Path Factors of Virtuous Conduct

Sīla and the Social Objectives of Moral Conduct


On a fundamental level, morality (sīla; virtuous conduct) is an objective truth. It is described by the three Path factors of right speech, right action, and right livelihood: it refers to intentional speech, action, and livelihood that is free from evil, immoral conduct and from thoughts of harm and oppression, and it incorporates corresponding virtuous, upright behaviour.

From the outset, Buddhist practitioners should clearly discern the purpose and objectives of those moral practices that they uphold and undertake. They should understand how virtuous conduct fits into a wider system of spiritual training, recognizing that the deepening of virtue is related to mind development and wisdom development. Virtuous conduct supports concentration and leads to clear knowledge and vision (ñāṇa-dassana). It leads to the end of suffering, to blessings, and to true wellbeing. And it is essential for happiness, both for an individual and for society.

The Noble Eightfold Path, comprising a complete set of spiritual factors, is divided into three groups: virtuous conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). These three main factors also comprise the threefold training – the training in higher virtue (adhisīla-sikkhā), the training in higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā), and the training in higher wisdom (adhipaññā-sikkhā) – which may be simply rendered as sīla, samādhi, and paññā.

The entire Buddhist practice, training, discipline, spiritual development, and path to Nibbāna is incorporated within this threefold training, derived from the Eightfold Path. True, genuine, and complete moral conduct refers to the three Path factors contained within the sīla group, i.e. right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

Path Factors of Virtuous Conduct

The section of the Eightfold Path on virtuous conduct (sīla) contains three factors: right speech (sammā-vācā), right action (sammā-kammanta), and right livelihood (sammā-ājīva). Here is an example of how these three factors are defined in the scriptures:

  1. And what, monks, is right speech? This is called right speech:

    1. To abstain from false speech (musāvādā veramaṇī).

    2. To abstain from divisive speech (pisuṇāya vācāya veramaṇī).

    3. To abstain from harsh speech (pharusā vācāya veramaṇī).

    4. To abstain from idle chatter (samphappalāpā veramaṇī).

  2. And what, monks, is right action? This is called right action:

    1. To abstain from killing living beings (pāṇātipātā veramaṇī).

    2. To abstain from taking what is not freely given (adinnādānā veramaṇī).

    3. To abstain from sexual misconduct (kāmesumicchācārā veramaṇī).

  3. And what, monks, is right livelihood? This is called right livelihood: here a noble disciple, having abandoned wrong livelihood,1 earns his living by right livelihood.2

There are also definitions for these three factors distinguishing between the mundane level and the transcendent. The definitions for the mundane level are the same as those above; the definitions for the transcendent are as follows:

  1. Transcendent right speech: the refraining, the avoidance, the abstinence from, the intention to desist from the four kinds of verbal misconduct in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who has attained to the noble path, and is developing the noble path.

  2. Transcendent right action: the refraining, the avoidance, the abstinence from, the intention to desist from the three kinds of physical misconduct in one whose mind is noble … and is developing the noble path.

  3. Transcendent right livelihood: the refraining, the avoidance, the abstinence from, the intention to desist from wrong livelihood in one whose mind is noble … and is developing the noble path.3 {711}

Universal Principles of Morality

The Buddhist teachings expand upon the essential principles of moral training – collectively referred to as the ’training in higher virtue’ (adhisīla-sikkhā) – in a detailed and comprehensive way. Various precepts and moral standards are established for practical application in order to generate wholesome results for both an individual and for all of society. This practical outline of moral conduct begins with a teaching on behaviour – the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha) – corresponding to the three factors of the Noble Path mentioned above, and with a teaching on the most basic form of moral conduct: the five precepts.4

There is, however, no limit to the expansion and details of such a practical outline of moral conduct: teachings are presented in the texts according to specific individuals, time periods, locations, and other related circumstances. It is not possible here to compile all of these varied and detailed teachings on moral conduct.

It is sufficient to present the central principles of the Buddhist teachings on virtuous conduct, which are described in the scriptures in a clearly defined way. I will leave it up to the reader to find specific teachings that match their disposition, life circumstances, and aims.

Leaving aside teachings appropriate to specific individuals, time periods, places, and occasions, a key factor in determining practical teachings on virtuous conduct is a person’s occupation or state of living. For this reason there are distinct codes of conduct, precepts, and systems of practice for householders and for renunciants.

A student of Buddhism must understand the principles, value, and most importantly the objectives of these distinct ethical codes, both in their variant details and in their ultimate unity and concordance, in order to possess a true understanding of this subject and to practise the Dhamma correctly.

A key example of distilling the essence of the Path factors related to virtuous conduct and presenting practical principles of conduct is the teaching on the ten wholesome ways of conduct (kusala-kammapatha). This teaching matches the Path factors directly; it only differs in so far as it arranges physical action (corresponding to ’right action’) before verbal action (corresponding to ’right speech’). This teaching is known by other names, including: ’upright conduct’ (sucarita), ’purity by way of body, speech, (and mind)’, and ’excellence of action’. Following is a passage from the Pali Canon describing this teaching:

At one time when the Buddha was staying at Pāvā in the mango grove of the silversmith Cunda, Cunda approached the Buddha and they conversed on ’acts of purification’ (soceyya-kamma). Cunda said that he approves of the purifying rites prescribed by the brahmins of the western districts, who carry waterpots, wear garlands of waterweed, worship fire, and submerge themselves in water.

According to these rites, in the early morning on rising from one’s bed a person must touch the earth. If he does not touch the earth, then he must touch fresh cow-dung, or green grass, or tend to a fire, or pay reverence to the sun, or else he must descend into water three times in the evening. (See Note Superstitious Rites) {712}

Superstitious Rites

Such unyielding adherence to moral precepts and religious practices (sīlabbataparāmāsa) has been widespread in India from the Buddha’s time to the present day without abating. Abolishing this form of blind belief was one of the Buddha’s primary intentions in his teaching and activities, along with abolishing the caste system and drawing people away from metaphysical speculations towards a consideration of more pertinent and valid questions.

An increasing adherence to this blind belief and to superstitious rites and ceremonies accompanied the demise of Buddhism in India, and was indeed a crucial factor for its demise. It is fair to say that such blind belief shapes the state of Indian society today. Wherever such blind belief in religious precepts and practices increases, an upholding of the true Buddhist teachings will fall into decline.

In the history of human civilizations, such a firm adherence to rites and ceremonies (even to ones that are more rational than those mentioned above) have led to violent social revolution and even to the end of these civilizations.

The Buddha answered that the self-purifying rites of these brahmins are different from the self-purification found in the noble discipline (ariya-vinaya). People who engage in the ten unwholesome courses of action (killing living beings, stealing, etc. – the opposite factors to the ten wholesome courses of action) are impure in body, speech and mind. Regardless of whether they touch the earth, touch cowdung, worship fire, honour the sun, or refrain from these actions they remain impure, because these unwholesome ways of action are inherently impure and lead to impurity.

The Buddha then described the ten ways of wholesome action, which lead to self-purification (soceyya):

A. Three kinds of purification by way of the body:

  • 1. A person abandons the killing of living beings (pāṇātipāta), abstains from taking life; with rod and weapon laid aside, conscientious and kind, he abides compassionate and eager to help all living beings.

  • 2. A person abandons from taking what is not freely given (adinnādāna) and abstains therefrom; he does not take with thievish intent the property of another, situated at home or in the forest.

  • 3. A person abandons sexual misconduct (kāmesu-micchācāra) and abstains therefrom; he does not violate women who are protected by their mother, father, brother, sister, or relatives, who are protected by the Dhamma (e.g. by legal guardianship), who have a husband, women who are off limits, even those who are engaged.

B. Four kinds of purification by way of speech:

  • 4. A person abandons false speech (musāvāda), abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to an assembly, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: ’So, good man, tell what you know’, not knowing, he says, ’I do not know’, or knowing, he says, ’I know’; not seeing, he says, ’I do not see’, or seeing, he says, ’I see’; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some form of reward.

  • 5. A person abandons divisive speech (pisuṇā-vācā), abstains from divisive speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide those people from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these people from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of solidarity, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord.

  • 6. A person abandons harsh speech (pharusa-vācā), abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are unoffensive, pleasing to the ear and loveable, words that go to the heart, are courteous, agreeable to many and delightful to many.

  • 7. A person abandons [unreflective] chatter (samphappalāpa), abstains from trivial talk; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks on what is good, speaks on the Dhamma and the Discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as can be substantiated, are relevant, moderate, and beneficial.

C. Three kinds of purification by way of mind:

  • 8. non-covetousness (anabhijjhā),

  • 9. non-ill-will (abyāpāda; the wish for all beings to abide in happiness), and

  • 10. right view (sammā-diṭṭhi).

These three factors are an extension of the first two factors of the Eightfold Path: right view (sammā-diṭṭhi) and right intention (sammā-saṅkappa): {713}

A person endowed with these ten wholesome courses of action, in the early morning on rising from his bed, if he touches the earth he is pure, if he does not touch the earth he is pure … if he pays reverence to the sun he is pure, if he does not pay reverence to the sun he is pure … because these ten wholesome courses of action are inherently pure and they lead to purification.5

A. V. 263.

Earlier it was mentioned that the essential principles of virtuous conduct are expanded for practical purposes, suitable to particular circumstances. For example, in reference to someone who has been ordained as a monk, apart from the adjustment and addition of specific moral precepts, even those precepts that remain the same are sometimes interpreted in a new way. Compare these precepts on stealing and lying with the definitions presented above in the ten courses of wholesome action:

Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given; taking only what is given, expecting only what is given, by not stealing he abides in purity.

Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech; he speaks truth, upholds the truth, is trustworthy and reliable, one who is no deceiver of the world.

D. I. 4-5, 63-4, 100-101, etc.; M. I. 267-8, 345; A. V. 204-5.

The expanded definitions for the factors of the Eightfold Path related to virtuous conduct are usually divided into two parts. The first part describes the refraining from doing evil, and the latter part describes performing a wholesome activity, which opposes the unskilful action that the person is avoiding. The former part employs language of negation; the latter part employs language of promotion or affirmation.

This pairing of ’negative’ and ’positive’ instruction is a common attribute of the Buddhist teachings, in line with the principle: ’refrain from evil, cultivate the good’.

Beginning with the refraining from evil, the cultivation of the good can be expanded on progressively, which is not limited to these factors of the Path. For example, in regard to theft (adinnādāna), although the teachings cited above are not expanded into a clear application of cultivating wholesome qualities, there are other, complementary teachings on the key Buddhist principle of generosity (dāna).

Theistic Morality vs a Doctrine of Natural Truth

Some Western scholars have criticized Buddhism for teaching in an exclusively negative way. They claim that Buddhism teaches people to solely refrain from evil, but it does not encourage people to exert themselves in a positive way by doing good; Buddhism does not advise people how to promote goodness once they have refrained from wrongdoing; Buddhism is merely a teaching of subjectivity, an ’ethic of abstract thinking’, a teaching of resignation and passivity. They go on to say that Buddhist teachings lead Buddhists to be contented merely with avoiding evil, but they take no interest in helping other human beings find freedom from suffering and discover true happiness. {714}

These scholars claim that even though Buddhism teaches lovingkindness and compassion, these qualities are confined simply to mental activities. They draw upon passages in the Tipiṭaka to support their view that the Buddhist teachings are exclusively negative. For example, they cite the definition for right action (sammā-kammanta) presented by Ven. Sāriputta:

And what, friends, is right action? Abstaining from killing living beings, abstaining from taking what is not given, and abstaining from misconduct in sensual pleasures – this is called right action.6

M. III. 251-2.

Someone who recognizes the true practical application of these Path factors, as is outlined for example in the elaboration of moral conduct contained in the ten wholesome courses of action, will see that these scholars who offer criticism (much of which is well-intentioned) surely have garnered only an incomplete knowledge and do not understand Buddha-Dhamma in its entirety. It is clear that the system of virtuous conduct based on these factors of the Path is not restricted to being ’negative’, ’passive’, ’subjective’, or merely an ’ethic of abstract thinking’.

In any case, when one encounters such criticisms, one should take the opportunity to clarify these matters within oneself and expand one’s understanding. The explanations of the moral factors of the Path refer to basic behaviour linked with intention. They are initially defined through a terminology of negation (i.e. the definitions emphasize the refraining from evil) for the following reasons:

  • In Buddhism, moral precepts and codes of conduct are not divine edicts or commandments etched in stone, which through God’s will stipulate how people should behave, often through blind faith, without needing to understand the justifications for moral behaviour. {715}

    In Buddha-Dhamma, moral precepts are determined according to laws of nature, and collectively they constitute the beginning stage of spiritual development. Someone who upholds these precepts ought to discern the relationship to these natural laws. Although one may not yet possess a clear understanding and may only act at the level of faith, this faith should be ’well-grounded’ (ākāravatī-saddhā) – it should at least be based on a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect, enough to give rise to increasing degrees of wisdom.

  • In the gradual development of Dhamma practice or of spiritual training, one must prepare a stable and even foundation. One begins with refraining from or eliminating unwholesome actions, before one cultivates goodness and eventually reaches purity and liberation. This is similar to growing a fruit tree: one must first prepare the soil by removing harmful elements; then one is ready to plant the seed, nurture the plant, and harvest one’s desired fruit.

    In Buddha-Dhamma, virtuous conduct (sīla) is the first stage of practice, in which the emphasis is on refraining from unskilful actions. At first there is a repeated focus on those things that need to be eliminated, after which the boundaries of spiritual practice can be expanded, by gradually including the elevated stages of concentration and wisdom.

  • Within the system of the threefold training, moral conduct in itself is not a practice leading to the highest goal. Rather, it prepares the general foundation of one’s life and makes one ready to cultivate the essential factor of mental development, which is referred to in brief as ’concentration’ (samādhi). This next stage of development follows on from and reaps the benefits of moral conduct.

    The spiritual value of moral conduct is tremendous: the intention to refrain from evil or the absence of any thoughts of wrongdoing purifies and steadies the mind; a person is thus not disturbed by confusion, distress, or anxiety. The mind becomes tranquil and concentrated.

    When the mind is peaceful and concentrated, one develops clarity and proficiency in wisdom – one uses reasoned discernment and seeks ways to further cultivate goodness and to reach higher stages of spiritual accomplishment.

  • Being endowed with a strong, virtuous, and joyous mind is of vital importance. In Buddhist ethics there must be a constant link and integration between one’s state of mind and one’s external physical and verbal actions. The mind is the source of all action, and therefore intention is the principal factor in determining the true sincerity of a person’s virtuous deeds. Not deceiving others is an inadequate yardstick – there must also be an absence of self-deception. Developing a wholesome integration of factors uplifts the mind and prevents the problem of mental behaviour and external behaviour being at odds with one another.

  • The Path factors related to moral conduct reveal that the most basic form of human responsibility is to take responsibility for one’s own mind: to guard against all thoughts of harming or violating others. When a person has established this basic purity of mind, personal responsibility expands outwards to sustaining and cultivating spiritual qualities and performing virtuous deeds in order to help others. In sum, there is the personal responsibility to refrain from evil and the social responsibility to act for others’ wellbeing and happiness.

  • To interpret sīla as the refraining from harm and wrongdoing is to define the principles of spiritual practice in a basic and uniform way. This interpretation emphasizes volition that is completely free from corruption and wickedness. When one has achieved such a basic discipline and freedom from affliction and turmoil, both internal and external, one can begin to expand on and cultivate aspects of wholesome and virtuous conduct. {716}

    In regard to goodness, its details and methods of practice are limitless and vary according to time and place. Unskilful actions, on the other hand, can be strictly defined and determined. For example, both monks and laypeople should refrain from telling lies, but the opportunities and methods for undertaking wholesome activities based on honest speech may vary. The all-inclusive principles of behaviour thus specify the refraining from basic forms of wrongdoing. The details and methods of cultivating goodness are matters of practical application, depending on a person’s life circumstances.

  • To arrive at the goal of Buddhism it is necessary to develop every factor of the Eightfold Path. Therefore, each Path factor must be an all-inclusive principle which every person is able to follow and practise, not limited to a person’s social standing, time period, location, or specific surrounding conditions.

    This is clearly evident in the domain of moral conduct. For example, to abstain from taking what is not freely given is something that every person can do, but the offering of gifts depends on other factors, like having something to give, having a recipient, and having a worthy recipient. In the case that a person does not have the opportunity to give, intention that is free from any thoughts of stealing already purifies the mind and acts as a foundation for concentration. If one has the opportunity to give, however, this giving will increase one’s virtue and prevent the mental stain of being uncaring or possessive.

    It is for these reasons that the primary interpretations of these Path factors of morality exist in the form of negation: of abstaining from unskilful behaviour or of an absence of evil. The expanded interpretation of these Path factors which includes the positive acts of generating goodness is a matter of practical application as mentioned above.

  • In Dhamma practice, practitioners are often consciously developing a specific spiritual quality or virtue. During this time the practitioner must be absorbed in and focused on that activity. In such circumstances one’s responsibility concerning other areas of practice is simply to prevent harmful or unskilful conditions from arising. Here, the desired benefit from moral conduct is to help regulate other areas of activity: to prevent one from erring and committing an unskilful action, to be free from mental weakness and disturbance, and to prepare a firm foundation in order to develop the chosen virtuous quality completely and resolutely.

As mentioned above, the Buddhist system of spiritual training is threefold, comprising moral conduct, concentration, and wisdom; moreover, it is based on natural phenomena. Many of the critical scholars mentioned above, however, view morality from the perspective of a theistic tradition, and thus they can make neither head nor tail of the Buddhist system. It is important to distinguish between moral conduct as taught in Buddha-Dhamma and moral conduct as taught in theistic religions (this analysis should include those teachings on kamma and on good and evil). Here are some important points on this distinction:

  • In the doctrine of natural truth (sabhāva-niyāma), i.e. Buddha-Dhamma, principles of moral behaviour are determined and defined according to causal laws of nature. In theistic religions moral principles are divine commandments laid down according to divine will.

  • From the angle of ’negation’ or restraint, moral conduct in Buddha-Dhamma is a principle of self-discipline and self-training, and therefore the prescribed precepts are referred to as ’training rules’ (sikkhā-pada). As for moral conduct in theistic religions, it is comprised of prohibitions – of commandments laid down from a power above. {717}

  • In Buddha-Dhamma a vital factor for moral conduct is ’well-grounded faith’ (ākāravatī-saddhā): a trust in natural laws and a basic understanding that volitional actions and their results proceed in accord with causes and conditions. A vital factor for moral conduct in theistic religions is devotional faith (bhatti): a belief in, acceptance of, and obedience to those things prescribed by God, and a complete entrusting oneself to these prescriptions without needing to question their validity.

  • In Buddha-Dhamma a correct upholding of moral precepts entails self-discipline, beginning with the intention to refrain from all vices and followed by the development of virtues which are diametrically opposed to such vices. In theistic religions the upholding of moral precepts entails strict obedience to divine commandments.

  • In Buddha-Dhamma, practice on the level of moral conduct has the specific objective of acting as a foundation for concentration. It is part of a system of training designed to prepare and enable a person to harness the power of the mind in the greatest way possible, eventually giving rise to wisdom and leading in the end to perfect mental freedom. As for say, going to heaven, this is merely a natural consequence of causes and conditions. In theistic religions, however, upholding the commandments leads to divine favour; it is conduct that accords with God’s will and results in the reward of being born in heaven.

  • In Buddha-Dhamma, the good and bad results of moral or immoral behaviour occur automatically according to a natural order; they stem from the impartial, objective functioning of a natural law, referred to as the law of kamma. These effects first manifest in the mind and then manifest further in a person’s personality and way of life, in this lifetime and in future lifetimes. In theistic religions the good and bad results of keeping or transgressing divine commandments are a matter of reward or retribution. The reward for obedience is going to heaven; the punishment for transgression is going to hell. The reward or punishment is determined solely by divine judgement.

  • In regard to good and evil, Buddha-Dhamma teaches that moral virtue protects, enhances, purifies and elevates the mind, and it is thus referred to as puñña (’merit’, ’meritorious’). Moral conduct promotes mental prosperity and mental health; it is a skilful action, it conforms to wisdom, and it leads to liberation; thus it is called kusala (’wholesome’, ’skilful’). Wicked, immoral behaviour on the other hand impairs or decreases the quality of the mind, and thus it is called pāpa (’evil’).7 It damages a person’s life, it is unskilful, and it is conducive neither to mental wellbeing nor to liberation; thus it is called akusala (’unskilful’, ’unwholesome’). In theistic religions, good and evil is based primarily on faith and devotion: behaviour is measured by obedience and conformity to God’s will and commands. Evil in particular is interpreted as behaviour opposing or transgressing the will of God (commonly called ’sin’).

  • In Buddha-Dhamma it is imperative that teachings on morality be based on reason, for Dhamma practitioners only conduct themselves correctly when they understand how the system of ethics is connected to the law of causality. The prevailing morality of theistic religions is based on divine proclamations and divine decree which is comprised of disparate rules and precepts. Although these rules may be compiled into an ethical code, they are not part of an integrated system, because a follower of such a religion requires only enough understanding to determine what rules have been laid down. {718} It is not necessary to understand the entire system or the relationship to other factors because the larger design exists in God’s all-knowing wisdom; followers ought not to doubt, but rather they should surrender themselves and follow obediently.

  • The Buddhist system of ethics is comprised of objective and universal principles; it is determined according to laws of nature. (Here ethics refers to the essence of sīla, as the aspects of truth dealing with good and evil; it is not referring to sīla as a prescribed code of discipline – vinaya, which involves forms of correction and punishment within a social setting.) In theistic religions, ethical principles tend to be determined according to divine will; the code of ethics resembles a prescribed code of discipline (vinaya) or a legal code, because God is both the enactor of these laws and the judge.

    Buddha-Dhamma teaches that specific volitional actions have specific effects on a person’s mind, behaviour, disposition, and personality. In this context, it is invalid to set limitations or qualifications on such effects of volitional action, for example by claiming that a particular group of people has an advantage, or to use personal approval as the criterion for truth. It is invalid to make the following claims: only members of this specific religion are compassionate and good, but members of other religions, although they may express compassion, are not truly good; killing people of this religion is a sin, but killing people of other religions is not a sin; only virtuous people of this religion can go to heaven, while people of other religions, regardless how they behave, are infidels and are destined for hell; killing animals is not a sin, because animals are intended as food for humans (are we not food for lions and tigers?).8

    Having said this, it is valid, however, to distinguish between different kinds of volitional actions, for instance by observing how various degrees of unskilful behaviour effect the functioning of the mind.

  • Because moral conduct is based on objective principles and determined according to natural laws, Buddhist practitioners require courage and honesty to acknowledge and face the truth. They are urged to accept the truth of conditions, that good and evil, right and wrong, exist within themselves and within the world. Whether people practise accordingly or not, and to what extent they practise, is another matter. People need to acknowledge whether they are acting in conformity with these natural laws or not; they should not consider an evil deed as good simply because it accords with their desires. The validity of natural laws governing human behaviour does not depend on people’s desires. If one is about to perform an action that results in falling into hell, it is better to acknowledge that this action is bad, but that one is still willing to suffer the consequences, than to delude oneself into thinking that one is doing nothing wrong.

Admittedly, there are some benefits or advantages to an ethics based on divine mandate:

  • It cuts off the need to debate whether an action is correct or incorrect, true or false. Unquestioned belief and devotional faith often generate ardent effort and quick results in spiritual practice. But it also tends to create problems, e.g.: problems about what should be done in order to instil faith in people (especially in this age of reason); problems about how to live at peace with other people who do not share one’s beliefs; the problem of how to sustain faith; and a diminished opportunity for people to exercise their wisdom faculty freely. (Some of these problems can be overlooked if one is content for human society to be split into divergent groups.)

