The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Five, Eight and Ten Precepts contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Five, Eight and Ten Precepts

The Commentary mentions three kinds of morality, namely,

(i) the Five Precepts observed permanently (nicca sīla),
(ii) the Eight Precepts observed on uposatha days, (uposatha sīla), and
(iii) the Ten Precepts observed occasionally (niyama sīla).

It is clear that, according to this Commentary, the ten precepts are not observed permanently; they are observed occasionally.

Again, in the Sagāthāvagga Saṃyutta Pāli, Sakka Saṃyutta, we find the following account. Sakka, King of Devas, came down from Vejayanta Palace to go to the royal garden. When he was about to get onto his chariot, he paid homage to the eight directions. Then the Deve Mātali said: “To whom do you pay homage, Sir?”

Sakka said:

Ye gahaṭṭhā puññakarā,
sīlavanto upasakā,
dhammena dāraṃ posenti,
te namassāmi Mātali

Mātali, some people perform meritorious deeds; they are also endowed with morality; they take refuge in the Three Gems of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and they support their wives and children righteously. To them I pay homage.

The term ‘Sīlavanto’ in the Sakka’s reply is explained by the commentator thus: “Sīlavanto ti upāsakatte patiṭṭhāya pañcahi pi dasahi pi sīlehi samannāgatā.——Those, who are endowed with morality means those who take refuge in the Three Gems and become established in the Five Precepts and the Ten Precepts.” (According to this Commentary it is clear that the people to whom Sakka, King of Devas, pay homage are the people who, living with their families, observe the Five and Ten Precepts).

Also in the Saṃyutta Sub-Commentary, it is commented thus: niccasīlavasena pañcahi niyamavasena dasahi——the Five Precepts should be taken as Nicca-sīla, the Ten Precepts as Niyama-sīla.

Niyama Sīla

In the Magadha Dictionary, verse 444, the meaning ‘Niyama Sīla’ is briefly shown thus: “The morality which must be observed forever is Yāma Sīla. The morality which is not observed forever but only occasionally is called Niyama Sīla. The expression, ‘Yāma-sīla’ and ‘Niyama-sīla’, has its origin in Brahmanism. (Not harming, not speaking lies, not stealing, not indulging in ignoble sexual act, not accepting alms-food–these five are yāmasīla which must be observed forever;purifying, being easily content, practising austerity, reciting the Vedas, recollecting the Brahmā–these five are niyama-sīla which should be observed occasionally (Amarakosa Brāhmaṇa Vagga, v. 49.)

According to the Saṃyutta Pāli and its Commentary, it is clear that even the people who are supporting their families by right livelihood can observe the Ten Precepts. Hence the view: “People should observe the Ten Precepts only when they can abandon their gold and silver without clinging anymore, like Ghaṭikāra, the pot-maker” is not a right one; it is merely an overstatement.

Moreover, of the ten duties of a king, mentioned in the Mahāhaṃsa Jātaka of the Asīti Nipāta, the Commentary says that by the term ‘sīla’ is meant both the Five and the Ten Precepts. Therefore, it is evident that kings observe also the Ten Precepts as (one of) their duties. If it is maintained that “the Ten Precepts should be observed only when they can be observed forever”, then kings who have chief queens, lesser queens and maids of honour and a treasury filled with gold and silver would not be able to observe the Ten Precepts because of the Abrahmacariya and Jātarūpa sikkhāpadas. Had it been impossible for kings to observe, then the Commentator would not have included the Ten Precepts in his comment on sīla of the ten kingly duties. But the Commentator has definitely mentioned them in his comment. Therefore, the Ten Precepts are not ñicca-sīla; they are the morality to be observed whenever one is able to do so.

Moreover, the Khuddakapāṭha Commentary explains how the Eight Precepts are derived from the ten sikkhāpadas: “Of the ten precepts [see notes below], the first two, Pāṇātipātā sikkhāpada and Adinnādāna sikkhāpada, are to be observed by the laity or sāmaṇeras as nicca sīla. (The third precept, Abrahmacariya sikkhāpada, is not mentioned as nicca sīla for the laity. It is the precept to be observed only when one is able to do so.) Again, out of the ten precepts, the seventh one, namely, Naccagīta sikkhāpada and the eighth one, namely, Mālāgandha sikkhāpada merge as one factor, the last sikkhāpada of Jātarūpa is excluded.

In accordance with this Commentary also, those out of the ten precepts which the laity should observe permanently are four, namely, refraining from killing, stealing, lies and taking intoxicants. The laity cannot always observe Abrahmacariya sikkhāpada. They are also unable to observe permanently the precepts of Vikālabhojana, Niccagīta, etc. Thus it is clear that all these ten precepts are niyama type of sīla to be observed only when able.

