Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 246-248:
yo pāṇaṃ atipāteti musāvādaṃ ca bhāsati |
loke adinnaṃ ādiyati paradāraṃ ca gacchati || 246 ||
surāmerayapānaṃ ca yo naro anuyuñjati |
idh’eva eso lokasmiṃ mūlaṃ khaṇati attano || 247 ||
evaṃ bho purisa jānāhi pāpadhammā asaññatā |
mā taṃ lobho adhammo ca ciraṃ dukkhāya randhayuṃ || 248 ||
246. In the world who life destroys, who words of falsity speaks, who takes what is not freely given or to another’s partner goes.
247. Or has distilled, fermented drinks: Who with abandon follows these extirpates the roots of self even here in this very world.
248. Therefore friend remember this; Hard to restrain are evil acts, don’t let greed and wickedness drag you down long in dukkha.
The Story of Five Hundred Lay Disciples
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke these Verses, with reference to five lay disciples.
For of these five hundred lay disciples, one kept only the precept of abstinence from the taking of life; another, another precept, and so on. One day, they fell into a dispute, each of them saying, “It is a hard thing I have to do; it is a hard precept I have to keep.” And going to the Buddha, they saluted him and referred the whole matter to him. The Buddha listened to what they had to say, and then, without naming a single precept as of lesser importance, said, “All of the precepts are hard to keep.” So saying, the Buddha pronounced these stanzas.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 246)
yo pāṇaṃ atipāteti musāvādaṃ ca bhāsati
loke adinnaṃ ādiyati, paradāraṃ ca gacchati
yo: if someone; pāṇaṃ atipāteti: takes life; musāvādaṃ ca bhāsati: utters lies; loke: in this world; adinnaṃ [adinna]: what was not given; ādiyati: takes; paradāraṃ ca gacchati: commits adultery
If in this world a person destroys life; speaks untruth; takes what is not given and commits adultery goes to another man’s wife.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 247)
yo naro surāmerayapānaṃ ca anuyuñjati eso
idha lokasmiṃ eva attano mūlaṃ khaṇati
yo naro: if someone; surāmerayapānaṃ ca: taking intoxicating drinks; anuyuñjati: indulges; eso: he; idha lokasmiṃ eva: here in this world itself; attano [attana]: one’s own; mūlaṃ [mūla]: root; khaṇati: digs up
A man who is given to taking intoxicating drinks, uproots himself in this world itself.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 248)
bho purisa pāpadhammā asaññatā evaṃ jānāhi lobho ca
adhammo ca taṃ ciraṃ dukkhāya mā randhayuṃ
bho purisa: oh you man!; pāpadhammā: evil action; asaññatā: is bereft of restraint; evaṃ: this way; jānāhi: (you must) know; lobho [lobha]: greed; adhammo ca: and evil ways; taṃ: (these two) you; ciraṃ [cira]: for a long period of time; dukkhāya: in suffering; mā randhayuṃ [randhayu]: do not allow to keep you
O’ you man, evil actions do not have restraint or discipline. This way, you must appreciate that greed and the evil action of anger should not be allowed to inflict suffering upon you for a long while.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 246-248)
These three stanzas dwell upon the five Precepts that laymen should observe initially. The following is an analysis of these five.
Among the items of right behaviour, the lowest are the pañcasīla, the five precepts for training, the ABC of Buddhist ethics. These are the basic principles for the lay follower. They are:
(1) I undertake the training precept to abstain from killing anything that breathes;
(2) I undertake the training precept to abstain from taking what is not given.
(3) I undertake the training precept to abstain from sexual misconduct.
(4) I undertake the training precept to abstain from speaking falsehood.
(5) I undertake the training precept to abstain from liquor that causes intoxication and heedlessness.
Sir Edwin Arnold, in The Light of Asia, states the five Precepts in these words:
Kill not–for pity’s sake–lest ye slay
The meanest thing upon its ward way.
Give freely and receive, but take from none
By greed, or force, or fraud, what is his own.
Bear not false witness, slander not nor lie;
Truth is the speech of inward purity.
Shun drugs and drinks, which work the wit abuse;
Clear minds, clean bodies, need no Soma juice.
Touch not thy neighbour’s wife, neither commit
Sins of the flesh unlawful and unfit.
These sīlas are to be kept and acted on in one’s daily life, they are not for mere recitation, for lip-service or for applying to others.
He who knoweth the Precepts by heart, but faileth to practice them,
Is like unto one who lighteth a lamp and then shutteth his eyes.
Buddhism does not demand of the lay follower all that a member of the Sangha is expected to observe. But whether monk or layman, moral habits are essential to the upward path. One who becomes a Buddhist by taking the three refuges is expected, at least, to observe the five basic precepts which is the very starting point on the path. They are not restricted to a particular day or place, but are to be practiced throughout life everywhere, always. There is also the possibility of their being violated by all save those who have attained at least the first stage of sanctity (sotāpatti). Nevertheless when a transgression occurs it is useless to repent for one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, for repentance will not do any good to or help oneself or others. It will only disturb one’s mind. Again, it may be observed that, according to Buddhism, wrongdoing is not regarded as a ‘sin’, for that word is foreign to the teaching of the Buddha. There is no such thing as ‘breaking the Buddha’s laws’, for he was not a law-giver or an arbitrator who punished the bad and rewarded the good deeds of beings, hence there is no repentance, sorrow or regret for ‘sin’. The doer of the deed is responsible for his actions; he suffers or enjoys the consequences, and it is his concern either to do good, or to be a transgressor. It must also be stated that all actions, good or ill, do not necessarily mature. One’s good kamma may suppress the evil kamma and vice versa.
