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The five precepts of mindfulness

In Part 4 of a seven-part series, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses the five rules — or precepts — of mindfulness.

Many people turn to mindfulness to effect change in their lives and help break negative cycles, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“Mindfulness traditions offer guiding precepts to help us become more wholesome and positive people,” she tells

“At the very least, if we keep the five precepts or rules in mind, we are ensuring that we aren’t adding to any negativity in the world and we become role models for others,” she says.

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law, outlines these rules and cautions not to treat ourselves harshly if we fail to follow them completely.

“If you do break a precept in mindfulness that’s OK. Just be aware of it,” she says.

“We are spiritual beings having a human experience and we make mistakes. We can’t let the mistake define us and we just return to the precepts as a general rule of 'right livelihood.'”

1. No killing

We are not on the earth to kill or do anything harmful to any being, Kopping-Pavars says.

This precept goes beyond the physical act, she explains, because it also means no harshness in our actions, deeds or words.

“When you say hurtful words to someone, you may be harming their self-esteem or preventing them from further growth," she says. 

"As lawyers, sometimes we may speak harshly to clients or get very frustrated. Our clients, in turn, may not feel comfortable speaking up. This may then lead to a cycle of broken communication which inevitably leads to upset or resentment," says Kopping-Pavars.

“When it comes to lawyers, this precept asks them to be mindful of what they’re saying or doing because everything in life has a ripple effect.” 

2. No stealing

Don't take anything that isn't yours and isn’t offered to you, Kopping-Pavars says.

At work, we may take some cream or an apple from the fridge that doesn’t belong to us. We don’t always know whose it is so we shouldn’t take it — nor should we assume it's up for the taking, she says, adding that there may be unforeseen consequences as a result.

“A diabetic could need a food item to control their condition and then we’ve gone and taken it.”

3. No sexual misconduct

This precept is based on the same idea of not taking something that isn’t offered to you, she says.

As well, if there is sexual perversion that is going to harm you or someone else, refrain, Kopping-Pavars says.

“We strive to be wholesome in all areas of our lives.”

4. No lying or harsh speech

This means no idle chatter or speaking about people with no productive end or purpose, Kopping-Pavars says, and it includes not telling white lies or gossiping.

“We don’t know the truth of why people do what they do, so we can’t judge them. We think we may know, but we really don’t.”

She says too often we are quick to judge someone and we put our perception of what we think the truth is on other people.

She suggests walking away or stating to the person who is gossiping that nobody truly knows the affairs of another.

“People get excited about gossip. If we’re talking about that person, then at least we’re not talking about me.”

She says even if you have trouble finding goodness in a person, know that everybody in the world has a redeeming feature.

Lawyers must particularly pay attention to harsh speech, Kopping-Pavars says.

“Words are so powerful, particularly for lawyers. So, when we do speak, make sure there is a productive end to what we are saying."

Kopping-Pavars suggests using the acronym THINK. 

"Is what I'm saying truthful, helpful, informative, necessary and kind?"

5. No intoxicants

Intoxicants can mean drugs or alcohol, but can also include other addictions, such as to our screens, she says.

“Having a glass of wine isn’t a bad thing but one glass of wine can become two or more and it can take over your sensibilities.”

Kopping-Pavars says once that happens, you are now putting more negativity into the world.

“However, if you are sincere in your practice, you can say, ‘I don’t need this glass of wine to enjoy myself. I’m going to be respectful to myself and others.’”

She says alcohol can become a quick fix that you believe will bring you happiness or peace, but it only gives you relief for that moment.

When it comes to screen time, it is an intoxicant because it allows the mind to become lost and dull, she says.

“You become simply numb. At that point, there is nothing positive happening inside you.”

Kopping-Pavars suggests that if you want to watch television, choose something that is useful or comforting.

“This precept is about discernment and noticing habits and trying to stop the cycle of those habits. If you’re using intoxicants, ask yourself if you are nourishing wholesome or unwholesome states. Is the use of that intoxicant providing you with what you want your end goal to be? Does it achieve a long-term healthy goal?”

Kopping-Pavars says these five precepts help us to create good karma.

“If we follow them, then in the next lifetime, or even in this one, there is nothing that can damage our next step forward in our development.”

Stay tuned for Part 5 in the series, where Kopping-Pavars will discuss how to follow a mindful path in eight simple steps.

To read Part 1 — an overview of mindfulness and how lawyers can benefit — click here

To read Part 2 — the four foundations of mindfulness — click here

To read Part 3 — the five hindrances to being focused — click here

To Read More Nicolle Kopping-Pavars Posts Click Here
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