  • Ordinary people tend to find a moral system based on faith and devotion more accessible, and this kind of moral system does a good job at regulating ordinary people’s behaviour. Even among many Buddhists the understanding of sīla in relation to good and evil harbours beliefs that resemble those of theistic religions, for example to view ethics as a set of prohibitions (but with only an obscure idea of who prohibits, as opposed to theistic doctrines which clearly state that God prohibits), and to view the results of good and evil as a form of reward or punishment. The problem with such a system, however, is that it relies primarily on faith. {719}

  • It can provide people with moral loopholes. By determining unwholesome actions as innocent or innocuous, people may justify them in order to gain something for themselves. Take for example the notion that killing animals is not a sin, which assuages people’s sense of guilt and makes them feel blameless. Although convincing oneself of one’s innocence can be effective, it has adverse effects in other areas of one’s life and it does not accord with the path of wisdom.

    Buddha-Dhamma encourages people to have a clear awareness of the truth at every stage of spiritual practice, and to be able to determine and judge the truth for themselves. It teaches people to use methods of self-motivation and independent action which include a thorough understanding of the factors involved. These methods of self-motivation should be harmless and only be used as a support for generating other spiritual qualities.

Basic Moral Conduct

It is important to recognize some general principles that assist in the proper practice of moral conduct at all levels and enable one to practise the Dhamma correctly (dhammānudhamma-paṭipatti).

The Buddha’s words above defining the Path factors of right speech, right action, and right livelihood reveal the essence of sīla, and they describe the necessary guidelines of moral conduct required for a virtuous life. Teachers from ancient times later compiled the eight subsidiary factors of moral conduct (derived from these three Path factors), and called them by the name ’the set of eight precepts of which pure livelihood is the eighth’ (ājīvaṭṭhamaka-sīla).9 {720}

These are the essential factors of moral conduct. From here, the analysis of moral conduct branches out. For example, when one describes a training for a specific group of people with a distinctive way of life, with distinct objectives and course of development, one may distinguish various details of practice, as the moral conduct for monks, for nuns, for novices, for the laity, etc. Moreover, a clear system of communal management may be established, referred to as a moral discipline (vinaya), which includes measures for restraint, administration, the exacting of penalties on transgressors, etc.

The Buddha’s words on the Path factors of moral conduct reveal that the Path is not intended only for the community of monks; otherwise, the definition for sīla would have to be the 227 precepts, the virtuous conduct for bhikkhus (bhikkhu-sīla), the morality of renunciants (pabbajita-sīla), or something along these lines. The Buddha taught the essence of moral conduct in a way that incorporates diverse and detailed moral principles and precepts. It was not necessary for him to bestow formal titles on some of these subsidiary guidelines for conduct; for example, he mentioned the five precepts, the eight precepts, and the ten precepts without giving them explicit names.

Because it is often forgotten, it should be emphasized that sīla does not refer only to virtuous physical and verbal actions, but also includes a pure and virtuous livelihood. The way one earns a living has an important bearing on virtuous conduct.

In the scriptural classification of moral precepts, normally only the main subjects are mentioned, e.g. to refrain from destroying living creatures or to refrain from stealing. By glancing at these main subjects, one may only see them in a negative, or negating, light. To gain a complete and clear understanding of these precepts, one needs to look at the Buddha’s words elaborating on their meanings. In the teaching on the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha), for instance, one sees that almost every factor is divided into two parts. There is an aspect to be refrained from and an aspect to be performed; a negating quality is followed by a positive quality. The teaching begins with abstaining from an evil action (e.g. killing), and this is followed by an encouragement to perform a good action that opposes the unskilful action (e.g. compassionately assisting all living creatures).

The Path consists of moral conduct, concentration, and wisdom, which must be fully integrated in order for the fruits of the Path to be achieved. Although here the discussion focuses on moral conduct, one needs to be aware that this is merely one stage of an integrated process. When one advances on the Path, moral conduct must be linked with the other two factors in order to reach true success.

Technically speaking, the fulfilment and perfection resulting from the complete integration of the Path factors is called the ’unity of spiritual qualities’ (dhamma-sāmaggī). Even at the highest level, of complete awakening, there must be this integration of factors. When one gains an appreciation of this integration of factors, although one may be focusing on the factors pertaining to moral conduct, one will be aware of the remaining factors and the role that they play.

The teaching on the ten wholesome courses of action expands the Path factors in a way that may be applied by all human beings (these ten factors are described as ’factors leading to true humanity’ – manussa-dhamma). It is evident in this teaching that moral conduct is accompanied by mental and wisdom development. (The first seven factors pertain to moral conduct; factors eight and nine pertain to concentration; and the tenth factor pertains to wisdom).

The five precepts, however, which is considered the most basic form of acceptable moral conduct, encompasses only the stage of sīla, not of samādhi or paññā. This indicates that the five precepts alone are inadequate for truly advancing on the Buddhist path. When one is unable to develop the higher spiritual qualities, at the very least one should abstain from wickedness and try not to seriously harm others. {721}

Having said this, the five precepts are not excluded from the unity of spiritual factors (dhamma-sāmaggī). In those circumstances when it was appropriate to distinguish moral conduct as a distinct category, the Buddha would prepare a complementary teaching containing factors pertaining to the mind (citta) and wisdom (paññā). (Here, these three factors are not placed together in a single group as they are in the ten wholesome courses of action.) He would teach those laypeople who began their spiritual practice by upholding the five precepts to complete their training by developing the mind and wisdom, so that they may become awakened disciples.

This alternative presentation of integrated spiritual factors is used as a teaching specifically for householders and it usually contains four factors: faith, virtuous conduct, generosity, and wisdom (occasionally the fifth factor of learning is added). This group of factors is mentioned very frequently in the Tipiṭaka; here is a concise summary of this teaching:10

After mentioning the means by which one gains victory in this world (by properly managing one’s home, domestic help, financial earnings, etc., which are matters pertaining to immediate benefits – diṭṭhadhammikattha), the Buddha speaks about the means by which one gains victory in the world to come (pertaining to future benefits – samparāyikattha):

Possessing four qualities, Visākhā, a woman practises for victory in the next world and makes ready for the next world. What four?….

  1. And how is a woman accomplished in faith (saddhā)?…. Here, a woman is endowed with faith. She has conviction in the awakening of the Tathāgata (tathāgatabodhi-saddhā) thus: ’The Blessed One is an arahant….’

  2. And how is a woman accomplished in virtuous conduct (sīla)?…. Here, a woman abstains from the destruction of life … from taking what is not given … from sexual misconduct … from false speech … from spirits and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness….

  3. And how is a woman accomplished in generosity (cāga)?…. Here, a woman dwells at home with a heart devoid of the stain of miserliness, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in relinquishment, devoted to charity, delighting in giving and sharing….

  4. And how is a woman accomplished in wisdom (paññā)?…. Here, a woman is wise; she possesses the wisdom that discerns arising and passing away, which is noble and penetrative and leads to the complete destruction of suffering….

A. IV. 269-71.

The fifth factor, which is desirable but not imperative, is ’learning’ (suta; learning by way of formal education, reading, listening, etc.), which refers to acquiring the raw data for knowledge. If one develops great learning (bahussuta), this is even more advantageous.

Many Buddhists are concerned only with moral conduct. They may be aware of other aspects of the teachings, but their knowledge is often confused and unsystematic, even though the Buddha clearly outlined a complete spiritual development, of sīla, samādhi, and paññā. He reiterated how householders should be endowed with faith (saddhā), moral conduct (sīla; specifically the five precepts), learning (suta), generosity (cāga), and wisdom (paññā). When one reaches this unity of spiritual factors at this level, the noble path (ariya-magga) is accessible for cultivation.

The Pali term sīla has a very broad scope of meaning; it can be used in very specific contexts or in a general sense. And as mentioned earlier, it is important to be able to distinguish this term from the term vinaya. {722}

Principles of Dhamma may be divided into the three factors of moral conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). Concentration and wisdom pertain exclusively to Dhamma, whereas moral conduct may be divided into a principle of Dhamma and also into a conventional disciplinary code (vinaya). Vinaya is one aspect of sīla (see the section ’Sīla on the Level of Dhamma and Sīla on the Level of Vinaya’ below). {723}

Following are some teachings by the Buddha summarizing basic moral principles in relation to ordinary people and clarifying the meaning and essence of the term sīla.

Fundamental Principles of Morality

Let us review the three Path factors pertaining to morality:

  1. Right speech (sammā-vācā):

    1. To relinquish wrong speech (musā-vāda); to abstain from telling lies; this factor includes speaking truthfully (sacca-vācā).

    2. To relinquish divisive speech (pisuṇā-vācā); to abstain from malicious tale-bearing; this factor includes harmonizing, reconciliatory speech (samaggakaraṇī-vācā).

    3. To relinquish harsh speech (pharusa-vācā); to abstain from offensive speech; this factor includes pleasant, polite speech (saṇha-vācā).

    4. To relinquish unreflective chatter (samphappalāpa); to abstain from trivial talk; this factor includes useful, beneficial speech (atthasaṇhitā-vācā). (See Note Virtuous Speech)

  2. Right action (sammā-kammanta):

    1. To relinquish destruction of life (pāṇātipāta); to abstain from killing living creatures; this factor includes deeds of aid and support.

    2. To relinquish taking what is not freely given (adinnādāna); to abstain from stealing; this factor is paired with right livelihood or with generosity (dāna).

    3. To relinquish misconduct in relation to sensual pleasures (kāmesu-micchācāra); to abstain from sexual misconduct; this factor includes ’contentment with one’s wife’ (sadāra-santosa).

  3. Right livelihood (sammā-ājīva): to relinquish wrong livelihood; to earn one’s living righteously; this factor includes a perseverance in maintaining an upright livelihood, for example by not leaving matters in arrears (i.e. not allowing work to pile up and be disorderly, not procrastinating, and not making half-hearted effort). (See Note Trades of Wrong Livelihood)

The Buddha applied these essential guidelines of moral conduct to ordinary people, describing basic principles of behaviour, which are suitable for human beings to live together happily and to lead wholesome lives, free from excessive conflict. These principles are referred to in the Pali Canon as the five ’training rules’ (sikkhā-pada), which were later commonly referred to as the five precepts (pañca-sīla). Let us review these precepts:11 {724}

  1. To abstain from killing living creatures (pāṇātipāta); essentially, this refers to conduct that is free from physical oppression of other beings.

  2. To abstain from taking what is not freely given (adinnādāna); to abstain from stealing; essentially, this refers to conduct that is free from transgressing others in the context of material property and possessions.

  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct (kāmesumicchācāra); essentially, this refers to conduct that is free from harming others in the context of married partners and cherished individuals, from transgressing sexual mores and traditions, from adultery, and from sexual behaviour that damages a family’s reputation and lineage.12

  4. To abstain from speaking falsehoods (musā-vāda); essentially, this refers to conduct that is free from transgressing others by telling lies or by speaking in order to take advantage or to cause harm.

  5. To abstain from spirits, liquor, and intoxicants (surāmerayamajja), which are a basis for heedlessness; essentially, this refers to conduct that is free from recklessness and intoxication due to the use of addictive substances that impair mindfulness and clear comprehension.

Virtuous Speech

At A. II. 141 there is a teaching by the Buddha on the four kinds of virtuous speech (vacī-sucarita):

  1. honest speech (sacca-vācā);

  2. non-divisive speech (apisuṇā-vācā);

  3. pleasant speech (saṇha-vācā); and

  4. reasoned speech (mantā-bhāsā).

The commentaries define mantā-bhāsā as wise speech (AA. III. 134); occasionally it is translated as ’moderate speech’, which is essentially the same as ’useful, beneficial speech’.

Standard definitions of the five precepts (along with similar moral precepts) have been handed down from scholars and commentators to later generations. To begin with, let us look at some teachings by the Buddha on this subject:

I will teach you, householders, a Dhamma exposition applicable to oneself….

Here, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’I am one who wishes to live, who does not wish to die; I cherish happiness and am averse to suffering. Since I am one who wishes to live … and am averse to suffering, if someone were to take my life, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to take the life of another – of one who wishes to live, who does not wish to die, who cherishes happiness and is averse to suffering – that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either. What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to the other too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?’ Having reflected thus, he himself abstains from the destruction of life, exhorts others to abstain from the destruction of life, and speaks in praise of abstinence from the destruction of life. Thus this bodily conduct of his is purified in three respects.

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to take from me what I have not given, that is, to commit theft, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to take from another what he has not given, that is, to commit theft, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either….’

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to commit adultery with my wife, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to commit adultery with the wife of another, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either….’

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to damage my welfare with false speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to damage the welfare of another with false speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either….’ {375}

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to instigate a split between me and my friends by divisive speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to instigate a split between another and his friends by divisive speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either….’

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to address me with harsh speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to address another with harsh speech, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either….’

Again, householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: ’If someone were to address me with frivolous speech and idle chatter, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to address another with frivolous speech and idle chatter, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either. What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to the other too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?’ Having reflected thus, he himself abstains from idle chatter, exhorts others to abstain from idle chatter, and speaks in praise of abstinence from idle chatter. Thus this verbal conduct of his is purified in three respects.

S. V. 353-5.

’Now what do you think, monks, have you ever seen or heard of the following: “This man has abandoned the taking of life, he is one who abstains from the taking of life; and kings seize him and execute him, imprison him, banish him, or impose a punishment on him for this reason”?’

’No, venerable sir.’

’Good, monks. I too have never seen or heard of the following…. But if they announce some evil deed as this: “This man has caused the death of a woman or man”, then kings, because he has taken life, seize him and execute, imprison, banish, or impose a punishment on him – has such a thing been seen or heard of by you?’

’Lord, this thing has been both seen and heard of by us, and we shall hear of it again.’

’What do you think, monks, have you ever seen or heard of the following: “This man has abandoned the taking of what is not given, he is one who abstains from taking what is not given … from sexual misconduct … from false speech … from spirits and intoxicants that are a basis for heedlessness; and kings seize him and execute him, imprison him, banish him, or impose a punishment on him for abstaining from taking what is not given … from sexual misconduct … from speaking falsely … from [indulging in] spirits and intoxicants”?’

’No, venerable sir.’

’Good, monks. I too have never seen or heard of the following…. But if they announce some evil deed as this: “This man has stolen something from a village or a forest”…. “This man violated the wives and daughters of others”…. “This man has brought to ruin a householder or a householder’s son with false speech”…. “This man is given over to drinking wines and spirits and has killed a woman or man”…. “This man is given over to drinking wines and spirits and has stolen something from a village or a forest” … “This man is given over to drinking wines and spirits and has violated the wives and daughters of others” … “This man is given over to drinking wines and spirits and has brought to ruin a householder or a householder’s son with false speech; then kings, because he has stolen … he has committed sexual misconduct … he has spoken falsely … he has [indulged in] wines and spirits; kings seize him and execute, imprison, banish, or impose a punishment on him” – has such a thing been seen or heard of by you?’ {726}

’Lord, this thing has been both seen and heard of by us, and we shall hear of it again.’

A. III. 208-209.

Almost all serious crime stems from a transgression of the five precepts. In societies containing widespread killing, mutual animosity, persecution, sexual misconduct, murder, theft, rape, deceit, abuse of intoxicants and addictive drugs, along with the resulting problems and casualties of drug and alcohol abuse, human life and people’s possessions are not safe. Wherever people go they experience anxiety and fear. When people meet, instead of feeling relaxed and at ease, they become mistrustful of one another. People’s mental health deteriorates and it is difficult for people to develop spiritual power and virtue.

Trades of Wrong Livelihood

At A. III. 209 there is a teaching by the Buddha on the five kinds of business a lay disciple should abstain from (akaraṇīya-vaṇijjā):

  1. trade in arms (’instruments of death’ – sattha-vaṇijjā);

  2. trade in human beings (satta-vaṇijjā);

  3. trade in the flesh of animals (maṁsa-vaṇijjā) – the commentaries say this refers to raising animals for slaughter;

  4. trade in intoxicants (majja-vaṇijjā), including other addictive drugs besides alcohol that lead to heedlessness; and

  5. trade in poisons (visava-vaṇijjā).

In the commentaries these five kinds of business are referred to as ’wrong business’ (micchā-vaṇijjā) – DA. I. 235; MA. I. 136 – or as ’unrighteous business’ (adhamma-vaṇijjā) – SnA. I. 379.

Such a society is not a supportive environment for cultivating spiritual virtue because people are preoccupied with resolving social conflict and chaos, which often increases in intensity.

For this reason, an absence of an adherence to the five precepts is a measuring stick to determine the level of social decay. The keeping of the five precepts marks the behaviour and way of life that is opposite to the unwholesome actions listed above.

Keeping the five precepts is the most basic criterion for determining human moral conduct; to keep these precepts preserves a healthy social environment and acts as a foundation for a virtuous way of life and for greater spiritual development.

For convenience, the commentators compiled a list of criteria for determining what actions constitute a transgression of each of the five precepts, establishing the ’necessary conditions’ (sambhāra) or ’factors’ (aṅga) of transgression. One has transgressed (or ’broken’) a precept when one fulfils all the necessary conditions, as follows:13

  • Transgression of the first precept, killing living creatures, contains five factors: (1) the creature (person or animal) possesses life; (2) one knows that the creature is alive; (3) there is an intention to kill; (4) there is an effort to kill; (5) the creature dies as a consequence of that effort.

  • Transgression of the second precept, stealing, contains five factors: (1) the object is considered a personal possession by someone else; (2) one knows that the other person considers the object a personal possession; (3) there is an intention to steal; (4) there is an effort to steal; (5) the theft is successful through that effort.

  • Transgression of the third precept, sexual misconduct, contains four factors: (1) there is a man or a woman who should not be violated (agamanīya-vatthu);14 (2) there is an intention to have sexual intercourse; (3) there is an effort to have intercourse; (4) ’there is a way through’: there is contact of the sexual organs. {727}

  • Transgression of the fourth precept, false speech, contains four factors: (1) the speech is untrue; (2) there is an intention to speak falsely; (3) there is an effort resulting from that intention; (4) another person comprehends that which has been spoken.

  • Transgression of the fifth precept, consuming liquor, spirits, and intoxicants, contains four factors: (1) the substance is an intoxicant; (2) there is a desire to consume the substance; (3) there is an effort resulting from that desire; (4) the substance is swallowed and passes the person’s throat.

In regard to the first precept, although the scriptures focus primarily on not killing human beings (as in the quotes by the Buddha above), animals too cherish life, delight in happiness, are averse to pain, and are companions in this world of birth, old-age, sickness, and death, and they too should not be oppressed. The first precept thus includes animals in the definition of living creatures. Granted, the scriptures claim that, kammically,15 killing animals is of a less serious consequence than killing human beings.

In regard to this matter, the commentaries offer principles for judging the severity of ill-effects resulting from transgressing the five precepts, based on various criteria.16

Later generations of Buddhist monastic scholars compiled a group of factors paired with the five precepts to be applied by Buddhist laypeople in tandem with the precepts. These factors are known as the ’five virtues’ (pañca-dhamma) or the ’five beautiful qualities’ (pañcakalyāṇa-dhamma).

In essence, they correspond to the factors of the ’wholesome courses of action’ (kusala-kammapatha), with some variation depending on the breadth of definition and application. {728}

These five factors follow the order of the five precepts as follows:

  1. Lovingkindness (mettā) and compassion (karuṇā).

  2. Right-livelihood (sammā-ājīva); some scholars substitute or include generosity (dāna).

  3. Sense restraint (kāma-saṁvara): to possess self-control in regard to sense impressions and sense desires, and to not allow these to lead to immoral behaviour. (Some scholars substitute sadāra-santosa: ’contentment with one’s spouse’.)

  4. Honesty (sacca).

  5. Mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajañña); some scholars substitute ’heedfulness’ (appamāda), which has essentially the same meaning.

Sadāra-santosa, which stands in opposition to sexual misconduct, literally translates as ’contentment with one’s wife’, but at heart it means ’contentment with one’s spouse’. From a broad perspective, this factor is based on mutual agreement and consent, and also on conformity with social conventions and rules: to not mistreat or be unfaithful to one’s spouse, to not act against the consent of the other person involved, and to not violate someone who is ’off limits’ – someone who is under the authority or care of someone else.

Although this factor does not firmly stipulate a single spouse in contrast to numerous spouses, the Buddhist texts favour and commend monogamy, for it leads to long-lasting mutual love and respect, and to a stable family in which the children feel secure and at ease.

The model couple in the suttas for such a monogamous relationship are the noble disciples Nakulapitā and Nakulamātā. They were both stream-enterers and are considered the foremost lay-disciples (etadagga) in respect to being in a close relationship to the Buddha. They had a deep love, devotion and loyalty to one another, and were equally matched in spiritual virtues, to the point that they expressed a wish to meet not only in this lifetime but in future lifetimes. Here are the recorded words of Nakulapitā:

Lord, ever since the young housewife Nakulamātā was brought home to me when I was still young, I have never been aware of acting unfaithfully towards her even in my thoughts, still less in my deeds. Lord, our wish is to be together so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.

Nakulamātā uttered the same words.17

The texts classify contentment with one’s spouse as a form of ’divine conduct’ (brahmacariya), which shows how highly praised this quality is in the Buddhist teachings. The commentators state that such pure conduct is a cause for not dying young, as in this passage:

We are not unfaithful to our wives and our wives are not unfaithful to us. We practise chastity (brahmacariya) in regards to other women apart from our wives. Therefore, none of us has died while still young.18 {729}

DA. I. 178; MA. II. 42; ItA. I. 108; SnA. I. 43.

To sum up, the following verses describe basic moral conduct in a nutshell:

A person who is composed in body, speech and mind, who does not perform any evil acts, who does not utter senseless, self-serving speech, such a one is called a virtuous person.

J. V. 146.

Make yourself a refuge for all beings.19

M. I. 39.

Virtuous Conduct for Enhancing One’s Life and Society

The commentaries claim that the entire teaching by the Buddha in the Siṅgālaka Sutta is intended as a layperson’s discipline or as a general ethical code.20 This teaching can be summarized as follows:

First Section: freedom from the fourteen vices

A. To abandon four vices of conduct (kamma-kilesa; defiling actions):

  1. Killing living creatures.

  2. Taking what is not freely offered.

  3. Sexual misconduct.

  4. False speech.

B. To refrain from the four causes of evil; to refrain from acting out of:

  1. Bias due to desire (chandāgati).

  2. Bias due to aversion (dosāgati).

  3. Bias due to delusion (mohāgati).

  4. Bias due to fear (bhayāgati).

C. To refrain from the six indulgences leading to ruin (apāya-mukha; ’paths to ruin’, ’ways of squandering wealth’):21

  1. Addiction to alcoholic drinks and intoxicants.

  2. Attachment to roaming the streets at unseemly hours.

  3. Attachment to frequenting shows and entertainment.

  4. Addiction to gambling.

  5. Attachment to associating with bad friends.

  6. Habitual idleness. {730}

Second Section: preparing two assets for one’s life

A. To recognize true and false friends, who should be associated with or not:22

  1. Four false friends:

    1. Swindlers.

    2. ’Great talkers’.23

    3. Flatterers.

    4. Those who urge one to indulge in the paths of ruin.

  2. Four true friends:

    1. Supportive friends.

    2. Friends who are loyal in both happy and unhappy times.24

    3. Friends who point out what is beneficial.

    4. Benevolent friends.

B. To gather and protect wealth. To be like industrious bees gathering nectar and building a hive or like ants building an anthill. One should then share one’s wealth among oneself and one’s friends by dividing it into four parts:

  1. One part one uses to provide for one’s daily needs, look after others, and perform meritorious actions.

  2. Two parts one uses as capital to support one’s work.

  3. The fourth part one should set aside as reserve in times of need.

Third Section: to protect the six directions

A proper relationship to six kinds of people:

1/A. Sons and daughters minister to their parents, who are similar to the eastern (forward) direction, by considering:

  1. ’Having been supported by them, I will support them in return.’

