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It seems to me that according to one interpretation of the "3rd precept" of the 5 precepts one could even engage in various sexual acts with a vast number of prostitutes nonstop and that still wouldn't be considered as breaking the "3rd precept". (I am doubtful of it being possible to attain stream-entry with that indulgent behavior therefore I believe the Buddha did not teach that as being a way to attain stream-entry.)

Why has the "3rd precept" of the 5 precepts been interpreted as being so permissive?

I find it concerning how the "3rd precept" of the 5 precepts has been interpreted as being so permissive.

  • Just keep it an no excuses, it's not toletant at all. – Samana Johann Sep 19 at 23:52
  • I wrote but then deleted the first comment on this question but I think it was something like: "The question in the header is based on the assumption that the 5 precepts are part of the minimum requirements to attain stream-entry.". – Angus Sep 21 at 0:47
  • Therefore was it said: to gain stream, for no other useless purpose and stand. Just observe them, step by step refined, investigating body, feeling, mindstates and Dhamma (fout Noble Truth). – Samana Johann Sep 21 at 11:02
  • "I am doubtful of it being possible to attain stream-entry with that indulgent behavior therefore I believe the Buddha did not teach that as being a way to attain stream-entry.". I believe that instead the Buddha's teaching is about and means refraining from that "indulgent behavior" is a requirement for stream-entry. note: by "way to" I don't mean "method". – Angus Sep 22 at 16:52
  • Yes, of course, it's not possible to reach stream as householder, one needs to leave, give up home (senses) first, at least temporary to gain stream. As for stream the eight precepts or ten as prerequisite is required. The five alone for themself wouldn't go beyond worlds in the realms of sensuality, good householder, yet if serious let to 8 and more naturally. – Samana Johann Sep 24 at 2:40
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The third of the five precepts:

  1. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
    I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

The third of the eight precepts:

  1. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
    I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.

So the third precept is stricter in the "eight precept" version of the precepts, than in the "five precept" version.

These training rules [the eight precepts] are observed by laypeople during periods of intensive meditation practice and during uposatha (lunar observance) days. The Eight Precepts are based on the Five Precepts, with the third precept extended to prohibit all sexual activity and an additional three precepts that are especially supportive to meditation practice.

This answer quoted this introduction to the Five precepts, which says,

In many suttas regarding lay practice (Anguttara iii, 203), the Buddha explicitly warned of the five vices, which are dangers and enemies, and lead to hell. What are the five?

i) Killing living beings
ii) Taking what is not given
iii) Sexual misconduct
iv) Telling lies
v) Partaking of intoxicants

  • One who has these five vices lives the home-life without selfconfidence.
  • One who has these five vices breeds hatred in this life or breeds hatred in the life hereafter, feels in his mind pain and grief.
  • One who has these five vices is termed 'vicious' and arises in hell.

In the same suttas, the Buddha spoke of the advantages of cultivation of the five virtues, which are the Five Precepts, namely:

i) Abstention from killing living beings
ii) Abstention from taking what is not given
iii) Abstention from sexual misconduct
iv) Abstention from telling lies
v) Abstention from partaking of intoxicants

  • One who has these five virtues lives the home-life with complete self-confidence.
  • One who has these five virtues breeds no hatred in this life, or in the life hereafter, nor does he feel pain and grief.
  • One who has these five virtues is called virtuous and arises in the happy plane of existence.

I don't read that as being permissive. I read that as "this is the minimum standard of good behaviour needed to avoid being offensive towards other people -- to avoid harming other people."

The Five Precepts form the actual practice of morality for the layman. They are the minimum ethical code, which are mandatory for all lay disciples. They are undertaken immediately after the taking of the Three Refuges at every Buddhist service or ceremony and are administered by a monk if one is present; otherwise the lay disciples can do it by themselves. It is usual for devout lay disciples to undertake the Five Precepts as part of their daily recitation.

