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Upasaka (Skt. upāsaka; Tib. དགེ་བསྙེན་, genyen, Wyl. dge bsnyen) or upasika (Skt. upāsikā; Tib. དགེ་བསྙེན་མ་, genyenma, Wyl. dge bsnyen ma) — respectively, a male or female lay practitioner, or 'pursuer of virtue'. One of the pratimoksha vows. Jan Nattier writes:

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.[1]


The Tibetan term དགེ་བསྙེན་ dge bsnyen (which translates the Sanskrit upāsaka) is etymologically explained as 'being close to' (Tib. བསྙེན་, Wyl. bsnyen) 'virtue' (Tib. དགེ་བ་, Wyl. dge ba). The Sanskrit word upāsaka means 'one who serves' or a 'servant'.


There are four types of upasaka or upasika:

  1. An “upasaka (or upasika) who keeps the threefold refuge” (kyab sum dzinpé genyen) takes refuge in the Three Jewels, but does not take the vows of not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct and so on (i.e. none of the five lay vows).
  2. “Keeping a single precept” (na chik chöpa) means that, for example, in addition to taking the Three Jewels as one’s refuge, one vows not to take the lives of others.
  3. “Keeping a few precepts” (na ga chöpa) means that in addition to taking refuge, one vows not to kill, not to steal and not to lie.
  4. A “complete upasaka (or upasika)” (yongdzok genyen) is one who in addition to these vows, also takes the commitment to abandon sexual misconduct.



  • The Eight Vows of a Lay Practitioner (Toh 4141) (dge bsnyen gyi sdom pa brgyad pa, Skt. upāsakasaṃvarāṣṭaka), by Shunya Shri Mitra (Skt. Sunayaśrī).
  • An explanation of the Eight Vows of a Lay Practitioner (Toh 4142) (dge bsnyen gyi sdom pa brgyad pa'i bshad pa, Skt. upāsakasaṃvarāṣṭakavivaraṇa ), by Shunya Shri Mitra.


  1. Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā): A Study and Translation, (University of Hawaii Press, 2003), 78, footnote 11.

Teachings & Vows Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading

  • Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Five: Buddhist Ethics (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1998, reedited 2003), pages 100-102.
  • Nattier, Jan. A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā): A Study and Translation. University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

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