A series of articles published as Preparing for Ordination, a booklet prepared by Venerable Thubten Chodron and available for free distribution.
The ten precepts
The sramanera/sramanerika (novice) vow consist of ten precepts, which can be listed in a more expanded way as thirty-six precepts. The ten are to abandon:
Killing (To break from the root, one must kill a human being with intention);
Taking what is not given (stealing) (To break from the root, one must steal something that could bring about legal intervention in one’s society);
Sexual intercourse (To break from the root, one must have intention and experience orgasm. This refers to heterosexual or homosexual contact.);
Lying (To break from the root, one must lie about one’s spiritual attainments);
Taking intoxicants (This includes alcohol and recreational drugs);
Singing, dancing, playing music;
Wearing perfume, ornaments or cosmetics to beautify the body;
Sitting on a high or expensive bed or throne;
Eating after midday;
Touching gold, silver or precious objects (including money).
Precepts 1-4 are root precepts and deal with actions that are by nature negative. Precepts 6-10 are branch precepts and deal with actions that are to be avoided because of a precept established by the Buddha.
The 36 precepts
One should avoid:
Taking a human life;
Killing an animal or insect;
For selfish reasons, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, using water that contains insects without straining it; digging a hole in the earth without considering the creatures that might die as a result; cutting grass; overburdening an animal, which causes its death;
While doing something for others, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, splashing water which has insects on a dry place;
Stealing, taking what has not been given. This includes borrowing things and not returning them, not paying fees and taxes one is required to;
Lying in which one claims to have spiritual realizations or powers that one does not have;
Accusing a pure bhikshu or bhikshuni of transgressing one of the four root precepts (parajika) when he or she has not;
Insinuating that a pure bhikshu or bhikshuni has transgressed one of the four root precepts when he or she has not;
Causing disunity among the sangha community through untrue slander or taking sides in a disagreement;
Supporting someone who is creating disunity in the sangha community, taking sides in the dispute;
Doing actions which obliterate lay people’s faith in the sangha; for example complaining untruthfully to lay people that action brought by the sangha against oneself was unfair;
Telling others lies;
Criticizing the storekeeper in the monastery of giving more to those who are near to him or her instead of sharing them with all, when this is not the case;
Criticizing directly or by insinuation that the storekeeper in the monastery of not giving oneself a share of the food or other things equal to that given to other monastics, when this is not the case;
Claiming that a monastic gave a teaching in return for a little food, which is not the case;
Criticizing a bhikshu or bhikshuni by saying that he or she transgressed a precept in the second group (sanghavasesa) when this is not the case;
Abandoning the training, for example, rejecting the good advice of a nun or monk; criticizing the Pratimoksha Sutra;
Covering the vegetables with rice; covering the rice with vegetables;
Singing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons;
Dancing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons;
Playing music with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons;
Wearing the rosary like jewelry, wearing flower garlands;
Sitting on an expensive throne;
Sitting on an expensive bed;
Sitting on a high throne;
Sitting on a high bed;
Eating after midday (Exceptions: if one is ill, if one is traveling, or if one cannot meditate properly without food.);
Touching gold, silver or precious jewels (includes money);
Wearing lay people’s clothing and ornaments; letting one’s hair grow long;
Not wearing the robes of a Buddhist monastic;
Disrespecting or not following the guidance of one’s ordination master. (Precepts 34-36 are called the three degenerating actions.)
Five conditions conducive to keeping one’s precepts
External: cultivate a relationship with a spiritual mentor who keeps pure ethical discipline and who knows the Vinaya well, and rely on his/her teachings.
Internal: develop mindfulness and introspective alertness with a pure motivation.
Know the actions that one has to abstain from.
Attend the sojung ceremony to purify and restore the training precepts.
Rely on conducive circumstances (shelter, clothes, food, medicine, etc.).
The 10 precepts as explained by Thich Nhat Hanh
Do not kill living beings (any creatures that move and breathe). Have compassion and love all beings as a mother loves her children. Do not yourself kill or tell anyone else to kill. Do not eat meat from animals that have been killed. When you are overwhelmed by impatience, practice mindfulness and do not say: “It would be better if he were dead!” or wish silently that someone were dead. Consider all beings as your own marrow, your parents, your children or yourself. Embrace all of them in your heart with love, and wish all of them liberation from suffering.
Do not steal even a small amount of money or things of little value like hay, wool or grain. Do not take anything which the legitimate owner has not given you. Do not talk or think too much about buying things. Do not be carried away by beautiful forms, sounds, scents or tastes so that you feel you have to have them. Do not crave for clothes. Guard the six senses.
Keep your heart and your body pure. Do not talk or think about sexual behavior in a way which waters the seeds of sexual desire. When your mind is not attached it is as free as space and knows no obstacles. Be mindful of the six senses. Your body is made of the four great elements: earth, water, fire and air. Your body is not you and is always changing. It is better to keep your mind and your heart free from attachment.
Speak only after thinking. Do not spread news that you have not witnessed with your own eyes or heard with your own ears. Do not fabricate stories or help others to fabricate. Do not dispute about politics and the situation in the world. Devote yourself to studying the precepts and mindful manners. The most important thing to attain is liberation from suffering. Do not waste your energy in talking about less important things.
Monks and nuns are not allowed any kind of alcoholic drinks or intoxicants. Wine ruins virtue, the family, our health and our life. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol and drugs does not have the clarity of mind to meditate and practice mindfulness. If we continue to drink and take drugs, we shall be bound to the wheel of samsara.
Do not adorn yourself with garlands of flowers, perfumes, jewelry, luxurious or colorful clothes and attractive accessories. Clothes must be simple and dark in color. Be humble and walk with your head lowered. Instead of thinking about perfumes and garlands, practice transforming the unwholesome mental concomitants, and be eager to realize the truth through the teachings in order to bring happiness to beings.
Novices are not allowed to use high seats ornamented with gold, silver and precious fabrics. Do not desire such luxury, talk about it or make efforts to acquire it. Do not use elegant mats, painted fans, bracelets or rings. Liberation from suffering is much more important than these things. You should practice the path of understanding, be diligent in meditation, grow in stability, and learn to let go.
Do not let yourself be carried away by listening to music and watching dancing. Your body should be used for serving the Dharma and not sense pleasures. Use music to honor the Buddha and chant sutras. Let your joy be healthy and not cause you to be caught in the world. Reading the sutras and meditating on the deep meaning is a great pleasure. Do not use cars unnecessarily. Free yourself from attachment, and focus on complete freedom and the vehicle which will take you out of the fear of impermanence.
Do not accumulate or talk with craving about money or precious things. You have started on the path to perfect purity. The Dharma is your most precious treasure, and your daily task is to understand more deeply its meaning. Letting go will free you from ill-being. The practice of letting go is something you can do for the whole of your life. If you enjoy that practice, it will remove all the obstacles.
Do not eat too much. Do not eat or invite others to eat when the community is not eating. Do not eat just because the food looks good. Take the foods which keep you in good health. The joy of meditation is an important spiritual food.
German version: Die Sramanera / Sramanerika Gelübde