Sotapannas and the 5 precepts

Based on my understanding and reading of the Pali Canon, it appears that sotapannas and higher (nobles, ariya) do not intentionally break any of the 5 precepts. It’s a somewhat controversial and highly debated topic. The topic at DWT is almost 1,000 posts. :grinning: It appears a fairly high percentage of modern Theravadins feel that a sotapanna can intentionally break the 5 precepts from time to time. While I accept that becoming a sotapanna is not an impossible attainment, it is still quite the remarkable feat, to go from ordinary worldling to ariya. And therefore, you’d think the ‘standard’ would be quite for a sotapanna (ariya) and higher. And there are numerous text passages which suggest the precepts are pure, unbroken, such as:

Bhikkhus, a noble disciple who possesses four things is a stream-enterer, . . . He possesses the virtues dear to the noble ones, unbroken.” Samyutta Nikaya 55.2

There are, O monks, these blessings in realizing the fruit of stream-entry: One is firm in the good Dhamma. One is unable to fall back.” Anguttara Nikaya 6.97

“*Consider the person who is accomplished in the precepts, and is moderately successful in concentration, moderately successful in wisdom – by destroying the three hindrances, he becomes one, who will be reborn seven times at most [stream entrant]*” Anguttara Nikaya 9.12

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.” Anguttara Nikaya 9.27

Bhante Dhammanando has written the following on the subject:

The “varying definition” of ariyakantasīla is framed in terms of a progressive elimination of the possibility of committing the ten akusala kammapathas. Thus:

Eliminated at stream-entry: the possibility of killing living beings , stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, wrong view.

Eliminated at non-returning: the possibility of malice and hate-generated wrong speech, i.e., divisive speech and harsh speech.

Eliminated at arahantship: the possibility of frivolous speech and covetousness.

So what is the Classical Theravada position? It is that an ariya, including sotapannas do not deliberately break any of the 5 precepts, correct?

Kiñca pi so kammaṃ karoti pāpakaṃ,
Kāyena vācā uda cetasā vā
Abhabbo so tassa paṭicchādāya,
Ababbatā diṭṭhapadassa vuttā
Idampi saṅghe ratanaṃ paṇītaṃ,
Etena saccena suvatthi hotu! (Ratana Sutta)

Whatever evil deed he commits, either by his body, speech or thought, he is incapable of concealing it.
For it has been said that such an act is impossible for one who has seen the Path.
This precious jewel is in the Saṅgha.
By this truth may there be peace!

Apparently, then, a Stream-winner is capable of committing evil deeds (pāpakaṃ) by body, speech, or thought. So my doubt is this: “What kind of evil deed does not break any of the five precepts?”

I’m fairly sure this is the position of classical theravada, I don’t know if any commentaries explicitly say this but from what ive been hearing from most traditional Buddhist teachers that appears to be the case. The most a sotapanna can do is abet someone else in the breaking of precepts, but they themselves wont. The example is the sotapanna wife who would lay out her husbands hunting tools for him, but she wouldnt kill the animals directly.

The strongest case ive seen for the idea that any ariya cannot break the 5 precepts is in the Gihisutta

And what are the five precepts in which their actions are restrained? It’s when a noble disciple doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or use alcoholic drinks that cause negligence. These are the five precepts in which their actions are restrained.

This is however, admittedly different from the wording from the bahudhatuka sutta, which says it is flat out impossible for any ariya to commit the 5 grave sins.

They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to murder their mother. But it’s possible for an ordinary person to murder their mother.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to murder their father … or murder a perfected one. But it’s possible for an ordinary person to murder their father … or a perfected one.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to injure a Realized One with malicious intent. But it’s possible for an ordinary person to injure a Realized One with malicious intent.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to cause a schism in the Saṅgha. But it’s possible for an ordinary person to cause a schism in the Saṅgha.’ They understand: ‘It’s impossible for a person accomplished in view to acknowledge another teacher. But it’s possible for an ordinary person to acknowledge another teacher.’

