I'm a 16 year old girl and at a time in my life,I have been used to watch inappropriate things.
When my parents found this out,my mom got me promised to her in front of Buddha to not to do it, and I promised her with pure intention of keeping it.

Then by the time, when I just turned out to be a teenager I just got and urge and curiosity to see them and I watched them again.
Is this even a promise, if it is a promise according to Buddhism then have I done a sin?

  • It wouldn't even seems you lied but when you feel to watch them again means you couldn't be mindful anymore. Urge, Curiosity so you desired and that cause of Dukkha. Try practicing Panchashila and eight precepts so you don't even need to promise that may you gonna break ever. Thank you. May Buddha Dhamma and Sangha bless you. Namo Buddhay.
    – Swapnil
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 9:41
  • Panchashila and Eight precepts are kind of promises themselves that you need to practice so that's why your mom got you promised to her in front of Buddha. If you break precepts you build bad karma. And not being mindful.
    – Swapnil
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 9:45
  • Yes it does break Buddhism precept at all may this question would help you Does not keeping a promise violate the precept on lying? What if I promised myself?
    – Swapnil
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 9:51

5 Answers 5


Talia, there is no 'sin' in breaking a promise made with pure intentions of keeping it. (In fact, if someone promises with all his heart to kill me, I hope he breaks it!)

Even for monastics, like me, we occasionally have to break our promise or agreement to do something (such as accepting a invitation to a meal or to give a talk) when something else more important crops up. It would be unwise to think we have to keep all our promises, made based on circumstances at that time.

It's only wrong if we 'promise' with the intention of not keeping it. In this case, the so-called promise is actually a deliberate lie.

Can you actually be sure that you wouldn't do something in the future? I can't. I know my mind now, but I can't know how it will be in the future. So, how can we promise what we cannot be sure of?

  • @roheet Can you tell us your purpose of quoting that sutta? Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 2:10
  • @roheet Nope, I wasn't referring to to first intention. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 2:13
  • Comments section is not good for discussion, lets discussion here
    – threefold
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 3:03
  • @roheet and I had a good discussion (as linked above) and I think we seem to have come to a resolution. Please take a look. Ping me (@KumāraBhikkhu) if necessary. Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 3:57

MN8 has many sayings that apply. For example, you understand your action as breaking a promise:

MN8:12.15: ‘Others will have wrong action, but here we will have right action.’

And if your promise was insincere, then this would apply:

MN8:12.6: ‘Others will lie, but here we will not lie.’

There is another issue here however. I remember being very skeptical of authority at 16. I needed to understand directly the what and why of everything. Perhaps you might feel the same. The nun Dhammadinnā expressed this as:

MN44:24.4: Neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge, and painful when there is ignorance.”

While you wait to grow to the age of making your own choices and way in life, you can take a good look inside to understand the nature of your impulse and let it go. The world today pounds us incessantly with things it wants us to want. Yet if we identify with those things that change endlessly, we will become unhappy and suffer. We will become hungry insatiable ghosts.

Your mom has seen more suffering and ugliness than you have. These things are difficult to talk about and very very real. Your mom understand this truth:

AN4.9:3.2: that craving is the cause of suffering—

She understands this truth and, loving you, does not want you to suffer. And perhaps if you approach her with an apology, she might be able to explain how she feels. Be gentle, however, because such things are very difficult to talk about.


First of all, and for the case it's a promise to abstain of bad thing (as breaking of a promise to abstain from bad coming with it, wouldn't be kammical a bad thing): Sadhu for openness and considering a fault, wishing to do things right, of which is actually very praiseworthy, making you a serious conducting person for many good people and a good example of acting for many others, that things can be solved by confessing and strong determination not to do it again.

The teachings to Rahula, the Sublime Buddhas will be good encouragement, starting about lying and guide for all days actions.

Yes. Twofold, no threefold, no fourfold grave, good householder's daughter. One is the cheating, breaking promise toward your mother, a child's first God. Second, it was a promise to do what is good, a 'holy' promise, for your own support, breaking which turns foremost against yourself, maybe not seeing the disadvantages of what the householder's daughter went for. Third, hurting oneself, causing long bad periods of consciousness, in violating a fundamental precept. And fourth, at least, 'cheating' the Buddha, of which can fast turn one away from the Jewels, requiring renewing refuge to walk on a good way.

So, but all of that can be solved by best confessing as fast as possible (both, your mother, not to speak of the Buddha, will highly praise your deed if doing so, and accept it), renewing the promise, best taking five precepts seriously, and keep a strong determination to follow it steady in mind. Confession itself has actually already been made by the question, and surely that gave already good release -- but also good, for good relation, to ask for pardon from your mother, and best doing it as well toward the Buddha, and the Jewels, a little cleaning ceremony, which brings sure a lot of joy and good self-estimation.

As for reduce the danger to do it again, best cut of ways of access to it -- including bad friends -- and inform yourself about the disadvantages of it: best if approaching wise people in detail of it.

It's totally the way the Buddha's path to liberation, peace, works: by confessing and steady better new begin, cleaning is it called, or lifting oneself out of a hole one has fallen into, by doing so.

Best wishes and never be shy in doing what is good. Mudita

[note that this has not been given for stakes, exchange, trades, to be used to bind, but for escape from this wheel]


I don't know whether your mom coerced you to promise, or persuaded you to do it willingly, and what difference that might make.

Saying that you won't do something, and then doing it, sounded to me like "false" or "incorrect" speech, which would be contrary to fourth of the five precepts.

My understanding of the term "false speech" comes from AN 10.176:

Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.

IMO saying you'll not do something and but then doing it anyway sounds like not being "true, firm, reliable" -- and possibly a deceit, either at the time (when the promise is made) or afterwards (as you decide to break it).

But the answers to this topic, Does not keeping a promise violate the precept on lying? What if I promised myself?, especially Ven Yuttadhammo's answer, suggest that the word "false speech" as mentioned in the precepts is specifically to do with "lying", and that breaking a promise isn't necessarily a lie. You said "I promised her with pure intention of keeping it" which means it's not a lie -- the definition of a lie is narrow or precise -- something is a lie if it's a statement made with (or made as a result of) an intention to deceive.

So the orthodox Theravada answer seems to be that it's wrong of me to call it "false speech".

More generally, if you do something and promise not to do it again, I think of that as an "apology" -- and I think that according to Buddhism the components of a sincere apology include regretting the action (remorse), and seeing/understanding that the action was harmful, and therefore 'learning better' and resolving not to do it again.

The most relevant sutta might be the instructions to Rahula (MN 61) -- which implies that a person can't be a "contemplative" if they feel no shame at telling a deliberate lie -- and which says that, before taking an action, to consider whether it's afflictive or whether it's skilful (it also suggests "confessing" the fault to one's teacher).

MN 61 was taught to Ven. Rahula when he was young (7 years old according to the commentary).

If you didn't eventually keep the promise then an element which might be missing could be that it's also important for you to understand properly (to know, to be sure) whether and why an action is harmful (e.g. why it is inappropriate to watch). That (i.e. whether and how it's inappropriate and what some likely consequences might be) might be the more important topic, but a different topic i.e. not related to the question of what a promise is.

The suttas are not really very detailed in their descriptions and definitions of ethics and of the lay precepts.

The Vinaya -- the rules of discipline for monks -- is very detailed. So although the vinaya applies to monks and not to laypeople, you may find it interesting to see what the vinaya says.

See "The Lie Chapter" starting on page 363 of this book -- here are some exerpts:

A deliberate lie is to be confessed.

The Commentary explains the Vibhaṅga’s two exemptions as follows: Speaking quickly means speaking before one has carefully considered the matter. Saying one thing while meaning another means making a slip of the tongue, either out of stupidity or carelessness.

Broken promises
Mv.III.14.1-14 imposes a dukkaṭa on the act of making a promise with pure intentions but later breaking it. Because the texts make no mention of any circumstances beyond one’s control that would exempt one from that penalty, a bhikkhu should be very careful of how he states his plans for the future.

  • Since she promised her mother with pure intention of keeping it (under duress), how is it false speech? Even for monastics, breaking a promise doesn't count as false speech (musāvāda). Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 3:50
  • I mentioned to possibility of duress but didn't assume that. I don't know how you define "false speech"? I guess my understanding of the term comes from AN 10.176 -- "Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world." -- IMO saying you'll not do something and then doing it sounds like not being "true, firm, reliable", and possibly deceit either at the time (when the promise is made) or afterwards (as you decide to break it).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 7:30
  • When she spoke, she was telling the truth. Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 8:38
  • Well perhaps it's kind of you to focus on that, assuming (probably rightly) that the promise was made with good intentions. Maybe you'd like to post an answer of your own, to explain what's good to know about "promises" in Buddhism.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 16:14
  • 1
    In OP, she says "I promised her with pure intention of keeping it." Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 1:04

Your mom should've known better than to have you making promises you likely can't keep.

