In addition to taking bodhisattva and tantric vows, another commitment of the Kalachakra empowerment is to safeguard 25 modes of tamed behavior (brtul-zhugs). According to An Explanation of Secret Mantra Ethical Discipline: A Cluster of Fruit of Actual Attainments (gSang-sngags-kyi tshul-khrims-kyi rnam-bshad dngos-grub-kyi snye-ma) by the early 15th-century Gelug founder Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa), this promise is not required by other anuttarayoga tantra systems. The 16th-century Nyingma master Ngari Panchen (mNga'-ris Pan-chen Padma dbang-rgyal), on the other hand, has asserted in Ascertaining the Three Levels of Vowed Restraints That are Branches of the Natural Path of Dzogchen (Rang-bzhin rdzogs-pa chen-po'i lam-gyi cha-lag sdom-gsum rnam-nges) that promising to keep these modes of tamed behavior is common to all highest tantra systems, including dzogchen.
In either case, the tamed behavior is to refrain from intentionally committing any of 25 negative actions while motivated by longing desire, anger, or naivety about either reality or also behavioral cause and effect. A lack of a sense of moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha med-pa) or care for how our behavior reflects on those we respect ('khrel-med), such as our spiritual teachers, must also accompany the action.
The 25 negative actions are divided into five groups of five.
The Five Destructive Actions
The first group is the same as the layperson's vows, which are sometimes called the five precepts. The actions to be abandoned are:
(1) Taking a life
Since refraining from killing all types of animate beings is specified later in the list of tamed modes of behavior, here taking a life refers to inflicting physical harm on any human or animal. Psychologically tormenting others is also included.
(2) Speaking lies
Especially serious is teaching something untrue that we have contrived. Lying also includes cheating in business, such as setting unfair prices. If others would take undue advantage of our honesty in negotiating a contract, however, there is no fault in striking a hard bargain so long as our motivation is not greed. Being competitive is not necessarily a disturbing attitude.
(3) Taking what is not given
This is stealing anything, regardless of value, and includes not paying fees or repaying loans. Even using someone else's computer without permission is a form of taking what has not been given.
(4) Inappropriate sexual conduct
Certain times, places, and parts of the body are inappropriate for sexual contact, since resorting to them usually arises from excessive desire and unwillingness to exercise any restraint in sexual matters. The most inappropriate form of sexual behavior, however, is to have relations with someone else's partner.
(5) Drinking alcohol
Strictly interpreted, this means not to take even a drop. A similar prohibition extends to narcotics and recreational drugs. Regardless of motivation, consuming alcohol or drugs clouds our judgment, weakens our self-control, and often leads to destructive behavior, words, or thoughts.
When not motivated by a disturbing emotion, alcohol may be taken in several situations. It is not a fault, for example, to taste alcohol at a tsog puja – in fact, to refuse a symbolic taste is a tantric common root downfall. Alcohol is also occasionally employed in anuttarayoga tantra to enhance the blissful awareness of voidness, with the same restrictions as the similar use of sexual union. Namely, drinking is never considered a spiritual act or viewed as a path to liberation or enlightenment. Moreover, alcohol is employed in the path only when it is accompanied by a yogic mastery of the energy-winds that prevents intoxication and by the full maintenance of a blissful awareness of voidness. This is the meaning of the statement by the 19th-century Rime master Kongtrul ('Jam-mgon Kong-sprul Blo-gros mtha'-yas), in An Encyclopedia of All That Can Be Known (Shes-bya kun-khyab), that maintaining this mode of tamed behavior does not prohibit tasting alcohol at a tsog puja or using it to enhance our spiritual paths so long as we do not become drunk. He was not sanctioning the controlled or moderate consumption of alcohol.
Some people considering taking the Kalachakra initiation are prepared to uphold the other commitments, but find it difficult to promise never to take a drink again. They wonder if this means they cannot take the initiation as a full participant. To answer this question, we may look to the bodhisattva vows and trainings for guidelines. Many of the secondary bodhisattva vows have the stipulation that if we cannot yet stop committing a certain negative action because of strongly disturbing emotions, we avoid a serious fault if we lessen that action and seriously work on ourselves to abandon it in the future. Therefore, some teachers advise potential candidates for the initiation who face this problem that if their attachment is too overwhelming to forsake alcohol yet, they need, with this vow, at least to limit and then steadily decrease their consumption, and not accompany their drinking with the four binding factors (kun-dkris bzhi). It is important, however, not to rationalize a fondness for alcohol. Even in countries where most people take wine or beer with meals, there is almost always a polite and diplomatic way to decline a drink without offending anyone.
The Five Auxiliary Destructive Actions
This includes playing dice, cards, board games and so on, in order to win money, to pass time, or because of competitiveness. Such time-consuming activities divert our constructive energy. There is no fault, however, in playing games for educational purposes or as a way to establish a rapport with children or noncommunicative people.
