The Tibetan term dge bsnyen which translates the Sanskrit upāsaka is etymologically explained as 'being close to' (Skt. upā; Wyl. sbnyen) 'virtue' (Skt. saka; Wyl. dge ba).
There are four types of upasaka or upasika:
- 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).
- “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.
- “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.
- A “complete upasaka (or upasika)” (yongdzok genyen) is one who in addition to these vows, also takes the commitment to abandon sexual misconduct.
- Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Five: Buddhist Ethics (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1998, reedited 2003), pages 100-102.