As the formula clearly shows, there are no laws or commandments. Voluntarily you promise to observe the training precepts, and there is no compulsion or coercion; you yourself are responsible for your actions. If you violate what you have undertaken to keep, it is very necessary then to make a firm determination not to repeat, but to correct your weakness, and try hard not to lapse again. A careful thinker ought to realize that the sole purpose of keeping these precepts is to train oneself, to control one’s impulses, evil inclinations and wrong acts, and thus pave the path to purification and happiness, give security to society and promote cordiality. On close analysis we know that the observance of these precepts is the only way to lessen our lust (greed), hate and delusion, the root causes of all evil in society. For instance, the first precept cannot be transgressed without entertaining thoughts of hate and cruelty, in the case of the third it is specifically lust, the second and the fourth maybe due to both greed and hate, and the fifth to greed, while delusion is behind all the five precepts.
It is important to note that to take intoxicating liquor causes delusion. It prevents clear thinking, lessens one’s power of reasoning and brings about negligence, infatuation and a host of other evils. A drunkard is not responsible for his actions and may commit any crime. Hence, the violation of this one precept may lead a man to break all the others.
Says the Buddha:
Give up this base of all evil
Which leads to madness,
To abuse of mind.
Now one may argue that to drink in moderation is harmless, but there is a saying:
First a man takes a drink,
Then the drink takes a drink,
Then the drink takes the man.
And so it is always better to bear in mind the Buddha’s warning: “Be mindful, self-controlled and serene.” Let us shun drugs and drinks which blind one to both the truths of life and the path to deliverance.
Remember that the third and fifth precepts have an affinity, they support each other and both bring enjoyment (rasassāda). Sometimes in the Pāli canon the fifth precept is omitted thus including it in the third as in the case of the moral code mentioned in the eightfold path. Then there are the ten precepts, or items for training which are meant for the novices (sāmaneras). They are formed by adding five to those already mentioned.
Sīla: moral purity. The five bhikkhus referred to in these verses, were practicing a discipline leading to sīla–moral purity.
Meditation as a means of mental purification presupposes the possession of moral purity (sīla-visuddhi) which forms its essential foundation. The intrinsic value of morality in Buddhist teaching lies in the fact that it purges the mind of its inferior tendencies and leaves it clear for the production of the inward illumination of true knowledge. The mind, which in its ordinary, lowly condition is wayward and accustomed to submit to the demands of every worldly impulse and passion of the lower instincts, is with difficulty controlled when the higher incentive makes its appearance for the first time as a mere stranger of no authority. Since meditation is the means of transmuting the ordinary consciousness to the higher state, it is necessary that some previous training and discipline should be imposed upon the lower consciousness, regulating and restricting its usual activities until it is in complete submission to the direction of the higher mind. To this end the mind must first be well equipped with such higher moral qualities as faith, mindfulness, energy, and wisdom, and must establish them in such a position that they cannot be crushed by their adversaries. In all the schemes of Buddhist training therefore we find that training in morality (sīla) is an essential preliminary to further progress. Therefore the disciple should first have completely perfected this preliminary training in Sīla, for it is the beginning of the higher religious culture. In the words of the Saṃyutta Nikāya: What is the beginning of higher states? Sīla of perfect purity.
Sīla is of paramount importance in meditation because it is the antidote of remorse and mental waverings which are inimical to the concentration of the mind. To this effect it has been said: Ānanda, the benefit and advantage of moral virtues is the absence of remorse. Furthermore, we read in the Ākankeyya Sutta:
Monk, should a monk desire to attain the jhānas which are sublime, superhuman, the higher states of consciousness, conducive to a happy life, let him fulfil the moral virtues… should he desire tranquility… psychic powers… higher knowledge… complete cessation of the āsavas–let him fulfil the moral virtues.
Sīla, being thus a fundamental feature of Buddhism, implies all good qualities which are included in the category of its moral and ethical teachings. Strictly speaking it comprises first the consciousness built up by abstinence from immoral conduct, and secondly, the thought associated with the observance of the positive rules enacted for moral purity.
Its two salient characteristics are:
- samādhāna, the firm establishing of mind and thoughts together in harmony, and
- upadhārana, the supporting and holding together of all good qualities.
The two aspects of sīla, negative and positive, are very distinctly marked in every department of religious and ethical life. The negative aspect emphasises abstinence from sins (which are vāritta, prohibitions), and the positive aspect the necessity of accumulating good and fulfilling one’s duty (cāritta). Every formula laid down in connection with the precepts has these two aspects. For instance, (i) he refrains from killing, lays aside the cudgel and the sword; (ii) full of kindness and compassion he lives for the welfare and happiness of all living things.