The Five Mindfulness Trainings: An Overview


One who destroys life,
utters lies,
takes what is not given,
goes to another man's wife,
and is addicted to intoxicating drinks,
such a man digs up his own root
even in this world.



Dhammapada: verses 246 and 247
Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita.


With these words, the Buddha laid the foundation for Buddhist ethics 2,500 years ago. As we can see, even in the Buddha's day, murder, violence, deceit, theft, sexual misconduct, and substance abuse were destroying lives. Two and a half millennia later, Thich Naht Hanh said he was dismayed to learn just how much suffering in western societies "is the result of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and similar behaviors that have been passed down from generation to generation."

It is indeed sad to see how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yet, the Buddha's message is a ray of hope and glad tidings amidst human malaise.

Thich Naht Hanh says, "When we put a young person in this society without trying to protect him, he receives violence, hatred, fear, and insecurity every day, and eventually he gets sick. Our conversations, TV programs, advertisements, newspapers, and magazines all water the seeds of suffering in young people, and in not-so-young people as well. ... Taking refuge in these things only makes us feel hungrier and less satisfied, and we want to ingest even more. We need some guidelines, some preventive medicine, to protect ourselves, so we can become healthy again. We have to find a cure for our illness. We have to find something that is good, beautiful, and true, in which we can take refuge.

"When we drive a car, we are expected to observe certain rules so that we do not have an accident. Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha offered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome, and healthy lives. They were the Five Mindfulness Trainings."

What Thich Naht Hanh calls the Five Mindfulness Trainings have long been known as the Five Precepts, five injunctions against the behaviors the Buddha cited in the verses from the Dhammapada quoted above. They constituted the minimum ethical standard for successful Buddhist practice. The Buddha recognized that anyone whose life is disturbed by the consequences of unwholesome behaviors cannot be equanimous and mindful.

Thich Naht Hanh says, "When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing "this", we prevent "that" from happening. This kind of insight is not imposed on us by an outside authority. It is the fruit of our own observation. Practicing the mindfulness trainings, therefore, helps us be more calm and concentrated and brings more insight and enlightenment, which makes our practice of the mindfulness trainings more solid."

He found, however, that westerners did not appreciate "precepts", thinking they were "authoritarian commandments" which sliced ethical practice into good and evil. And he says he agrees.

"Precepts are different from 'commandments' or 'rules.' They are insights born from mindful observation and direct experience of suffering. They are guidelines that help us train ourselves to live in a way that protects us and those around us."

Moreover, the Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

The most recent formulations of the Five Mindfulness Trainings appear below.  Click on the title links to view commentaries by Thich Nhat Hanh on slightly different formulations of these Trainings.

The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

The Third Mindfulness Training: True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are recited periodically by the monks and nuns in the monasteries founded by Thich Nhat Hanh and by lay practitioners of his teachings in sanghas worldwide.

Note: The source of the quotations of Thich Naht Hanh come from his book "For A Future To Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings"