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Upāsaka (T. dge bsnyen དགེ་བསྙེན་; C. youposai) or Upāsikā (T. dge bsnyen ma དགེ་བསྙེན་མ་) are, respectively, male and female lay disciples.

Jan Nattier states that the etymology of upāsikā suggests "those who serve," and that the word is best understood as "lay auxiliary of the monastic community".[1]

Nattier also states:

...the term upāsaka (fem. upāsikā) ... is now increasingly recognized to be not a generic term for supporters of the Buddhist community who happen not to be monks or nuns, but a very precise category designating those lay adherents who have taken on specific vows. ...[T]hese dedicated lay Buddhists did not constitute a free-standing community, but were rather adjunct members of particular monastic organizations."[1]

Commitments of the upāsaka

Jan Nattier states:

An upāsaka is not simply a "non-monastic Buddhist"; rather the term refers to a specific category consisting of lay Buddhist (one might better use the terms "lay brother" and "lay sister") who are particularly diligent in their Buddhist practice. Specific activities are generally associated with becoming an upāsaka, that is, taking the three refuges, observing the five ethical precepts, frequenting the monastery in order to hear teachings and make offerings, and taking extra vows on festival or uposatha days (which in essence involve emulating monastic behavior). Moreover, the role of the upāsaka, as the etymology of the term ("one who serves") would imply, is to associate with and to be of service to the monastic community.[2]

Five Precepts

The five vows to be held by upāsakas are referred to as the "Five Precepts" (Pāli: pañcasīla):

  1. I will not take the life of a sentient being;
  2. I will not take what has not been given to me;
  3. I will refrain from sexual misconduct;
  4. I will refrain from false speech;
  5. I will refrain from becoming intoxicated.

Eight precepts

In the Theravada tradition, on Uposatha days, devout lay practitioners may request the "Eight Precepts" from monastics (Pali: uposathaṃ samādiyati).[3] It was a widespread practice in Chinese Buddhist communities as well,[4] and is still practiced.[5]

The eight precepts is a list of precepts that are observed by lay devotees on observance days and festivals.[4] They include general precepts such as refraining from killing, but also more specific ones, such as abstaining from cosmetics.[6] Since the eight precepts are often upheld on the Buddhist uposatha days, they are called the uposatha vows[7] or one-day precepts in such context.[8]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nattier 2003, p. 25.
  2. Nattier 2003, p. 78, f. 11.
  3. Harvey (1990), p. 192; and Kariyawasam (1995), chapter 3, "Poya Days," available at [1].
  4. 4.0 4.1 Buswell & Lopez 2013, Baguan zhai.
  5. Harvey 2000, p. 88.
  6. Keown 2004, p. 22.
  7. Keown 2004, Uposatha.
  8. Buswell & Lopez 2013, Upavāsa.


External links

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