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The Three Refuges and Five Precepts

The Three Refuges and Five Precepts are chants that aren’t exactly mantras. They are instead chanted in a manner that is mindful in an effort to connect our minds with the goal of attaining spiritual awakening. So while the Three Refuges and Five Precepts aren’t mantras per se, they do serve the same essential function as mantras do.

There are several parts to the chant, and they can be broken down for better understanding.

The Three Refuges

Namo Tassa Bhagavator Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa

Namo Tassa Bhagavator Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa

Namo Tassa Bhagavator Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa

This part is chanted three times, and it serves as an acknowledgement to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, or Gautama Buddha. While it can be often difficult to translate into English, this chant can be translated in a manner that makes it easier to wholly understand.

  • means Namohomage
  • Tassa means to him
  • Bhagavator means the blessed one
  • Arahato means the worthy one
  • Sammāsambuddhassa means the fully and perfectly awakened one. (the Buddha)

This chant is therefore essentially an homage to the blessed and the worthy one who is fully and perfectly awakened, which can be translated to mean Buddha. In Buddhism there is a lot of strength and power in repetition, especially repetition that is three-fold; which is what gives this chant so much of its strength and power.

The Five Precepts

The Five Precepts are five ethical principles that all Buddhists should learn as a part of their training. These principles serve as encouragement for being put into practice in our everyday lives. The Five Precepts are as follows.

  1. 1.       Panatipata Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami
  2. 2.       Adinnadana Vermani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami
  3. 3.       Kamesumicchacara Veramani Sikkhapadam Samidiyami
  4. 4.       Musavada Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami
  5. 5.       Sura Meraya Majji Pamadatthana Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami

There is sometimes a bit of confusion about these precepts in that they are thought to be commandments or instructions. They are however not commandments, they are training principles. Each of the precepts has in it the words Sikkhapadam Samadiyami, which essentially translates to mean, “I agree to undertake the training principle.”

Unlike commandments that are essentially strict instructions to be followed to the letter by those devoted to Buddhism, the precepts offer no compulsion or risk of punishment if they are not followed. They are practices that should be taken on by the Buddhist so that he or she can work toward training his or her mind to being much more compassionate and much more mindful. They are not hard and fast rules that need to be followed in effort to avoid punishment by a vengeful deity.

The precepts might not be readily translated into English, but they do have meanings that are easy to comprehend.

Panatipata Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami means “I understand the training principles of abstaining from taking life.” This is in reference to not partaking in any activity or action that could potentially lead to the termination of another life.

Adinnadana Vermani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami means “I understand the training principles of abstaining from taking the not-given.” This is in reference to avoiding taking items that were not first offered, in other words it means that Buddhists agree not to steal.

Kamesumicchacara Veramani Sikkhapadam Samidiyami means “I undertake the training principles of abstaining from sexual misconduct.” This is in reference to avoiding any sexual activities that could be construed as being harmful or otherwise damaging. This could include assault or the betrayal of your romantic partner.

Musavada Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami means “I undertake the training principle of abstaining from false speech.” This is in reference to avoiding saying things that are not true, in other words avoiding lying and deliberately spreading falsehoods.

Sura Meraya Majji Pamadatthana Veramani Sikkhapadam Samadiyami means “I undertake the training principle of abstaining from intoxication.” This is in reference to avoiding drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication. It doesn’t forbid drinking per se, but it does suggest that drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication is the step to avoid.

At the end of the precepts, the person performing the chant will wrap up with a three-fold “Sadhu!” Sadhu can be translated to meaning “Good!”

The Three Refuges and Five Precepts serve to help emphasize the negative behaviors that we should all be avoiding, and also help to reinforce in our minds the positive outcome that will occur from incorporating the precepts into our daily lives. In order to further cultivate the positivity that we are seeking to add to our lives, there are also five “positive precepts” that are often added to the chant after the five so-called negatives. This only occurs in some schools of Buddhism training, so may not be widely recognized by all Buddhists.

They are as follows.

  1. 1. This is in reference to the good cleansing energy that can arise and wash over us when we perform good and positive deeds for others, without selfish tendencies.       With deeds of loving kindness, I purify my body.
  2. 2.       With open-handed generosity, I purify my body. This is in reference to the way that being selflessly generous can help to further purify our bodies and our spirits.
  3. 3.       With stillness, simplicity, and contentment, I purify my body. This is in reference to the way that we can find spiritual purification by embracing the simplicity and stillness of our surroundings.
  4. 4.       With truthful communication, I purify my speech. This is in reference to the belief that by speaking with a truthful and open heart, we will be purifying our speech.
  5. 5.       With mindfulness, clear and radiant, I purify my mind. This is in reference to the way that by being mindful and by keeping a clear head, we will be open to the truth and wisdom around us.

The whole series of chants is typically performed at the start of a training period or at the start of a brand new day so that Buddhists can be better prepared to face their day with a clear mind, clear spirit, and a willingness to be the change that they want to see in their world.