  2. ’I will fulfil their duties and perform work for them.’

  3. ’I will maintain the family lineage.’

  4. ’I will be worthy of my heritage.’

  5. ’After they have passed away I will offer gifts and dedicate merit to them.’

1/B. Parents assist their children in the following ways:

  1. They restrain them from evil.

  2. They train them in virtue.

  3. They provide them with an education in the arts and sciences.

  4. They help them find a suitable spouse.

  5. They hand over an inheritance when the time comes. {731}

2/A. Pupils minister to their teachers who are similar to the southern (righthand) direction by:

  1. Rising to greet them.

  2. Seeking them out (e.g. seeking their advice).

  3. Listening to them and being attentive.

  4. Waiting on and serving them.

  5. Learning the skills they teach with respect and earnestness; giving great importance to their studies.

2/B. Teachers assist their pupils in the following ways:

  1. They counsel and train them in virtue.

  2. They provide them with a clear understanding of the subjects of study.

  3. They provide them with a complete education in the fields of study.

  4. They recommend them to their friends and colleagues.

  5. They provide them with security in all directions (instruct them on how to truly apply their knowledge and make a living).

3/A. Husbands minister to their wives who are similar to the western (posterior) direction by:

  1. Honouring them in a suitable way.

  2. Not disparaging them.

  3. Not being unfaithful to them.

  4. Giving them authority in the household.

  5. Providing them with gifts of personal adornments.

3/B. Wives support their husbands in the following ways:

  1. They keep domestic affairs in order.

  2. They support the relatives and friends of both sides of the family.

  3. They are not unfaithful.

  4. They protect acquired wealth.

  5. They are skilful and diligent in their work.

4/A. To minister to one’s friends who are similar to the northern (lefthand) direction by:

  1. Hospitality and generosity.

  2. Kindly words.

  3. Assistance and support.

  4. Offering constant friendship; being a friend in good times and bad.

  5. Being honest and sincere.

4/B. Friends and companions reciprocate in the following ways:

  1. They protect one when one is careless.

  2. They protect one’s wealth and possessions when one is careless.

  3. They are a refuge in times of danger.

  4. They do not abandon one in times of difficulty.

  5. They show consideration to one’s relatives and other friends. {732}

5/A. Bosses minister to their servants and employees who are similar to the nadir by:

  1. Organizing work according to their strength, gender, age, and capability.

  2. Providing them with wages and bonuses appropriate to their work and living situation.

  3. Providing forms of welfare and security, for example by helping with medical expenses in times of illness.

  4. Sharing any privileges or extra profits.

  5. Providing days off and holidays.

5/B. Servants and employees support their bosses in the following ways:

  1. They begin work before them.

  2. They finish work after them.

  3. They take only what their bosses give them.

  4. They do their work in a well-ordered way and seek to improve their work.

  5. They praise their boss to others.

6/A. Householders minister to members of the monastic community who are similar to the zenith in these ways:

  1. They act with lovingkindness.

  2. They speak with lovingkindness.

  3. They maintain thoughts of lovingkindness.

  4. They receive them openly and willingly.

  5. They support them with the four requisites.

6/B. Monks and nuns support the laypeople by:

  1. Discouraging them from doing evil.

  2. Encouraging them to do good.

  3. Assisting them with benevolence.

  4. Teaching them what they have not previously heard or known.

  5. Explaining and clarifying what they have heard.

  6. Pointing out to them the way to heaven (teaching them the way to conduct their lives in order to realize happiness).

To cultivate the four ’favourable qualities’ (saṅgaha-vatthu) in order to build trust among people and to create social solidarity:

  1. Generosity (dāna).

  2. Kindly speech (piya-vācā).

  3. Acts of service (attha-cariyā).

  4. Behaving oneself in a balanced, impartial way (samānattatā). {733}

General Principles on Right Livelihood

As mentioned earlier, right livelihood is an aspect of sīla that often gets overlooked. Although only a brief summary will be presented here, the teachings on right livelihood are very meaningful and deserve a thorough investigation. Following are some general principles on this subject:

Buddhism focuses on the basic requirements human beings have for existence, i.e. the main purpose of earning a livelihood is to ensure that every individual in society has an adequate amount of the four requisites to sustain life. The Buddhist teachings give precedence to human beings; they do not emphasize an abundance of material wealth, which would be to give precedence to material possessions.

This principle of sufficiency is included in the Buddhist teachings on proper governance. One of the responsibilities of a king, for example, is to distribute wealth to the poor, to ensure that there are no impoverished, destitute people in the land.25 The success of a ruler’s work or of a government’s economic policies should thus be measured not by a full treasury or abundant wealth but rather by the absence of poverty in society.

In the case that these basic requirements have been met, the scriptures do not pass judgement on how much wealth a person possesses or whether there is an equal distribution of wealth in society, because these matters are connected to other factors, for example:

It is not a goal in itself to possess an adequate amount of the four requisites to sustain life, or even to possess abundant material wealth, because the search for and acquisition of wealth is part of the stage of developing virtuous conduct (sīla): the acquisition of wealth is a means for reaching a higher goal. It is a foundation for developing the mind and cultivating wisdom in order to lead a wholesome life and to experience more refined forms of happiness.

People differ in disposition and aptitude. Some people are content with a minimum degree of material wealth required to sustain life and focus primarily on developing higher spiritual qualities. Other people, however, are not yet prepared for these higher stages and are more dependent on material things, which is acceptable if they are not involved in harming others.

Moreover, there are some people whose disposition and aptitude it is to assist others by sharing material wealth; their wealth is thus of benefit to others.

The meaning of the term ’right livelihood’ is not restricted to the application of one’s labour for producing goods or for acquiring the requisites of life through righteous means. This term also includes a fulfilment of personal responsibilities: a proper conduct or way of life, which makes a person worthy of receiving these requisites. For example, the upholding by the bhikkhus of the ’qualities of a monk’ (samaṇa-dhamma) and the consequent receiving of the four requisites offered by the lay community is right livelihood of a bhikkhu. Similarly, children behaving well and acting in a way worthy of the care bestowed on them by their parents can be considered the ’right livelihood’ of a child.

Furthermore, in determining the value of labour, instead of focusing merely on the production of goods for gratifying people’s needs and desires – as it may be ambiguous whether these needs are governed by greed or are connected to true requirements for life – the way of Dhamma focuses on the fruits of labour that either support a person’s life and the wellbeing of society or else act in a detrimental way. {734}

From what has been said so far, there are two related matters for consideration:

A. In the Buddhist teachings, the relationship between a person’s profession (or work) and a person’s material income is twofold:

  • For ordinary people, the exertion of labour is directly related to their profession: one works in order to receive some monetary or material gain to help support one’s life.

  • For monks or renunciants (samaṇa), the exertion of labour is independent of employment in the general sense. The intention of a renunciant to put forth effort or to work is not to receive some material gain but rather to advance in the Dhamma or to uphold the Dhamma. If a monk diverts his efforts from his proper responsibilities in order to specifically seek out the four requisites, this is considered ’wrong livelihood’ (micchā-ājīva). Likewise, if he acts in order to profit materially, by soliciting the requisites in a way that runs counter to the wishes of the donor, this is considered an impure livelihood.

Apart from obvious examples of wrong livelihood – of deception, flattery, hinting, intimidation, and pursuing gain with gain26 – making a living by serving others, say by running errands, engaging in various arts like choosing auspicious occasions, making prophesies, and practising medicine, are also classified as ’wrong livelihood’ for bhikkhus.27

If a monk who is not ill asks for food – fine food, hard food, or even boiled rice – for himself and eats it, this behaviour is faulty as regards the vocation of a monk.28 To make the Dhamma into some form of commodity is wrong according to the renunciant’s code of ethics.29 Giving a Dhamma talk with the thought that the listeners may be pleased and one may thus receive some form of reward is an ’impure’ Dhamma talk.30 Even an act of giving that resembles a payment or recompense is inappropriate, as is evident in the following occasion involving the Buddha:

At one time the Buddha was walking for alms and stopped at the edge of a field belonging to a brahmin. The brahmin said: ’I plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat.’ The Buddha replied: ’I too, brahmin, plough and sow; and having ploughed and sown, I eat.’ The brahmin was perplexed and there followed a series of questions and answers spoken in verse; the Buddha concluded by saying that his ploughing and sowing bears the fruit of ’immortality’ (amata: the ’deathless’). The brahmin applauded this reply and with faith offered some food to the Buddha. The Buddha refused this food saying it would be inappropriate to eat food acquired through chanting verses.31

A pure and righteous acquisition of the four requisites for bhikkhus occurs when laypeople recognize the value of the Dhamma and see the necessity of assisting those individuals whose duty it is to uphold the Dhamma. The laypeople are made aware of the monks’ requirement for food when the monks walk in a composed manner on almsround; the laity then offer food from their own initiative. The effect of this generosity is that the donors purify, brighten, and elevate their minds, by reflecting on how they have performed a virtuous deed of supporting those individuals who practise the Dhamma and of participating themselves in upholding the Dhamma. In short, they make merit or receive blessings. {735}

The monks who receive these offerings are guided by the principles of conduct dealing with the four requisites which state that a monk should be contented with little and know moderation in regard to the requisites. This is in contrast to other responsibilities of a monk, for example teaching and advising, which should be performed as much as is possible with the sole aim of benefiting those who receive the teachings.

The principle of eating just enough to sustain the body while at the same time performing as much work as possible is compatible for a renunciant, for whom the exertion of effort is completely separate from the material gains of his or her livelihood. A monk cannot demand special rights or privileges by appealing to the amount of work he performs. When renunciants practise according to this principle, the external social system does not dictate their lives.

These principles mentioned above have the significant objective of creating a lifestyle that is free from all external social systems, or to create an independent community whose duty it is to realize and uphold the truth and whose members wish for the complete spiritual purification of all human beings.

B. An honest examination reveals that much of human labour in the area of economic production, both in terms of material goods and the service industry, does not truly benefit human life and society. Apart from obvious destructive activity, like producing weapons or narcotics, there are businesses that destroy the natural environment, demean human dignity, or damage the quality of people’s minds, while others are dedicated solely to preventing and solving the consequences of harmful actions. In large part, these kinds of labour are a waste of effort and end up being destructive.

Growth in many of these industries requires people to devote a great deal of energy and capital in order to prevent and solve the destructive effects resulting from the production itself. In contrast, labour that truly benefits human beings and society does not necessarily need to be part of the ordinary market economy, as can be seen in an exemplary life in harmony with Dhamma, which promotes human virtue and wisdom.

Even from the perspective of output or yield, personal virtue is occasionally more valuable than the fruits of physical labour: for example, a monk may be meditating in a forest without making any explicit effort to protect the forest, but the forest rangers may say that he is more effective in preserving the forest than all of their projects or efforts combined.

In terms of true wellbeing and happiness of human beings, looking only at the value of production and consumption is not enough; it is necessary to also look at the value of not producing and not consuming.

From the perspective of Dhamma, a person who does not produce anything within the sphere of the market economy, yet consumes the world’s resources in a prudent fashion and has a healthy relationship to the natural environment, is better than a person who produces things that are destructive and consumes the world’s resources in a wasteful manner. It appears, however, that most economic ideologies praise the latter person who produces and consumes much (who is destructive) more than the former person who produces and consumes little (who is less destructive).

One should ask whether it is a fair assessment to refer only to the act of production without considering the amount of waste resulting from consumption or without reflecting on how production truly benefits human beings.

The field of economics is often only interested in statistics, numbers, and monetary growth. Although economics is considered a branch of science, many economic theories and ideologies are limited, inadequate, and incomplete when it comes to solving the economic problems of human beings, who exist above any particular branch of abstract scientific knowledge. {736} Indeed, admitting that mere numerical calculations and tallies cannot suffice in solving human problems would act for the benefit and integrity of the field of economics.

As mentioned above, the Buddhist teachings are not really interested in how much wealth a person possesses, and the value of a person is not determined by how much money he or she has. Material wealth is viewed simply as a stepping stone to a higher goal rather than as a goal in itself, and the value of money is linked to the practice for reaching this higher goal.

The focus in Buddhism is on two stages: the methods by which wealth is acquired and the way that acquired wealth is subsequently used. Buddhism does not emphasize possessing wealth but rather emphasizes the search for and the spending of wealth. To merely accumulate money for no particular purpose is considered as reprehensible as acquiring money in immoral ways or spending money in harmful ways.

There are thus three basic vices in regard to material wealth: unrighteous acquisition of wealth, possession of wealth without using it for one’s true advantage, and the spending of wealth in harmful ways.

Furthermore, although a person may acquire wealth righteously and spend money in beneficial ways, this behaviour does not yet count as complete in regard to a proper relationship to material wealth. This is because the Buddhist teachings emphasize wisdom and the quality of one’s mind. A person’s relationship towards material wealth must include ’liberating wisdom’ (nissaraṇa-paññā).

This liberating wisdom implies that one truly understands the value, the benefits, and the limitations of wealth, and one recognizes how wealth has the potential to be either helpful or harmful. Rather than be enslaved by wealth, one should be the master of wealth, by recognizing that wealth should serve people and act as a means for developing goodness, reducing suffering, and increasing true happiness. Wealth should not be a cause for adding to personal distress, corrupting people’s minds, damaging human dignity, or creating divisions among people.

The Buddha described ten different kinds of laypeople (kāmabhogī; ’those who enjoy sensual pleasures’), the tenth of which he described as supreme. Among the characteristics of these most excellent laypeople, one can see the way of dealing with money that accords with Dhamma, which can be summarized as follows:32

  1. Acquisition: to seek wealth in righteous ways, without abusing or harming others.

  2. Expenditure (this stage also includes both saving money and living in moderation):

    1. To provide for one’s happiness (along with the happiness of those for whom one is responsible).

    2. To be charitable; to share one’s wealth with others.

    3. To use one’s wealth for meritorious purposes (including for promulgating and promoting the Dhamma).

  3. Liberating wisdom: to not be heedless with one’s wealth; to apply wisdom when spending money; to know the advantages and dangers of wealth; to not be enslaved by money; to rely on money in order to find opportunities for spiritual development.

The Buddha gave the following teaching about people’s relationship to wealth:

Monks, there are these three persons found existing in the world. What three?

The blind, the one-eyed, the two-eyed. {737}

And how is a person blind? Here some person does not possess the eye that helps to acquire unacquired wealth or make acquired wealth increase, and he does not possess the eye that helps to distinguish between skilful and unskilful things … between harmful and harmless things … between base and refined things … between things comparable to either bright or dark objects. This person is called ’blind’.

And how is a person one-eyed? Here some person possesses the eye that helps to acquire unacquired wealth or make acquired wealth increase, but he does not possess the eye that helps to distinguish between skilful and unskilful things … between harmful and harmless things … between base and refined things … between things comparable to either bright or dark objects. This person is called ’one-eyed’.

And how is a person two-eyed? Here some person possesses the eye that helps to acquire unacquired wealth or make acquired wealth increase, and he also possesses the eye that helps to distinguish between skilful and unskilful things … between harmful and harmless things … between base and refined things … between things comparable to either bright or dark objects. This person is called ’two-eyed’.

The blind man, with eyes impaired, experiences twofold misfortune: he possesses no such wealth, nor does he perform good deeds.

Another, who is called ’one-eyed’, searches merely for wealth through righteous or unrighteous means, even through theft, trickery, and deceit.

He takes pleasure in sensuality, clever at accumulating wealth; but departing here the ’one-eyed’ experiences torment in hell.

Best of all is the person called ’two-eyed’; he distributes his hard-earned wealth rightly won, is generous, with noble intent, unwavering; he reaches a favourable destination, free from sorrow.

One should steer clear from the blind and the one-eyed, and associate only with the noble, two-eyed person.

A. I. 128-9.

The Buddha criticized the hoarding of material wealth without it being used for any beneficial purposes. For instance, on one occasion King Pasenadi of Kosala visited the Buddha. The Buddha asked why the king was out during the day. King Pasenadi told the Buddha that a householder who was a millionaire had recently died in the capital city and because this man had no heir the king had gone to collect his treasure and transport it to the palace.

The king went on to say that amongst this treasure there were eight million gold coins, not to mention the amount of silver. And yet when this man was alive he ate only grits with sour gruel, wore a three-piece rough garment, and went about in a dilapidated little cart with a leaf awning. The Buddha replied:

So it is, great king! When an inferior man gains abundant wealth, he does not make himself happy and pleased, nor does he make his mother and father … his wife and children … his servants, workers, and employees … his friends and colleagues happy and pleased; nor does he establish an offering for ascetics and brahmins, one bearing noble fruit, generating virtuous states of mind, resulting in happiness, conducive to heaven. {738}

Because his wealth is not being used properly, kings confiscate it, or thieves steal it, or fire consumes it, or water carries it away, or displeasing heirs take it. Such being the case, that wealth, not being used properly, goes to waste, not to utilization. This is similar to a lotus pond in a place uninhabited by human beings – although it has clear, cool, fresh, and clean water, with good fords, delightful; but no people would take that water, or drink it, or bathe in it, or use it for any purpose.

But when a superior man gains abundant wealth, he makes himself happy and pleased, he makes his mother and father … his wife and children … his servants, workers, and employees … his friends and colleagues happy and pleased; and he establishes an offering for ascetics and brahmins, one bearing noble fruit, generating virtuous states of mind, resulting in happiness, conducive to heaven.

Because his wealth is being used properly, kings do not confiscate it, thieves cannot steal it, fire does not consume it, water does not carry it away, and unloved heirs cannot take it. Such being the case, that wealth, being used properly, goes to utilization, not to waste. This is similar to a lotus pond in a place not far from a village or a town, with clear, cool, fresh, and clean water, with good fords, delightful; and people would take that water, and drink it, and bathe in it, and use it for their purposes.

As cool water in a desolate place
Is forsaken without being drunk,
So when a scoundrel acquires wealth
He neither enjoys it nor shares it.
But when the wise man obtains wealth
He utilizes it and does his duty.
Having supported his kin, free from blame,
That noble man goes to a heavenly state.33

S. I. 89-91.

And on a similar occasion:

So it is, great king! Few are those people in the world who, when they obtain great wealth, do not become intoxicated and negligent, captivated by sensual pleasures, and mistreat other beings. Far more numerous are those people in the world who, when they obtain great wealth, become intoxicated and negligent, captivated by sensual pleasures, and mistreat other beings.

S. I. 74.

A person who accumulates wealth but does not utilize or share it is compared to the mayhaka bird, which sits in a fig tree full of ripe fruit and cries, mayhaṃ, mayhaṃ (from the Pali meaning ’mine, mine’). When flocks of other birds come to peck at the fruit and fly off again, the mayhaka bird remains babbling away.34

There are many stories in the scriptures criticizing stingy people who keep money to themselves and do not use it to help others. These stories often recount a change of mind for wealthy, miserly merchants. They provide insightful teachings on the Buddhist view on proper ownership and the use of wealth.35 {739}

Moral Rectitude and a Healthy Economy


There is a common custom in Thailand of the laity asking for and receiving the five precepts.36 When the laypeople have undertaken and determined these precepts, the monk who gives them concludes by pointing out the blessings of moral conduct, chanting: Sīlena sugatiṃ yanti, sīlena bhogasampadā, sīlena nibbutiṃ…. This verse can be translated as: ’By way of virtuous conduct, one goes to heaven, one achieves an abundance of wealth, one reaches Nibbāna….’

The pertinent clause here is that referring to an abundance of wealth: moral conduct leads to wealth and thus to a healthy economy. Although this verse was composed in later years and appears neither in the Tipiṭaka nor in the commentaries and sub-commentaries, because of its traditional importance, it is worthy of attention.

The chief principle of moral conduct (sīla) is that it establishes a stable basis and prepares a disciplined environment, in order that one may successfully engage in various essential activities.

In relation to the economy, when people are established in moral conduct, and there is an absence of crime and a reduction of danger to human life or personal possessions, people can move about safely. Consequently, when building factories, engaging in trade, and travelling about, either in the city or the country, during the day or at night, people feel secure and at ease. Bosses and their employees relate to one another with kindness and sincerity. The state bureaucracy is honest, efficient, and trustworthy. Communication between people, both locally and internationally, is smooth and easy, and production and commerce proceeds unhindered. This is how moral conduct prepares a foundation for economic prosperity.

Once a nation is stable and its citizens feel secure, one can shift one’s focus to individual people. Here, we need not examine the obvious harmful effects of immoral behaviour, for instance licentiousness, theft, deceit, and alcoholism. When people determine to earn their living in a virtuous, upright manner, and they are devoted to such an honest pursuit, they will no longer act or think in immoral, unscrupulous ways. They will not be detracted even by thoughts of unexpected windfalls, let alone by acquiring things through dishonest means.

When one’s mind is truly intent on one’s work, muddled or distracted thoughts cease. This is the beginning of concentration. When one is focused and committed to one’s work and activities, one engages with such considerations as: ’How should I begin?’ ’What should I do?’ ’How should I proceed to achieve my goal?’ ’What obstacles am I likely to face?’ ’How should I solve these problems?’ ’With whom should I associate?’ ’Whom should I consult?’ This is how moral conduct affects the mind; concentration and wisdom then take over as the guiding factors. The four paths to success (iddhipāda)37 arise in turn and one can be assured of accomplishment and success.

Bear in mind that the function of moral conduct is to establish a stable foundation for people to confidently engage in further spiritual practice. If one lacks moral discipline, one will have a weak foundation and an unsupportive environment. Without moral integrity, one cannot truly begin on the spiritual path. If one tries to begin, one will be shaky and unsteady. On the contrary, when people’s surroundings are favourable and their foundation stable, they are able to truly engage with their work; they will be endowed with concentration.

At the beginning of a passage summarizing the teaching for householders, the Buddha uttered a verse acting as a constant principle in regard to this subject of moral conduct:

Diligent in one’s work, heedful, clever at managing one’s affairs. {740}

Uṭṭhātā kammadheyyesu appamatto vidhānavā.38

A. IV. 284, 289, 322, 324-5.

One may say that this verse epitomizes the Buddhist principle towards work. Work begins as a consequence of diligence (represented in Pali by the term uṭṭhāna, which may also be translated as ’rising to one’s feet’, ’non-complacency’, ’increase of wealth’, or ’increased prosperity’). When one is diligent and industrious, one’s work advances, leading to completion and accomplishment.

The Buddha emphasized diligence not only as a factor leading to success, but also as a recollection for self-esteem and joy in regard to one’s work. A frequent teaching he gave to householders in this context is: ’One has acquired wealth by perseverance, amassed by the strength of one’s arms, earned by the sweat of one’s brow, righteous wealth righteously gained.’39

Diligence also leads to self-development and to self-improvement, because an engagement with work compel’s one to grow in many areas of one’s life, to pass beyond obstacles, and to reach success.

Diligence on its own, however, is insufficient; one must also be endowed with heedfulness (appamāda). If one is diligent and energetic, but one acts in an untimely, inopportune way, or if one acts out of place or out of step, putting forth effort where it is inappropriate, and desisting from effort where it is due, one is likely to fail. Heedfulness here refers to mindfulness (sati), which steps forward and functions in tandem with effort (viriya). One is vigilant and alert, abreast of circumstances as they unfold and unperturbed by negative situations. One acts immediately when this is called for, and one is fully prepared to protect what is valuable and to deal with unfinished business. One does not miss a suitable opportunity when the time is ripe. One is not negligent; one keeps to the principle: ’Prepare well for the future; do not allow unfinished business to cause distress in times of crisis.’40

When supported by heedfulness, effort (viriya) is fully equipped and functions in the following ways: (a) it prevents damage and loss; (2) it solves problems and eliminates negative or dangerous situations; (3) it enables and supports wholesome actions; and (4) it acts as a protective force, say by protecting one’s virtuous qualities, upholding one’s dignity, and enhancing one’s spiritual practice, culminating in spiritual perfection.

The third clause in the verse above – ’clever at managing one’s affairs’ – refers to wisdom, which leads to a correct application of diligence and enables heedfulness to truly bear fruit. In sum, wisdom understands the principles involved in work. In particular, one is endowed with the seven qualities of a virtuous person (sappurisa-dhamma), which include such factors as: to know the origin and cause of things; to know the objective and results of things; to know oneself; to know moderation; to know the proper time; and to know other people, to know one’s community, and to know one’s society, e.g.: to be able to select the right people for a specific job, to know the needs and desires of specific groups of people, etc.41

The Buddha frequently emphasized this clever management of affairs, both in teachings to the monastic community (using the expression: alaṃ saṁvidhātuṃ – ’able at managing one’s affairs’), and in particular to householders, who are responsible for activities within the wider society. In regard to looking after a household, the Buddha taught this principle: ’A householder … should be charitable and clever at managing his affairs (vidhānavanta).’42

In this context, there are many guiding principles in the scriptures for people who work in government service, for example:

One endowed with discriminative discernment (vicāraṇa-paññā), accomplished in awakened intelligence (buddhi-paññā), clever at managing his affairs, knowing the proper time and occasion, is suited to carry out government service. One diligent in his work, circumspect, with keen insight, skilled at managing his affairs, is suited to carry out government service.

J. VI. 296-7.

To sum up, moral conduct (sīla) encompasses those things that are connected to human activities and to human co-existence. One may say that moral conduct is a matter of preparing a suitable environment and society, in order that people can fully devote themselves to the cultivation of the mind and of wisdom. {741}

The following scriptural passages reveal Buddhist principles of right livelihood for laypeople, describing the acquisition of wealth, the spending of wealth, and the happiness that is derived from a just livelihood.

The Search for and Protection of Wealth

At one time the brahmin Ujjaya visited the Buddha and said that he would soon be travelling on a long journey. He asked the Buddha to give a teaching that would be conducive to both present and future wellbeing. The Buddha replied:

These four things, brahmin, are conducive to present happiness and wellbeing: the fulfilment of perseverance (uṭṭhāna-sampadā), the fulfilment of protection (ārakkha-sampadā), association with virtuous people (kalyāṇamittatā), and balanced livelihood (samajīvitā).

What is the fulfilment of perseverance? Here a clansman earns his living with diligence, either in agriculture, or commerce, or tending livestock, or military service, or civil service, or some form of craft. He is industrious and skilled, not negligent, possessed of investigative acumen, familiar with the procedures of that work, able to arrange and carry out that job. This is called fulfilment of perseverance.

And what is fulfilment of protection? Here a clansman possesses wealth acquired by hard work, collected by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, justly obtained in a rightful manner. He manages, protects, and watches over that wealth, thinking: ’Now how can I arrange it so that kings do not confiscate this wealth, that thieves do not steal it, that fire does not consume it, that water does not carry it away, and that displeasing heirs do not take it.’ This is called the fulfilment of protection.

And what is association with virtuous people? Here, in whichever town or village a clansman dwells, he consorts, converses, and consults with householders, householders’ sons, young men who act as dignitaries, and old men who act as elders, who are endowed with faith, moral conduct, generosity, and wisdom. He emulates the accomplishment of faith in those who are endowed with faith, he emulates the accomplishment of moral conduct in those who are endowed with moral conduct, he emulates the accomplishment of generosity in those who are endowed with generosity, and he emulates the accomplishment of wisdom in those who are endowed with wisdom. This is called association with virtuous people.

And what is balanced livelihood? Here, a clansman earns his living with moderation, living neither too extravagantly nor overly hard-pressed. He knows how wealth increases and how wealth shrinks, thinking: ’Acting in this way income will exceed my expenses, and expenses will not surpass my income’ – just as a person who carries scales or whose apprentice knows on holding up the balance that this much [weight] is deficient and this much is excessive…. If this clansman earns a small income but lives lavishly, it will be rumoured of him: ’This clansman uses his wealth like a “fig-tree glutton”.’43 If this clansman earns a great income but lives hard up, it will be rumoured of him: ’This clansman will die like a pauper.’ But because this clansman earns his living with moderation … this is called a balanced livelihood. {742}

Brahmin, righteously acquired wealth has these four pathways to decline (apāya-mukha): a person is a philanderer, a person is a heavy drinker, a person is a habitual gambler, a person associates and is intimate with evil-doers. Just as in the case of a great reservoir with four inlets and four outlets, if a person were to close the inlets and open the outlets, and if rain were not to fall according to the season, a decrease of that reservoir is to be expected, not an increase.

Brahmin, righteously acquired wealth has these four pathways to growth (āya-mukha): a person is not a philanderer, a person is not a heavy drinker, a person is not a habitual gambler, a person has friendship, companionship, and intimacy with the good. Just as in the case of a great reservoir with four inlets and four outlets, if a person were to open the inlets and close the outlets, and if rain were to fall according to the season, an increase of that reservoir is to be expected, not a decrease….

Brahmin, these four things lead to a clansman’s happiness and wellbeing in the present.44

A. IV. 285-9.

From here the Buddha went on to reveal the four things conducive to future wellbeing (samparāyikatthasaṁvattanika-dhamma; samparāyikattha = ’future benefit’, ’higher benefit’): the accomplishment of faith, the accomplishment of moral conduct, the accomplishment of generosity, and the accomplishment of wisdom.

Happiness for Laypeople

The following teaching by the Buddha given to Anāthapiṇḍaka includes the principle referred to simply as the ’four kinds of happiness for laypeople’:

There are, householder, these four kinds of happiness which should be consistently achieved by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasure, depending on time and occasion. What four? The happiness of possession (atthi-sukha), the happiness of consuming (bhoga-sukha), the happiness of debtlessness (anaṇa-sukha), and the happiness of blamelessness (anavajja-sukha).

And what is the happiness of possession? Here, a clansman possesses wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained. When he thinks, ’I possess wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained’, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of possession.

And what is the happiness of consuming? Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, a family man spends his wealth and does meritorious deeds. When he thinks, ’With the wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained, I spend my wealth and do meritorious deeds’, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of consuming.

And what is the happiness of debtlessness? Here, a family man is not indebted to anyone to any degree, whether great or small. When he thinks, ’I am not indebted to anyone to any degree, whether great or small’, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of debtlessness. {743}

And what is the happiness of blamelessness? Here, a noble disciple is endowed with blameless conduct of body, speech and mind. When he thinks, ’I am endowed with blameless conduct of body, speech and mind’, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of blamelessness.

Aware of the bliss of debtlessness,
One recalls the joy of possession;
When using one’s wealth,
One wisely discerns the joy of consuming.
Discerning with wisdom, the wise one knows
Dual corresponding shares of his happiness,
the first three kinds of happiness
are not worth a sixteenth part
Of the bliss that comes from blamelessness.45

A. II. 69.

Spending of Wealth

At one time the Buddha gave the following teaching to Anāthapiṇḍaka on the purpose of money and on the benefits of wealth:

Householder, there are these five benefits that should be obtained from wealth. What five?

Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, a noble disciple makes himself joyful and pleased, and properly maintains himself in happiness; he makes his mother and father … his wife and children … his servants, workers, and employees joyful and pleased, and properly maintains them in happiness. This is the first benefit to be obtained from wealth.

Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteous wealth righteously gained, a noble disciple makes his friends and colleagues joyful and pleased, and properly maintains them in happiness. This is the second benefit to be obtained from wealth.

Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteous wealth righteously gained, a noble disciple protects his wealth from the dangers that may arise from fire and floods, kings and bandits and displeasing heirs; he makes himself secure. This is the third benefit to be obtained from wealth.

Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving … wealth righteously gained, a noble disciple makes five kinds of offerings: aid for relatives (ñāti-bali), welcoming gifts to guests (atithi-bali), making of merit in honour of the departed (pubbapeta-bali), support to the government (rāja-bali), and offerings to devas (devatā-bali).46 This is the fourth benefit to be obtained from wealth.

Here, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving … wealth righteously gained, a noble disciple establishes an offering bearing noble fruit – generating virtuous states of mind, resulting in happiness, and conducive to heaven – for ascetics and brahmins who refrain from heedlessness and negligence, who are settled in patience and gentleness, who train themselves, calm themselves, and free themselves from the fires of defilement. This is the fifth benefit to be obtained from wealth. {744}

Householder, these are the five benefits that should be obtained from wealth. If, when a noble disciple obtains these five benefits that should be obtained from wealth, his wealth is depleted, he considers thus: ’Whatever benefit should be obtained from wealth, I have obtained such benefit, yet my wealth is depleted.’ Thus that noble disciple is not distressed.

And if, when a noble disciple obtains these five benefits that should be obtained from wealth, his wealth increases, he considers thus: ’Whatever benefit should be obtained from wealth, I have obtained such benefit and my wealth has increased.’ Thus that noble disciple is not distressed. In both circumstances he experiences no distress.47

A. III. 45.

For wealthy householders, to be generous and to share one’s wealth with others is considered a vital principle and a practice consistent with the ’path of the noble ones’, as confirmed by this teaching:

Having little, one should give a little; having a moderate amount, one should give moderately; having a lot, one should give a lot; not to give at all is unworthy.

Indeed, merchant of Kosiya, I say to you that you should use and share [your wealth]; you should enter the path of the noble ones; a person who eats alone experiences no joy.

J. V. 387.

Cultivating generosity can be done by undertaking regular practices and observances. For example, one may choose to donate a specific percentage of one’s income to assist others or to perform a special meritorious deed once a month or once a year. Some people may even determine to not eat a meal before they have given a gift to someone else, as is evidenced in the story of the recently converted wealthy merchant, who upheld this vow:

I will not drink even a drop of water,
If I have not first given a gift.

J. V. 391, 397.

Retaining Freedom When Acquiring Wealth

Apart from developing awareness that material wealth is not a worthy goal in itself but is merely a means for enhancing one’s own and others’ lives, a person should also know the limitations of wealth and recognize the need to search for something of greater value, as described in the following passages:

Action, knowledge, righteousness,
Moral conduct, an excellent life –
By these are beings purified,
Not by family lineage or wealth.48

M. III. 262; S. I. 33-4, 55.

I see wealthy men in the world
Who through greed share not their wealth.
They hoard away their riches
Longing for heightened sensual pleasures. {745}

A king who has conquered the earth
And rules over the land stretching to the ocean,
Is yet unsated with the sea’s near shore
And hungers for its further shore as well.

Most other people too, not just kings,
Meet death with craving unabated;
Thus impaired they abandon their corpse;
Satisfaction with sensuality is not found in the world.

Relatives lament and untie their hair,
Crying, ’Ah me! Alas! Our beloved is dead!’
They bear away the body wrapped in a shroud,
To place it on a pyre and burn it there.

Clad in a single shroud, the deceased leaves his wealth behind;
The undertaker prods him with stakes as he burns upon the pyre.
And as he dies, no relatives or friends
Can offer him shelter and refuge here.

While his heirs carry away his wealth, this being
Must pass on according to his actions;
And as he dies no riches can follow him;
Not child nor wife nor wealth nor estate.

Longevity is not acquired with wealth,
Nor can prosperity banish old age;
Short is this life, as all the sages say,
Eternity it knows not, only change.

The rich and poor alike experience contact of the senses,
The fool and sage are equally affected;
But while the fool lies stricken by his folly,
No sage will ever tremble from impingement.

Better is wisdom here than any wealth,
Since by wisdom one gains the final goal.

M. II. 72-3; Thag. 776-84.

A vital part of engaging in right livelihood is sippa: vocational knowledge, expertise, and skill.49 The scriptures emphasize the study of arts, crafts, and sciences, and maintain that one duty of parents is to provide a practical education for their children.

Vocational knowledge on its own, however, is limited. The scriptures therefore also highlight ’great learning’ (bāhusacca) – having heard much or studied extensively – so that one recognizes the greater application of practical knowledge, is able to assist others effectively, and develops comprehensive knowledge, especially knowledge leading to right view, which is the key factor for true study.

The scriptures also encourage people to train in moral discipline – so that they apply their practical skills honestly and conduct themselves in a way that is beneficial to others and to society. Another skill that is encouraged is to know how to speak effectively. These other forms of knowledge complement vocational knowledge and increase a person’s ability to help others.

This level of virtuous conduct accords with the following teaching by the Buddha:

Great learning, expertise, a highly-trained moral discipline, and well-spoken speech: these are supreme blessings…. Work not piled up and unattended to: this is a supreme blessing…. Blameless activity: this is a supreme blessing.50

Kh. 2; Sn. 46.

There are numerous passages in the Pali Canon encouraging the study of arts and sciences, for example: {746}

A person lacking knowledge of the arts and sciences earns a living with difficulty.

J. IV. 177.

Teach your child practical knowledge.

J. IV. 429.

Study that which is worthy of study.

J. I. 421.

Whatever is called knowledge of arts and sciences leads to good fortune.

J. I. 420.

Every branch of knowledge worthy of study – whether lofty, low, or medial – should be analyzed and understood. One need not apply all this knowledge at once – someday the time will come when this knowledge comes to one’s aid.

J. III. 218.

On this subject of supreme blessings, proficiency in the area of formal or scholastic knowledge (bāhusacca) should be accompanied by practical skill (sippa): a person should possess both knowledge and practical expertise. If these two qualities are paired one can expect excellence from a person’s work.

Even greater success can be expected if a person is also well-disciplined and a skilled speaker – is able to use speech to induce understanding in others or to bring about cooperation and communal harmony.

When these factors are combined with well-organized, well-executed, and wholesome work, a person’s work will reach perfection.

Because some people may become overly absorbed in gaining knowledge and attending to work to the point of neglecting their family responsibilities, the Buddha included two additional blessings at the beginning of the passage, of looking after one’s parents and supporting one’s wife and children.

When noble disciples have fulfilled all personal responsibilities, the Buddha encouraged them to consider their responsibilities to other people: to further develop virtue and participate in upholding the righteousness of all human beings. The Buddha thus included three more blessings at the end of the passage: of supporting one’s relatives (ñāti-saṅgaha),51 of widespread giving (dāna), and of righteous conduct (dhamma-cariyā).

To conduct oneself in line with these principles is to earn one’s livelihood with rectitude.

Buddhism admits to and confirms the necessity of material things, especially the four requisites of life, as is seen for example in the Buddha’s frequent exhortation: ’All beings exist by way of food’ (sabbe sattā āhāraṭṭhitikā).52 {747}

The true value of material things, however, is connected to moderation and determined by how they foster a healthy and natural physical state – of physical strength and ease, freedom from illness, and an absence of danger from either privation or excess – and by how they support a person’s work and the cultivation of spiritual qualities.

The value of material things is also determined by social conditions and by personal factors: by one’s level of wisdom and the ability to recognize the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of material things, and by one’s ability to experience forms of bliss more refined than the happiness derived from material objects.

For this reason Buddhism is not interested in compelling people to distribute material wealth equally, as this does not guarantee that people are virtuous and happy. Rather it emphasizes the minimum requirement that all people possess an adequate amount of the four requisites in order to survive without too much difficulty, and that possession of material objects not be a cause for oppressing oneself or others.

The Buddhist teachings also recognize that possession and consumption of material things is related to a person’s spiritual maturity and development: a person less spiritually developed will desire material objects for gratification and depend on material things for happiness more than a person of greater spiritual development.

A spiritual decline occurs when people forget this proper relationship to material wealth: the need for material things becomes a misguided search for gratification and an addiction to sensual pleasures, until people forget that material wellbeing is a foundation for generating superior spiritual qualities. As a consequence, people often abuse others out of selfishness.

Alternatively, an attachment and enslavement to material wealth may give rise to possessiveness and anxiety, until people are unwilling to spend it or use it for beneficial purposes, which harms both themselves and others and is another form of affliction.

Even more extreme behaviour occurs when disappointment and disillusionment about worldly objects turns into aversion and one sets oneself in opposition to the world. One thus creates deliberate hardship for oneself, by following an extreme degree of austerity or by getting caught up in practices of self-mortification in order to escape the power of material things. On the surface, these practices resemble living simply and keeping one’s material needs to a minimum. It is incorrect, however, to consider these practices as ways leading to liberation or to undergo ascetic practices without applying a deep understanding. One should recognize that in the endeavour for liberation people must rely to a necessary degree on material things in order to live with wisdom and compassion.

A life that is free and not overly dependent on material things implies not being seduced, blindly absorbed, or spellbound by these things. This freedom relies on liberating wisdom (nissaraṇa-paññā) and on a thorough discernment of the disadvantages and failings of material things (ādīnava-dassāvī).

A wise person sees the many disadvantages of pleasurable sense objects and of material things, e.g.: one can easily become enslaved by them; one may rely on them entirely for one’s happiness; they do not necessarily lead to higher spiritual qualities like peace of mind; and when one is attached to them they even become an obstacle to realizing these higher states.

Moreover, by their very nature, these things are void of an inherent perfection which would be able to truly gratify our desires and to provide satisfaction. They are impermanent, unstable, and transient; they cannot be truly owned and are not truly subject to our control; and in the end they must break up and dissolve. {748}

To relate to these things with ignorance is to create grief and suffering. They were not born along with us and when we die they will not follow us. The purpose of seeking and owning these things is to use them for solving problems and alleviating suffering, and for developing true happiness, not to increase our suffering.

There is no merit to hoarding up wealth. The more one is enslaved to wealth, the greater is one’s affliction.

When one recognizes the above truths, one derives the true value from material wealth, spends money to benefit oneself and others, and cultivates the four ’favourable qualities’ (saṅgaha-vatthu),53 for example by giving, by establishing a society that guards against wrongdoing, promotes virtue, and encourages spiritual development, and by supporting those people who uphold the truth. One does not possess wealth solely to increase wealth, nor does one generate wealth simply to consume more and to seek self-gratification.

Buddhism holds in high esteem those laypeople who work with diligence, obtain wealth through honest means, are charitable and take responsibility for others, and spend their money on wholesome causes; such people are referred to as ’victors in this world and the next’.54

Even more excellent are those people freed through wisdom from mental defilement, who do not fall victim to wealth or to personal possessions, who do not allow the acquisition of wealth to be a source of woe, who are able to live with a joyful heart, who come into contact with worldly things but are not stained by them,55 and who are able to disengage from suffering when it arises in various circumstances. These are the true masters (issara-jana), the true liberated ones (serī-puggala).

Such laypeople may be awakened up to the stage of non-returner, yet they are fully attentive to and engaged in their work. The Buddha did not approve of laypeople being concerned only with immediate needs or desires without preparation for the future or by abandoning their duties, which can be a form of attachment to non-attachment.

Dual Freedom of the Sangha

The monastic community (saṅgha) acts as an exemplar to people for a life relying in the least degree on material things, or for a life with the greatest degree of freedom from material things. This life is connected to the wider society in the following ways: first, the monastic life provides an opportunity for monks56 to live a life of simplicity; second, this life allows monks to fully devote their time and energy to Dhamma-related activities without needing to get caught up in seeking material possessions; third, this life urges monks to be easy to support, by recognizing that they do not earn a living by themselves and are dependent on the lay community; and fourth, the monastic community, by not seeking recompense for its labour in the usual sense of market exchange, is as free as possible from the control and influence by the mainstream social and political system in which it finds itself.

All monks, regardless of whether they are enlightened or not, are bound by the principle of living primarily for truth and keeping their material needs to a minimum.

The Buddha did not intend for laypeople to live monastic or austere lives, nor did he wish for everyone to be ordained as a monk. It is a natural, causal truth that at any one time, different people abide at different stages of spiritual development, and that they will have varying needs and desires. Even the majority of stream-enterers, or at least a large percentage of them, live at home with their families. {749}

The Buddha’s intention in this respect was most likely to establish an independent community within the wider society, in order to act as a balance in the domain of righteousness and truth, to sustain the principles of truth within society, and to provide an escape from the controlling influence of society for those people who both desired and were prepared for such freedom.

This community exists both in physical form and as an ideal. The independent community as a physical entity is the bhikkhu sangha – sometimes referred to as the conventional sangha (sammati-saṅgha) – which exists alongside and is yet free from the wider lay community.57 The independent community as an ideal is the ’community of true disciples’ (sāvaka-saṅgha) – sometimes referred to as the ’noble community’ (ariya-saṅgha) – which exists alongside yet apart from the wider community of unawakened beings.

The gist of this principle is that a model society is not one in which everyone is the same (such a society is impossible to accomplish), but rather is one in which all members, although they may differ in individual circumstances, are devoted to spiritual growth, live together in concord, and strive for the same goal. Such a model provides a wholesome alternative to those people who no longer wish to live within the confines of the wider society. (Even in the future era of Maitreya Buddha, during which time supposedly everyone is equal, there will be an independent community of monks.)

In regard to the bhikkhu sangha, for the monks to dwell in and to maintain such independence, they must have a way of life that relies little on material things. Moreover, they must possess the mental qualities that are favourable to such a way of life. An important quality the Buddha emphasized for the bhikkhus and for all renunciants is contentment (santosa), which enables one to live simply and to experience joy independent of material things.

The monks need not expend time, effort, and attention on acquiring material things. Instead, they can fully devote their time, determined effort, and attention to their spiritual practice in order to achieve wisdom and freedom of mind. The principles of contentment and delight in practice are embodied in the Buddha’s teaching of the fourfold traditional practice of the noble ones (ariya-vaṁsa; the four principles of the ’noble lineage’ – see below).

The bhikkhus follow a simple lifestyle and do not engage in arts and sciences in order to earn a living. By relying on an ancient tradition, they subsist on the four requisites offered by the lay community. At the same time, they have no right to solicit food or the other requisites. For this reason they should make themselves easy to support and content with little, and conform to the four principles of the ’noble lineage’ (ariya-vaṁsa):

  1. Here, a monk in this teaching and training is content with any kind of robe, and he speaks in praise of contentment with any kind of robe; he does not engage in a wrong search, in what is improper, for the sake of a robe. If he does not get a robe he is not agitated, and if he gets one he uses it without being tied to it, infatuated with it, or obsessed with it; he sees the danger in it, understanding the escape. Yet, because of this, he does not extol himself or disparage others. Any monk who is skilled in this, energetic, not remiss, clearly comprehending and mindful, is said to be dwelling in an ancient, pristine, noble lineage.

  2. Further, a monk is content with any kind of almsfood…. {750}

  3. Further, a monk is content with any kind of lodging….

  4. Further, a monk finds delight in the development of wholesome qualities, is delighted with the development of wholesome qualities, finds delight in the abandoning of unwholesome qualities, is delighted with the abandoning of unwholesome qualities. Yet, because of this, he does not extol himself or disparage others. Any monk who is skilled in this development (bhāvanā) and abandonment (pahāna), energetic, not remiss, clearly comprehending and mindful, is said to be dwelling in an ancient, pristine, noble lineage.58

Qualities like contentment correspond to the discipline and moral conduct of the bhikkhu sangha. The moral code for the bhikkhus was prescribed in order to foster contentment in the monks, and to support them in their dedication to cultivating wholesome qualities and abandoning unwholesome qualities.

The commentaries classify four aspects of moral conduct of the monastic sangha, which are collectively referred to as pārisuddhi-sīla (’moral conduct leading to purity’ or ’pure behaviour designated as moral conduct’), as follows:59

  1. Pāṭimokkhasaṁvara-sīla: morality as restraint in regard to the Pāṭimokkha: to abstain from forbidden conduct, to adhere to permissible forms of conduct, and to practise strictly in regard to the training rules. The commentators claim that this factor is accomplished by way of faith.

  2. Indriyasaṁvara-sīla: morality as sense restraint: to be careful not to allow evil, unwholesome mind states, like desire, attachment, aversion, and indignation, to overpower the mind when receiving the six sense objects: when the eye sees forms, the ear hears sounds, the nose smells odours, the tongue savours tastes, the body experiences tactile sensations, and the mind cognizes mental objects. The commentators claim that this factor is accomplished by way of mindfulness (sati).

  3. Ājīvapārisuddhi-sīla: morality as purity of livelihood: to earn one’s living righteously and in a pure manner; to avoid seeking gain by incorrect means, e.g.: to not falsely claim supernormal states, like concentrative attainments or stages of enlightenment,60 and to not verbally appeal for food for oneself if one is not ill; to abstain from deception (kuhanā), for example by affecting a severe manner or countenance in order to instil faith in laypeople and induce them to offer the four requisites; to abstain from flattery (lapanā) in order to gain food; to abstain from hinting in order to obtain the requisites; to abstain from resorting to threats and disparagement so as to urge laypeople to offer the requisites; and to abstain from pursuing gain with gain, for example by giving someone a small gift with the hope that he will offer much in return. The commentators claim that this factor is accomplished by way of effort (viriya).

  4. Paccayasannissita-sīla: morality connected to the four requisites: to use the four requisites with wise consideration (paccaya-paccavekkhaṇa), by understanding their true purpose and value; to refrain from using them out of greed. One eats food, for example, in order to nourish and strengthen the body, to live at ease, to be able to perform one’s duties, and to advance in the threefold training. One does not eat for sense gratification, entertainment, or amusement. The commentators claim that this factor is accomplished by way of wisdom (paññā). {751}


In the context of the lay community, there are several forms of conduct that should be emphasized in relation to personal wealth:

A. In terms of the individual, the Buddha specifically praised those wealthy persons who acquire their wealth through diligent effort and by righteous means, and who spend their money for wholesome, meritorious purposes. He praised virtue and benevolence over wealth itself.

It is important to instil a sense of values in contemporary people so that they recognize that it is a source of pride to accumulate wealth through effort and honest means and to determine to use that wealth for doing good deeds.

Praising people simply because they are wealthy, by considering that they have accumulated merit from good deeds in the past (in previous lifetimes)61 and by failing to consider the causes for that wealth in this lifetime, is incorrect from the perspective of Buddhism in two ways: first, it does not accord with the praise bestowed by the Buddha on those wealthy persons as mentioned above. And second, it does not involve a wise and complete assessment of causes and conditions, especially the causes and conditions in the present life, which have the most direct relationship to the person’s circumstances and should thus be given more importance.

Past kamma can only act as an initial foundation, say of providing physical attributes, mental aptitude, quickness of mind, and personal disposition, which supports actions in this lifetime.

Granted, past actions play an important role for being born in a wealthy family, but even here the Buddha did not mark such a fact as particularly praiseworthy, because a general principle of Buddhism is that of not glorifying or overly prizing a person’s family or status of birth.

The Buddha praised wholesome actions, which are the causes for this individual to receive such a desirable result. Being born into a wealthy family is in itself a boon; there is no need to add to this by praise. According to Buddhism, such a birth is seen as starting capital, which gives such a person a good opportunity or even an advantage over other people in making progress in this life; the results from past actions have thus come to fruition and the person has reached a new starting point. The Buddha praised or criticized how such a person applies this starting capital.

In general, the Buddha’s praise or criticism focuses on whether one generates wealth through honest, righteous means, or fails to do so, and on how one then conducts oneself in relation to such wealth. The Buddha did not praise or criticize wealth itself or rich people; rather he praised or criticized rich people’s behaviour.

B. In terms of society, Buddhism teaches that material wealth is a support for life; it is not the goal of life. Wealth should thus facilitate and prepare people for living a virtuous life and for performing good deeds in order to realize higher levels of spiritual excellence. Wherever and to whomever riches arise, it should benefit all human beings and be conducive to their wellbeing. {752}

Following this principle, when an individual becomes wealthy, all people are enriched and the entire society prospers; when a good person acquires wealth, his or her community also acquires wealth. Such a person is like a fertile field in which rice flourishes for the benefit of all.62

A wealthy person can feel satisfied and honoured to receive society’s trust and to act as a delegate for society in the sharing of wealth to support and nourish fellow human beings and to provide them with an opportunity for true growth.63

On the contrary, if some individuals become more wealthy but society as a whole deteriorates and the suffering of other people increases, this indicates that there is an improper conduct in regard to material wealth. The generated wealth does not become a supportive factor, which is the true purpose of wealth. Before long there will be unrest in society. In the end either the status of those wealthy members of society or the structure of society as a whole will be unsustainable. Members of the wider community may remove the wealthy and influential individuals from their positions of power, and establish a new system along with new executives for the allocation of wealth, which may be an improvement or a worsening of the situation.

In any case, there exists this truth that if people conduct themselves incorrectly in relation to material wealth, which arises for the benefit of all, wealth ends up harming and destroying human nature, human beings, and human society.

C. In terms of a state or a nation, Buddhism recognizes these important aspects of material wealth: poverty is a form of suffering,64 poverty and deprivation are crucial causes for crime and wrongdoing in society (as is the related factor of greed),65 and it is the responsibility of the state or of political leaders to care for and allocate funds to the poor and to ensure that there are no destitute people in the country.66

To address these issues various measures are required which are often specific to the circumstances, e.g.: to provide citizens with opportunities for making an honest living; to create jobs; to allocate funds and other means of assistance, according to the teaching on the four virtues making for national integration (rāja-saṅgahavatthu);67 and to prevent immoral or unrighteous activities, like exploitation. In this sense, the state should consider the reduction and absence of poverty as a better measurement for its success than the increase of wealthy individuals in that society. The absence of poverty is a result of social management that does not neglect the spiritual development of the people in society.

D. In terms of economics and politics, it is frequently asked what sort of economic system or government best conforms to the principles of Buddhism. Basically, this is not a question that Buddhism is required to answer; or at the risk of stating a tautology, one can respond that any system that is applied in harmony with Buddhist values and principles is valid. {753}

Economic or political systems should be analyzed according to how they are practised, an analysis which changes or is modified as a result of environmental conditions related to time and place. Here it should be reiterated that the purpose and true benefit of material wealth is that it acts as a support for human beings in coordinating their lives, to enable them to live together peacefully, to perform meritorious deeds, and to realize higher levels of spiritual excellence. Thus, when wealth manifests for an individual, society as a whole benefits and all people will prosper. Whichever economic or political system effectuates such a wholesome outcome is in harmony with Buddhism.

Obvious examples of how social systems are connected to specific temporal and regional factors are the following: when the Buddha established the monastic community with its distinct task and objective, he set down a discipline limiting the monks’ personal possessions to the eight requisites;68 other possessions belong to the community as a whole. In relation to the lay community, who at that time in India (Jambudīpa)69 observed two forms of governance, the Buddha taught the ’conditions of prosperity’ (aparihāniya-dhamma) for those republican states (or those states governed by a quorum), and he taught the ’imperial observances’ (cakkavatti-vatta) for those states governed by a monarchy.

These accounts demonstrate how Buddha-Dhamma is not merely a philosophy or an abstract teaching, but rather it is a practical teaching, which is connected to people active within society and to real-life circumstances. The teachings need to be applicable, relevant, and beneficial to people’s daily lives.

If one waits until one has completely finished establishing a so-called ideal political system (the superiority of which can never be conclusively proved) before people are able to experience happiness and wellbeing, how can one escape from hypothetical notions and credulity?

In the case where both republics and monarchies existed, the Buddha found ways to benefit those people living under these different political systems. In the case of a republic, the Buddha suggested ways to strengthen and secure the people’s mutual endeavours; in the case of a monarchy, he encouraged the rulers to recognize that prestige and power should be tools for benefiting the people, not for self-gratification and self-indulgence.

In the period of King Asoka, when the system of monarchy reached its zenith, the King adhered to Buddhist principles of governance while ruling the country, as is confirmed by the dictum carved into one of the Asokan pillars:

His Majesty the Supreme Emperor, he who looks with kindness on the world, loved by the gods, does not assign great value to [his own] honour and prestige, unless he desires these with this objective in mind: ’Both in the present and in the future may people listen to my instructions with devotion and practise in accord with the righteous way.’70

When people have understood the gist and objective of the Buddhist teachings related to economics and politics, the detailed task of determining which system truly conforms to Buddhism rests with scholars of these systems to debate.

Similarly, if people wish to think up new systems of governance, which improve upon pre-existing ones, that is even better, but these matters go beyond the preserve of this book.

Virtuous Conduct and Moral Codes

Moral codes are established to guide people’s behaviour and speech. They deal with people’s relationship to their external environment, especially the relationship to other human beings. And they maintain a way of life that is well-ordered and mutually beneficial for all members of society. Moral codes assist people within a particular society to increase virtuous activities so that they can realize the highest goal according to their belief system and to support them in spreading their beliefs, activities and virtues among other groups of people. In Buddhism, the teachings which address society directly and express the spirit of Buddhist social relationships are the teachings on sīla (’ethics’, ’moral conduct’, ’virtuous conduct’).71

The most basic moral code is to not harm other people, either physically or verbally, and to not impair mindfulness and clear comprehension, which protect a person’s moral integrity. In Buddha-Dhamma this basic moral code is most often described and embodied as the Five Precepts.

Important Terms Pertaining to Morality: Sīla, Vinaya, and Sikkhāpada

Before looking at this subject of morality more closely, we should examine some of the relevant Pali terms.

Many Pali terms have various nuances of meaning, which leads to a degree of complexity. Some of these terms have been adopted into the Thai language, yet their meanings have occasionally deviated from the original meanings. Some of these terms have even taken on opposite meanings from those they originally had. These terms thus need to be constantly reviewed and reexamined.

There are three primary terms relevant to this subject of moral conduct: sīla, vinaya, and sikkhāpada. On the whole, in the original Pali, the meanings of these three terms are clearly distinguished. Occasionally, these terms are used in a broad or colloquial sense, and may be interchangeable. Technically speaking, however, their meanings are strictly defined and distinguished, in order to avoid confusion. {915}

Here are the basic meanings of these three terms:

  • Sīla: virtuous conduct and moral rectitude expressed by way of body and speech. Being a collective term, sīla is used in the singular (it is a ’mass noun’; it is not divided into subfactors).

  • Vinaya: an established code of behaviour and practice; a framework for living one’s life, containing rules, precepts, laws, prescriptions, etc., for guiding and monitoring one’s conduct in a harmonious and integrated way, leading to order, discipline, success, and fulfilment. This term too is a collective term and is used in the singular.

  • Sikkhāpada: rules of training and practice, especially those prescribed by the Buddha, stipulating an obligation to perform an action or to refrain from an action, in order to bring about correct and righteous conduct. This term may be used either in the singular or in the plural.

Combined, all the training rules (sikkhāpada) comprise a code of discipline (vinaya). Practising in accord with the training rules and being established in the code of discipline (or conduct in harmony with the training rules and the code of discipline) is referred to as ’moral conduct’ (sīla).

For example, the 227 training rules for monks are called the bhikkhu Vinaya. Those monks who uphold the Vinaya (those who follow the training rules correctly) are considered established in moral conduct. The same holds true for those bhikkhunis who uphold the bhikkhuni Vinaya comprising 311 training rules.

For Buddhist laypeople, there are the five training rules or five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada), beginning with abstaining from killing living creatures. Laypeople who uphold these five precepts are considered established in morality (such moral conduct is occasionally referred to as pañcasikkhāpada-sīla).72

These are the strict definitions. As mentioned above, however, these three terms are sometimes used in a broad sense, in which case they may be used interchangeably. A common example of this is to refer to the five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada) as the five moral observances (pañca-sīla). This term pañca-sīla is used only seldom in the Tipiṭaka; its use is probably for the sake of brevity, in particular in poetic verses. It is used frequently in the commentaries. Although the term sikkhāpada in this context in unfamiliar to some people, it is clearly evident in the formal verses for undertaking the precepts.

When the term sīla is used to replace sikkhāpada, it too can be used in the plural, comprising various training rules or precepts. Its meaning is thus expanded beyond the moral character of those who behave correctly according to a code of discipline or a set of precepts. {916}

In the original Pali, the term vinaya was a very important term with many nuances of meaning. For example, it represents a key system of conduct, paired with the term dhamma in the compound Dhammavinaya. Many of this term’s nuances lie outside of the triad mentioned above, of sīla, vinaya, and sikkhāpada. At least in the Thai language (pronounced ’vinai’ – วินัย), its meaning has become rather ambiguous and imprecise. And even in Buddhist circles the term vinaya is used in a vague and imprecise way.

In Thailand, the term vinai is frequently used in the context of business activities and other everyday enterprises. In this context, however, its meaning is greatly restricted, referring to self-control, disciplined constraint, an adherence to rules and regulations, etc., for example in the expression ’traffic discipline’ (’vinai jarahjawn’ – vinaya carācara). The term vinai has thus developed a meaning pertaining to a person’s attributes, namely, to a steadfastness in self-control and an ability to follow specific rules and principles (here, its meaning begins to overlap with that of sīla).

A split appears to have occurred. In the monasteries, or in relation to religious matters, people use the term sīla (in Thai pronounced ’seen’ – ศีล), while in relation to mundane matters people use the term vinaya. This is true even though both of these terms are vital to the Buddhist teachings.

When Buddhists (including the monks) become estranged from the essence of the Dhammavinaya, their understanding of relevant terms becomes obscured. Of the three terms mentioned above, sīla, which refers to the moral character of an individual, is the aim and purpose of the other two terms. Spiritual training in line with precepts and guided by a code of discipline is intended to generate moral integrity in people. Eventually, the term sīla has been used to encompass the meanings of all three of these terms. The terms vinaya and sikkhāpada remain behind-the-scene, and the term sīla, becoming an umbrella term, has also become vague.

Moral conduct is the first factor in the threefold training (tisso sikkhā), whereby one cultivates moral integrity (adhisīla-sikkhā), power of the mind (adhicitta-sikkhā), and wisdom (adhipaññā-sikkhā). This is a matter of individual spiritual training. For individual people, and indeed the entire world, to exist in a state of wellbeing, one must provide a suitable training for people, in order for them to be spiritually accomplished. This training begins with individuals, who are then actively engaged in society.

A closer look at this process of training, however, reveals that spiritual development requires an ability to relate to other people in society. Everyone is engaged in specific social activities, which may assist at all levels of spiritual development, from cultivating the sense bases to cultivating wisdom. People are also engaged in managing their physical environments, allocating the four requisites and other material things, eating, earning a livelihood, governance, etc. All of these activities pertain to the concept of vinaya.

Although vinaya is grouped alongside sīla, it has a distinct scope or boundary. These terms cannot be used interchangeably and should not be confused for one another.73 {917}

These explanations are intended to act as a foundation for this discussion of moral conduct. A clear understanding of these relevant terms will assist in this matter and will help to avoid confusion.

Sīla on the Level of Dhamma and Sīla on the Level of Vinaya

Broadly speaking, there are two levels of morality (sīla):

  • First, is the universal level or the level of absolute truth (Dhamma).74 This includes teachings or principles of conduct that are taught (desita) to show how people who perform good or bad actions, or who observe or violate moral precepts, will receive the fruits of these good and bad actions automatically and in accord with cause and effect, or in accord with the law of kamma.

  • Second, is the conventional level, which refers to a specific code of ethics (vinaya) containing rules and regulations that have been laid down and prescribed (paññatta).75 These formal codes are used to govern and direct individuals in a particular community or group, conforming to the group’s aims and objectives. A person who transgresses the rules defined by a specific code of ethics is accountable to the authority of that particular group, and his or her transgression is distinct from the negative consequences of unwholesome intention that inevitably follow according to the natural law of kamma.76

From the perspective of the entire human race, people live under different conditions according to time and place: people are subject to varying social, economic, and political circumstances, determined by the localities and time periods in which they live. It is impossible to lay down a detailed, strictly-defined, and authoritative ethical code that will be constructive and advantageous to people in every time period and social environment.

For the universal human community, Buddhism teaches or recommends the group of factors most often referred to as the ’five precepts’ (pañca-sīla), as the most basic moral code or as the minimum level of moral behaviour. Beyond these, there are the moral precepts contained in the ’ten wholesome courses of action’ (kusala-kammapatha; specifically, the first seven of the ten factors), and the moral components of the Eightfold Path – right speech, right action, and right livelihood77 – which are comprehensive moral principles. {918}

The Buddha presented these moral principles as aspects of absolute truth: a person who observes these or fails to observe them will receive good or bad results according to the laws of nature. If a person decides to follow the teaching of the Buddha, he or she adopts these moral principles as conditions for spiritual practice.

In other words, the Buddhist teachings stipulate that one must accept as a minimum level of practice the acknowledgment and acceptance of the five precepts. As mentioned above, the five precepts are also referred to as the five sikkhāpada: the five ’observances’ or the five ’rules of training’.

This is the basic level of practice for Buddhist male and female lay disciples, but of course they may wish to adopt a more refined level of moral training, for example by keeping the eight precepts on the ’observance days’. (See Note Observance Days)

The Dhamma exists on the levels of virtuous conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). Moral discipline (vinaya) is limited to the first level, of virtuous conduct. (Concentration and wisdom are classified exclusively as aspects of Dhamma.) In sum, virtuous conduct exists both on the level of Dhamma and the level of vinaya. {722}

Observance Days

[Trans.: the observance days follow the lunar calendar and fall on the full-, new-, and half-moon days. These days were used as an occasion by pre-Buddhist spiritual communities to expound their teachings, a practice that was adopted by the Buddha. Other observances, for example the recitation of the Pāṭimokkha on the full- and new-moons, occur on these days.]

The terms aṭṭhaṅgasamannāgata-uposatha (’the observance consisting of eight factors’) and aṭṭhaṅgika-uposatha (’the eightfold observance’) are found at A. I. 212-2; A. IV. 248-63. The term aṭṭha uposathaṅga (’the eight observances’) is found at Vin. V. 136-7, 213. These terms are the origin of the term ’eight precepts’ (aṭṭha-sīla), which was coined later and is not found in the Tipiṭaka.

Let us explore this twofold division of sīla:78

  1. Moral conduct as Dhamma. This refers to those principles of behaviour pertaining to moral conduct – to physical actions, speech, and livelihood – that are taught in connection to an ideal and natural state of human conduct. By acting in conformity with these principles, or by violating them, one reaps good or bad results directly, being accountable to natural laws. A related definition for sīla here is: ’moral conduct and moral discipline that becomes one’s regular and normal way of behaviour or that becomes a personal attribute.’

  2. Moral conduct as vinaya: a set of rules and regulations formulated as a social legislation for directing people’s behaviour in accord with the specific aims of a community or society. This system of management and supervision also includes means of punishing those who transgress these rules. (This punishment is separate from the repercussions occurring as a consequence of the laws of nature.)

    Strictly speaking, vinaya is not yet sīla, but is rather linked to sīla. It refers to a social system and procedure for establishing people in moral conduct; it is a way of training people in virtue. Sīla is aided by vinaya, but as it is an aspect of absolute truth (Dhamma), it is not identical to vinaya.

The way to distinguish between these two is that Dhamma is a matter of absolute, natural conditions, whereas moral discipline is dependent on a specific human society or on the ingenuity of human beings.

Having made this distinction, one can discuss the term sīla in a broad and flexible fashion, as various stages or aspects, as follows:

  • Sīla refers to virtuous behaviour in relation to other people and to one’s surroundings; this behaviour generates blessings for oneself and for others, including one’s society and natural environment.

  • Sīla refers to a moral code, laid down to foster a well-ordered, peaceful society whose members can live their lives at ease.

  • Sīla refers to a means for governing people’s behaviour, leading to disciplined and impeccable physical and verbal conduct.

  • Sīla refers to a collection of training rules used for eliminating course defilements that manifest by way of body or speech, and for leading to greater spiritual refinement.

  • Sīla refers to a set of rules for developing a person’s physical actions, speech, and livelihood, in order to create a foundation for cultivating and empowering the mind on the level of concentration (samādhi) and for increasing the mind’s capabilities.

  • Sīla refers to the natural state of physical action, speech, and livelihood of a virtuous person – a person who has been well-trained, who has gained true knowledge, and who has reached an exalted spiritual realization.

The heart of moral conduct lies with intention: to be free from any thoughts of moral transgression. One aspect of moral transgression is to violate rules, regulations, precepts, and codes of discipline that have been specifically laid down. Another aspect of moral transgression is the violation of other people: the intention to harm others. Sīla can thus be interpreted in two ways: the intention to transgress an ethical code or the intention to violate and oppress other people. Put simply, the term sīla means non-transgression and non-harming.

Viewed from another angle, sīla refers to self-control and vigilance: the refraining from and prevention of evil actions. And in the most profound sense sīla can be defined as the state of mind of a person who is free from all thoughts of transgression and all thoughts of maltreatment.79

The general rules of training (sikkhāpada) in Buddhism are the link between morality on the level of Dhamma and morality on the level of discipline, because these rules are based on universal moral principles and compiled as a moral code (vinaya). Nevertheless, Buddhism does not establish a single ethical code that all people must invariably observe. An ethical code is a matter for members of a specific community to formulate by consensus as is suited to their circumstances and objectives, by choosing from various moral principles, and then to adhere to this code. For example, the commentators formulated the ’householder’s discipline’ (āgāriya-vinaya) based on abstaining from the ten unwholesome courses of action.80 Similarly, they formulated the ’layman’s discipline’ (gihi-vinaya) based on the Buddha’s teachings on conduct found in the Siṅgālaka Sutta, for example to abstain from the four biases (agati), to not indulge in the six ’paths to ruin’ (apāya-mukha), and to uphold a proper relationship to the ’six directions’.81 (See Note The Layman’s Discipline)

Here is a review of the five precepts and the ten wholesome courses of action:

Five Precepts:

  1. To abstain from killing living creatures (pāṇātipāta).

  2. To abstain from taking what is not freely given (adinnādāna).

  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct (kāmesumicchācāra).

  4. To abstain from speaking falsehoods (musāvāda).

  5. To abstain from spirits, liquor, and intoxicants which are a basis for heedlessness (surāmerayamajja-pamādaṭṭhānā).

Ten Wholesome Courses of Action:

  1. To abstain from killing living creatures (pāṇātipāta veramaṇī).

  2. To abstain from taking what is not freely given (adinnādāna veramaṇī).

  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct (kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī).

  4. To abstain from false speech (musāvāda veramaṇī).

  5. To abstain from divisive speech (pisuṇāya vācāya veramaṇī).

  6. To abstain from harsh speech (pharusā vācāya veramaṇī).

  7. To abstain from idle chatter (samphappalāpā veramaṇī).

  8. Non-covetousness (anabhijjhā).

  9. Non-ill-will (abyāpāda).

  10. Right view (sammā-diṭṭhi).

In the older Pali texts, when referring to the general moral conduct of people, the Buddha uses the term ’five virtues’ (pañca-dhamma) for the five precepts.82 In reference to rules of training for lay Buddhists or to rules of conduct for lay ’noble disciples’, the term ’five rules of training’ (pañca-sikkhāpada) is used.83 The term ’five precepts’ (pañca-sīla) occurs once in the Vinaya-Piṭaka84 and occasionally in verse passages in the secondary texts of the Tipiṭaka;85 in the commentaries it is frequently used.86

The following question may be posed: between the five precepts and the ten wholesome courses of action, which should be given more emphasis in teaching? Alternatively, if one begins by teaching the five precepts, when should one include the teaching of the ten wholesome courses of action? This will be discussed below, but if one examines the contents of the Tipiṭaka, there are more passages related to the ten wholesome courses of action than to the five precepts.

The Layman’s Discipline

This discipline is equivalent to the āgāriya-vinaya. The Siṅgālaka Sutta (or Sigālovāda Sutta) is found at D. III. 180-93 and includes:

  1. abandoning the four defilements of action (kamma-kilesa),

  2. abstaining from the four biases,

  3. not indulging in the six paths to ruin,

  4. paying homage to the six directions,

  5. a teaching on true and false friendship,

  6. the way to spend one’s wealth,

  7. and the four ’bases of social solidarity’ (saṅgaha-vatthu).

This formulation in the commentaries may have originated from Buddhists at that time period having upheld these principles. Contemporary Buddhists should take this example by selecting teachings on moral conduct, both from this sutta and elsewhere (e.g. the five qualities of a lay disciple – upāsaka-dhamma), and establishing a discipline for themselves. Although this discipline would apply to their own personal community and not necessarily to all Buddhists, it would still be of benefit.

This form of specialized ethical code is found in every time period. Examples include the concepts of kula-dhamma (teachings on conduct specific to a family, ethnic group, caste, or profession – a code of ethics belonging to an occupation, guild, or institution) and desa-dhamma (an ethical code specific to a locality), which are considered ’traditional’ forms of morality (Vism. 15; VismṬ.: Sīlaniddesavaṇṇanā, Sīlappabhedakathāvaṇṇanā).

The Bhikkhu Code of Discipline and Its Relationship to Society

What has been mentioned above refers primarily to ethics as it concerns the lay community. For the community of monks (bhikkhu saṅgha), the system of moral training can be laid down in a much more explicit way because the Buddha established this community himself according to predetermined principles and objectives, i.e. to support a practice that is most conducive for reaching the highest goal of Buddhism and to spread the goodness that results from this practice far and wide, for the welfare and happiness of all inhabitants of the world. The Buddha formulated a system of rules and regulations to help guide the life and behaviour of the bhikkhus, in order to give rise to positive results according to these principles and objectives. {919}

The members of this community – those individuals who are ordained as monks – enter voluntarily and thus they all accept to practise according to these rules. This moral code is the Vinaya of the bhikkhu sangha.87

The Vinaya is composed of numerous training rules, including rules on how monks should behave while alone, how they should behave amongst each other, how they should behave in relation to other people, e.g. the lay community, how they should behave in relation to nature and their environment, and how they should govern their community and conduct communal affairs. A similar code of discipline was laid down for the nuns’ community (the bhikkhuni Vinaya).

Those candidates who for some reason are not fully prepared for higher ordination may be accepted as novices, having limited status and privileges in the monastic community. The Buddha laid down ten training rules for novices which are included in the Vinaya.88

Virtuous conduct (sīla) in this context is the state of wellbeing or the wholesome behaviour that stems from not transgressing the training rules contained in the Vinaya: this is morality (sīla) on the level of formal discipline (vinaya).

There are two aspects to keeping moral precepts or to practising according to moral principles: self-discipline (in order to develop in virtuous qualities) and a consideration of the benefits to others or to society.

The former aspect is obvious throughout the Buddha’s teachings (the suttas), while the latter aspect is strongly emphasized in the monks’ discipline (the Vinaya).

In relation to society, in the case that a monk’s actions were unskilful and warranted the enactment of a training rule, the Buddha would call the community of monks together, verify the truth from the instigator, and explain the harm of such an action: that it does not generate faith in the faithless nor does it increase faith in the faithful, but rather it prevents faith from arising in those without faith and it shakes the confidence of some of the faithful. Only then did he lay down the new training rule and describe its advantages.89

The concern here over people’s faith is a concern for the wellbeing and happiness of the greater public. The wellbeing of society affects the wellbeing of both the monastic community and of Buddhism as a whole, because the stability of the monastic community and of the Buddhist religion is dependent on the faith of the laity.

The faith of lay Buddhists stems from pasāda: confidence, inspiration, joy, ease of heart, and a delight and enthusiasm for goodness. {920} This quality is conducive to happiness, supports concentration, and is favourable to wisdom, providing people with the necessary strength of heart to understand a subject under investigation.90 This joy and confidence is a fundamental source of wellbeing, enabling people to progress in mental and wisdom development.

Before offering a teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha would gradually prepare the listener’s state of mind and degree of understanding, until the person’s mind was at ease, malleable, free from the hindrances, delighted, and bright.91

A monk should behave virtuously, not to seek personal gain from the resulting devotion of the lay supporters, which would be reprehensible, but rather for the wellbeing and happiness of the monastic community as well as the wider lay community.

Unawakened monks must practise both aspects of moral behaviour – combining assistance to others with self-discipline and self-training. Arahants, on the other hand, who are completely free from mental defilement and whose personal moral duties are thoroughly accomplished, keep moral principles or abide by a moral code purely for the wellbeing of the monastic community and of all human beings. This is consistent with the vital principle vis-à-vis the conduct and activity by the Buddha and his disciples: To practise for the welfare and happiness of the manyfolk, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and humans,92 as well as the principle of being considerate of later generations, of setting a good example, and of promoting goodness in the world by honouring the Dhamma and the Vinaya.93

For this reason, awakened persons observe moral precepts strictly. It is not in their nature to claim that they are free from defilement, carefree and detached, and therefore do not need to keep particular training rules and can act in any manner they please.

Arahants do not only keep moral precepts, but some also uphold numerous observances (vatta) associated with specific ascetic practices (dhutaṅga vata), which are not required by the Vinaya, in order to abide happily in the present and to assist later generations by acting as a good example.94 {921}

When one investigates the mental fetter of ’adherence to rules and religious practices’ (sīlabbata-parāmāsa) one should not overlook a person’s reasons and intentions that are connected to virtue and to benefitting the community. If a person observes moral precepts, duties, customs, and traditional ceremonies with an understanding and an intention of acting in a well-mannered and exemplary fashion, this action helps unite a community and elevates the Dhamma. If a person acts appropriate to the circumstances, in accord with good intentions, and not in a disingenuous way, one should not be in a hurry to criticize this behaviour.

Where the behaviour in regard to rules, observances, customs, ceremonies, and moral codes is incorrect, is by holding to them in a gullible way and simply imitating others, without recognizing their purpose, to the point that one mistakenly believes that purity or the final spiritual goal is reached by simply keeping precepts or observing customs and traditions. Such behaviour leads to a distortion of these precepts and practices, deviating from the Buddhist path.95

Similarly, people may uphold moral precepts and religious practices with concealed craving and fixed views, by seeking a reward of material gain, fame, praise, delight, or rebirth in heaven, and by reinforcing a sense of self-identity, until the true purpose of moral conduct is obscured and the way to reaching the goal of Dhamma practice is obstructed; or people may keep moral precepts and follow various observances, customs, and ceremonies in an unworthy, corrupt way: they get carried away and overly impressed by their own good deeds, which become a source of pride and conceit. (See Note An ’Untrue Man’)

A person who keeps moral precepts and follows the Vinaya should understand the objectives – the intended benefits – of the Vinaya, which the Buddha stated each time that he laid down a training rule. There are ten such benefits:

A. Pertaining to communal wellbeing:

  • 1. For the goodness that comes from a harmonious sangha.

  • 2. For the wellbeing of the sangha.

  • 3. For the control of shameless individuals.

B. Pertaining to individual wellbeing:

  • 4. For the comfort of virtuous bhikkhus. {922}

C. Pertaining to growth in the Dhamma:

  • 5. For the prevention of danger and trouble in the present.

  • 6. For the prevention of danger and trouble in the future.

D. Pertaining to social wellbeing:

  • 7. To arouse faith in those who lack faith.

  • 8. To increase faith in the faithful.

E. Pertaining to the wellbeing of Buddhism:

  • 9. For the stability of the True Dhamma.

  • 10. To promote discipline and to support the Vinaya.96

The Aṅguttara Nikāya contains another list of objectives for the establishment of the training rules, which includes the following two factors:

  1. For the benefit of the lay followers.

  2. To sever relations with those factions of bhikkhus who are evilly disposed.97

An ’Untrue Man’

For example: a person may be of great learning (bahussuta), an expert in the disciplinary code, or a skilled Dhamma preacher, or he keeps the austere practices of living in the forest, wearing rag-robes, living at the foot of a tree, or eating only one meal a day, or he has attained jhāna, and as a result becomes proud and disparages others; the Buddha called such a person an ’untrue man’ (asappurisa): M. III. 39-42; a person who is accomplished in moral conduct but becomes proud and boastful is called a heedless person (M. I. 193-4); a person possessing exceptional qualities or virtues should not allow them to be a cause for arrogance and disparagement of others (e.g.: M. I. 272-3; D. III. 224-5 = A. II. 27-8; Nd. II. 59).

These objectives reveal an emphasis on communal welfare and happiness. Similarly, the rules in the Vinaya dealing with the implementation of formal acts of the community (saṅgha-kamma) attest to the importance given to community affairs, by focusing on the cooperation and concerted efforts of the monks.

Formal acts of the sangha only proceed well, however, if the community is in harmony and undivided. This is a principal reason why the Buddha reiterated the significance of sangha harmony as opposed to sangha discord, by stating that the arising of harmony in the sangha is conducive to the welfare and happiness of all people, whereas schisms in the sangha have the opposite effect.98

The various rules and regulations laid down by the Buddha in the Vinaya express a spirit of communal wellbeing and dignity which is applicable to all human relationships, an example of which is the common practice of monks paying respects to one another.

Means for Extolling the Dhamma and Enhancing Communal Welfare

Bowing and Paying Respects

It is well known that in Buddhist communities the lay followers bow and pay respects to the bhikkhus. Within the community of monks itself, gestures of respect are made according to the number of years an individual has been ordained. A monk who has been ordained for fewer years pays respects to a monk who has been ordained longer.99 {923}

In terms of internal spiritual qualities, a lay person who is a ’noble being’ (ariya-puggala) and has attained to a level of awakening still bows to a monk who is unenlightened. (See Note Attained Laypeople) In the monastic community, a fully awakened monk – an arahant – still pays respects to an unawakened monk if the latter monk has been ordained for a longer period of time.

Attained Laypeople

It is possible for a layperson to attain arahantship, but according to the Milindapañhā such a person will only continue as a layperson for one day because he will either enter the monastic community as a bhikkhu or else pass away (parinibbāna) on that day (Miln.: Chaṭṭhavaggo, Gahīarahattapañho tatiyo). The Milindapañhā explains the reason why it is appropriate for a layperson who is a stream-enterer to pay respects to a monk who is unenlightened, but it does not mention laypersons who have attained to a higher level of awakening.

In any case, there are examples in the Tipiṭaka, for example the story of the householder Citta, who was a non-returner and who paid respects to Ven. Sudhamma who was harbouring ill thoughts towards him (Vin. II. 16-17). The commentaries at SnA. I. 277 cite the Buddha’s teaching: Bhikkhus, if he is a layman, a non-returner should bow and pay respects to a novice monk, even though he was ordained that very day. Although I have not found this passage in the Tipiṭaka, it accords in principle with the aforementioned teachings.

This distinctive way of paying respects in the sangha is not a matter of proving a person’s value based on prestige or external authority, or even on internal spiritual attributes. The policies and customs regarding bowing and the offering of respects exist for order and simplicity, and for the wellbeing and harmony of the community. Communal harmony and peace fall under the term Dhamma: virtue or righteousness (as an aspect of truth). By following these customs of paying respects, one acts for the wellbeing and integrity of the community; moreover, one cultivates goodness and venerates the Dhamma.

Awakened persons, especially arahants, have no attachment to a sense of self, which would lead them to take such customs of paying respects as a gauge for a person’s value or as a means for self-aggrandizement. They follow these well-established customs, aiming for the wellbeing of the community, for the veneration and respect of the Dhamma and Vinaya, and even for the assistance of the person to whom they pay respects (see Note Honouring the Dhamma). If that person is morally inferior but still contains some goodness, this act of respect will remind him to be careful, to improve himself, and to strive for higher virtues.

Honouring the Dhamma

The Buddha said that to whomever he teaches the Dhamma, even to a beggar or a poor hunter, he teaches with respect for that person (with commitment, by giving that person importance, and by truly wishing for his or her welfare); this is because the Buddha venerates the Dhamma (see: A. III. 121-2). When, according to tradition or to a person’s status, people are polite and respectful, they should consider these teachings on honouring the Dhamma in order to avoid problems from acting out of say arrogance or flattery. (An exaggerated, inappropriate, or insincere display of respect is equally a dishonour of the Dhamma, similar to not showing respect or showing no deference to tradition due to conceit.)

By honouring the Dhamma people in fact honour each other, by honouring each other’s humanity, ability to be trained, and inherent virtues. Respectfulness and the showing of respect, however, are two separate factors: respectfulness is an internal attribute, while the showing of respect is an external, social action. The latter accompanies and supplements the former to help in a social context. The ways to show respect and honour are determined by a community or society in order to bring about mutual benefits, for example peace and orderliness. These means of showing respect are also a way to honour the Dhamma, by aiming for the establishment of truth in society. (In these circumstances, a person who receives gestures of respect should pay respect in return, by being considerate and attentive to the other person who shows respect.)

And in the case that awakened persons refrain from paying respects in particular circumstances, they will do this for a reason, by aiming for the benefit of that person or of the community, not because of mental defilement and conceit. {924}

Awakened laypersons pay respects to monks – even those who are unenlightened – for reasons connected to the truth or as a way to venerate the truth, as can be summarized as follows:100

  • Monks relinquish the householder’s life, which is normally a life of seeking pleasure and sensual gratification. They voluntarily remove themselves from comfort and material abundance. They follow rules of training and keep a discipline which is difficult for unenlightened people to observe. Even the awakened laypeople are not compelled to practise at this level of austerity; they recognize that the monks do that which is difficult to do.

  • Monks maintain a way of life that is considered by Buddhists to be a way of self-development and a way of bringing wellbeing and happiness to the world. This way of life should be honoured and praised.

  • Monks are part of the monastic sangha: they are members of a community whose duties are directly related to the Dhamma. The monastic sangha is where virtuous people gather, where most of the members are of a virtuous nature, and which is an optimal environment for cultivating goodness. It is a symbol of the Dhamma or of the stability of the Dhamma. Each individual bhikkhu represents the monastic sangha; when one pays respects to a monk in this sense (not to a specific personality), one is honouring the sangha and venerating the Dhamma.

  • The bhikkhu sangha is a Buddhist assembly performing the duties of studying, practising, and propagating the Dhamma in an optimal and most effective way. It safeguards the Dhamma (the Buddhist teachings) and the Vinaya (the system of training), and it assists in the transmission of the Buddhist religion. Monks are considered the heirs of the Buddhist teachings. The paying of respects to monks as representatives of the sangha is equivalent to supporting the monastic community in order for it to provide blessings and happiness to the world.

  • At the very least, awakened laypeople pay respects to monks with a mind of lovingkindness. They wish for the monks’ welfare, happiness, and prosperity in the Dhamma, by helping them to remember and take into account their individual position and their responsibilities, which need to be attended to with diligent, sustained effort.101

A monk or novice who makes effort and trains himself, although he is still unenlightened, is still worthy of respectful salutations from laypeople even if they are awakened. In other words, if a monk or novice asks himself whether he possesses virtues worthy of the laypeople’s veneration, this very self-awareness and self-inquiry is worthy of respect.

The paying of respects between monks according to seniority is separate from the formal acts of the monastic community (saṅghakamma), which are accomplished by a formal resolution among community members and conducted by an astute and able bhikkhu. (See Note Astute and Able Monks) {925} For such formal acts, the monks should unanimously designate a leader who possesses trustworthy and admirable personal qualities (pasādanīya-dhamma).102 A monk who has been ordained for a long time and has much experience is a more suitable candidate for this position than a monk who has been ordained more recently, because the elder monk has had more time to study, train, and develop himself, but seniority is not the decisive factor in this selection.

Astute and Able Monks

The ’astute and able’ (byatta paṭibala) monk is given the position of chanting the formal announcement (kamma-vācā): he announces the matter at hand to the community, states the formal proposal (ñatti), asks for a consensus, and announces the consensus. (In an ordination ceremony there are two such senior monks, who are called kamma-vācācariya.)

Today, many people are unfamiliar with the meaning and importance of this position, because formal acts of the sangha have become more ceremonial and set by tradition. On various formal acts of the sangha, see for example: ordinations (Vin. I. 56-7; Vin. II. 273); observance days (Vin. I. 102); establishing a formal boundary (sīmā) – Vin. I. 106; the Pavāraṇā ceremony (Vin. I. 159); the Kaṭhina ceremony (Vin. I. 254); assigning monks to formal positions in the sangha (Vin. I. 283-5; Vin. II. 167, 176-7); imposing penalties (e.g.: Vin. II. 2, 7-8, 13, 18, 21, 125); settling disputes (Vin. II. 84, 87); and meeting for a formal recitation of the teachings (Vin. II. 285-6).

The Prescription Forbidding Monks from Claiming Superhuman States

Another rule in the Vinaya that demonstrates the spirit of fostering the collective good and emphasizes the importance of the community is the rule forbidding monks from claiming exceptional spiritual qualities or from claiming to have realized superhuman states (uttarimanussa-dhamma), like deep states of concentration, jhāna, concentrative attainments (samāpatti), or stages of enlightenment. If a person falsely claims to possess these qualities with the intention to deceive, he commits a pārājika offence and automatically falls away from the state of being a bhikkhu.103 Even if he has realized one of these exceptional states, if he mentions this attainment to a layperson or to someone else who is not a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, he is still at fault and transgresses a less serious rule requiring expiation (pācittiya).104

The former rule originated during a time of famine, when a group of monks who were looking for ways to obtain food without difficulty decided to praise one another’s personal qualities, sometimes based on fact and sometimes not, by saying, for example: ’This monk has attained jhāna’, ’This monk is a stream-enterer’, ’This monk is an arahant’, ’This monk has attained the six higher psychic attainments.’ As a result the devoted laypeople provided them with abundant food. When the Buddha was made aware of this he laid down the training rule, saying that it is undignified to boast about one’s exceptional qualities for the sake of one’s stomach, and he severely criticized those monks who made false claims, calling them the most contemptible thieves in the world.

A similar rule forbids monks from displaying psychic powers to laypeople. A monk who transgresses this rule commits an offence of wrongdoing (dukkaṭa).105 This rule originated when a wealthy merchant hung a sandalwood bowl from the end of a long bamboo pole and declared a challenge: he would give this bowl to anyone who is an arahant and possesses true psychic powers, but this person must levitate and collect the bowl himself. Ven. Piṇḍola-Bhāradvāja heard of this challenge and wanting to preserve the honour of Buddhism rose in the air and collected the bowl, causing great excitement and wonder among the inhabitants of Rājagaha. {926} The Buddha then laid down a training rule, reproaching Piṇḍola-Bhāradvāja for displaying psychic powers in exchange for a relatively worthless bowl, comparing this action with a woman who exposes herself for a mere coin.

Before laying down these training rules, the Buddha mentioned that it is inappropriate to boast about one’s merits, skills, and special abilities for the sake of material gain, veneration, or personal advantage. And when he laid down and defined the actual rule, he stated that it is a transgression to boast about or display one’s merits and abilities for any reason, not limited to seeking personal profit and veneration.

There are deeper objectives behind the Buddha’s conduct here. For example, the Buddha did not wish for people to become overly excited or captivated by things they believe to be beyond their own reach, or to entrust their hope to someone or something else to the point of abandoning their own efforts within the range of their ability.106

The objective to discuss here is connected to the monastic sangha. According to the Buddhist teachings, the survival of the Dhammavinaya is dependent on the monastic sangha as a whole. The transmission of the teachings and the protection of the Dhammavinaya relies on the stability of the monastic sangha. The Buddha entrusted the Dhammavinaya to the monastic sangha rather than to a specific individual; were the latter case true, the teachings would not have lasted long.

The Buddha wished for the laypeople to support and relate to the monks as a community, and to support individual monks in an impersonal way, as representatives of the monastic sangha. Although an individual monk or group of monks may have some exceptional proficiency or may have reached an outstanding spiritual realization, their relationship to the laity has a direct bearing on the entire monastic community, allowing other members of the monastic community to partake in their achievements.

This is easily discernible in the case where a monk possesses special virtues or abilities. The advantages an individual monk with special merits or abilities receives also extend to the entire community, which flourishes along with that individual. On the other hand, if that monks’s merits or abilities are personalized, as belonging to a specific individual or associated with a particular group, only that individual or group will prosper while the greater sangha will be depreciated.

When a monk broadcasts his own exceptional qualities, laypeople tend to focus their attention and lavish their support on him. At the same time the monastic sangha as a whole declines in importance, receives less attention, and is weakened as a result.

This is the reason why some arahants at the time of the Buddha, when their exceptional abilities became known publicly so that people became attached to them as an individual and gave them personal donations, and they became a focus of attention to the extent that the importance of the monastic community as a whole waned, would quickly leave that locality.107 {927}

For monks to boast about or proclaim their exceptional spiritual qualities to laypeople, regardless of whether these claims are true or false, have the following harmful consequences:

  • It causes the laypeople to become preoccupied and focused on an individual person or group rather than taking an interest in the wider monastic community. Laypeople who lack an understanding will judge and compare people, praising some while disparaging others, based sometimes on truth and sometimes not. This can cause harm to themselves and to the wider Buddhist community.

  • If such proclamations were acceptable, it would not only be those individuals with righteous attainments who would proclaim; those individuals who misjudge their own attainments would also proclaim. But even more serious, it would offer a chance for shameless individuals to cause trouble by boasting. Those laypeople who lack knowledge and experience of these matters are unable to distinguish between what is true and what is false. They may be misled by skilled charlatans and consequently view something false as marvellous and reliable.

  • Unawakened laypeople possess varying preferences and interests, and those monks who have realized exceptional spiritual qualities may have personality traits or abilities that are incompatible with the laypeople’s wishes. Not all spiritually attained people are endowed with the skills and attributes to act as leaders while following in the footsteps of the Buddha. Some realized monks are unable to explain and to teach, similar to the ’silent Buddhas’ (pacceka-buddha), and they are sometimes no match for erudite unawakened teachers. This is similar to a person who has travelled to a distant land, but on returning is unable to give a captivating, persuasive description of his travels. Another person who has never been to this land, however, may be able to give a vivid, dramatic account, like some geography professors who are adept at teaching about foreign countries despite having never stepped foot there.

    In terms of personal attributes, some monks have realized the fruits of awakening but have an unattractive physical appearance. Ven. Lakuṇṭaka-Bhaddiya, for example, was an arahant but was both dwarfed and hunch-backed; the young monks and novices would tease and ridicule him so much that the Buddha needed to come to his aid.108 If such a person proclaims his spiritual achievements he may lead people to refute these achievements or to view Buddhism in a negative light. A deceptive, unawakened person, however, may lead a great number of people down an incorrect path due to his being charismatic and articulate.

  • If realized beings skilled at teaching, realized beings unskilled at teaching, unrealized beings who overestimate their achievements, and people who are charlatans were all to proclaim their spiritual attainments, the Buddhist teachings would become mixed up and muddled; people would not know which teachings are correct and which are false. Some people possess a true knowledge of some aspects of their experience, but their attempts to describe the realization are at odds with its essential meaning because they lack a formal study of the teachings, which leads to confusion, misunderstandings, and a disunity of the Buddhist teachings.

    The confirmation of enlightenment is the responsibility and imperative of the Buddha, who established the Buddhist religion and protected both the teachings and the disciples. Confirmation and endorsement rests with the Buddha and his teachings; later disciples voluntarily accept these teachings. The responsibility of disciples does not require referring to personal spiritual attainments but rather consists of remaining true to the Buddha’s teaching.

    True disciples of the Buddha try not to deviate from the Buddha’s own teaching and they use consistency with the Buddha’s teachings as the basic criteria for correct transmission of the teachings. They need not refer to their own awakening as a criteria for evaluation. This preserves the integrity of the teachings and of Buddhism. {928}

  • When a person proclaims exceptional spiritual qualities, faithful lay supporters will bring material gifts and offerings. These gifts are due to that person’s proclamation, and thus according to the Vinaya they are ’impure gains’.

It is of the nature of awakened beings to refrain from speaking about or proclaiming their spiritual attainments. A person who boasts of being an awakened person, reveals precisely the opposite: of not being awakened. The only people who proclaim exceptional spiritual qualities that they truly possesses are unawakened people with mundane spiritual attainments like concentrative attainments (jhāna-samāpatti).109

Offerings to the Monastic Community

This subject of revealing one’s personal attainments is connected to the tradition of making offerings to the monastic community (saṅgha-dāna). Buddhism distinguishes between two kinds of donations (dāna): donations made to a specific individual (pāṭipuggalika-dāna) and donations made to the entire monastic community (saṅgha-dāna).

The Buddhist teachings state that offerings made to someone with little virtue bear relatively little fruit, while offerings made to a highly virtuous person bear great fruit. Offerings made to the community, however, are more fruitful than offerings made to any individual.

The Buddha categorized offerings made to individuals, from high to low: gifts to the Buddha, gifts to ’silent Buddhas’ (paccekabuddha), gifts to arahants, once-returners, etc., all the way to gifts made to virtuous unawakened persons, immoral persons, and animals. And he used this comparison: a gift to animals may be expected to repay a hundredfold, a gift to an immoral ordinary person may be expected to repay a thousandfold, a gift to a virtuous ordinary person may be expected to repay a hundred-thousandfold, a gift to a renunciant outside the dispensation who is free from lust for sensual pleasures may be expected to repay ten-thousand millionfold, a gift to a stream-enterer may be expected to repay incalculably, immeasurably – what then should be said about giving a gift to one whose virtues exceed this?

As stated above, however, offerings made to the community are more fruitful than offerings made to any individual. The most complete donation to the monastic community is offered to both the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis with the Buddha at the head. Next are donations made to both bhikkhu and bhikkhuni communities after the Buddha has passed away, and then donations made to a predetermined number of monks and nuns (acting as representatives for the wider community and not specifying particular individuals’ names). Even in the future, when the Dhammavinaya has almost perished, offerings made in the name of the sangha to immoral monks who simply wear some brown cloth around their necks bears great fruit. The Buddha concluded:

I say that in no way does a gift to an individual person ever have greater fruit than an offering made to the sangha.110

M. III. 254-6.

At one time the Buddha had the following conversation on this subject with a householder:

Buddha: ’Householder, are alms given by your family?’

Householder: ’Oh yes, lord, my family offers alms, and these alms are given to such monks who keep the observances of dwelling in the forest, eating only almsfood, and wearing rag-robes, who are arahants or have realized the path of arahantship.’

Buddha: ’But surely you who are a layman, a householder, and a busy family man, find it difficult to tell which monk is an arahant or has realized the path of arahantship. {929} Regardless of whether a monk dwells in the forest or in the village, whether a monk eats almsfood or accepts meal invitations, whether a monk wears rag-robes or robes offered by the laity, if he is distracted, proud, overconfident, outspoken, foulmouthed, absent-minded, uncircumspect, irresolute, agitated, and with senses unrestrained, he on that count is blameworthy. But if he is not distracted, not proud, not overconfident, not outspoken, not foul-mouthed, mindful, circumspect, one-pointed, determined, and with senses restrained, he on that count is praiseworthy.

A. III. 391.

The Buddha then encouraged the householder to make offerings to the wider monastic community, saying that by making such offerings the mind is joyful and bright, and when the mind is bright, at death one goes to a happy abode.111

Apart from focusing on self-training and self-development, the practice and behaviour of the bhikkhus should take into consideration the wellbeing of the monastic community and of all human beings. At the very least, as a result of the monastic rules of disciple, the monks should make those people whom they interact with feel safe, happy and at ease. Furthermore, if possible, the monks should teach the Dhamma so that people develop in faith, moral conduct, learning, generosity, and wisdom.

In other words, the monks have two responsibilities in relation to the laity: a responsibility in regard to the Vinaya – of gladdening the minds of the laity by keeping moral precepts and observances – and a responsibility in regard to the Dhamma – of imparting the truth and sharing goodness in order to help the laity develop spiritually.

As for the laypeople, when they interact with the monks, they should aim to acquire spiritual riches in order to advance in the way of truth, and when they offer support to the monks, they should take into account the benefits accrued to the wider monastic community. And in the case that laypeople choose to interact with or make offerings to an individual monk, they should do so with the wish that the monastic sangha be stable and secure, and for the lasting welfare and happiness of all people.

Concluding Remarks on the Monastic Discipline

The prime moral objectives of the monastic code of discipline (vinaya) can be summed up as follows: to honour the monastic community and its activities; to emphasize the stability and wellbeing of the community; and to develop a sense of responsibility towards the community. The Buddha and his arahant disciples embodied the spirit of this teaching and acted as paragons of virtue.

Responsible and supportive actions in regard to the sangha are correct according to Dhamma and consistent with the Vinaya. Respect for the sangha is thus connected to respect for both the Dhamma and the Vinaya.112

A sense of responsibility for the sangha is also connected to the practice for benefiting all human beings, because the term ’sangha’ literally means ’community’ or ’multitude’, and the monastic community was established for the welfare and happiness of all people. {930}

The Buddha is a leading example in this way of practice as confirmed by these passages:

The Tathāgata, the Arahant, the Fully Awakened One, the Champion and King of the Dhamma, relying on the Dhamma, respecting, honouring, and revering the Dhamma, with the Dhamma as his standard, banner, and sovereign, provides righteous protection, shelter and safety to the bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, laymen, and laywomen, [by teaching] thus: ’Such bodily action … verbal action … mental action … livelihood … dwelling in town or village should be undertaken and such [action, etc.] should not be undertaken.’

A. III. 149-50; cf.: A. I. 109-10; Ps. II. 159-60.

I dwell honouring and respecting and depending on that very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened. And whenever the sangha is possessed of greatness, then I also have deep reverence for the sangha.

A. II. 21.

When the monastic community increased, became more widespread, and grew in both knowledge and experience, the Buddha established various formal acts of the sangha (saṅghakamma), by giving prominence and entrusting authority to the collective community. In regard to ordinations, for example, he ceased giving ordinations by himself or permitting individual disciples to give ordinations, and rather had the sangha perform this duty.113

When Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī (the Buddha’s aunt and stepmother) brought a set of new robes that she had sewn herself to offer to the Buddha, the Buddha said to her: Give to the sangha, Gotamī. When you give an offering to the sangha, it will be made both to me and to the sangha.114

Before the Buddha’s final passing away, he spoke thus to Ven. Ānanda:

Ānanda, the Dhamma and Vinaya that I have taught and assigned to all of you, that, at my passing, will be your teacher.

D. II. 154.

After the Buddha’s final passing away the brahmin Vassakāra asked the following question to Ven. Ānanda:

Is there, Master Ānanda, any single bhikkhu who was appointed by Master Gotama thus: ’He will be your refuge (’point of reference’, ’anchor’) when I am gone’, and to whom you are now devoted?

Ven. Ānanda replied that there is no such individual, nor is there such an individual who has been chosen by the sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus before the Buddha’s final passing away. Nevertheless: We are not without a refuge, brahmin. We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge. And he went on to explain how the Dhamma acts as a refuge:

Brahmin, the Blessed One who knows and sees, who is accomplished and fully enlightened, has prescribed the course of training and has laid down the Pātimokkha. On the observance day as many of us as live in dependence upon a single village district meet together in unison, and when we meet we ask one who knows the Pātimokkha to recite it. If a bhikkhu remembers an offence or a transgression while the Pātimokkha is being recited, we impose a penalty on him according to the Dhamma in the way we have been instructed. In this way, it is not the venerable ones who correct us; it is the Dhamma that corrects us. {931}

Ven. Ānanda went on to say, however, that there are monks who are seen as leaders and as a mainstay:

There are, brahmin, ten qualities inspiring confidence that have been declared by the Blessed One who knows and sees, who is accomplished and fully enlightened. When these qualities are found in anyone among us, we honour, respect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him.115

M. III. 9-12.

A monk who is appointed to adjudicate legal disputes must be one who defers to the sangha rather than deferring to an individual, one who honours the truth rather than honouring material objects.116

It is incumbent on leading arahant disciples to act as role models in giving importance to community activities. For example, there is the story of the Buddha exhorting Ven. Mahākappina to attend the observance day ceremony, in order for the monks to review their conduct in light of the Vinaya, even though Mahākappina was an arahant and perfectly pure at heart.117 Similarly, although Ven. Mahākassapa lived in a remote place about four kilometres from the place where the observance day ceremony was held, he would walk on foot each fortnight to attend this ceremony, even though it meant passing across a river.118

Those monks who are arahants and non-returners, and who are able to enter the ’attainment of cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti), make the following determination before entering that state: ’If during the seven days that I enter the state of cessation the sangha requires to perform a formal act, for example a formal resolution (ñatti-kamma), I will exit this state immediately, before another monk needs to invite me.’ This is because the authority of the community is vital and worthy of respect.119

When events or circumstances occur that affect the welfare of the monastic community or have an impact on the growth or decline of the Buddhist religion, the monks, especially the arahants, have an obligation to pay attention and to get involved. For example, they organize councils (or ’recitations’: saṅgāyanā) to purify the sangha, protect the teachings from deviation or from disrespectful, slanderous people or ideologies, help the Buddhist religion survive in times of danger, and to cultivate and support those individuals who are skilled at safeguarding and promoting Buddhism.120

If an individual neglects to participate in these sangha activities, the sangha will impose a penalty on him even if he is an arahant and even if the reason for neglect was to pursue a wholesome, blameless action like dwelling in a concentrative attainment.121 When the community imposes a penalty, the person penalized has the opportunity to explain the reasons for his actions, but if the sangha makes a final decision, the person will honour this, as is seen in the case of Ven. Ānanda, who was rebuked during the First Council.122 {932}

It is also the tradition for members of the monastic community to pay attention to minor activities requiring collective effort, like sewing robes. Such collective effort is particularly important in matters pertaining to formal acts of the sangha, for example in regard to the Kaṭhina ceremony, during which the community agrees to offer a robe sewn from donated cloth to an individual monk. Every monk in the community, irrespective of a monk’s seniority or spiritual accomplishments, should participate in sewing this cloth into a robe.123

Communal responsibilities can be separated into two layers of importance:

  1. Minor communal affairs pertaining to specific circumstances, or deeds of mutual assistance to be performed as companions in a single community, which accord with the ’factors leading to harmony’ (sārāṇīya-dhamma), in particular the factor of kindly assistance and support (mettā-kāyakamma), for example by nursing each other in times of illness, and the factor found in an alternative presentation of this teaching, of a willingness to give a helping hand (kiṅkaraṇīyesu-dakkhatā) – a diligence to help out in all communal matters, big and small.124

  2. Communal activities that have a bearing on the wellbeing and stability of the entire community, or matters requiring joint consideration and decision making, which accord with the ’factors leading to prosperity’ (aparihāniya-dhamma), especially the first two factors: to hold regular and frequent meetings, and to meet in harmony, adjourn in harmony, and conduct sangha business in harmony.125

In relation to the first matters (A), if a monk takes no heed and makes no effort to help out, it is likely that he will be criticized and censured by the community, and requested to come forward to explain his actions and receive words of caution. This procedure, however, is dependent on the circumstances and has exceptions. For instance there may already be someone else specifically assigned to a task, there may be sufficient people helping out, or the individual monk may have important personal duties to attend to.

There is a story of a newly ordained monk who spent the afternoon quietly in his kuti126 while the other monks were sewing robes. The monks went to the Buddha and accused this monk of negligence. The Buddha called this monk for questioning and when he found out that the monk had been developing jhāna, he told the other monks to cease their protest.127 Similarly, there are occasions when the majority of the community is caught up and disturbed about a communal issue, but respond to it in a confused and fruitless fashion. Those monks who remain quiet and detached in order to cultivate the Dhamma are considered to be acting appropriately.128

In relation to the second matters (B), there are no exceptions. When the community gathers to conduct a formal activity (saṅghakamma), all members of the community must be present. If a monk is ill or there is another reason preventing him from attending, then he must give his formal consent to the sangha.129 {933}

In sorting out the details of these formal activities, however, the monks should first consider and look to those individuals who are directly involved or responsible for the matters at hand. The Buddha stated that for one who is still in training it is a way of decline to not acknowledge and defer to those experienced elders and instead to be obstructive and troublesome when there is formal communal business to attend to.130

The guidelines of social ethics which are a part of the Vinaya consist of a complete code of social conduct, designed to make communal activities, the relationship to the outside world, and the whole environment in which a person lives conducive to the growth and prosperity of a person’s internal life. And in a complementary way, this code of conduct promotes a spiritual life whose virtues will be expressed outwardly, creating an atmosphere in which all people can train themselves and develop virtuous conduct, concentration, and wisdom, in order to discover true happiness, with a free and pure mind and within a peaceful, ordered, and secure environment.

The Vinaya is a model example of morality on the level of a code of discipline, which is a complete system of guiding social conduct for a specific group of people, namely, the Buddhist monastic community.

The monastic discipline is not a set of moral principles in a restricted or limited sense, but rather it incorporates all aspects of the monks’ social behaviour and conduct, including: designating the terms and procedures for accepting new members into the community (along with their privileges and responsibilities); caring for and training these new members; appointing officials for specific communal activities; determining the proper policy in regard to the search for, production, storage, and distribution of the four requisites, for example the kinds of allowable food, the receiving and sharing of food, the making of and proper use of robes, the kinds of proper medicines, the procedure of caring for sick monks (including responsibilities of both the nurse and the patient), the allocation of dwellings, the duties of a resident in these dwellings, the policy of building new dwellings, the design and planning of new dwellings, and the management of building projects; regulations for organizing community meetings; the way of dealing with formal accusations; the proper conduct of a plaintiff, a defendant, and the arbitrators of the case; the ways of executing and settling legal disputes; and the imposition of various penalties.

The term vinaya refers to a comprehensive system of conduct, enabling a specific group of people to be stable and secure, to live in a way that accords with their principles, and to perform their activities in an optimal way in order to arrive at their aspired goal.

If one uses modern terminology the vinaya is a system of conduct that encompasses the entire range of governance, social management, legislation, economics, and education (along with other areas of responsibility), according to the formal agreements made by a group of people (this can include an entire nation), by enacting a constitution, charter, legal system, or set of edicts.

In Buddhism the term vinaya denotes a foundation of conduct that supports the entire Buddhist way of life and promotes a favourable practice along Buddhist principles. The bhikkhu Vinaya is an instrument enabling the monastic community to be a source of prosperity and growth for the monks and to provide them with the true benefits that the Buddhist teachings have to offer. {934}

When the Vinaya exists, the monastic sangha exists. When the monastic sangha exists, the benefits derived from the Buddhist way of life exist. For this reason, a respect for the monastic community and its activities, and a sense of responsibility in regard to its stability and wellbeing, is a key objective to Buddhist social ethics.

The Buddha established a complete code of discipline – the Vinaya – for the monastic community, which lies at the heart of the wider Buddhist community. As for establishing an expanded, detailed code of discipline for the wider Buddhist community, it is up to people in each specific time period and set of circumstances to accomplish this task by drawing on the spirit of the Vinaya, as King Asoka once tried to do.

When one understands the principle of morality (sīla) on the level of a disciplinary code, one will be able to distinguish between morality as Dhamma and morality as vinaya. The former is included in the term ’Dhamma’, while the latter is the definition of the term vinaya. One will also understand why the Buddha referred to Buddhism – the entire Buddhist teachings – as ’Dhammavinaya’, and why the Dhamma and the Vinaya comprise the entire spectrum of Buddhism.

Definition of Vinaya Beyond the Scope of Moral Precepts

The discussion of vinaya above remains within the domain of moral conduct (sīla) or is directly linked to moral conduct. The term vinaya, however, has a wide range of meaning. An understanding of the various nuances of this term helps to clarify the general Buddhist perspective and framework.

There are two basic definitions for the term vinaya:

  1. The practice of conforming one’s behaviour and way of life to a systematized code of conduct; the development of self-discipline in order to follow an ethical code; the application of an ethical code to determine one’s conduct, way of life, and communal activities.

  2. A code of conduct, a set of precepts, or a set of regulations, which are formulated as a principle or standard for training and self-discipline, and which give order and excellence to a person’s behaviour and to communal activities.

Upon closer inspection one can distinguish five nuances of meaning inherent within these two basic definitions:

  1. Training: training oneself, and encouraging others to train themselves, in order for people’s conduct to be virtuous, correct, disciplined, and systematic, and to bring about success and fulfilment.

  2. Discipline: care and supervision of people’s behaviour in order that it accords with a code of conduct; applying a code of conduct as a means to regulate people’s actions and communal activities.

  3. Declaration of rules and regulations (nīti-paññāpana): the formulation and establishment of a code of conduct, rules and precepts, laws and statutes, etc., to act as guidelines and a set of criteria in training or regulating people.

  4. Legislation (nīti-paññatti): the actual code of conduct, rules and precepts, laws and statutes, etc. established for training or regulating people.

  5. Arbitration (vinicchaya-karaṇa): passing judgement in the case of legal disputes, settling them according to an established code of conduct, laws and statutes, etc., in order to maintain righteousness, orderliness, and peace. {935}

In terms of human social evolution, the Buddhist teachings state that these systems of regulation arise out of necessity. When people live together in large numbers, with each person seeking the four requisites and consumable objects, it is natural that there arise quarrels, conflict, and competition. As a result, someone is required to settle these disputes, giving rise to supervision and governance.131 For the wellbeing of society, the chosen ruler or governor must establish rules and guidelines for resolving any problems and regulating people’s behaviour. A set of rules and laws are thus prescribed and legislation is enacted. And when disputes arise, judgement is passed and punishment meted out.

Originally, it was the sole duty of the ruler to lay down the law and pass judgement in times of conflict. Later, as human societies developed and became more complex, institutions and organizations were created to help establish legislative and judicial systems and procedures, to carry out these duties on behalf of the executive branch of government. Here, we can see that even the court system and the administration of justice is one aspect of the term vinaya.

As mentioned above, social exigencies brought about the need for a ruler, who was empowered with the right to judge legal disputes and lay down rules and regulations. The purpose of these guidelines was to foster social order, peace, and virtue, so that citizens could engage in their livelihoods with minimum conflict and that society would be secure and prosperous. If the society had a just ruler, whose honesty and righteousness was trusted by the people, he would be referred to as a ’righteous wheel-turning monarch’ (cakkavatti dhammarājā).

Although in such societies there existed something called ’training’, it was generally only for developing knowledge and aptitude in those arts and sciences necessary for successfully engaging in a profession, in order to meet the demands of that particular society.

An important contribution by Buddhism in this context of vinaya was a change in how people are guided and managed. The regulation of people as a consequence of the social exigencies mentioned above, supported chiefly by a system of governance, is a means of controlling people through obligation and compulsion. This form of control is inadequate and not truly effective. One ought to also cultivate a sense of self-discipline.

Human beings are capable of being trained; they are able to change from bad to good, from coarse to refined. They have the ability to develop the highest spiritual qualities, including virtuous conduct, inner fortitude, happiness, and most importantly wisdom, which leads to the realization of the ultimate truth. Human beings are the primary agents in this dynamic; human society is formed by the intentional actions of people themselves. For this reason, the essential discipline and training should occur within each individual. {936}

A key feature of Buddhism is that the vinaya – the system of guidance and management – emphasizes that people manage themselves, by cultivating virtuous conduct, the mind, and wisdom. Those acting as guides are viewed as ’beautiful friends’ (kalyāṇamitta), rather than disciplinarians.

In Buddhism, the vinaya is seen primarily as a system of spiritual training. For this training to proceed well and reach success, the other aspects of vinaya are introduced as supports, including supervision, administration, the laying down of rules and training precepts, and a course of justice (including the settling of disputes).

This key system of training is reinforced by vinaya in the sense of supervision, legislation, and arbitration, as described above. Importantly, the Buddhist discipline does not rely chiefly on adhering to rules and imposing punishments. The emphasis is on ’training rules’ rather than ’commandments’.

Let us now turn to a literal explanation of the term vinaya. Traditionally, this term has been defined as ’leading (to excellence)’. It may also be translated as ’guiding’ or ’managing’. In particular, this term refers to: managing individual people, so that they develop in virtue, reach fulfilment, and are released from all suffering; managing society, to bring about social peace and stability; and managing miscellaneous affairs, so that they are accomplished well.

The adjectival form vinīta (past participle of the verb vineti) is frequently used in the scriptures, primarily in reference to individuals and groups of people. It may be translated as ’led to excellence’ or ’well-trained’. When used in reference to affairs or circumstances (e.g. in the term vinīta-vatthu), it means that these things have been carried out, concluded, and accomplished well.

The Buddha stated that he would defer his final passing away (parinibbāna) until his disciples from the four assemblies were well-trained (vinīta). In many commentarial passages the term vinaya is explained as the threefold training (tisso sikkhā). (See Note Establishing the Dhamma-Vinaya)

Establishing the Dhamma-Vinaya

Evil One, I will not take final Nibbāna till I have monks and disciples who are astute, well-trained, learned, fearless, knowers of the Dhamma, trained in conformity with the Dhamma….

Na tāvāhaṃ pāpima parinibbāyissāmi yāva me bhikkhū na sāvakā bhavissanti viyattā vinītā visāradā bahussutā dhammadharā dhammānudhammapaṭipannā….

D. II. 104-105.

Several commentaries contain the following explanation: ’It is called Dhamma in the sense that it is a natural truth (sabhāva); it is called vinaya in the sense that it ought to be practised’: NdA. [143]; PsA. II. 505; VbhA. [348].

One commentarial passage states: ’Vinaya is the threefold training’ (vinayo sikkhattayaṃ – Vibhaṅga Mūlaṭīkā: Jhānavibhaṅgo, Suttantabhājanīyaṃ, Niddesavaṇṇanā).

Another passage states: ’One is not well-trained (vinīta) when one has not trained in the higher moral training, etc.’: Majjhima Nikāya Ṭīkā: Mūlapaṇṇāsaṭīkā, Mūlapariyāyavaggo, Suttanikkhepavaṇṇanā.

The meaning of the term vinaya is made clearer when it is compared with the word dhamma.

Dhamma refers to essential truths and principles, ranging from laws of nature to principles of conduct comprising the holy life (brahmacariya). The vinaya is a way of applying these truths and principles, giving substantial form to the conduct and behaviour of the holy life, and enabling this behaviour to spread outwards into the wider world.

