precepts ［戒］ ( shīla; Pali sīla; kai): Rules of discipline. One of the three types of learning that Buddhists should master. The word precept in Buddhism has the connotation of preventing error and putting an end to evil. Broadly speaking, Buddhist precepts can be divided into those of Hinayana and those of Mahayana. The Hinayana precepts consist of several categories or groupings, such as the five precepts, eight precepts, ten precepts, two hundred and fifty precepts, and five hundred precepts. The most fundamental of these are the five precepts: (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to engage in sexual misconduct, (4) not to lie, and (5) not to drink intoxicants. One who observes these precepts is said to be reborn as a human being. The eight precepts comprise these five precepts (the third of which is replaced by “not to engage in any sexual relations”) plus three others: (6) not to wear ornaments or perfume, nor to listen to singing or watch dancing, (7) not to sleep on an elevated or broad bed, and (8) not to eat at an improper hour, i.e., after noon. The eight precepts are for lay believers and are observed only on specified days. The ten precepts are for both male and female novices of the Buddhist Order. They consist of the eight precepts described above, plus two others: (9) not to listen to singing or watch dancing (which is part of  above, but is here made an independent precept), and (10) not to own valuables such as gold and silver. The two hundred and fifty precepts and the five hundred precepts are the complete rules of discipline for fully ordained monks and nuns, respectively.
Mahayana precepts include the three comprehensive precepts, the ten major precepts, and the forty-eight minor precepts. The three comprehensive precepts are for Mahayana bodhisattvas, whether laity or clergy. They are (1) the precept that encompasses all the rules and standards of behavior set forth by the Buddha for Mahayana bodhisattvas, i.e., to observe all those precepts and prevent evil; (2) the precept that encompasses all good deeds, i.e., to strive to perform good deeds; and (3) the precept that encompasses all living beings, i.e., to instruct and benefit all living beings. The third is also called the precept for benefiting sentient beings. The ten major precepts are for clergy. They are (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to engage in any sexual relations, (4) not to lie, (5) not to sell liquor, (6) not to speak of the past misdeeds of other Buddhists, (7) not to praise oneself or disparage others, (8) not to begrudge offerings or spare one’s efforts for the sake of Buddhism, (9) not to give way to anger, and (10) not to speak ill of the three treasures of Buddhism. The forty-eight minor precepts are set forth in the Brahmā Net Sutra and deal with matters of less importance than those covered by the ten major precepts.
In China, priests of the T’ien-t’ai and other Mahayana schools received the Hinayana precepts at their ordination, though they interpreted these in light of Mahayana doctrine. In Japan, however, Dengyō (767–822), the founder of the Tendai school, pointed out the contradiction of Mahayana priests having to receive the Hinayana ordination ceremony and, based on the Lotus Sutra, adopted the three comprehensive precepts, the ten major precepts, and the forty-eight minor precepts as the specific rules of Mahayana discipline that priests were to uphold. Because these precepts were based on the Lotus Sutra, which is known in T’ien-t’ai’s doctrine as the perfect teaching, they were called the perfect precepts.