Precepts and commandments

A few thoughts penned… :pen:

A commandment is enforced by someone else, from ‘above’. A precept is voluntary. A commandment needs only one reason- the order. A precept needs two reasons - doing it hurts oneself, and hurts others. A commandment need only to obey, a precept needs contemplation to see if it benefits oneself and others. A commandment lasts only as long as the leader is on the lookout, a precept, if well thought through, is kept, even if no one is aware. Commandment is specific to a specific religion, precepts are universally accepted! A commandment is mindlessly kept, a precept is thought through in terms of action and consequences…


precepts good
commandments bad

Buddhists smart
Theists dumb

Yahweh not real
Brahma real
Angels not real
Devas real
Satan not real
Mara real
Demons not real
Yakkhas/maras real


Did you see it saying that.


I can only give you the understanding of an ex-Catholic. (Having said that, some would say one is never an ex-Catholic! :wink: )

With that in mind I’ll address your statements by contextualising them with my very limited understanding of the framework of Catholic catechism.

I think that we need to understand the term ‘commandment’ within the context of religions with a creator God. If you have created a system (the All), then your commandments - i.e. what is for the good of oneself and others - are inherent in the system that you have created. Maybe a better translation might be ‘laws’, and I think that the actual translation might just be ‘words’, as in ‘decalogue’ = ‘10 words’, rather than ‘10 commandments’.

Secondly I think that we need to see the reason behind the commandments. The idea is something like: if you want eternal life, then follow the commandments, if not then don’t. The choice is yours. This idea of free will to choose between following a path of good or following a path of evil is very important in these types of religion. The path of good leads to eternal life, the path of evil to eternal death. Initially there was no path to eternal death, but that changed in the Garden of Eden.

God has given the adherent free will, so the obeying of a commandment is truly voluntary. In Buddhism a person’s will is dependently originated so there is no voluntary stance or that voluntary stance is a delusion at best.

Jesus glosses this thus:

[RC catechism 2052:] “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” To the young man who asked this question, Jesus answers first by invoking the necessity to recognize God as the “One there is who is good,” as the supreme Good and the source of all good. Then Jesus tells him: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” And he cites for his questioner the precepts that concern love of neighbor: “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” Finally Jesus sums up these commandments positively: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In concept, Catholicism (and I believe Christianity in general) is said to be completely rational by Catholics. Here’s a few bits from the Roman Catholic catechism:

[1730] God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

[1731] Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

[1732] As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil , and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

God is always there. For example:

Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I don’t understand this one. Can you elaborate? All religions think they are right don’t they?

Is this the same as your third point, or am I missing a subtlety?

Hope this helps with your teaching ministry. :anjal:


The idea that one should conduct themselves properly in case beings with super-observational powers are watching exists in the EBTs too:

“There are, mendicants, these three things to put in charge. What three? Putting oneself, the world, or the teaching in charge…

And what, mendicants, is putting the world in charge? It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, and reflects like this: ‘I didn’t go forth from the lay life to homelessness for the sake of a robe, alms-food, lodgings, or rebirth in this or that state. But I was swamped by rebirth, old age, and death, by sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. I was swamped by suffering, mired in suffering. And I thought, “Hopefully I can find an end to this entire mass of suffering.” And now, since I’ve now gone forth, I might have sensual, malicious, or cruel thoughts. But the population of the world is large, and there are ascetics and brahmins who have psychic power—they’re clairvoyant, and can read the minds of others. They see far without being seen, even by those close; and they understand the minds of others. They would know me:

“Look at this gentleman; they’ve gone forth out of faith from the lay life to homelessness, but they’re living mixed up with bad, unskillful qualities.” And there are deities, too, who have psychic power—they’re clairvoyant, and can read the minds of others. They see far without being seen, even by those close; and they understand the minds of others. They would know me:

“Look at this gentleman; they’ve gone forth out of faith from the lay life to homelessness, but they’re living mixed up with bad, unskillful qualities.”’ Then they reflect: ‘My energy shall be roused up and unflagging, mindfulness shall be established and lucid, my body shall be tranquil and undisturbed, and my mind shall be immersed in samādhi.’ Putting the world in charge, they give up the unskillful and develop the skillful, they give up the blameworthy and develop the blameless, and they keep themselves pure. This is called putting the world in charge. - SuttaCentral

Sometimes I amaze myself at my ability to track down obscure suttas I haven’t read in a while (pats self on back).



When someone is given an illusion of ‘choice’ of either going to hell or heaven - and then that’s called ‘free will’… only a psychopath could enjoy such a creation. :woman_facepalming:


You can still go to (Buddhist) heavens or hells by your (illusion of ) choice in the Buddhist Scheme. What difference does it make if they are part of a “Creation” or not?

So one is obviously being a “good boy” by “choosing” the heaven-path in either scheme. It’s just that in Buddhism one is a “better boy” by completely dying to the world AND any future worlds (identity extinguishment).

Sounds like you don’t quite understand nibbana, to say what you said.

Being a ‘good boy’ is only a problem is western culture.

I don’t have a problem with that. And I wasn’t talking about that. I was only pointing to two paths to sila. It seems that though jesus called it commandments he also gave good reason in terms of ‘love thy neighbour as thy self’. Even some Buddhists approach precepts, as if they were commandments, which leads to frustration and all the time while EBTs suggest a reflective approach or yonisomanasikara to create conditions necessary for sila.

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Based on my reading of the suttas and modern commentators, the simplest and most common “definition” of nibbāna is the destruction of the 3 āsava, or to put it more simply extinguishment of identity/appropriation. Perhaps you can enlighten me as to what I’m missing? :slight_smile:

O’rlly? I think it’s pretty universal. If anything, so-called “Eastern” cultures might take it more seriously with the importance of a parents wishes, and particularly with filial piety in Sinitic cultures. The modern West, especially Americans, tend to value individualism.

Well, then this is a problem that affects both religions, no? I think the way you’ve cast Abrahamists is unfair to those who are sincere practitioners of the spirit of their religion. It doesn’t take much to cast Buddhist religion in the same light. Just some reflection.

I think @stu gave a very interesting and useful introduction to some of the nuances of Christian thought on this subject. Of course it is different from the Buddhist analysis, but it has quite a different starting point.



I think that we need to understand the term ‘commandment’ within the context of religions with a creator God.

The cruelty needed to inflict hell on some unsuspecting creature because not only you have given them the ability to make choices, but also given them the ignorance and defilements to confuse them, seems immoral. I’m not being critical of people but of the Christian theory. At what point do Christian believers say this just doesn’t add up?! An all powerful and compassionate god and suffering cannot exist, simultaneously. Most Buddhists in isolated villages are converted to accept, at least on paper, for the material benefits of joining the church which seems to have a ‘club’ like function. How many people ‘truly’ believe it?! I have nothin against religious people or atheists. There’s a lot of goodness in humanity. It doesn’t necessarily require a system of beliefs.

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I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and remember the commandments as being like reminders, or standards. So not that different to precepts really, both in terms of content and purpose.
Maybe Western Buddhists have a need to accentuate the difference?

Saying ‘dead to the world’ has negative connotations - what do you think happens, when a person becomes an arahanth!

Being good is not seen as a particular problem, as in Asian countries, we do not have teenage mentality held in the highest esteem! It’s helpful to consider whether a person is happier being bad or from being good! We have a different kind of suffering which is a child-like mentality of listening to everything the monks say without any critical-thinking. This leads being susceptible to wrong views.

Isn’t the spirit of the religion based on theory behind it? Crusades, colonialism, slavery, the Protestant ‘work ethic’, denigrating peoples of different beliefs is the legacy left behind by Christianity. World vision is still handing out bibles, with their ‘aid’? I was asked to bring in box of shoes to put gifts in around Christmas period, after which I later found out they put Christian bibles into them.

I think you would be hard stretched to find them same kind of issues. Isn’t that a reason you are here on this forum?

I guess we shouldn’t get stuck too far down a theological rabbit hole, especially as we don’t seem to have a genuine Christian Apologist available to help us through our misunderstandings. (In this life) I have been a Buddhist for a longer time than I was a Catholic and I have my own criticisms of the Catholic doctrine. Quite literally, you are “preaching to the converted”. :slight_smile: Having said that, if it helps in your Buddhist ministry to have a better basic understanding of Christianity, I’m having fun so here goes …

I think that we need to see that the Bible (the Word of God) is not like the Buddhist scriptures which I see as a sort of instruction manual for the ending of dukkha. The Bible, in contrast, is a history from the beginning of time to the end of time - from Genesis to Revelation - with special consideration given to humans and their relationship to God. Humanity is currently somewhere in the middle of that narrative. We should note that it is difficult to see the entire story when you are mired in the middle of a particular section of a story. And although there are many spoilers (prophesies), we can’t see the full story from where we are. The prophecies only give so much away, you need to see the actual events to fully appreciate the full message of the story (I know, very convenient right!?)

As I understand it, there are several major sections in this Christian historical narrative, during which certain things hold true; but what is true in one section is not necessarily true in other sections. I suggested in my earlier post that “Initially there was no path to eternal death, but that changed in the Garden of Eden”. So in the first section of the narrative, God’s creation was devoid of death and devoid of sin:

Genesis 1.30: And God saw everything that he had created and behold, it was very good.’

No death and hence no suffering inherent in creation at this point.