(7) Eating unseemly meat
This is not a promise to be a vegetarian, although such a diet is considered best, if health and circumstances permit. Rather, it is a promise to avoid eating the meat of an animal we either suspect or know was killed especially for our consumption. Such meat is called "unseemly." As with alcohol and sexual union, anuttarayoga practice sometimes employs eating meat, so long as it is not unseemly, to enhance the blissful awareness of voidness by vitalizing our energies. Eating meat, however, is not regarded as a pathway leading to liberation or enlightenment, and it is used only when we have gained some level of blissful awareness of voidness and mastery over our energy-winds so that they do not become heavy because of the meat. Further, when eating meat within this context, it is important to offer prayers for the animal whose life was sacrificed and not to lose sight of the fact that the meat was the flesh of a living being. Like ourselves, it also wished and deserved liberation from suffering.
(8) Reading ignoble words
This refers to reading books, articles or, in a modern context, looking at photos or a website, or watching video material that arouses anger or desire when we have no control over these disturbing emotions. Such activities simply increase our delusions. For example, if we read about a villain, we come to hate the person and rejoice when the hero kills him or her. Another formulation of this negative action is to say anything that comes to our minds, referring specifically to relating stories or talking about topics that incite anger or increase desire.
(9) Making offerings in association with ancestor worship
This does not refer to lighting a candle or placing flowers on a grave in respectful memory of a lost relative, but rather to worshiping spirits. Any form of spirit worship debases our practice. It causes us to lose sight of karma and imagine that liberation from suffering and gaining happiness can come from propitiating nature spirits or spirits of the deceased. The only situations in which making offerings to spirits is appropriate are if it is motivated by compassion to help alleviate their suffering or to placate their wrath if we have caused them offence. It is important to realize, however, that making offerings and prayers for supernatural help can never substitute for constructive action to understand voidness and benefit others.
(10) Following extremist practices, such as sacrificing animals and making blood offerings
Although such types of ritual are rare these days, it is helpful to examine whether we sacrifice the welfare of others in order to get ahead.
The Five Types of Murder
(11) Killing cattle, symbolizing animals
People may find it relatively easy to stop hunting and fishing, but much more difficult to stop killing insects. When our automatic reaction to a bug is to squash it, we build up a habit of dealing with every annoyance in life with a violent means. There are often alternative ways to remove insects from our homes or fields. If there are none and we must remove pests for health or economic reasons, it is important not to act with anger or hatred.
(12) Killing children
The commentaries do not explain why children are singled out as a separate category. It may have to do with female infanticide in countries where male offspring are favored. Alternatively, since the ten stages of life outlined in the inner Kalachakra teachings begin as a fetus, the reason may also be to include abortion. There may be certain justifiable reasons for abortion, such as health, but this is a delicate issue and depends on individual circumstances. Often, however, the reason is a disturbing emotion or attitude such as attachment to our own convenience, anger if the pregnancy is the result of rape, or naivety such as considering abortion an innocent means of birth control. Regardless of the motivation, however, abortion after a certain point in the development of the fetal matter is still the taking of a life. If there is no way to avoid taking that life, it is best to try to ameliorate the results – both the immediate psychological effects as well as long-term karmic ones – by strong thoughts of love and compassion for the unborn child. For example, it may be helpful to acknowledge that life by giving the child a name and honoring him or her with a proper funeral ceremony.
(13) Killing women
(14) Killing men
These two negative actions raise the issue of euthanasia, both of people and pets. There is a great difference between giving someone a lethal injection and withholding medical support to artificially prolong an unsustainable life. From a karmic point of view, the latter choice of allowing for a natural death is preferable, within the context of making the person or creature as comfortable as possible with painkillers.
(15) Destroying representations of Buddha's enlightening body, speech, or mind – such as images, texts, or reliquary monuments (Skt. stupas) – or murdering those training in higher ethical self-discipline, concentration, or discriminating awareness
If we need to dispose of religious texts for any reason, the usual custom is to burn them with respect.
The Five Types of Contempt
(16) Hating friends who benefit the Dharma or the world in general
If we find the methods people employ to help others not very skillful and we become emotionally upset, we soon deny any benefit these persons and methods bring about. This haughty attitude easily leads to egotistic thoughts that only we know best how to benefit others. Such an attitude seriously hampers our ability to help anyone.
(17) Hating leaders or elders worthy of respect
We may not like everyone's personalities, but when our personal preferences cloud our discrimination of who is worthy of honor and who is not, we soon lose our ability to discriminate reality.
(18) Hating spiritual masters or Buddhas
The objects include not only our own spiritual masters but extend to other spiritual teachers even if they are not properly qualified. Recognizing mistakes and shortcomings in teachers is not the same as hating them as persons. In some versions, this negative action is showing disrespect for the Buddhas or the Dharma.
(19) Hating members of the Sangha, namely the arya spiritual community
Although the main objects for this negative action are aryas (highly realized beings) – those with straightforward nonconceptual perception of voidness – the Sangha is conventionally represented by the monastic community. Some persons may become monks or nuns for nonspiritual purposes, yet because of what their robes represent it is inappropriate to show them contempt. In Western circles, the word sangha has taken on the meaning of members of a Buddhist center. Enmity within such communities seriously jeopardizes spiritual growth.
(20) Deceiving those who trust us
This negative action includes letting down those who depend on our help, as well as abusing positions of power.
The Five Longings
The five longings are to be infatuated with pleasant
(25) Tactile or physical sensations.
Such infatuations deter our focus from gaining an unchanging blissful awareness of voidness. This is not a promise of asceticism, but rather a pledge to set reasonable limits and to exercise self-control, for example at the dining table.