There's a definition of "misconduct":

This precept enjoins abstinence from improper or illicit sexual relations. The Atthasalini defines sexual misconduct as the volition arising in the body-door, through the unlawful intention of trespassing upon a person to whom one has no right of going. There are four conditions for wrong conduct in sexual pleasures.

i) There must be a man or woman with whom it is improper to have sexual intercourse.
ii) There must be intention to have sexual intercourse with such a person.
iii) Action must be taken to have such an intercourse.
iv) There must be enjoyment from contact of the sexual organs.

With reference to the first condition, there are twenty kinds of women with whom men should have no sexual relations. They can be divided into three groups, namely: women under the guardianship of parents, family members, relatives and authorities charged with their care; married or betrothed women; bhikkhunis and religious women observing the Holy Life. For all women, a man forbidden by tradition or under religious rules is prohibited as a partner. For any unwilling partner who is drugged or forced to have sexual intercourse under threat of violence or coercion, conditions (ii) & (iv) exclude them from violation of the precept.

And it's not "to attain stream entry".

And I don't read it as permissive (e.g. "prostitution is encouraged"), instead I read it as protective, i.e., "don't do things which could break up families -- e.g. sexual activity with people who are married, and/or with the children who are under their protection -- nor which could interfere with someone who is leading the holy life."

It seems to me that according to one interpretation of the "3rd precept" of the 5 precepts one could even engage in various sexual acts with a vast number of prostitutes nonstop and that still wouldn't be considered as breaking the "3rd precept". (I am doubtful of it being possible to attain stream-entry with that indulgent behavior therefore I believe the Buddha did not teach that as being a way to attain stream-entry.)

So ... "sex with prostitutes is a way to attain stream entry" -- that doesn't sound like doctrine from the suttas, does it -- is someone saying that?

I think that the canon says that some lay people entered the stream. And I think that many lay people can and do keep the 3rd precept -- by being married or unmarried -- keeping the 3rd precept isn't bad -- and the precept doesn't require anyone to "engage in etc. with a etc.".

I don't much like to criticise other people's sex lives -- "You're too permissive! You naughty people! You shouldn't have any sexual activity, with your boyfriend/girlfriend -- even if you are both adults!" Instead I'm like, if a couple is happily married and of good behaviour then mudita and good luck to them -- but criticising people isn't something ... is that a good way to spend time?

Incidentally I'm not sure that prostitution is right livelihood. Doesn't the canon define 5 types of wrong livelihood for lay people -- i.e. trade in weapons, in poisons, in meat, in alcohol ... and, in human beings?

Also would you describe the first precept as "too permissive" -- would you ask, "Why is the first precept interpreted as 'no killing'? I don't believe the Buddha taught that torturing people without killing them is a way to stream entry'."

I don't think the precepts are "too permissive" -- I think they're as a good start. They're also kind of practical -- and common-sense, which everyone (even lay societies to which Buddhism is a new doctrine) might agree with.

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I have explained the original Buddhist teachings about sexual conduct & misconduct, before.

The 3rd precept in the Pali suttas (e.g. AN 10.176) says a daughter is to be "protected" by her family.

Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man.

AN 10.176

Per the later Commentary, the word "protected" means, per the DN 31 sutta, the daughter is "restrained from unskillful behaviour" until the "parents arrange a suitable marriage" for her into a good family.

In five ways, young householder, a child should minister to his parents as the East:

(i) Having supported me I shall support them,

(ii) I shall do their duties,

(iii) I shall keep the family tradition,

(iv) I shall make > myself worthy of my inheritance,

(v) furthermore I shall offer alms in honor of my departed relatives.

In five ways, young householder, the parents thus ministered to as the East by >their children, show their compassion:

(i) they restrain them from evil,

(ii) they encourage them to do good,

(iii) they train them for a profession,

(iv) they arrange a suitable> marriage,

(v) at the proper time they hand over their inheritance to them.

DN 31

This is no different to the instructions in any other major religion.

Also, the suttas (Snp 1.6) literally condemn having sex with prostitutes.

Unsatisfied with his own wife, with others’ wives he’s seen in tow, corrupted too with prostitutes— that’s the way to disaster’s woe.