The problem that God had is that he wanted humans to be like him and so during the creation of the first man (Adam) he gives him free will. But of course, if free will is to be truly free, then that must include the option to disobey and reject God (who is fully good and the source of all good), so God gives that option to Adam:

Genesis 16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.

[RC catechism 387 - section] Only in the knowledge of God’s plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another.

So Adam, urged on by Eve, who is urged on by a serpent (Satan, a spirit creature that had already rejected God) disobeys God and so it is Adam who unleashes sin (and death) on humanity. This is the start of the next section of the narrative and takes up the vast majority of the Old Testament. This section lasts all the way to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus around 2000 years ago which is prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament. And at this point all things change again.

[388] With the progress of Revelation, the reality of sin is also illuminated. Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story’s ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin. The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to “convict the world concerning sin”, by revealing him who is its Redeemer.

So I think that the idea is that in God’s creation, man was meant to live forever in paradise (free of suffering)- which explains why we feel so devastated when loved ones die. But man, having been led astray, lost trust in God and disobeyed Him, unleashing death (and suffering) upon himself.

In the section of the narrative that we currently live in, Jesus forgives all men the sin of Adam (original sin) and opens the path back to paradise (the deathless). He works to draw humans back to loving God, loving each other, and eternal life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember that God (the father), Jesus and the Holy Spirit are different aspects of the one God. So it is this ‘Good News’ that Christians truly believe in. At baptism it is believed that the Holy Spirit makes an indelible mark on the soul. It’s quite difficult to understand the power of the Holy Spirit on belief unless one has encountered it directly, although as a Buddhist, a meditator and a psychiatrist you will have a better understanding than most I imagine. But, yes. I guess there are always some who do religion for material gain.

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Ok, if god is ‘all knowing’ he’s going to know in advance Adam would fail.

Hi Mat,

This has been discussed for millennia. If you genuinely want to understand Christian thought, I suggest studying it a little:

Like @stu, I’m not an apologist for theistic religions. However, I don’t think it is helpful to criticise simplistic cartoon versions of them. Such criticisms won’t be taken seriously by knowledgeable Christians, any more than Buddhists would take seriously the criticism that “all Buddhism does is talk about suffering.”

There are plenty of holes in this argument, even with the brief exposition given above by Stu:

Being all-knowing doesn’t necessarily mean being all-controlling. The point seems to be that God gave Adam free will, which, by definition, means that He did not control him.

Here’s another article that may be helpful:


The freewill argument is about a century old, and would in my humble opinion have been crushed by Augustin or Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and Augustin were theistic compatibilists. They held that free will is compatible with predestination, much like atheists like Daniel Dennett maintain that morally relevant free will is compatible with determinism. In my opinion, the only version of free will that rises to the level of actually meaning something is compatibilistic. That is not to say that the universe is deterministic, only that the question of whether or not there is genuine randomness in the universe is irrelevant when it comes to freewill.

The classical Christian response to the problem of evil, one that goes back more than a millenium, is that God allows it because the end result will be better than if God had not permitted it. That is to say, this universe with all its misery and suffering is the only pathway to the best possible outcome for all sentient beings. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called this the omega point. It is is the reason why the universe was created, and why suffering is allowed, from a Christian point of view. Paul calls it birth pangs in the epistle to the Romans. He says all of creation is groaning, waiting to be liberated. Romans 8:20-22

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

A problem with this view is eternal hell, but then many Christian theologians maintain that hell may end up empty, and that Christians are allowed the hope that it will be. EDIT: to be fair, this idea is as modern as the free will response to the problem of evil, at least in western Christianity, but in Eastern Orthodoxy, and also in very early Christianity, universalism was and is much more common.

Personally, I think it is possible to construct versions of Christianity that are compatible with modern science, emptiness, impermanence, and which are more difficult to take apart with arguments, but I don’t really see why I would believe in any of them.

I think that is dependent on the “type” of Catholicism you were raised with i.e conservative, traditional, progressive/liberal, etc.

Coming from the more conservative strain myself, the ten were seen as definite commandments, and to be followed to the letter on pain of hell.

Now, the church also has the the 10 Precepts of the Church, which generally govern things outside the commandments. The precepts, despite their name, were effectively commandments, because combined with the ten commandments the constituted the bare minimum to remain a catholic in good standing.

So, just because something is termed a precept or a commandment is useless as terminology; what matters is the intent of the people using the words


I know. Kids, right?! You can give them all the good advice in the world. And even though you know exactly where their poor decisions are going to lead and you have the power to stop them making those decisions, sometimes you just have to let them do their thing and pledge to support them when they fail. It’s heartbreaking. But for the sake of growth and maturity, that’s what we do.

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Yeah, but not if it caused them pain of life and limb :leg:. Isn’t that poor parenting!