Upasaka Precepts

The upaseka precepts are another set of precepts intended to be followed by both monastic and lay followers. Unlike peasant Buddhism, these precepts don’t appear to assume one is illiterate or otherwise unable to practice, except through refraining from a few things that most people don’t do anyone, such as murder, rape, robbery, alcoholism, and socially unacceptable lies, such as perjury. When you continue to do what you weren’t doing anyhow, what remains is devotional Buddhism, i.e. taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha.

The Upaseka precepts, for me, is a much more interesting starting point. Here are some observations so far:

Combined with the BNS precepts, this is a good skeleton for ordinary Buddhist morality, which is 1/6 of the paramitas and 1/10 of the Bhumis.

It’s a fund raising document. The document gives undue attention to dana and the merits of funding the Sangha.
It’s very East Asian, as shown by the minor precept against raising silk worms.
It specifically encourages meditation. (I’m not sure even the BNS does this)
It suggest merit results in this-worldly benefits, such as wealth and long life. I can’t tell if this is Mahayana skillful means, or if this is suggesting that that is how the world works. Elsewhere it’s common to suggest that a Bodhisattva works with people where they are– if they need food and money, help them with that. Once the ordinary needs are taken care of, work on philosophy, and other more lofty goals.

The Six Major Upasaka Precepts

(1) Even for the sake of one’s body and life, one should not kill any sentient being, even an ant.
(2) …, one should not steal anything, even a coin.
(3) …, one should not tell lies, such as claiming to have visualized the impurity of a decomposing corpse or to have become an Anāgāmin.
(4) …, one should not engage in sexual misconduct.
(5) …, one should not speak of the faults of bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, or upāsikās.
(6) …, one should not sell alcohol.

Like the BNS, selling alcohol is worse that consuming it. Similarly, no mention of other mind altering substances. The sexual misconduct is interpreted, as far as I can tell, according to rather strict Chinese rules. The fifth precept is about making sure the lay follower understands the pecking order. This theme repeats in the minor precepts.

The Twenty-eight Minor Upāsaka Precepts

(1) If an upāsaka who has accepted this precept fails to make offerings to his parents and teachers, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(2) … indulges in drinking alcohol, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(3) …, out of disgust, fails to visit the ill, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(4) … refuses to give anything to a solicitor for alms, sending him away empty-handed, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(5) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept sees [the appearance of] anyone among elders, bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās. If he fails to rise to receive, salute, and greet him, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(6) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept sees someone among bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās violate any precepts. If he says arrogantly, “I am better than he; he is less than I,” he has committed the sin of negligence.
(7) … fails each month on the six purification days to observe the eight precepts and to make offerings to the Three Jewels, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(8) … fails to go to hear teachings of the Dharma given within forty lis of his place, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(9) … takes bedding or furniture from a temple, he has committed the sin of negligence. Without rising above this impure act, which is conducive to continuing his cyclic existence, [after death] he cannot avoid going down an evil life-path.
(10) … suspects that there are insects in the water but drinks it anyway, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(11) … travels alone through perilous areas, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(12) … stays overnight alone at a nunnery, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(13) … for the sake of his wealth or life, beats and scolds his slaves, servants, or outsiders, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(14) … serves leftovers to bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, or upāsikās, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(15) … raises cats or foxes, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(16) … raises animals, such as elephants, horses, cows, goats, camels, or donkeys, and refuses to give them away to someone who has not received the [upāsaka] precepts, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(17) … fails to stock ceremonial robes, begging bowls, and staves [to give to monks or nuns], he has committed the sin of negligence.
(18) … needs to make a living as a farmer but fails to seek farmland and pure water, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(19) … makes a living by selling goods by weight. He should not raise price from an agreed price, and should weigh goods honestly. If he fails do so, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(20) … has sex in inappropriate places or at inappropriate times, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(21) … fails to pay taxes for his business and runs away, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(22) … breaks the law of his country, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(23) … enjoys the fresh grains, fruits, melons, and vegetables he has acquired, and fails to offer them first to the Three Jewels, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(24) … expounds and praises the Dharma despite denial of permission by the Saṅgha, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(25) … walks ahead of a bhikṣu or śrāmaṇera, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(26) If, when serving food in a temple, an upāsaka who has accepted this precept serves better food and more food to his teacher than to other monks, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(27) … raises silkworms, he has committed the sin of negligence.
(28) Suppose an upāsaka who has accepted this precept encounters an ill person on the road. If he walks away without stopping to see to his problem and make arrangements for him, he has committed the sin of negligence.

#1 is Chinese filial piety.

Some expand on the major precepts, #2 is about alcoholism. #20 expands the restrictions on sex to certain times and place– I checked, I can’t find a description of the times and places that were out of bounds. The rule about overnight stays at a nunnery appears to be aimed at horny men who want to lure the women away.

Four rules about animal rights– 10, 15, 16, 27 and the first major precept covers all life including insects. The purification days include fasting, which essentially meant being vegetarian for the day.

A couple of rules about following the law and personal and professional prudence. 22, 21, 19, 18.

One third of the rules about the lay-ordained pecking order, 26, 25, 24, 17, 14, 12, 9, 6, 5.

From a modern or American standpoint, a lot of these rule don’t bite. No one raises silk worms anyhow. I’ve never seen water with insects in my life, at least not that I was planning to drink. The ordained Sangha barely exists. So in order to act arrogantly towards the Sangha, you’d have to first go out of your way to find it. Someone who has gone out of their way to find the ordained Sangha, probably already feels positively and respectfully towards it. The modern issue is, who cares about the ordained Sangha, in particular, do we care that an ordained, celebate, full time Sangha doesn’t exist here in the west? (except in a numerically trivial sort of way) There isn’t a business model for the ordained Sangha, people are becoming interested in Buddhism after they have already settled into their family and careers. With such big basic issues like this, worrying about if I feel like filching sugar packets from the temple at tea time seems absurd.

The prohibition on cats and dogs does bite. This is one area where the Chinese are more pro-animal rights than I am. I still own a cat. I mitigate by keeping it in doors. In part by accident, cat food is part plant based, part animal based. For me, owning pets is a mixed good. If people didn’t own cats and dogs, they likely wouldn’t have any relationship to animals at all to form the basis for sympathy towards less charismatic animals like pigs. Pets and zoo animals, are the unwitting and involuntary diplomats from the animal kingdom.