Thus the cause of the dispute of whether sotapannas can actually break the 5 precepts or not. I’m half sure classical theravada, either thru commentaries or rulings of one of the Buddhist councils that sotapannas cannot personally break the 5 precepts in full (meaning all conditions for breaking the precept are met, including intent, knowledge, effort to commit the action, and the actual action occurring)

gambling, prostitution (depending on the conditions I guess), hitting someone who is not killed or severly injured, truthful but harsh speech?

Okay, it appears there might be some suttas that contradict others, for example the Ratana Sutta vs the ones I quoted, which could be why there is so much debate on this subject.

I have to go back and see where Bhante D’s quote is from, it might be from Commentaries. I think there is a Vinaya passage that also suggests perfect sila (keeping of precepts).


Bhante D was quoting from Abhidhamma and Commentaries, which still count for Classical Theravada.

Even from the Suttas, there are some passages that suggest 5 precepts are kept for sotapannas (in the OP).

Perhaps, also thinking about breaking one of the precepts, without actually doing it? That might count as an evil deed in thought, but doesn’t actually break the precept?

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Yes a sotapanna can no break the 5 precepts, and in his future lives also.

As the sotapanna has unbroken sīla :

“ariyakantehi sīlehi samannāgato hoti akhaṇḍehi acchiddehi asabalehi akammāsehi”…
" he possess the virtue dear to the Nobles, unbroken, uncut, unblotched, untorn"…

SN 55.1
Saṃyutta Nikāya
mahāvaggo sotāpattisaṃyuttaṃ veḷudvāravaggo. cakkavattirājasuttaṃ

And the Buddha described one who is virtuous as having the 5 precepts:
A virtous upāsaka is one who abstain from killing, robbing, sexual misconduct, lie, and liquors:

“kittāvatā pana, bhante, upāsako sīlasampanno hotī”ti? “yato kho, mahānāma, upāsako pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti, adinnādānā paṭivirato hoti, kāmesumicchācārā paṭivirato hoti, musāvādā paṭivirato hoti, surāmerayamajjappamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti, — ettāvatā kho, mahānāma, upāsako sīlasampanno hotī”ti.

From SN 55.37
Saṃyutta Nikāya
mahāvaggo sotāpattisaṃyuttaṃ. puññābhisandavag. mahānāmasuttaṃ

Also, there are suttas who show that some people had doubts because someone who drank alcohol has been said by the Buddha to be sotapanna :

“Now on that occasion Sarakāni the Sakyan had died, and the Blessed One had declared him to be a stream-enterer, no longer bound to the nether world, fixed in destiny, with enlightenment as his destination. Thereupon a number of Sakyans, having met and assembled, deplored this, grumbled, and complained about it, saying: “It is wonderful indeed, sir! It is amazing indeed, sir! Now who here won’t be a stream-enterer when the Blessed One has declared Sarakāni the Sakyan after he died to be a stream-enterer … with enlightenment as his destination? Sarakāni the Sakyan was too weak for the training; he drank intoxicating drink.”
(From sarakāni sutta, sotapatti samyutta )

At the nd of the sutta explained that this person became sotapanna at the time of death (ie when he drank he was not yet sotapanna )

Then there is the explicit statement :

“yato kho, gahapati, ariyasāvakassa pañca bhayāni verāni vūpasantāni ca honti”
There are these 5 fears and horrors who have been calmed down by a Noble disciple:

“katamāni pañca bhayāni verāni vūpasantāni honti?
What are the 5 fears and horrors who have been calmed down?

