All People Must Strictly Uphold The Five Precepts 一切人须严持五戒

All People Must Strictly Uphold [The] Five Precepts


[Of the] Five Precepts, regardless [of having] received or not [having] received [them], all should strictly uphold [them]. With [the] preceding Four [Heavy Precepts] [四重戒], of [abstaining from] killing, stealing, sexual misconduct [and] false [speech, they are] named as Natural Precepts [that accord naturally with our Buddha-nature]. Even of people [who have] not heard [of these] precepts’ names, [their] breaking of [them] also have transgressions [naturally]. However, [when] those [who have] received [the] precepts break them, [this] thus becomes double [in] heaviness [i.e. weightiness], upon [each] original transgression, [in] addition, also adding once [more, with] breaking [of the] precept’s transgression. Thus saying, all people must all strictly uphold [them].

[Note 1: As the saying goes, ‘Knowing the law, yet breaking the law, offensiveness increases by a degree.’ (知法犯法,罪加一等) While the possibility of double-faulting might seem to make receiving of the Four Heavy Precepts disadvantageous, it is not so. Knowing this has an advantageous double deterrent effect instead. As sincere receiving of the precepts expresses commitment to uphold them for life, to thus not break any of them, this leads to less likeliness of creating any original transgression in the first place, thus also not creating any additional transgression by default.]

[Note 2: Those who do not receive the Five Precepts however, who prefer to live morally unchecked, what more lacking any deterrent effect, are more likely to create many original transgressions by breaking the Natural Precepts, thus creating much more evil karma that leads to suffering in present and future lives, possibly in the three lower realms of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals, if with strong hatred, greed and delusion respectively. This occurs naturally even without receiving any precepts. Ignorance of the Natural Precepts, and wilful ignoring of them, is not ‘bliss’, leading to suffering instead.]

[Note 3: Ironically, those who refuse to receive the precepts already kind of ‘know the law’, but prefer to not receive them, perhaps wanting the ‘upper hand’ to be able to ‘break the law’. This arises from ignorance of the above. If there is unwillingness to commit to the precepts, to be good and ever self-bettering persons, the goal of spiritual purity is far away indeed! How then, can they truly depart from suffering to attain the (actual) bliss (离苦得乐) of liberation? Although the Great Master taught that ‘all people must strictly uphold’ the Five Precepts, whether as Buddhists or not, commitment to them is of course always voluntary. What he was emphasizing is their great relevance and importance for the welfare of one and all, thus urging us earnestly and firmly.]


[Abstaining from] drinking alcohol, [as the Fifth Precept, is] named [as a] Preclusive Precept, [to prevent possible loss of mindfulness, that might lead to breaking of the Four Heavy Precepts. Of those] yet [to] receive [this] precept, [their] drinking [is] without transgression [unless it leads to breaking of the Four Heavy Precepts. Having] received [this] precept, afterwards drinking, [this is] only [with] once breaking [of the] precept’s transgression, [in contrast with breaking any Natural Precept above, which creates double transgressions].

[Note 4: Although the letter of the Fifth Precept is about alcohol, the spirit of the precept includes anything alcoholic in nature, and whatever capable of creating loss of mindfulness with intoxication, including all other substances that can be abused, such as the growing variety of legal and illegal drugs, whether they lead to unhealthy physical and mental addiction or not.]

[Note 5: The seemingly ‘lighter’ nature of the Fifth Precept does not mean there should be less mindful commitment to it. It is just so that not all instances of intoxication lead to breaking of the Four Heavy Precepts, while it does greatly increase the possibilities with impaired mindfulness. When intoxicated and confused, all the Four Heavy Precepts can be quickly broken.]

[Note 6: For instance, the drunk might have semi-confused sexual misconduct (which breaks the Third Precept), followed by overconfident drink-driving that kills a pedestrian (which breaks the First Precept), thus ‘stealing’ one’s life (which breaks the Second Precept in spirit), ending up with panicky lying (which breaks the Fourth Precept) upon arrest.]

Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng

(Reply Letter [To] Layperson Zhāng Chúnyī)

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Teachings:

The Great Buddha Crown’s Śūraṅgama Sūtra’s Sixth Scroll’s Four Kinds Of Clear And Definitive Instructions On Purity

Is It Better To Not Observe Any Precepts?

From Same Letter: Do Not Become Those With Neither Chán Nor Pure Land Practice

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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