The order of the five precepts

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
jackson
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The order of the five precepts

Postby jackson » Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:26 pm

I was thinking about the five precepts earlier today, and I'm wondering if they might be ordered the way they are due to the severity of breaking them, in a very general sense. Obviously there are situations where speaking a falsehood would be worse than taking what is not given, so my theory is far from perfect. Anyway, does anyone know the reason why they are ordered the way they are? Or is the order totally irrelevant?
Metta, :smile:
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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby bodom » Wed Feb 24, 2010 9:26 pm

jackson_last wrote:I was thinking about the five precepts earlier today, and I'm wondering if they might be ordered the way they are due to the severity of breaking them, in a very general sense. Obviously there are situations where speaking a falsehood would be worse than taking what is not given, so my theory is far from perfect. Anyway, does anyone know the reason why they are ordered the way they are? Or is the order totally irrelevant?
Metta, :smile:
Jackson


I dont think so. In reality the last precept on intoxication if broken could cause one to break all the precepts in one night! Theres a story about this somewhere where a monk is given the option of breaking one precept so he chooses to drink thinking its the least harmful and he ends up breaking all the precepts.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah

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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:11 pm

Greetings Jackson,

Very interesting question. Often the sequence in the Buddha's lists are important, and often they actually start with the least important and save the best until last. In the case of the precepts though, I'm not too sure. It's also worth considering that the precepts exist in 5, 8, 10, 227 etc. formations and that would certain make the "increasingly important" schema I mentioned very unlikely.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:46 pm

All five are important and should be followed, but in the MN only the first four are listed as always unskillful:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ssage.html

I suppose the exception for the fifth precept might be for medicinal uses.

Also, Bhante Dhammanando pointed out in another thread that it is in the Commentaries where the fifth precept is emphasized for lay people. In the suttas, it is only those who are noble ones (sotapanna or higher) who refrain from alcohol and intoxicants. Of course, noble or not, we should refrain from intoxicants, but this might also give some indication of an order in the precepts, since it is listed last.

It is also might be interesting to look at the other precepts / commandments in other religions:

Islam: Profession of faith (first pillar of Islam)
Judaism / Christianity: Acceptance of the one god, Jehovah (first of the 10 Commandments)

Note the emphasis on faith, which the monotheist religions focus on.

In Buddhism, the first precept is not to kill or cause to kill sentient beings. There is a recurring theme through many suttas about the importance of not killing and how the only killing the Buddha allows is the killing of anger.

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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby Fede » Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:29 pm

Remember also that the four precepts (from 2 - 5) follow on from the first: they're all ways of harming sentient beings, be they others - or ourselves.
Therefore, I'm of a mind (though of course, I may well be wrong) that the first precept is absolutely vital - and the others follow on as clarification, elaboration and example of the primary ways we can do harm.....

Do No Harm:
Do no harm by stealing
Do no harm through sexual misconduct or inappropriate sexual conduct
Do no harm through false, divisive speech or idle chatter
Do no harm through ingestion, inhalation or imbibing substances which can alter the Mind's way of thinking and perceiving....

Just an impression I picked up......

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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby jackson » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:45 am

I had an interesting thought about the first precept. I'm not sure if the Buddha said what was the worst thing one could do, but I imagine killing a Buddha, if even possible, would be the gravest offence. Or perhaps killing an Arahant or your parents, I'm not sure which is worse, but both of those are very serious offences as well, so perhaps that is also why the precept not to kill is first.
Metta, :smile:
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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby baratgab » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:11 am

jackson_last wrote:I was thinking about the five precepts earlier today, and I'm wondering if they might be ordered the way they are due to the severity of breaking them, in a very general sense. Obviously there are situations where speaking a falsehood would be worse than taking what is not given, so my theory is far from perfect. Anyway, does anyone know the reason why they are ordered the way they are? Or is the order totally irrelevant?


Well, what would you prefer to do if you are destined to commit an offence? Killing/beating your partner, stealing from your partner, cheating your partner, lying or being rude to your partner, or taking some alcohol that possibly lead to one of these? Also, how would you feel about these things if they were directed towards you?

