1Abstain from taking life
In the five precepts, “taking life” means to murder or kill any living being. Taking life is the action of killing anything that one perceives as having life, to act so as to terminate the life-force in it, in so far as the will finds expression in bodily action or in speech. Animals and humans are both considered in this precept. With humans, killing is more blameworthy the more virtuous they are. Apart from that, the extent of the offense is proportionate to the intensity of the wish to kill. Five factors are involved: a living being, the perception of a living being, thought of murder, action of carrying it out, death as a result, and the way the offense may be carried out.
2Abstain from taking what is not given
“To take what is not given” means the appropriation of what is not given. This refers to removing or stealing someone else’s property, theft. “What is not given” means that which belongs to someone else. Blameworthiness depends partly on the value of the property stolen, partly on the worth of its owner. Five factors are involved: someone else’s belongings, awareness they are someone else’s, thought of theft, action of carrying it out, taking away as a result of it.
3Abstain from sensuous misconduct
“Sensuous misconduct” – here “sensuous” means “sexual”, and “misconduct” is extremely blameworthy bad behavior. “Sensuous misconduct” is the will to transgress against those whom one should not go into, and the carrying out of this intention by unlawful physical action. By “those one should not go into”, this directive primarily targets men. Then various kinds of women are specified, including concubines, slaves, kept women and others. The offense is the more serious, the more moral and virtuous the person transgressed against. It involves four factors: someone who should not be gone into, thought of cohabiting with the person, actions which lead to cohabitation, and actual performance.
4Abstain from false speech
“False speech” is the will to deceive others by words or deeds. One can also explain: “False” means something which is not real, not true. “Speech” is the intimation that it is real or true. “False speech” is then the volition which leads to the deliberate intimation to someone else that something is so when it is not so. The seriousness of the offense depends on the circumstances. If a householder, unwilling to give something, says that he has not got it, that is a small offense; but to represent something one has seen with one’s own eyes as other than one has seen it, is a serious offense. Four factors are involved: something which is not so, thought of deception, effort to carry it out, communication of the falsehood to someone else.
5Abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind
The last of the five precepts is to refrain from taking intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause heedlessness. This means drugs and alcohol. This precept is a traditional way of detoxifying our bodies and minds. It can be challenging at events where alcohol is considered a means of socialization and relaxation. However, with commitment, these situations often prove to be less awkward than we had feared. The benefits of keeping the vow turn out to be even more fruitful than we had hoped.