If one is coerced into promising to do something without being properly instructed nor given the tools to do, then it is impossible and can not happen that one would be able to deliver on the promise.

You can't really promise something in front of the Buddha because he is long gone;

“Bhikkhus, just as when the stalk of a bunch of mangoes has been cut, all the mangoes on it go with it, just so the Tathāgata’s link with becoming has been cut. As long as the body subsists, devas and humans will see him. But at the breaking-up of the body and the exhaustion of the life-span, devas and humans will see him no more.”— Brahmajāla Sutta

These two Nibbana-elements were made known By the Seeing One, stable and unattached: One is the element seen here and now With residue, but with the cord of being destroyed; The other, having no residue for the future, Is that wherein all modes of being utterly cease. Having understood the unconditioned state, Released in mind with the cord of being destroyed, They have attained to the Dhamma-essence. Delighting in the destruction (of craving), Those stable ones have abandoned all being

When delight and existence are utterly exhausted, when perception & consciousness are both destroyed, when feelings cease and are appeased - thus, O friend, do I know, for them that live deliverance, freedom, detachment." -Saṃyutta Nikāya 1.2, Nimokkha Sutta

“One perception arose and another perception ceased in me: ‘The cessation of existence is nibbāna; the cessation of existence is nibbāna.’ Just as, when a fire of twigs is burning, one flame arises and another flame ceases, so one perception arose and another perception ceased in me: ‘The cessation of existence is nibbāna; the cessation of existence is nibbāna.’ On that occasion, friend, I was percipient: ‘The cessation of existence is nibbāna.’”-Aṅguttara Nikāya 10.7, Sāriputta Sutta

Shaming people into reformation doesn't really work and no one can purify another. It is however possible for one to tame another but that requires a lot of wisdom and tactfulness.

I think you were definitely coerced and there wasn't much choice in the matter because i imagine the consequences of not going along could be quite harsh.

Quite frankly this is abusive on the part of the parent and using your faith against you in this way is very inappropriate.

If you want to learn how to control your behavior in a healthy way then you can develop good qualities as the Buddha instructed but this "promise in front of the Buddha" thing is terribly unfortunate and can be psychologically traumatizing, therefore i hope you don't worry about it and don't hold it against your parent who didn't know better.

As i see it there is no offense on your part in the Dhamma as you had no intention to deliberately deceive anyone and this whole ordeal is your mom's making who ironically had your best interest in mind as she acted with good intentions.

I think this all can be simplified like this;

  • OP conduct is held to be disagreeable by OP and Another.
  • Another suggests a solution which may or may not work.
  • OP says ok let's try it.
  • Solution doesn't work.

Idk what how one would rightly explain this as being false speech. Even if OP held that this probably wouldn't work she could still try what is suggested by another and especially if another is supersticious and not going along would cause problems.

If one held that a promise is false speech if and when broken it is refutable. A person often has no way of knowing the future and what circumstances might cause him to break a promise, there is so much variance in this. So how on earth does one hold that what was good speech in the past becomes wrong speech in the future, one contradict oneself saying what you was good became bad as the promise is evaluated as good until broken at the very least in that one shows iofnability to evaluating speech in the here & now, thus id question whether one such as this should advise another. Should we know the future to know if speech is good or not? Apparently that's what some hold...

  • I don't quite understand why this answer got downvoted. (I upvoted it.) Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 3:44
  • 2
    I didn't downvote but thought the post was a bit one-sided in blaming the mother for it all: for using shame, coercion, lack of wisdom and tact, and abuse (IMO given the story it's possible that was so, but is not proven). And given that you "can't purify another" the answer could have done with a bit more advice to the OP and less only blaming the mother -- ideally IMO you might reassure the OP without taking side against their mother. Or another reason for someone's downvote might have been the argument that "You can't really promise something in front of the Buddha because he is long gone".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 7:51
  • Downvoters should have the guts to comment as asked. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 2:11

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