I think there is a clear sequence in priority; killing being the gravest form of ignorance and selfishness, because with it we directly place ourselves and our usually petty interests above other sentient beings and their most important interest: their whole life. For me, it's hard to imagine to kill or to encourage killing without enormous amount of underlying ego and ignorance.

The only thing that puzzles me is the fact that stealing is the second in the list, because I consider sexual misconduct as a more serious offence. I can think of three speculative reasons for this: 1) Stealing is a universal offence, while sexual misconduct (apart from rape which is also a physical abuse) can only affect a small set of people; 2) in Buddha's time what we now consider poverty was possibly general, and stealing might easily cause serious harm to one's well-being, while nowadays our basic necessities for life are very rarely jeopardized by robbery; 3) at that time people was less serious about sexuality.

As for intoxication, it can contribute to all kinds of offences in extreme cases, but in itself it doesn't constitute any harm to others. I think this is the reason why it is the last.

Of course these are just my own reflections. :smile: There are probably much better examinations and explanations from authentic teachers. But, for example, I heard Ajahn Brahm several times mentioning an order of priority in the precepts, so I don't think that my view is unique.
Last edited by baratgab on Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:23 am

Hi Jackson and all

This is worthy of contemplation:

Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, 'I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.
-- MN 61: Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
'


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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:36 am

Furthermore

Instead of speculating whether one precept is more heinous than another, I think its its more important to just observe all of them.
All of the precepts are similar to planks in a barrel. If one is absent or broken then one can't develop sammasamadhi and panna.
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Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby appicchato » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:43 am

Ben wrote:I think it is more important to just observe all of them.

:thumbsup:
My fingers are typing this but my mind says move on...once again I'm struck how we (the Occidental, for the most part) have to analyze, dissect, theorize, categorize, and...and...everything...

Just a reflection, and is not directed towards, nor critical, of anyone...I've spent half my life (thirty two years) in Asia, and I think some of the Oriental is finally getting to me...

Keep it simple folks...what significance does the order of the Five Precepts contain?...

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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby jackson » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:06 pm

appicchato wrote:
Ben wrote:I think it is more important to just observe all of them.

:thumbsup:
My fingers are typing this but my mind says move on...once again I'm struck how we (the Occidental, for the most part) have to analyze, dissect, theorize, categorize, and...and...everything...

Just a reflection, and is not directed towards, nor critical, of anyone...I've spent half my life (thirty two years) in Asia, and I think some of the Oriental is finally getting to me...

Keep it simple folks...what significance does the order of the Five Precepts contain?...


Very good point Venerable (I hope I'm addressing you properly, if not please forgive me), I must admit that the question was deceptively intriguining to me, but now that you mention it, it really doesn't have any significance, does it? Yet another thought I should have let go of... :anjali:
Metta, :smile:
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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Feb 26, 2010 2:58 am

The actual order may have some basis in other ethical systems which slightly preceded the Buddha, eg. those found in the Manusmrti or Dharmasastra. Obviously, the actual content is slightly different, but the order of the first couple is the same. The Buddha may have used that as a basis, adjusting the latter ones as he felt appropriate, and adding the last one (which is not often found in the other systems).
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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:13 am

Greetings bhante,

appicchato wrote:Keep it simple folks...what significance does the order of the Five Precepts contain?...[/i]

I agree that in this instance it's probably not a particularly big deal, but the Buddha himself did differentiate between weighty kamma and not-so-weighty kamma, allowing us to see that certain indiscretions are more dangerous and are therefore even more important to avoid, over-and-above those unwholesome actions of lesser significance. For example, it would be less bad for me to kill a fly than it would be to kill my parents.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The order of the five precepts

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:43 am

retrofuturist wrote: For example, it would be less bad for me to kill a fly than it would be to kill my parents.


:thumbsup:

Or for example, killing an arahant vs. an ordinary person. Or for example, stealing vs. creating a schism, etc.

In modern jurisprudence, killing is clearly the most heinous, with the most severe penalties; with lesser penalties for stealing, sexual misconduct, and perhaps the least penalties for intoxication, sort of similar to the precept order.


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