“yaṃ, gahapati, pāṇātipātī pāṇātipātappaccayā diṭṭhadhammikampi bhayaṃ veraṃ pasavati, samparāyikampi bhayaṃ veraṃ pasavati, cetasikampi dukkhaṃ domanassaṃ paṭisaṃvediyati.”
"Householder, killing, by killing as reason there is fear and horror in this life, horror and terror in future life, there is mental suffereing and sadness experienced. "

"pāṇātipātā paṭiviratassa evaṃ taṃ bhayaṃ veraṃ vūpasantaṃ hoti. "
" to abstain from killing this fear and horror is calmed down.

yaṃ, gahapati, adinnādāyī (stilling) … pe … yaṃ, gahapati, kāmesumicchācārī (sexual misconduct ) … pe … yaṃ, gahapati, musāvādī (lie) … pe … yaṃ, gahapati, surāmerayamajjappamādatthāna…(drinking liquors)…

SN 55.28
Saṃyutta Nikāya
sotāpattisaṃyuttaṃ. saraṇānivaggo. paṭhamabhayaverūpasantasuttaṃ

The Buddha explains that a Noble one has made peaceful the fright and horror associated with kkilling, stilling, sexual misconduct and drinking liquors by abstaining from it.


I also found an old post by Robert at DWT about Dhammapada verse 124 where the wife of a hunter becomes a sotapanna.

According to this Commentary story, the bhikkhus asked the Buddha, “Venerable Sir, is the wife of the hunter who is a sotapanna, also not guilty of taking life, if she has been getting things like nets, bows and arrows for her husband when he goes out hunting?” To this question the Buddha answered, “Bhikkhus, the sotapannas do not kill, they do not wish others to get killed. The wife of the hunter was only obeying her husband in getting things for him. Just as the hand that has no wound is not affected by poison, so also, because she has no intention to do evil she is not doing any evil.”

That about as direct as it gets where the Buddha states “Bhikkhus, the sotapannas do not kill . . .


I think it would also apply to the respective morality that one has undertaken.

Evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, cattārome samaṇabrāhmaṇānaṃ upakkilesā, yehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhā eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā na tapanti na bhāsanti na virocanti.

In the same way, these four things corrupt ascetics and brahmins, so they don’t shine and glow and radiate.

What four?

  1. There are some ascetics and brahmins who drink liquor, not avoiding drinking liquor…

  2. There are some ascetics and brahmins who have sex, not avoiding sex…

  3. Santi, bhikkhave, eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā jātarūparajataṃ sādiyanti, jātarūparajatapaṭiggahaṇā appaṭiviratā…
    There are some ascetics and brahmins who accept gold and money, not avoiding receiving gold and money…

  4. There are some ascetics and brahmins who make a living the wrong way, not avoiding wrong livelihood…

Ime kho, bhikkhave, cattāro samaṇabrāhmaṇānaṃ upakkilesā, yehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhā eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā na tapanti na bhāsanti na virocantīti.
These are four things that corrupt ascetics and brahmins, so they don’t shine and glow and radiate.

At the end of the sutta it claims that many births will arise, while the sotapanna is limited to a mere seven.

Vaḍḍhenti kaṭasiṃ ghoraṃ,
swell the horrors of the charnel ground,

ādiyanti punabbhavan”ti.
taking up future lives.


‘sāpattikassa, bhikkhave, nirayaṃ vā vadāmi tiracchānayoniṃ vā’’ti
“A monk who has an offense, I say will go to the hell or animal (peta/ghost) realms”.

While a monk can break his monk morality, it would not be possible to knowingly repeatedly break his monk morality, such as using money. especially wrong modes of livelihood


The fact is nobody is able to conceal his/her action. At least the gods and the monks/ascetics with supernormal power can know these actions.

For ordinary being (human or else), after the breakup of this body, such concealing is impossible, as vipaka will send this being where he/she deserves.

Someone who does not lie, does not conceal when asked or interrogated.

Atta - view of atta is natural to all of use.
Anatta - only when a Buddha teach us, we may know anatta doctrine.

Pride - is also evil.

There are 10 precepts. If we commit the other five, we do not break the basic five precepts.

We should train ourselves not to break any of the five precepts, no matter what is the situation or even it costs our life.