The Book of the Golden Precepts is, according to H. P. Blavatsky, a very old book that remains unknown by scholars and the general public. She says this is "... one of the works put into the hands of mystic students in the East". It is composed by a collection of treatises of Buddhist and pre-Buddhist origin. The Voice of the Silence is a translation of three of these treatises. The original source for Light on the Path is also said to be one of these. Finally, the Book of Dzyan and The Book of Golden Precepts are said to belong to the same "series".
Some years later (around 1965), he published an edition of The Voice of Silence in Bombay, with his own commentary. From the late 1990s until last month I had been unable to consult this edition, to see if he said anything more in it about the original. The only copy of this book listed on WorldCat (OCLC) is held by the British Library. They were not willing to lend it through interlibrary loan or to photocopy it or scan it. Finally, with the help of intermediaries Robert Hütwohl and Leslie Price, arrangements were made for Janet Lee to visit the British Library and see it in person. She was able to photograph all of its pages with her smartphone, and she kindly sent them to me. So at last I was able to see what is in this book.
This little book contains certain teachings given for study and for meditation to Chelas in the Esoteric School. H.P.B.'s 'The Voice of the Silence' comprises a number of extracts from the same sources of teaching in a reproduction which is faithful
The extracts from teachings both public and private which the present book contains, are an effort to present to Occidentals and, indeed, to Orientals for that matter, other doctrines current in the Esoteric School, but in a form more comprehensible to the West, that is to say in a form which is more familiar to thoughtful Western minds, although in some cases I have adhered faithfully almost word for word to the paragraphs of the Secret Books which I myself have studied for many years. (...)I hope that readers of the following pages will be illumined with the same Light and receive the same inspiration from the following extracts, translated or paraphrased from the books of the Esoteric School, that I myself in past years have received. (...) For all students of the Ancient Wisdom, for all who yearn to know something of the life that Chelas -disciples- of the Ancient Wisdom lead, I know that this collection of extracts from the archaic teachings of the Wisdom-Religion of mankind, as taught in the Holy Order of Compassion, will be helpful and stimulating.
The five precepts (Sanskrit: pañcaśīla; Pali: pañcasīla) or five rules of training (Sanskrit: pañcaśikṣapada; Pali: pañcasikkhapada)[note 1] is the most important system of morality for Buddhist lay people. They constitute the basic code of ethics to be respected by lay followers of Buddhism. The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Within the Buddhist doctrine, they are meant to develop mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. They are sometimes referred to as the Śrāvakayāna precepts in the Mahāyāna tradition, contrasting them with the bodhisattva precepts. The five precepts form the basis of several parts of Buddhist doctrine, both lay and monastic. With regard to their fundamental role in Buddhist ethics, they have been compared with the ten commandments in Abrahamic religions or the ethical codes of Confucianism. The precepts have been connected with utilitarianist, deontological and virtue approaches to ethics, though by 2017, such categorization by western terminology had mostly been abandoned by scholars. The precepts have been compared with human rights because of their universal nature, and some scholars argue they can complement the concept of human rights.
The five precepts were common to the religious milieu of 6th-century BCE India, but the Buddha's focus on awareness through the fifth precept was unique. As shown in Early Buddhist Texts, the precepts grew to be more important, and finally became a condition for membership of the Buddhist religion. When Buddhism spread to different places and people, the role of the precepts began to vary. In countries where Buddhism had to compete with other religions, such as China, the ritual of undertaking the five precepts developed into an initiation ceremony to become a Buddhist layperson. On the other hand, in countries with little competition from other religions, such as Thailand, the ceremony has had little relation to the rite of becoming Buddhist, as many people are presumed Buddhist from birth.
Undertaking and upholding the five precepts is based on the principle of non-harming (Pāli and Sanskrit: ahiṃsa). The Pali Canon recommends one to compare oneself with others, and on the basis of that, not to hurt others. Compassion and a belief in karmic retribution form the foundation of the precepts. Undertaking the five precepts is part of regular lay devotional practice, both at home and at the local temple. However, the extent to which people keep them differs per region and time. People keep them with an intention to develop themselves, but also out of fear of a bad rebirth.
In modern times, traditional Buddhist countries have seen revival movements to promote the five precepts. As for the West, the precepts play a major role in Buddhist organizations. They have also been integrated into mindfulness training programs, though many mindfulness specialists do not support this because of the precepts' religious import. Lastly, many conflict prevention programs make use of the precepts.
Buddhist scriptures explain the five precepts as the minimal standard of Buddhist morality. It is the most important system of morality in Buddhism, together with the monastic rules. Śīla (Sanskrit; Pali: sīla) is used to refer to Buddhist precepts, including the five. But the word also refers to the virtue and morality which lies at the foundation of the spiritual path to enlightenment, which is the first of the three forms of training on the path. Thus, the precepts are rules or guidelines to develop mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. The five precepts are part of the right speech, action and livelihood aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path, the core teaching of Buddhism.[note 2] Moreover, the practice of the five precepts and other parts of śīla are described as forms of merit-making, means to create good karma. The five precepts have been described as social values that bring harmony to society, and breaches of the precepts described as antithetical to a harmonious society. On a similar note, in Buddhist texts, the ideal, righteous society is one in which people keep the five precepts.
In conclusion, the five precepts lie at the foundation of all Buddhist practice, and in that respect, can be compared with the ten commandments in Christianity and Judaism or the ethical codes of Confucianism.
The five precepts were part of Early Buddhism and are common to nearly all schools of Buddhism. In Early Buddhism, the five precepts were regarded as an ethic of restraint, to restrain unwholesome tendencies and thereby purify one's being to attain enlightenment. The five precepts were based on the pañcaśīla, prohibitions for pre-Buddhist Brahmanic priests, which were adopted in many Indic religions around 6th century BCE. The first four Buddhist precepts were nearly identical to these pañcaśīla, but the fifth precept, the prohibition on intoxication, was new in Buddhism:[note 3] the Buddha's emphasis on awareness (Pali: appamāda) was unique.
In some schools of ancient Indic Buddhism, Buddhist devotees could choose to adhere to only a number of precepts, instead of the complete five. The schools that would survive in later periods, however, that is Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, were both ambiguous about this practice. Some early Mahāyāna texts allow it, but some do not; Theravāda texts do not discuss such selective practice at all.
In Early Buddhist Texts, the role of the five precepts gradually develops. First of all, the precepts are combined with a declaration of faith in the Triple Gem (the Buddha, his teaching and the monastic community). Next, the precepts develop to become the foundation of lay practice. The precepts are seen as a preliminary condition for the higher development of the mind. At a third stage in the texts, the precepts are actually mentioned together with the triple gem, as though they are part of it. Lastly, the precepts, together with the triple gem, become a required condition for the practice of Buddhism, as laypeople have to undergo a formal initiation to become a member of the Buddhist religion. When Buddhism spread to different places and people, the role of the precepts began to vary. In countries in which Buddhism was adopted as the main religion without much competition from other religious disciplines, such as Thailand, the relation between the initiation of a layperson and the five precepts has been virtually non-existent. In such countries, the taking of the precepts has become a sort of ritual cleansing ceremony. People are presumed Buddhist from birth without much of an initiation. The precepts are often committed to by new followers as part of their installment, yet this is not very pronounced. However, in some countries like China, where Buddhism was not the only religion, the precepts became an ordination ceremony to initiate laypeople into the Buddhist religion.
In the Theravāda tradition, the precepts are recited in a standardized fashion, using Pāli language. In Thailand, a leading lay person will normally request the monk to administer the precepts by reciting the following three times: 2b1af7f3a8