassion (Metta) to all beings from the lowliest to the highest. These take the form of the five assertions.

i. I assure all Beings that, their lives are safe in my presence.
ii. I assure all Beings that, their possessions will be safe in my presence.
iii. I assure all Beings that, their moral goodness will not be violated by me.
iv. I assure all Beings that, their confidence in me will not be betrayed.
v. I assure all Beings that, I will not abuse my own moral goodness.

These five factors are cohesive and bind together, to ensure a good wording (puttujjana), enabling him, inter alia,
(a) To Humanise his emotions and passions, helping him to rise above the animal level.
(b) To help him to constitute a stable and free society devoid of fear, falsehood, hostility, and so on.
(c) To develop on intense concern for the well being of others.
(d) To thin down his Ego concept, which often tends to isolate and individualize a person to seek his own personal ends.

Since the Pancha Sila forms an integral part of the Buddha Dhamma, there are many metaphors associated with them, such as the following. The Pancha Sila
” Is like a stream of pellucid water which can wash out any impurities; in this case mental stains
” Is like the pleasing aroma of sandal wood which overcomes all other odours, in this case, the stench of unwholesomeness
” Is like an ornament which adorns the wearer, in this case, reflecting the brightness of his metta.
” Is like the refulgent cool light of the full moon, in this case, cooling off the heat of Dukha.
” Is like a stairway ascending upwards, in this case, taking one up to the upper echelons of the Dhamma. Such are the qualities inherent in the five precepts.

It is at times regretful to hear many complacent Buddhists asserting that, they do not ostensibly violate the precepts and hence are entitled to be recognised as good Buddhists. This is in fact only a partial truth. The Pancha Sila is only nominally effective at the physical level. Its full effectiveness occurs only at the Mental level , where the intention is the sole condition for the creation of Kammas. Not squashing a mosquito is good, but the thoughts of metta directed at the mosquito gives much better samsaric benefits. This must surely give chastening thoughts to most of the perfunctory Buddhists of today.
There are three avenues for pouring out unwholesomeness in Beings.

The Mind (sitha), the Body (kaya) and the Word (vacana). In observing the Pancha Sila, only two of these avenues are partially protected. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th precepts, protects the body, while the 4th precept protects the word. These are mostly at the external level. But in the Buddha Dhamma the Mind is the fore runner (Mano pubbangma Dhamma). The mind can be safeguarded to a certain degree only by observing the higher precepts. But, the entire system of precepts become sure, stable and effective, only if they established by resorting to Insight Meditative (Vipassana Bhavana). Without this base, the set of precepts can at any given moment fail, this leading one even to woeful states. This is the message of the Dhamma, which is the Buddha’s path to purification.