Buddhist Morality

Dr. C. George Boeree
Shippensburg University

In Russian: Будистская мораль (translated by Ольга Федорова)

The Pancha Shila

The Pancha Shila, or five moral precepts:

1. Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.

2. Avoid stealing -- taking what is not yours to take.

3. Avoid sexual irresponsibility, which for monks and nuns means celibacy.

4. Avoid lying, or any hurtful speech.

5. Avoid alcohol and drugs which diminish clarity of consciousness.

To these, monks and nuns add...

6. One simple meal a day, before noon.

7. Avoid frivolous entertainments.

8. Avoid self-adornment.

9. Use a simple bed and seat.

10. Avoid the use of money.

Full monastic life adds over two hundred more rules and regulations!

The Paramita

The Perfections or Virtues -- noble qualities that we should all strive to achieve.  Here are two versions:

1.  Generosity (P: dana)
2.  Moral discipline (P: sila)
3.  Patience and tolerance (P: khanti) 
4.  Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (P: pañña)
5.  Energy (P: viriya)
6.  Renunciation (P: nekkhamma)
7.  Truthfulness (P: sacca)
8.  Determination (P: adhitthana)
9.  Loving kindness (P: metta)
10.  Equanimity (P: upekkha)
1.  Generosity (dana)
2.  Moral discipline (shila)
3.  Patience and tolerance (kshanti) 
4.  Energy (virya)
5.  Meditation (dhyana)
6. Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (prajña)
7.  Skilled methods (upaya)
8.  Vow or resolution (pranidhana)
9.  The ten powers or special abilities (dashabala)
10.  Knowledge (jñana)

The Brahma Vihara

The Brahma Vihara are the four "sublime states" to which we all should aspire.  They are the great signs of the Bodhisattva, who vows to remain in samsara -- this world of pain and sorrow -- until all creation can be brought into the state of Nirvana together.

1. Maitri is caring, loving kindness displayed to all you meet.

2. Karuna is compassion or mercy, the kindness shown to those who suffer.

3. Mudita is sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.

4. Upeksa is equanimity or peacefulness, the ability to accept the ups and downs of life with equal dispassion.

The Sigalovada Sutta

This Sutra is a record of the words of the Buddha to Sigalo, a young middle class man, who was on his way to worship the six directions, east, west, north, south, up, and down.  His father had died and asked him to worship in this very ancient fashion in remembrance of him.  The Buddha, wishing this ritual to have more meaning for the young man, advised him in detail about how to live a good life as a layman.  He phrased himself, as he apparently so often did, using lists, and begins by warning him against many of the evils of the layman's life.

The four vices:

1.  The destruction of life
2.  Stealing
3.  Sexual misconduct
4.  Lying

The four things which lead to evil:

1.  Desire, meaning greed, lust, clinging
2.  Anger and hatred
3.  Ignorance
4.  Fear and anxiety

The six ways one dissipates ones wealth:

1.  Drinking and drugs
2.  Carousing late at night
3.  Wasting away your time at shows
4.  Gambling
5.  Keeping bad company
6.  Laziness

And he provides details regarding these last six that demonstrate the manners in which drink, etc., lead to one's downfall.

Then he provides a lesson on friendship -- how to distinguish good friends from bad friends. There are four types that are not really your friends, but will make your life miserable in the long run:

1.  The leech who appropriates your possessions
2.  The bull-shitter who manipulates you
3.  The boot-licker who flatters you
4.  The party-animal who encourages you to do the same

A good friend, on the other hand, is one who...

1.  is always ready to help you
2.  is steady and loyal
3.  provides good advice
4.  is sympathetic

The Buddha even gives some advice regarding one's finances:

1.  One quarter of your earnings should be used to cover your expenses.
2.  Two quarters should be re-invested in your business.
3.  One quarter should be put into savings for times of need.

Finally, the Buddha discusses how one might best benefit from worshipping the six directions.

Regarding the east, a child should be good to his or her parents:  support them, help them, keep their traditions, be worthy of your inheritance, and offer alms in their honor when they die.

A parent should be good to his or her children as well:  keep them from getting into trouble, encourage them to be good, train them for a profession, make sure they are suitably married, and provide a good inheritance.

Regarding the south, a student should be good to his or her teachers:  show respect, work hard, and be eager to learn.

