Considering the second precept

Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.

which I am most familiar with its translation as

I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given

Does this precept only apply to cases of theft or can it be extended into more intangible possessions such as someones time or energy? Considering the answers around the illegal download question it does seem as if there are interpretation in which it is only theft. I'd particularly like to know interpretations from different schools and the differences (or not) between them.

For this can we take the definition of theft as provided by wikipedia

theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.

4 Answers 4


No, it's meaning is far wider even in Theravada, let alone in Mahayana.

Check out Thanissaro Bhikkhu's compilation of Vinaya: the cases he lists include dealing with counterfeit money and smuggling goods without paying custom duties -- which clearly goes beyond expropriating someone's property.

Of contemporary teachers, e.g. Bro. Chan Khoon San (trained in Myanmar's Theravada) lists the following Types of Taking What Is Not Given in his Introductory Course on Early Buddhism:

  1. The most blatant, involving threats or force, are daylight robbery, extortion, purse snatching, kidnapping.
  2. The second type is stealing or secretly taking the article without the owner's knowledge such as housebreaking, burglary and pick-pocketing.
  3. The third type is fraud, laying false claims or cheating by confidence tricksters to gain someone's possessions.
  4. The fourth type is deceit when dishonest traders cheat their customers by false weights and measures or supply products of lower quality than specified.
  5. The fifth type is forgery when people pass counterfeit money as real or sell counterfeit gold and jewelry.
  6. The last type, though seemingly slight, is very common and occurs when employees take small items from their company for their own use without paying for it.

Most importantly, we should not forget the main purpose of training rules: to help one "curb the grosser forms of defilements" (Bro. Chan Khoon San):

The actions prohibited by the precepts such as killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and partaking of intoxicants are all rooted in greed, hatred and delusion and when we succumb to them, we strengthen these evil roots that they become dominant traits. By undertaking to observe the precepts, we weaken the grip of these evil roots by dispelling them with wholesome mental volitions. Each time the precepts are upheld, each time the moral volitions become strengthened, until eventually morality becomes a habitual trait through the condition of repetition (asevana paccaya).

Sat-Dharma (True Dharma) is famously "good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end". Among other things this means that Buddhist precepts both play their role at supporting social harmony and decreasing anguish at large, AND they propel the practitioner towards Enlightenment. All interpretation of Buddhist precepts must be made in light of their dual purpose.


I agree with Andrei's answer but would like to add some extra point.

One of Vajrayana teachers taught that every little action creates some subtle Karma and we should be mindful whenever we reach out for things. For example, when visiting friends we may find out that we forgot our toothpaste so we use the one that is in the bathroom asserting that the friends wouldn't mind us using their paste. Technically, however, we took something that was not given to us.

Instead of getting paranoid that we constantly create negative impressions, we can twist such situations and use them as an opportunity to generate something positive. We go ask our friends whether they could lend us some paste not out of fear of breaking the precept, but rather because we want to offer them a chance to be generous. It is not a big deal to offer some toothpaste to friends, but every, however small, act of generosity creates positive impressions in our minds. It is also a chance for us to express gratitude to our kind friends.


The Buddhist precept, "adhinna dhana weramani sikka phadan samadiyami," emphasizes the avoidance of stealing others' possessions.

This precept is transgressed when an individual takes something that rightfully belongs to someone else without their consent, making theft the primary focus. Intentional theft of another's property constitutes a breach of this precept. However, if one obtains the owner's consent, their actions are in accordance with the precept, underscoring the importance of respect for personal boundaries and consent in the context of this ethical guideline.


I think we should make it clear, are we talking about Buddhists precepts or about the consequences of our actions?

The precepts are 2600 years old so they will not address modern issues in a very specific way, it will always be a matter of interpretation, for example: Is cybersex, without real touch, considered wrong according to the precepts? I think the answer is yes, but it is open to interpretation.

From a Buddhist's precept perspective (downloads) I believe we will not reach a final conclusion and that is alright, I personaly heard monks saying it is wrong and it is ok, so you will have to decide, the debate will go on and on...

If you think in terms of the consequence of your actions, there is not much to debate, it is simple and clear, stimulating pirate CDs and illegal downloads will stimulate the pirate's industry and take money away from the legal industry, you will be creating problems for people that are just trying to make an honest living, we should put ourselves in their shoes and also we should think about what kind of society we want to create.

In the end, it is up to us, it is a personal choice.

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