Attached Or Unattached?

Brass Buddha

Hopefully most meditators will at least be aware of the Five Precepts and doing their best to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, unwholesome speech and intoxication.  However, it is also recommended for lay practitioners to observe the Eight Precepts on Uposatha days or days when one is free from work or household commitments. Observing the Eight Precepts strictly for just one day is a great test of one’s attachment to material comforts…


Attached Or Unattached?


Hopefully most meditators will at least be aware of the Five Precepts and doing their best to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, unwholesome speech and intoxication. [1] Daily observance of these training rules is a minimum standard of moral conduct for anyone who would call themselves a Buddhist (in practice there is a flexible attitude among the laity towards some minor infringements – refraining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness is often re-interpreted as refraining from heedlessness caused by intoxicants, for example). The Five Precepts are not commandments; rather, the practitioner sees that upholding them is skilful, wholesome action that benefits everyone and s/he chooses to do so with enthusiasm and diligence.

However, it is also recommended for lay practitioners to observe the Eight Precepts [2] on Uposatha days [3] or days when one is free from work or household commitments. The Eight Precepts are less ambiguous than the Five Precepts and generally regarded by laity as a more serious commitment which should not be lightly broken. It is worth taking a closer look at each one of the Eight Precepts and noting how they differ from the Five Precepts that lay Buddhists are usually more familiar with.


Brass Buddha

Brass Buddha


The Eight Precepts

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
Not only does one undertake not to kill living beings intentionally, one undertakes not to do any kind of work that might involve killing living beings unintentionally (such as digging and cultivating, for example) and to avoid causing any kind of harm to others.  Speaking personally, before I began practicing meditation I would mindlessly swat at wasps and flies and I would flush away any spider I happened to find lurking in the bath.  But after several years of refraining from deliberate killing I now find myself much more relaxed about sharing a home with insects and other small creatures and more inclined just to watch them go about their business…

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
The Second Precept is directed against taking anything without the rightful owner’s consent. Employees undertake not to help themselves to workplace materials or take extended coffee breaks, for example.  Likewise, business owners undertake not to give their customers short measures and not to underpay their employees. According to my understanding, finding a coin on the pavement and keeping it would also breach this precept.  The examples cited may sound trivial in comparison to the cases of deliberate fraud and property theft that are reported with depressing regularity in various news media.  However, having consistently practiced this broader and stricter interpretation of the Second Precept I can honestly say it really does help in cultivating awareness of greedy attachments and it really does help in developing the compassion necessary to treat others as one would hope to be treated.

3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyamiI
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.
The more familiar and less strict precept of refraining from ‘sexual misconduct’ (i.e. sexual behaviour likely to result in marital disharmony or harm to self and others) is extended to the renunciation of all sexual activity whether it be socially acceptable or otherwise.  It is important to realise that this stricter Third Precept is not founded on the idea that sexuality is inherently sinful; rather, attachment to sensuality is seen as a major obstacle to enlightenment, and the stricter precept is an acknowledgement that sexually active meditators are unlikely to abandon this most powerful hindrance.  Choosing to remain celibate for twenty four hours or even a few days can be very instructive and is unlikely to be a problem for meditators who are serious about developing their practice.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
Of all the precepts, refraining from incorrect speech is the one I have personally found most difficult to uphold.  One should always avoid cursing, arguments and idle chatter and the Fourth Precept is an undertaking to practice gentle speech that is true, meaningful, in accordance with Dhamma and intended to promote harmony. However, when undertaking the Eight Precepts one should also practice solitude and refrain from reading newspapers and magazines or listening to radio and TV broadcasts that are likely to disturb the mind or distract it away from meditation. In my experience, even reading Dhamma books or listening to Dhamma recordings can be misused as an escape from boredom and restlessness during prolonged quietness.

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
The Fifth Precept is about total renunciation of recreational drugs, alcohol and other intoxicants that induce heedlessness. A mind dulled by drink or drugs is a hindrance to meditation and the meditator who regularly uses intoxicants for recreational purposes should seriously question her/his motivations. One can always find excuses not to refrain from drinking or drug taking, but having consistently practiced near-total abstinence for several years I can honestly say that I prefer the clarity and sharpness of sobriety to the dullness and cloudiness of intoxication.

6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time.
The Sixth Precept aims at keeping the body light and fit for meditation and reducing the tiredness one may feel after a day’s work and a substantial evening meal. One undertakes therefore to eat only one meal before twelve noon, and to refrain from consuming non-medicinal food (including milk) until dawn the next day. This is something else I sometimes struggle with – especially so when my non-Buddhist family members start cooking their evening meal and my nose detects the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen! But for me the benefits of adhering to this practice include having learned to distinguish between genuine hunger and craving; I can appreciate the difference and respond appropriately. Given my good fortune in leading a fairly sedentary lifestyle and having the luxury of choice, it is my experience that feeling slight hunger after skipping a meal is actually more pleasant and bearable than feeling slightly bloated after eating. Moreover, I cannot recall having suffered unduly from a lack of energy due to my normal daily habit of eating breakfast and dinner but no lunch, and eating only breakfast on uposatha days.

7. Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
The Seventh Precept falls into two parts: the first part on refraining from “dancing, singing, music… entertainments,” aims at keeping mind, speech and body away from these traditional amusements and also modern entertainments such as radio, television, theater, cinema and sporting events. Again, these things are not regarded as inherently sinful but they are an excuse for not meditating and a distraction in as much as they disturb concentration and turn the mind outward.  Me personally, I never had a problem with forgoing these activities and boredom is something I rarely ever feel whenever I do take time away from them.

The second half on refraining from “wearing garlands… perfumes… cosmetics” is directed against vanity and conceit arising from attachment to the body.  In Eastern countries it is traditional on uposatha days for lay people to wear only white clothing with no adornments. This may not be possible when one is required to go into the workplace, but the Seventh Precept can still be upheld by choosing not to wear jewellery and refraining from using scents, lotions and cosmetics.  Normally I tend not to work or socialise when I’m observing the uposatha precepts and so showering without soap or shampoo and leaving off the anti-perspirant has never caused me a problem, though I will admit to having had fears of causing some offence when standing in close proximity to other people!

8. Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.
This last precept aims at reducing one’s attachment to luxury as well as removing one from sexual temptation. The meditator renounces the comforts of a large soft bed to sleep alone on a mat on the floor.  Believe me, there is less desire to sleep long on a hard surface, and by cutting out other superfluous activities one has no option but to use the extra waking time for meditation and Dhamma study. The Eighth Precept is sometimes extended to include not sitting on high or luxurious seats and is intended to reduce the possibility of conceit and cravings arising in the mind. [4] The word ‘high’ in this context is a reference to flamboyance rather than tallness and so this precept doesn’t prohibit the use of modest stools and chairs, although I often do opt to sit on nothing but a meditation cushion during uposatha and I find this practice really does test my attachment to comfortable seating.



There is an understanding among the laity that daily observance of the Five Precepts or Training Rules is a minimum standard of moral conduct for anyone who would call themselves a Buddhist.  The Eight Precepts are a more serious commitment; one chooses to take them on only if there is reasonable certainty that none of the precepts will be broken. Speaking from experience, I can say that observing the Eight Precepts strictly for just one day is a great test of one’s attachment to material comforts. Observing them strictly and regularly (for example, on the Full Moon day or on one of the Sundays of each month) is a real eye-opener!


Discipline is for the sake of restraint,
restraint for the sake of freedom from remorse,
freedom from remorse for the sake of joy,
joy for the sake of rapture,
rapture for the sake of tranquillity,
tranquillity for the sake of pleasure,
pleasure for the sake of concentration,
concentration for the sake of knowledge
and vision of things as they are,
knowledge and vision of things as they are
for the sake of disenchantment,
disenchantment for the sake of release,
release for the sake of knowledge and vision of release,
knowledge and vision of release
for the sake of total unbinding without clinging.

— Parivaara.XII.2 (BMC p.1) [5]


[1] ‘The Five Precepts: pañca-sila’ (2005), Access to Insight. <>

[2] ‘The Eight Precepts: attha-sila’ (2005), Access to Insight. <>

[3] ‘[Uposatha] means “entering to stay,” in the Buddhist sense, in a vihara or monastery… In the Buddha-time, various groups of ascetics and wanderers used the traditional Full and New moon days for expounding their theories and practices, while the Buddha allowed bhikkhus to assemble on these days to listen to the recitation of the Patimokkha (the fundamental rules of a bhikkhu) and to teach Dhamma to the lay people who came to their monastery. From that time down to the present, the Uposatha days have been observed by Buddhists, both ordained and laity, in all Buddhist countries.’
– ‘Lay Buddhist Practice: The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence’, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (1995), Access to Insight.

[4] ‘Uposatha Sila: The Eight-Precept Observance’, compiled and written by Somdet Phra Buddhaghosacariya (Ñanavara Thera), translated from the Thai by Bhikkhu Kantasilo (1996), Access to Insight.<>

[5] ‘The Bhikkhus’ Rules: A Guide for Laypeople’, compiled and explained by Bhikkhu Ariyesako (1999), Access to Insight.

Additional Reading

‘Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts’, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (1994), Access to Insight.<>

‘The Buddhist Monk’s Discipline: Some Points Explained for Laypeople’, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (2006), Access to Insight.

Lynn Kelly, The Buddha’s Advice To Lay People (Blog).

Image Details

Brass Buddha taken from King Thibaw’s Myanmar palace in 1886
Location: Museum Of Liverpool, UK
Camera: Sony Ericsson SK17i Xperia Mini Pro
Date: 13 Feb 2014  10:53
Processing: Paint, Picasa & Snapseed



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