A teacher should be good to his or her students:  teach them well, make sure they understand, help them achieve their goals.

Regarding the west, a husband should be good to his wife:  treat her well, be faithful to her, share authority with her, and give her jewelry ;-)

A wife should be good to her husband:  be gracious, faithful, industrious, and frugal.

Regarding the north, a friend should be good to his or her friends:  be generous, helpful, loyal, protective, and so on.

Regarding the nadir ("down"), an employer should be good to his or her employees:  assign work according to their abilities, provide food and wages, take care of them when they are sick, share delicacies with them, and grant them occasional leave.

Employees should be good to their employers:  Get to work early, leave late, perform their duties well, don't pilfer from the supply closet, and uphold their employer's good name.

And finally, regarding the zenith ("up"),  lay people should be good to people who have devoted themselves to the spiritual life:  kind deeds, kind words, kind thoughts, opening one's home to them, and supplying them with their physical needs.

And people in the spiritual life should be good to lay people:  keep them from doing evil, encourage them to do good, make sure they hear the dharma, clarify what they don't understand, point out the way, and generally love them.

Keep these relationships in mind, he tells Sigalovada, and the ritual your father asked you to keep will have greater benefits than he ever dreamed of.  Although some of the details may be a bit dated -- it has been some 2500 years, after all -- it can still serve quite well as a guide to moral behavior for the common man or woman of today!

Buddha concludes with a poem:

Who is wise and virtuous,
Gentle and keen-witted,
Humble and amenable,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is energetic and not indolent,
In misfortune unshaken,
Flawless in manner and intelligent,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is hospitable and friendly,
Liberal and unselfish,
A guide, an instructor, a leader,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Generosity, sweet speech,
Helpfulness to others,
Impartiality to all,
As the case demands.

These four winning ways make the world go round,
As the linchpin in a moving car.
If these in the world exist not,
Neither mother nor father will receive,
Respect and honor from their children.

From The Sigalovada Sutta, DN31, translated by Narada Thera (http://world.std.com/~metta/canon/digha/dn31.html).

The Ten Duties of a King

(from the Pali Jatakas)

But the common man or woman is not the only one for whom Buddha provides guidance...

1.  Dana:  Liberality, generosity, charity, concern with the welfare of the people.
2.  Sila:  High moral character, observing at least the Five Precepts.
3.  Parccaga:  Willing to sacrifice everything for the people -- comfort, fame, even his life.
4.  Ajjava:  Honesty and integrity, not fearing some or favoring others.
5.  Maddava:  Kindness and gentleness.
6.  Tapa:  Austerity, content in the simple life.
7.  Akkodha:  Free from hatred, ill-will, and anger.
8.  Avihimsa:  Non-violence, a commitment to peace.
9.  Khanti:  Patience, tolerance, and the ability to understand others’ perspectives.
10.  Avirodha:  Non-obstruction, ruling in harmony with the will of the people and in their best interests.

The Buddha's Words on Kindness (Metta Sutta)

      This is what should be done
      By one who is skilled in goodness,
      And who knows the path of peace:
      Let them be able and upright,
      Straightforward and gentle in speech.
      Humble and not conceited,
      Contented and easily satisfied.
      Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
      Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
      Not proud and demanding in nature.
      Let them not do the slightest thing
      That the wise would later reprove.
      Wishing: In gladness and in saftey,
      May all beings be at ease.
      Whatever living beings there may be;
      Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
      The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
      The seen and the unseen,
      Those living near and far away,
      Those born and to-be-born,
      May all beings be at ease!

      Let none deceive another,
      Or despise any being in any state.
      Let none through anger or ill-will
      Wish harm upon another.
      Even as a mother protects with her life
      Her child, her only child,
      So with a boundless heart
      Should one cherish all living beings:
      Radiating kindness over the entire world
      Spreading upwards to the skies,
      And downwards to the depths;
      Outwards and unbounded,
      Freed from hatred and ill-will.
      Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
      Free from drowsiness,
      One should sustain this recollection.
      This is said to be the sublime abiding.
      By not holding to fixed views,
      The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
      Being freed from all sense desires,
      Is not born again into this world.

From The Buddhist Reading Room (http://www.geocities.com/~wtwilson3/metta-su.htm).

For more original sutras on Buddhist morality, please see the following:

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