Snp 1.6

The impression is contemporary Buddhism is so permissive because monks don't want to make any waves with Cultural Marxist Hollywood brainwashed laypeople, which monks view as "metta".

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Engaging in sex with someone who is not under another's protection or care does not break the precept. There can be prostitutes who may not fall into this category who are under their family's care but doing this on the sly. In this case, the 3rd precept may be broken. Also, there may be non-prostitutes who are not under protection. E.g. in western culture when one becomes independent and moves on to one shelter perhaps it can be thought of as been not under another's protection and care if they are totally not under the care or concern their parents and relatives. Therefore, sex in this context does not break the precepts.

To have sex one must develop sensory desire (kāmacchanda) which is one of the 5 hindrances. This effective barrier to stream-entry. Though you are not breaking the precept, one is creating a barrier for its realisation.

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Sexual misconduct is described in MN 41:

He misconducts himself in sensual pleasures; he has intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, and even with those who are garlanded in token of betrothal.

Firstly, this only applies to lay people.

I would elaborate the above as:

  • Sex with an underage person, who are under the guardianship of their parents by law
  • Sex with those who are under the guardianship of their relatives (i.e. they are not independent adults even if they are adults)
  • Sex with people who are married to others
  • Sex with people who are engaged to others or in a committed relationship with others
  • Sex with those not allowed by the law, for e.g. prisoners. I think this could also apply to sex with members of the monastic order. This may also apply to other contexts like teachers with their students etc.

Hence, consensual casual sex between two unmarried unattached independent lay adults, doesn't seem to be covered by this precept.

Also, using legalized prostitution doesn't seem to be covered by this precept. However, prostitutes themselves (and others working in other roles in the industry) would be violating Right Livelihood as a trade of the flesh (see AN 5.177).

The purpose of the third precept is in my opinion, to avoid and eradicate the negative states of mind (especially deception, guilt and remorse) created by cheating on a relationship or by having sex in a relationship that is forbidden or inappropriate. Somebody who cheats on their partner tends to also lie to the partner, which violates another precept on speaking the truth.

You must remember that the five precepts are the bare minimum when it comes to virtues.

Sensual enjoyment of the sexual act with a spouse is not forbidden for lay people. Also, alcohol and drugs are not covered by the precept for the sensual enjoyment potential, but rather for the loss of self-control. So, it is not sensual enjoyment that is the target of the Five Precepts. Sensual enjoyment is targeted by the Eight Precepts and Ten Precepts.

The Vera Sutta (AN 10.92) lists out the criteria for stream entry:

  • Five forms of fear and animosity are stilled (i.e. the effect of consistently and heedfully practising the five precepts)
  • Four factors of stream entry
  • Rightly seen and rightly ferreted out the noble method (i.e. understood dependent origination thoroughly through insight)

The four factors of stream entry are verified confidence (or experiential confidence) in the Buddha, Dhamma (the teaching) and Sangha, as well as, being endowed with the virtues appealing to the noble ones.

So, it's not true that only the five precepts are needed for stream entry. In fact, all three criteria above must be fulfilled.

Please pay attention to this phrase from the Vera Sutta:

"He is endowed with virtues that are appealing to the noble ones: untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, leading to concentration.

This is a criteria for stream entry. A person who is over-indulgent in sensual pleasures will not meet this requirement.

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"I am doubtful of it being possible to attain stream-entry with that indulgent behavior".

True. Remember it'll take a lot more than just perfecting the Five Precepts in order for one to attain StreamEntry. There's the stock phrase about stream-enterers in many suttas: "The stream winner, with virtues dear to noble ones endowed, which are unbroken and without a rent, untarnished and without a blemish, purifying, praised by the wise, uncontaminated and conducive to concentration". So engaging in all sorts of sexual acts with bunch of prostitutes nonstop, while it might not break the 3rd precept, but it's 100% absolutely certain that it's the opposite from the kind of virtues that are dear to the noble ones, endowed, unbroken, untarnished, and without blemish!

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Many things distracts us from seeing what is and a big one is clinging to sex. So one aims to abstain from sex so one has a better chance to stumble upon stream entry. It's really very simple.

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