Although it is mentioned in the Khuddakapāṭha Commentary that Jātarūpa sikkhāpada is a special precept for sāmaṇeras, breaking it will not entail falling from novicehood. Because in the Mahākhandhaka of the Vinaya Mahāvagga Pāli, although the Exalted One laid down the ten liṅgas (factors) which will make the novices fall from their novicehood, only the first five from the Ten Precepts are included in the ten liṅgas. The last five are not include. Therefore, in spite of breaking one of these last five factors, the novices will not fall from their novicehood; they are only guilty of breach of the rules which entail due punishment. If they take the punishment imposed by their teachers in the form of carrying sand, water, etc., they will become again good novices, duly absolved from guilt.

Thus, even sāmaṇeras for whom the Ten Precepts are mandatory will not fall from their novicehood in spite of the Jātarūpa sikkhāpada. It is clear, therefore, that of the ten precepts, the last five are not so important as the first five for semen eras. Thus, it is not proper to say and write very seriously exhorting strict observance of the Jātarūpa sikkhāpada for the laity when it is not regarded as very important even for sāmaṇeras.

It is accepted that both the Visuddhi-magga and the Khuddakapatha Commentary are written by the Venerable Mahā Buddhaghosa. As the two books are written by one and the same author, the exposition should not be different. The passage from the Visuddhi-magga: “upasakanamnicsīlavasena pañca sikkhāpadāni sati vā ussāhe dasa——The Ten Precepts is not nicca-sīla for the laity; they are niyama-sīla to be observed only when able” should thus be noted to be in line with the Khuddakapātha and Itivuttaka Commentaries.

With respect to breach of precepts, the Khuddakapātha Commentary, after dealing with matters concerning novices, states: “Whereas, in the case of the laity, after taking the vow of the Five Precepts, if one of them is broken, only that one is broken; and if that one be observed by taking a new vow, the five precepts are complete again.” But some teachers (apare) maintain thus: “If the five precepts be taken separately, i.e. one after another, breach of one will not cause the breach of the rest.” However, if they say, at the beginning of taking precepts, “Pañcaṅga samannāgatam sīlam samādiyāmi——I vow to observe the complete Five Precepts”, then, if one of them is broken, all are broken; because the vow was initially taken to keep the precepts together. As to the result of breach of precepts, each breach will have its own consequences, not affecting others.

But some teachers rationalize this view by saying that after vowing to observe the complete Five Precepts, if one of them is broken, all are not broken; others remain unaffected. If we thus accept this rationalization, there will be no difference at all in their views.

In this connection, the Sikkhapada Vibhaṅga of the Sammohavinodani states:

Gahattha yam yam vitikkamanti, tam tadeva khandam hoti bhijjati, avasesam na bhijjati, kasmā gahattha hi anibaddhasilā honti, yam yam sakkonti, tam tadeva gopenti.

After taking the precepts, if the lay men break one of them, only that one is broken; the rest are not. Because for the laity there is no mandatory permanent precepts to observe like novices. Of the five precepts, they may observe whichever they can; one, two or three, but not necessarily all the five. We should not say that because they observe only partially and not the complete Five Precepts it does not amount to observance of the precepts and that they will not get any merit for it.”

It should be noted thus that even though the laity cannot observe all five precepts but only as many as possible, they will get merit and that their sīla is genuine. In this connection, the Patisambhidāmagga Commentary comments on Pariyanta Pārisuddhi-sīla

(this morality is described fully under morality in groups of fives). There are two kinds of limit regarding sīla, namely, the limit to the number of precepts observed and the limit to the duration of observance. The laity may observe one precept, or two, three, four, five, eight or ten precepts. But the trainees (sikkhamāna sāmaṇera and sāmaṇerī) have to observe the Ten Precepts in full. This is the limit to the number of precepts observed.

The essential meaning here is: If the laity take precepts numbering one, two, three, four, five, eight or ten and observed them properly, his morality will become Sikkhāpada Pariyanta Pārisuddhi-sīla, a pure one with the limit in number.

Therefore, although in practice one does not vow to take one, two, three or four, but all five precepts, it is not mandatory to observe all of them. If they can observe only one precept, they should observe that one. If they can observe two, they should observe those two; and so on.

It may be questioned when the laity have the right to observe any number of precepts they wish, why the Five Precepts alone are prescribed in the Visuddhi-magga thus:

Upāsakopāsikānam niccasīlavasena pañnca sikkhāpadāni?

The answer is that the Commentary is here concerned mainly with the principle of morality, which requires that all the five precepts must be observed permanently, “niccasīlavasena panca sikkhāpadāni”. We have no right to leave out any precept we wish. It will be a guilt to break any one of the five precepts. It is not only in the Visuddhi-magga but also in other texts that the Five Precepts is shown as Nicca-sīla in the light of the principle of morality.

The Ten Precepts (Dasa Sikkhāpada):

(1) Pānātipāta,
(2) Adinnādāna,
(3) Abrahmacariya,
(4) Musavāda
(5) Surāmeraya,
(6) Vikālabhojana,
(7) Nacca gita vādita visuka-dassana,
(8) Mālāgandha vilepana dhārana mandana vibbūsanatthāna,
(9) Ucccāsayana Mahāsayana, and
(10) Jātarūpa rajata patiggahana.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: