The Ethical Precepts 
and Philosophical Tenets
of Zen Buddhism



Ethical Precepts:    First     Second     Third     Fourth     Fifth

The Philosophical Tenets of Zen Buddhism

Links      Bibliography      Quotes













1.  I will be mindful and reverential with all life, 
     I will not be violent nor will I kill.



                    Avoid killing or harming any living being.
                    I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.  
                    I shall endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures.
                    Do not do harm to other beings.   



"Life and limb are precious to every living being and nobody has the right to destroy the life of another 
for any reason.  But we know that human beings kill others individually and collectively in the name of 
human rights, religion, peace, nation, race, culture and population control- all assumed good purposes. 
Hatred, jealousy, power, greed, ill will, selfishness, cruelty, callousness, pride, ignorance are incentives 
that provide and drive one to commit panatipata.  This is a deviation from the Noble Eight Fold Path - 
Right understanding, thought and action."
-   The Buddhist Perspective of Lay Morality,  Dr. Bodhippriya Subhadra Sinwardena  


The First Precept: Reverence for Life.   Commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
   Sharon Salzberg and John Kabat-Zinn.  
Shambhala, 1997, 208 pages.  

Must All Buddhists Be Vegetarians?




"The precepts are to help us cut off our attachments, and when that is done, 
then all the precepts are kept naturally.  And so I will ask you a question. 
Once upon a time, Zen Master Nam Cheon cut a cat in two with his knife. 
Was this a good or bad action?  If you sit in silence, you are no better 
than rocks, but all speech is wrong.   What can you do?"
-   Zen Master Wu Bong (Jacob Perl),  Five Precepts





“If a person does not harm any living being…
and does not kill or cause others to kill -
that person is a true spiritual practitioner.”
-   The Dhammapada







2.   I will respect the property of others, I will not steal.


                      Avoid stealing.  Do not take what is not yours to take.
                      I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
                      Live simply and frugally.  


"Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, 
I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being 
of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, 
energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to 
steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property 
of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering 
of other species on Earth."
          The Five Precepts



"Do not steal. If something is not given to us, we should not take it.  This precept applies not only to 
valuable items such as gold and silver, but even to things as small and inexpensive as needles. 
This can also be interpreted as living frugally and not wasting resources."
-   Buddhism



"The second precept deals with taking things that are not given.  This is more that just 
not stealing.  It means not  coveting things in the material, psychological, or in the spiritual 
realms.  Desire stems from a feeling of incompleteness.  This precept teaches us to accept 
ourselves wholly and to make this total acceptance is to become complete, to 
attain the Buddha state."
-   Zen Master Wu Bong (Jacob Perl), Five Precepts



"The second Major Precept prohibits stealing.  A disciple of the Buddha must not steal by oneself, 
encourage others to steal, facilitate stealing, steal with mantras, or involve oneself in the causes, 
conditions, methods, or karma of stealing, to the extent that one must not deliberately steal the 
possessions of ghosts, spirits, or any other beings – all valuables and possessions, including 
such objects as small as a needle or a blade of grass. A Bodhisattva should give rise to a mind 
of filial compliance, kindness, and compassion toward the Buddha nature....  If instead a 
Bodhisattva steals another’s valuables or possessions, a Bodhisattva Parajika (major) 
offense is committed."
-   Brahma Net Sutra


Dhammic Socialism      100K

A Disciple of the Buddha Does Not Steal   Taitaku Pat Phelan.   20K

Economics in Buddhism
    Ven. Galle Udita Maha Thero.   46K.





3.   I will be conscious and loving in my relationships, 
      I will not give way to lust.


                      Avoid sexual irresponsibility.
                      I undertake the precept to refrain from improper sexual activity.
                      Do not engage in sexual misconduct.   


"Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate my responsibility and learn
ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined
not to engage in sexual relations without love and long-term commitment. To preserve the
happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of
others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect families
from being broken by sexual misconduct."
         The Five Wonderful Precepts.    By Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Buddhist Sexual Ethics.    By Winton Higgins.    28K   

Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender
.   Edited by Jose Ignacio Cabezon.   State University
at New York,  1991.   241 pages.   ISBN:  0791407586.   





4.   I will honor honesty and truth, I will not deceive.


                    Avoid lying, or any hurtful speech.
                    I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
                    Refrain from lying, gossiping, slander, and spreading false rumors.  
                    Silence in precious, I will not gossip or engage in frivolous conversations.       



"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, 
I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and 
happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.  Knowing that words can create 
happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire
self-confidence, joy, and hope.  I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain 
and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure.  I will refrain from uttering 
words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community 
to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, 
however small."
           The Five Precepts



"Furthermore, abandoning lying, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying.  In doing so, 
he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless
numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from 
oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, 
freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fourth gift...
           The Five Faultless Gifts 




"Being mindful of suffering
caused by careless or malicious speech,
we are determined to use words
to heal the wounds of misunderstanding,
anger, hate, and fear."
-   The Five Wonderful Precepts -  Blue Iris Sangha


Ta-sui was asked, "What is the very first point?"
He replied, "Don't think falsely."
-   The Pocket Zen Reader.  Complied and translated by Thomas Cleary.  Shambhala, 1999, p. 122




5.   I will exercise proper care of my body and mind, 
      I will not be gluttonous nor abuse intoxicants.


                      Avoid alcohol and drugs which diminish clarity of consciousness.
                      I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
                      Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.   



"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical
and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and
in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol
or any other intoxicants, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain T.V.
programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my
consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future
generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion by practicing a diet for myself
and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation, and for the
transformation of society."
           The Five Wonderful Precepts.    By Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.



Being mindful of suffering
caused by taking poisons into our bodies and minds,
we are determined to take into our bodies and minds
only those things that nourish awareness, life, and love.
-   The Five Wonderful Precepts -  Blue Iris Sangha


Drugs and Alcohol







Comments by Michael P. Garofalo

Many people have not yet taken formal vows to abide by the Five Precepts yet continue
to study Zen, engage in Zen practices, and identify with Zen viewpoints.   Serious Zen 
students and all monastics (monks and nuns) do take vows to abide by the Five Precepts
in a formal ceremony (Jukai - Japanese).  Monastics abide by many additional Precepts 
relating to lifestyle and social behavior.  Taking the Five Precepts represents one's formal 
entry into Buddhism, and represents a serious religious commitment to the Buddha (the 
historical Buddha, enlightened beings, as well as the Buddha nature in all), Dharma  
(Buddhist scriptures, wisdom literature, as well as the truths and insights we discover
while living), and the Sangha (the Buddhist community as well as interrelations with all 

The tendency of Zen writings and lectures to emphasize monistic metaphysics, and
to discourage dualistic perspectives, will create some confusion for new students of 
Zen Buddhism who are considering its ethical aspects.   Thinking about good and evil, 
right and wrong, or healthy minded and sick minded all involve making distinctions
and dualistic perspecitves. 

On the whole, I have found that Zen masters and teachers emphasize kindness, 
compassion, honesty, humility, love of work and the arts, down to earthness, 
sobriety, meditation, humor, simplicity, nonviolence, freedom, self-reliance, 
and enlightenment.  However,  wisdom and enlightenment are given the highest 
emphasis, and less is said about moral conformity or the moral reform of society.  


        Ring the bells that still can ring.
    Forget your perfect offering.
      There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets it.
-   Leonard Cohen
















Links and Bibliography

(Five Moral Precepts, Buddhist Ethics and Morality, Virtuous Life)





Abhisanda Sutta     Anguttara Nikaya VIII.39:   7K    

Basic Buddhism:  Buddhist Ethics

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts.    By Reb Anderson.   Rodmell Press, 2001.  
288 pages.  ISBN: 0962713899.

Buddhism - Ethics.   By the Venerable Khai Chin.   13K   

Buddhism and Vegetarianism  

Buddhism - Google/DMOZ Link Categories

Buddhist Economics   7K   

Buddhist Ethics Links from

The Buddhist Five Precepts as an Ethical Touchstone.   Article by David Cortesi.   12K  

Buddhist Morality.    By C. George Boeree.  Includes the Pancha Shila (five moral precepts),
Metta Sutta, and other important Buddhist moral texts.   14K

Buddhist Morality - DMOZ Links

The Buddhist Perspective of Lay Morality.   By Bodhippriya Subhadra Siriwardena.  24K

A Buddhist Perspective on Vegetarianism

Buddhist Resources on Vegetarianism and Animal Welfare   

Cloud Hands: Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Qong

Cutting the Cat Into One: The Practice of the Bodhisattva Precepts.   By the Venerable Anzan Hoshin.  50K.

Daily Practice:  The Five Precepts   4K

Dhammapada Sutta (Dharmapada Sutra)

Dogen, Zen Master

Ron Epstein's Online Publications   Essays on Buddhist ethics. 

The Five Moral Precepts and Tenets of Zen Buddhism.   By Michael P. Garofalo.   50K+.   
Quotations, links, bibliography, summary lists, and references.   

The First Precept: Reverence for Life.   Commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Five Precepts.   

The Five Precepts   2K

The Five Precepts     Lecture - audio version.   Insight Meditation Society of Seattle.  

The Five Precepts    Comments by Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Dechen.   20K.   

The Five Precepts     Essay by Sunthorn Plamintr.   69K.   

The Five Precepts     Lecture by Chieng Mai Dhamma Study Group.   47K

The Five Precepts      Notes by Neil Smithline.   11K   

Fundamentals of Buddhism: Karma

The Five Faultless Gifts 

The Five Wonderful Precepts.   By Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Five Wonderful Precepts.    Blue Iris Sangha version.   10K.  

Emptiness in Full Bloom.   Comments on Zen Master Dogen's Flowers in the Sky.   Links, 
bibliography, poem, notes.   100K.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing.    10K

Google Links - Five Precepts    

Haiku and Zen Poetry

The Healing Power of the Precepts     Article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.   13K.  Practical, clear-cut, humane, and
worthy of respect.   

Interactions Among the Ethics of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism.   Ven. Shengkai.   25K.  

Introduction to Zen Buddhism:  Recommended Reading and Links

Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Leading a Buddhist Life and the Five Precepts     18K    Includes many lists of Buddhist virtues, vices, and moral guidelines.

Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics.   Robert Aitken.   North Point Press, 1984.  199 pages.  

Observing the Moral Precepts   Comments about the consequences of breaking the five precepts.   15K

On the Five Precepts.   Lecture by Zen Master Wu Bong (Jacob Perl).  8K.  

Posting Five Precepts.   Article by Paul D. Numrich.   A Buddhist Perspective on Ethics in Health Care.  23K.   

Precepts       13K   

Shambhala - Heart of Warriorship Training Program

Sila - Moral Conduct      25K    Excellent commentary. 

Taking the Five Precepts:  What Does it Mean?   Lecture by Senior Dharma Teacher Neil Bartholomew.   17K.  

Taking the Path of Zen.   By Robert Aitken, Roshi.  San Francisco, North Point Press, 1985.  149 pages. 
ISBN: 0865470804.   Informative and wise advice for Zen students by a influential leader.   

The Ten Precepts.   The Digital Zendo.    

Ten Precepts       (Dasa Sila)   Ten Precepts for monks and nuns.  

Virtue - Sila   9K    

Why Should We Take the Five Precepts      Questions and answers about the Five Precepts.   51K.     

Zen Poetry       Extensive links, bibliography, selected quotes, studies.   300K+

















Selected Quotations






To keep away from all evil, cultivate good,
and purify one’s mind is the advice of all Buddhas.

Pali Verse






Whoever destroys living beings,
speaks false words, who in the world
takes that which is not given to him,
or goes too with another's wife,
or takes distilled, fermented drinks --
whatever man indulges thus
extirpates the roots of himself
even here in this very world.
Dhammapada:  246-247







"What keeping the precepts does is that it liberates you from the very confined 
behavior of following your desire, anger, and ignorance.  In fact, not keeping the 
precepts means staying with a way of behaving which is repressed, self destructive; 
not sound of self or in relations.  Keeping the precepts means turning away from 
tunnel vision, a very wide range of behavior; and not keeping the precepts means 
keeping a very, very narrow range of behavior, because you're just stuck in the 
same habit of "I, my, me."
Taking the Five Precepts:  What Does it Mean?   
Senior Dharma Teacher Neil Bartholomew. 






I will esteem the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
I will not defame them.





Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you.
What you do not what done to yourself, do not do to others.
What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others.
Confucius, Analects, Book 15:23





"We may summarize the five precepts in relation to the spiritual qualities that they 
are likely to produce and promote as follows.  The first precept helps to promote 
goodwill, compassion, and kindness.  The second can be instrumental in developing 
generosity, service, altruism, non-attachment, contentment, honesty, and right 
livelihood.  The third precept helps to cultivate self-restraint, mastery over the 
emotions and senses, renunciation, and control of sensual desire.  The fourth 
precept leads to the development of honesty, reliability, and moral integrity. 
The fifth precept helps to promote mindfulness, clarity of mind, and wisdom."
-   The Five Precepts,  Chieng Mai Dhamma Study Group






The Ten Grave Precepts

1.  Affirm life; Do not kill.
2.  Be giving; Do not steal.
3.  Honor the body; Do not misuse sexuality.
4.  Manifest truth; Do not lie.
5.  Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind.
6.  See the perfection; Do not speak of others errors and faults.
7.  Realize self and other as one; Do not elevate the self and blame others.
8.  Give generously; do not be withholding.
9.  Actualize harmony; Do not be angry.
10.  Experience the intimacy of things; Do not defile the Eight Treasures.
-   John Daido Loori, The Eight Gates of Zen, 2002, P. 240.  















The Tenets of Zen Buddhism

(The basic religious, philosophical, ethical and practice principles of Zen Buddhism.)





1)  A special transmission outside the scriptures.

2)  No depending upon books or words.

3)  Direct pointing to the soul of man.

4)  Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddhahood.

       -   Catch phrases associated with Zen in Sung China, Masunaga Texts  





1)  Living every moment to the fullest.

2)  Transcending dualism and using it freely.

3)  Respecting the physical.

4)  Enlarging awareness.

5)  Releasing natural altruistic action.

6)  Increasing serenity and effectiveness in daily life

       -   What is Zen?  Zen in Daily Life.  Masunaga Text.






1)   The realities of life are most truly seen in everyday things and actions.

2)   Everything exists according to its own nature.  Our individual perceptions of 
worth, correctness, beauty, size and value exist inside our heads, not outside them.   

3)   Everything exists in relation to other things.    

4)   The self and the rest of the universe are not separate entities but one functioning whole.     

5)   Man arises from nature and gets along most effectively by collaborating with 
nature, rather than trying to master it.     

6)   There is no ego in the sense of an endlessly enduring, unchanging private soul or personality that temporarily inhabits the body.     

7)   True insight does not issue from specialized knowledge, from membership in 
coteries, from doctrines or dogmas.  It comes from the preconscious intuitions of 
one's whole being, from one's own code.     

8)   In emptiness, forms are born.  When one becomes empty of the assumptions,
inferences, and judgments he has acquired over the years, he comes close to his 
original nature and is capable of conceiving original ideas and reacting freshly.     

9)   Being a spectator while one is also a participant spoils one's performance.     

10)   Security and changelessness are fabricated by the ego-dominated mind and 
do not exit in nature.  To accept insecurity and commit oneself to the unknown 
creates a relaxing faith in the universe.     

11)  One can live only in the present moment.     

12)   Living process and words about it are not the same and should not be 
treated as equal in worth.    

13)   When we perceive the incongruity between theories about life and what 
we feel intuitively to be true on the nonverbal, nonjudging plane, there is 
nothing to do but to laugh.     

14)   Zen art has this characteristic quality, that it can fuse delight in a work of 
visual art, knowledge of life, and personal experiences and intuitions into one 
creative event.     

15)    Each of us develops into a unique individual who enters into unique 
transactions with the world as it
exists for him. 


       -   Zen Art for Meditation.   By Stewart W. Holmes and Chimyo Horioka.  Rutland, Vermont,
Charles E. Tuttle, 1973.  115 pages.  ISBN: 0804812551.  pp. 15-16.  Each of these "Tenets" is
explained in relation to Zen themes in Japanese and Chinese visual arts.   







The following Eight Gates of Training "are designed to help the practitioner 
get in touch with the free, unconditioned nature of the self."
-   John Daido Loori, Roshi, Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery


1)   Seated meditation - Zazen.

2)   Teacher-student relationship.  

3)   Liturgy

4)   Right Action - Precepts

5)   Art practice

6)   Body practice

7)   Academic study

8)   Work practice


Waking Up: A Week Inside a Zen Monastery, p. xiv-.   
John Daido Loori, Roshi.   



"1.  Though I certainly may kick ass in a figurative sense, I will strive not to do so literally.  I will be mindful of the physical suffering of others, and strive to alleviate it when I can or gain insight from it when I can not.

2.  I will strive not to take anything that is not given to me freely, recognizing that the world is a complex place and the issue of property hard to fully fathom.  I will do my best to share with others when it will help them.

3.  I pledge to refrain from using lies and hurtful speech.  My relations with others will be respectful unless otherwise required.  I will strive my utmost to promote a foundation of 'kusala' in modern communication and understanding.

4.  I take the precept of not committing sexual misconduct, and in so doing I will strive to understand the nature of interdependence.  I will strive to never harm someone sexually.  In relationships I will hold on when necessary and let go when it is time.

5.  The world of samsara is illusion, part and parcel- a beautiful trap.  Every glimmer in the bejewlled net can ensnare, just as anything in life can intoxicate- alcohol, drugs, food, sex, TV, music, sports, even activity or torpor itself.  As one who aspires to the Middle Way of the Buddhas, I swear to seek enlightenment, not through abstinence or indulgence, but through wisdom, equanimity, and compassion.  If some weekend I still choose to get buck wild, then I will strive to follow my choices, behavior, and their consequences with appropriate mindfulness."
-  Jess Gulbranson, Five Precepts Offering, Email to Mike Garofalo on 5/18/2008












Introduction to Zen Buddhism

Recommended Reading and Links




The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism.   By Jean Smith.   Bell Tower, 2000.   ISBN: 0609804669.   
224 pages.  A very elementary introduction to Zen practice.   

Buddhist Ethics:  Links, bibliography, quotations.  

Haiku and Zen Poetry     

Manual of Zen Buddhism.    By D. T. Suzuki.   New York, Weatherhill, 1960.       

Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics.   Robert Aitken.   North Point Press, 1984.  199 pages.  
A thorough, scholarly, and wise commentary on Buddhist precepts and morality.  

Return to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life.   By Dainin Katagiri, Roshi.  Boston, Shambhala, 1988.
194 pages.  ISBN: 0877734313.   May be a bit challenging and confusing for beginners; but, 
frequently cited by Zen students.

Taking the Path of Zen.   By Robert Aitken, Roshi.  San Francisco, North Point Press, 1985.  149 pages. 
ISBN: 0865470804.   Informative and wise advice for Zen students by a influential leader and fine Zen

The Three Pillars of Zen : Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment.   By Philip Kapleau, Roshi.   
Originally published in 1965.  Revised and expanded edition in March, 1989.  Anchor Books, 1989.  
448 pages.   ISBN: 0385260938.   A classic introduction that has influenced many readers.  

Waking Up: A Week Inside a Zen Monastery.   By Jack Maguire.  Woodstock, Vermont, Skylight Paths 
Publishing, 2000.  189 pages.   ISBN:  1893361136.   Foreward by John Daido Loori, Roshi.   A good
story about life at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York.  

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings.    Edited by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.
Shambhala Pocket Classics, 1994.  Originally published in 1957.  285 pages.  ISBN: 1570620636.   A collection of
Zen koans, stories, poems, and sayings.   In 1963,  I read Paul Reps, Alan Watts, R.H. Blyth, and D.T. Suzuki; and 
my views about religion were greatly uplifted and changed forever.   

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.   By Shunryu Suzuki.   Edited by Trudy Dixon.   New York, Weatherill, 1970, 1997.
ISBN: 0834800799.  132 pages.   On nearly every Zen student's list as one of the five most influential books 
about Zen Buddhism they have read.    
















Distributed on the Internet by Michael P. Garofalo


I Welcome Your Comments, Ideas, Contributions, and Suggestions


The Five Precepts of Buddhism
The Philosophical Tenets of Zen Buddhism

Compiled by Michael P. Garofalo



21 June 2008





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