In other words, vinaya acts as an instrument for the Dhamma, regulating how a community or society functions in accord with the principles and objectives of the Dhamma; it helps to systematize the holy life.

The Dhamma focuses on the essence of the teachings and emphasizes the individual; vinaya focuses on form and emphasizes a system of practice. {937}

If people overlook the deeper meaning of vinaya, do not apply the social principles inherent in the concept of the vinaya and do not apply the spirit of this concept to their everyday life – do not formulate a systematic code of conduct that is based on Buddhist values and appropriate to the present time, follow it strictly and share it with others, and do not seek the essence of the Dhamma – it is reasonable to expect the following dire consequences:

  1. The domain of Buddhist practice or the sphere of a Buddhist way of life will become more constricted and limited. The Buddhist community will not advance; on the contrary, it will be on the defensive and retreat far from the rest of human society, as if fleeing to an island surrounded by rising tides, cut off from the rest of the world.

  2. The social circumstances, especially the overall state of society, will change according to outside power and influences, with Buddhists having almost no participation in the creation and management of social affairs. When social circumstances change in ways unsupportive to Buddhist practice, they will have a direct impact on Buddhism, perhaps even reaching the stage where Buddhist practice is impossible. If this happens, Buddhists will have themselves to blame for their carelessness and neglect.

The ancient traditions in Thailand related to ordination – of having boys and young men be ordained as novices and monks to receive an education in the monastery, and the belief that a man must first be ordained as a rite of passage before he gets married and starts a family of his own – are examples of establishing a moral code (vinaya) and a Buddhist social system, which helped greatly for Buddhism to thrive and become widespread in Thai society. The deterioration of these traditions has had obvious adverse effects on Buddhism in Thailand.132

If Buddhists do not understand the essence of the term vinaya and the true objective of Buddhist social ethics, not only will the spirit of moral training not extend out and be integrated into the practice of lay Buddhists, but even the essential function of the monastic Vinaya will fade away, leaving only a set of empty rituals.

If one is to restore the proper application of moral discipline (vinaya), a mere emphasis on strictness of form is inadequate. An essential task, which has not been carried over from the past and has been reduced in importance, is to restore and revive the spirit of social ethics inherent in the monastic Vinaya. Moreover, Buddhists should extend this spirit of social ethics outwards and apply it to the spiritual practice of the lay community, establishing a Buddhist code of conduct and social system that is appropriate to today’s day and age.

Appendix 1: Teaching the Dhamma and Laying Down the Vinaya

The Dhamma refers to the absolute truth, which exists according to its own nature. The Buddha discovered this truth and revealed it to others. Generally, the Pali term dhamma-desanā is used in this context, meaning ’exposition of the Dhamma’ or ’Dhamma teaching’. (The term dhamma-paññatti appears once in the Tipiṭaka, but its meaning is the same as dhamma-desanā, or it refers to presenting or arranging the Dhamma in order to make it more easily understood.)133

The Vinaya is a code of regulations formulated and laid down by the Buddha for the specific purpose of assisting the monastic order (saṅgha) which he had established. (The Vinaya is directly connected to the Dhamma: it exists in order for the sangha to benefit from the Dhamma or to arrive at the Dhamma in the best possible way.) In this context, the term vinaya-paññatti is used, meaning to lay down the Vinaya, or it refers to the regulations that comprise the Vinaya. (The term vinaya-desanā is used occasionally in the scriptures, increasingly in the later texts, and has the specific meaning of Vinaya terminology or the method of formulating the Vinaya.)134

Although the term paññatti is occasionally used in the context of the Dhamma,135 it refers simply to formulating, arranging, classifying, and grouping the truth in order to clarify it – to make it easier to understand and to practise; it is not a matter of laying down new clauses as in the context of the Vinaya.

Note that in regard to the Buddha’s utterance in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta: Mayā dhammo ca vinayo desito paññatto, the commentators translate this passage as: ’The Dhamma that has been taught and formulated and the Vinaya that has been taught and formulated.’136 The terms ’taught’ and ’formulated’ here should be understood and distinguished according to the explanations above.

Appendix 2: Sīla, Vinaya, and Sīla-dhamma

(Trans.: this appendix combines material from appendix 2 of chapter 19 and appendix 3 of chapter 11 of the Thai edition of Buddhadhamma.)

Moral principles (sīla) not specifically outlined and included in a moral discipline (vinaya) can be defined as ’Dhamma on the level of morality’. This should not be confused with the Thai term sīla-dhamma (ศีลธรรม), which has a distinct meaning limited to morality and virtue. In this term, sīla refers to the refraining from doing bad or from transgressing precepts, and dhamma refers to virtuous conduct or teachings promoting virtue. According to the Buddhist teachings, the entire practice of Dhamma is divided into the three stages of training (tisso sikkhā): virtuous conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). Sīla, samādhi, and paññā are all aspects of Dhamma, and therefore there is Dhamma on the level of virtuous conduct, Dhamma on the level of concentration, and Dhamma on the level of wisdom.

Some people try to expand the definition of sīla-dhamma, for example by interpreting it as sīla and dhamma, which in effect encompasses the entire Buddhist teachings, but this is generally not accepted by Buddhist scholars. Most Thai people, when thinking of the term sīla-dhamma, do not think of concentration, the Four Factors of Mindfulness, insight meditation on the three characteristics, etc. The expansion of this term’s definition is therefore limited to academic studies. (One can broaden the definition as ’virtuous conduct as well as other qualities’, including concentration and wisdom. Alternatively, one can equate sīla here with vinaya: sīla-dhamma thus means ’vinaya and dhamma’, corresponding to the original term ’Dhammavinaya’.)

As far as this term is generally understood, however, sīla-dhamma refers to ’Dhamma on the level of morality’. In the dictionary of the Royal Institute, sīla-dhamma is defined simply as ’virtuous conduct’. To whichever extent the meaning of this term is expanded it lies within the confines of the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha), otherwise known as the ways of righteous conduct (dhamma-cariyā). Indeed, the term ’righteous conduct’ (dhamma-cariyā) is a suitable substitute for ’virtuous conduct’ (sīla; sīla-dhamma). (Note that although the two words constituting the term sīla-dhamma are etymologically linked to Pali and Sanskrit, the use of this compound is only found in the Thai language.)

A simple definition one sometimes finds for sīla is ’a set of prohibitions’. This ’negative’ definition came about as a way to explain the meaning of sīla on a basic level, but to stick to this as the only definition is both limiting and incorrect. Indeed, even sīla as a code of discipline (vinaya), for example the bhikkhu Vinaya, contains both prohibitions and directives for ’positive’ action: to gather for formal community meetings, to undertake communal responsibilities (e.g. the duties of a monk in charge of food distribution), to act with humility and respect, to endeavour to be of service to others, etc.; these are all matters of sīla.137

Furthermore, the discussion of virtuous conduct often overlooks the matter of earning a livelihood, which is a vital part of sīla. To avoid an overly narrow understanding of sīla, one should develop a more comprehensive view, including right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

Appendix 3: The Five Precepts and the Ten Wholesome Courses of Action

(Trans.: note that this appendix is attached to chapter 16 of the Thai edition of Buddhadhamma, on the Middle Path.)

The term pañca-sīla (’five precepts’) is on the whole a more recent term. In the Tipiṭaka it is used only rarely and when it is used the precepts are not enumerated; it is used as a tool for recollection or it is used in a technical sense. It is found at Vin. II. 161-2, but without listing the precepts, and at Ps. I 46-7, but here, when the factors are explained, the ten ways of righteous conduct are mentioned instead of the precepts. In the commentaries and later texts the term is abundantly used.

In the Tipiṭaka, the more common references to the five precepts include the terms ’five virtues’ (pañca-dhamma) and five ’training rules’ (sikkhāpada), or else the five precepts are mentioned without a heading. Further references to the five precepts include: ’bright qualities’ (sukka-dhamma), ’an absence of fearful retribution’, and a defining quality of a layperson’s morality.138 The five precepts are also included as part of the ’householder’s observances’ (gihi-vatta or gahaṭṭa-vatta).139

Regarding the ten wholesome courses of action, or the ten ways of righteous conduct, there are many alternative names for these qualities, and there are also many passages where these ten qualities are listed without a heading. The section in the Pali Canon that contains the longest description of these qualities is at A. V. 249-308 (running to fifty-nine pages).140

It appears that in general contemporary Buddhist teachings there is more emphasis on the negative aspects of the ten wholesome courses of action (or ’ways of righteous conduct’) – an emphasis on avoidance and omission – than the positive aspects – on what should be performed or practised – even though the Pali Canon describes both positive and negative aspects. {561}

Apart from the five precepts and the ten ways of righteous conduct, morality (sīla) is also presented according to the factors of the Eightfold Path (= the first seven factors of dhamma-cariyā),141 or according to the teaching on the four vices of conduct (kamma-kilesa).142

Appendix 4: Classifying the Ten Ways of Righteous Conduct into the Three Trainings

(Trans.: note that this appendix is attached to chapter 11 of the Thai edition of Buddhadhamma, on the Middle Path.)

Note that at A. I. 269-70 the Buddha classifies the eighth and ninth factors of the righteous ways of conduct (dhamma-cariyā = the ten wholesome courses of action – kusala-kammapatha), i.e. non-covetousness (anabhijjhā) and non-ill-will (abyāpāda), as citta-sampadā (’mental cultivation’; ’mental accomplishment’), which means that they are part of the ’training in higher mentality’ (adhicitta-sikkhā): they are part of concentration (samādhi). (The first seven factors of the righteous ways of conduct are classified as sīla-sampadā – the accomplishment of virtue; the tenth factor is classified as diṭṭhi-sampadā – accomplishment of view.) This is because the eighth and ninth factors are devoid of the first two hindrances (nīvaraṇa): covetousness (abhijjhā) and ill-will (byāpāda).143 The abandonment of the five hindrances is the initial step in reaching ’attainment concentration’ (appanā-samādhi) and accessing jhāna.144 Non-covetousness and non-ill-will are states devoid of the first two hindrances; the absence of the hindrances in itself equals concentration (samādhi).

There are other passages, however, in which these two factors are classified as wisdom factors. The reasons for classifying these two factors either as factors of concentration or as factors of wisdom is such: the state of mind possessing non-covetousness and non-ill-will, or the development of these factors in the mind, is classified as training in higher mentality – as concentration; thoughts or intentions consisting of these two factors is classified as ’right intention’ (sammā-saṅkappa) – as training in higher wisdom. In the presentation of the wholesome courses of action at M. I. 287-8, the emphasis is on thoughts and intentions consisting of these two factors and therefore they are classified under right intention.145 When viewed as pure mental factors, however, they are classified under mental cultivation as explained above.

Note also in this context that if one covets the belonging of someone else, but one is not yet intent on acquiring it for oneself, then one is not corrupted; the same is true if one becomes angry but has not yet begun to harbour evil thoughts and to wish for someone else to be harmed.146

Appendix 5: Ill-Effects Resulting from Transgression of the Five Precepts

The commentaries present principles for judging the severity of ill-effects resulting from killing various sorts of creatures, based on the following criteria:

  1. Degree of virtue: killing someone of great virtue has dire consequences, while killing a creature endowed with meagre or no spiritual virtues has less serious consequences; e.g.: killing an arahant is more serious than killing an unenlightened person; killing a domestic animal is more serious than killing a wild animal.

  2. Size: in regard to animals, whose merits are more or less equal, killing a large animal is more serious than killing a small animal.

  3. Effort: making great effort to kill is more serious than making little effort.

  4. Defilement or intention: if the defilements or intentions are strong there are more serious ill-effects than if the defilements or intentions are weak; e.g. killing with anger or out of premeditated hatred is more serious than killing in self-defence.

The commentaries offer a similar analysis in regard to the other precepts. For example:

  • The consequences of stealing correspond to the value of the stolen object, the virtue of the owner of the object, and the degree of effort made in stealing the object.

  • The consequences of sexual misconduct depend on the virtue of the violated person, the intensity of defilement, and the degree of effort made.

  • The consequences of lying are determined by the interests and advantages at stake. E.g.: the case of someone who is reluctant to give up a possession and who claims he doesn’t have it is less serious than that of someone who gives false testimony in court; the situation of a renunciant speaking a falsehood as a joke is less serious than him deliberately and falsely claiming to have achieved a spiritual realization.

  • The ill-effects of consuming intoxicants depend on the defilements or unwholesome mind states occurring at the time of drinking, on the amount consumed, and on the effects of drinking that lead to evil and unskilful behaviour.147

Appendix 6: Variant Meanings of ’Vinaya’

The commentaries refer to the vinaya in the sense of a code of precepts or rules as a ’prescribed code of discipline’ (paññatti-vinaya). There exist, however, several other important terms in which the word vinaya is used. One of these, which is found frequently and has a similar meaning to that just mentioned, is ariya-vinaya, which refers to the code of conduct, way of life, or system of training of noble beings. This term corresponds to the term sugata-vinaya, which the Buddha defined as brahmacariya: the ’holy life’ or the way of leading a supreme life. {939} This is consistent with the commentaries, which define ariya-vinaya as the Buddhist religion;148 this definition is broader than that of vinaya in the context of virtuous conduct (sīla).149

Appendix 7: Practice for the Welfare of the Manyfolk

Apart from those passages cited in the main text above, there are many more examples in the Pali Canon of the teaching on practising for the wellbeing and happiness of all beings, for example: the sending forth of the disciples to proclaim the teachings was for this purpose;150 the Well-Farer and the Well-Farer’s discipline (sugata-vinaya) exist for this purpose;151 the Buddha recommended studying, practising, and rehearsing the Dhamma so that the holy life – the Buddhist religion – will last for a long time, in order to benefit all beings;152 the Buddha emphasized sangha harmony and warned against sangha schism, interpersonal quarrels, incorrect teachings on the Dhammavinaya, and leaders in the sangha who possess wrong view, out of consideration for the wellbeing of the multitudes.153

The essential principle of practising for the wellbeing of the manyfolk is to establish people in the ’noble path’ (ariyañāya-dhamma), so that they possess virtuous qualities (kalyāṇa-dhamma) and wholesome qualities (kusala-dhamma).154

Appendix 8: Honouring the Dhamma, Honouring the Vinaya

The Buddha honoured the Dhamma, and he said that whenever the sangha is possessed of greatness then he also honours the sangha.155 This practice of veneration accords in principle with both the six and the seven kinds of respect, which include respect for the Master (the Buddha), respect for the Dhamma, respect for the Sangha, and respect for the training (Vinaya).156

There is one noteworthy point to make here about the term ’belief’ in reference to arahants. On one level the term ’belief’ can be used in relation to the Dhamma. The Buddhist teachings classify this belief as one stage in the development of wisdom (corresponding to the term ’faith’). In this context arahants have passed beyond this stage of ’belief’, because they have penetrated and realized the truth for themselves and do not need to believe anyone else.

On another level the term ’belief’ can be used in relation to the Vinaya or to a set of directives, which are connected to a social code of discipline (corresponding to the term ’obedience’). In this context arahants are obedient or highly disciplined, as confirmed by a passage in the scriptures stating that if the Buddha commanded an arahant (or other awakened person) to walk into a bog, the arahant would obey without hesitation.157 {940}

Appendix 9: Showing Respect According to Seniority

The use of seniority (i.e. the number of years that a monk has been ordained) as the standard for showing respect is the most appropriate, convenient, and practical method of conduct, and it accords with the Buddha’s aim for the sangha to be an example for others – of not using ancestry, social standing, or caste as the criterion for respect.158

An alternative criterion is to use the level of spiritual realization as the standard, but this method would be confusing and ultimately ineffective, because realization is not obvious and is difficult to prove, and realized persons do not go around boasting about their achievements. There were monks who proposed this standard but the Buddha refused to adopt it.159

What is particularly worthy of attention here is that while the Buddha chose seniority as the criterion for showing respect in the context of social relationships, which relates to external conditions, in the context of training in order to reach the highest goal, which is an internal factor and lies at the essence of the Buddhist teachings, he considered spiritual virtue to be the ideal and the true criterion for respect.

Those monks who receive honour according to the statutes of the Vinaya or according to rules of social interaction should be aware of the truth that it is the spiritual qualities that a person has realized, or righteous conduct (for example to be ’one who has practised well’ – supaṭipanno – as mentioned in the nine attributes of the Sangha),160 that truly make a person worthy of respect, and that these spiritual qualities must be cultivated within oneself.

The Buddha gave many reminders of this truth to the elders in the sangha, for example in this Dhammapada verse:

Having grey hair does not make a person an elder.
He may be ancient in years, but he gets old in vain.

One who possesses honesty, virtue,
Harmlessness, restraint and control,
Such a one who is a sage purged of impurities
Is indeed called an elder.

Dh. verses 260-61.

One passage in the Pali Canon divides elders into three kinds: elders by ’birth’ (i.e. by seniority – jāti-thera), elders by truth (dhamma-thera), and elders by convention (elders simply by name – sammati-thera).161 Elders designated according to the Vinaya may be classified as elders by convention. Another passage mentions four qualities that make a person an elder.162

Appendix 10: Is Buddhism a Pessimistic Religion?

The passage by Ven. Sāriputta quoted under the section ’Theistic Morality vs a Doctrine of Natural Truth’ is cited in Albert Schweitzer’s ’Indian Thought and Its Development’.163 It is re-cited in Joseph L. Sutton’s ’Problems of Politics and Administration in Thailand’.164

In this latter book (pp. 2-8), Prof. Sutton refers to other Dhamma teachings, for example the teachings on kamma, rebirth, and the retreat or escape from the world, to corroborate his critical viewpoint. I have touched upon the Buddhist teachings on intentional action (karma/kamma) already in earlier chapters. As for the claim that the teaching on rebirth leads to procrastination (as opposed to Christian doctrine which emphasizes a single lifetime), this can be answered by the Buddhist teaching on the extreme difficulty of being reborn as a human being – the chances for human rebirth are less than that of a blind turtle sticking its head through a hole in a piece of wood adrift in the ocean. Furthermore, Buddhism teaches that redemption is not possible through baptism or through confession of one’s sins.

As for the issue of withdrawing from worldly matters, Prof. Sutton refers to the following quote: ’Those who love nothing in this world are rich in joy and free from pain.’ This quotation is found in the Udāna: Tasmā hi te sukhino vītasokā yesaṃ piyaṃ natthi kuhiñci loke.165 The Pali word for love here is piya, which refers to a form of infatuation leading to personal attachment. This passage describes the attributes of an awakened being; it emphasizes liberation and the happiness of liberation, free from selfish infatuation and endowed with unbounded love – mettā. When one’s mind is free from suffering and selfish attachment, there is a complete spaciousness to act and abide with lovingkindness and compassion. One acts purely for the wellbeing of other beings, as is epitomized by the maxim: bahujana-sukhāya lokānukampāya: ’For the happiness of the manyfolk, for the compassionate assistance of the world.’

However limited Prof. Sutton’s understanding was, or whatever his intentions, his comments can be useful as a reminder for Buddhists to deepen their knowledge and to clarify their understanding of the Buddhist teachings. There are many Western scholars who share Prof. Sutton’s criticisms, and it must be conceded that prevalent beliefs and misunderstandings among Thai Buddhists contribute to such criticism. (When Buddhadhamma was first published thirty years ago, Westerners had a limited understanding of Buddhism and harboured various misconceptions, for example that Buddhism teaches to see the world in a negative light, filled only with suffering. These days, this situation has changed dramatically.)

Appendix 11: Moral Precepts (sīla) and Religious Practices (vata)

Moral precepts (sīla) and religious practices (vata) differ. According to the Mahāniddesa, sīla refers to self-restraint, self-control, and the non-transgression of precepts, while vata refers to undertaking religious practices or vows. The rules in the bhikkhu Vinaya contain both moral precepts and religious practices. The ascetic practices (dhutaṅga) are vata, not moral precepts – sīla.166 Rules of practice that are vata but not sīla, like the ascetic practices, are extra: they are means to practise strictly in order to enhance self-discipline and self-development, and they emphasize contentment with little. But they are not mandatory: they are undertaken suiting one’s disposition and level of preparedness. This differs from moral precepts, which each member of a community must keep; if someone fails to keep them there are harmful consequences both to the individual and collectively (and if the moral precept is included in the Vinaya, there are designated forms of punishment).

Furthermore, moral precepts are generally fundamental principles of behaviour, whereas religious practices are supplementary, increasing a sense of virtue and discipline and supporting the precepts, especially by removing or decreasing the opportunity to transgress them. In any case, some religious practices (vata), although they may appear austere and strict, are incompatible with Buddhist principles; the Buddha forbade them and in some cases they are incorrect according to the Vinaya. Examples include the vow of silence (mūga-vata;167 this vow prevents wrong speech, for example lying; the Buddha criticized this practice and called it ’behaving like cattle’) and the vow to eat only fruit that falls naturally from a tree (this vow prevents a person from harming animals and plants; it is considered an overly austere practice kept by members of non-Buddhist sects who hide from society).168

Note that there are also secondary or minor observances, called vatta, that complement moral precepts (sīla). In some Pali editions of the Tipiṭaka in Thai script, there is some mix up and confusion between the terms vata (religious practice/austere practice) and vatta (religious observance).


(Open large size)

Small bells hanging from the eaves of temples and monastery buildings


Wrong livelihood is to earn one’s living by ’cheating (deception), currying favour, hinting, force, and intimidation, or by pursuing gain with gain’ (M. III. 75).


D. II. 311-12; M. I. 62; M. III. 251; Vbh. 105, 235.


M. III. 74-5; cf.: Vbh. 106-07, 237.


On classifying the ten wholesome courses of action into the three trainings (tisso sikkhā) or into the Eightfold Path, see Appendix 4.


Similar explanations for these ten factors occur in numerous passages, e.g.: A. V. 283, 288-9, 292, 297-8, 301-02.


This is the same condensed definition of right action as presented earlier; it does not expand this Path factor as is found say in the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha). For more on the view that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion see Appendix 10.


Trans: the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology states that the word ’evil’ probably stems from the Indo-European base *up- (connected to the English words ’up’ and ’over’; and see the Pali prefix upa-), the primary sense being ’exceeding due limits’.


A proper relationship to food involves an acceptance that while we are still walking on the Path and have not yet reached the goal we must occasionally do what is undesirable, as we have no alternative. The Buddha taught to consider food in a similar way to a mother and father who are forced to eat the flesh of their deceased child, who has died along a desert track (see: S. II. 98-9).


Trans.: ājīvaṭṭhamaka-sīla: factors 1-7 are identical to the first seven factors of the wholesome courses of action – kusala-kammapatha; the eighth factor is right livelihood – sammā-ājīva.


This group is referred to as the factors of noble growth (ariyā vaḍḍhi); for more on these factors see chapter 7 on awakened beings.


See Appendix 3; the commentaries occasionally refer to the five precepts as nicca-sīla: ’regular conduct’ or ’conduct to be maintained constantly’ (e.g.: SnA. I. 377, 379; Vism. 15).


Trans.: ’damaging a family’s lineage’ refers to the birth of a non-marital child, i.e. the case in which a married woman gives birth to a child whose biological father is not her husband.


Specifically the five precepts, see: ItA. II. 49-54. An explanation of the first four precepts and a further explanation of the remaining ’wholesome courses of action’, see: MA. I. 200-201; Nd. I. 115-18; DhsA. 97-101; and cited in later texts, e.g.: Maṅgalatthadīpanī [1/210-19]. (I have limited the list of necessary conditions here to the five precepts; please see the above references for the factors related to divisive speech, etc.) As regards the fifth precept, today there are intoxicating substances that can be taken in other ways apart from drinking; the gist of this precept should be applied accordingly.


Trans.: literally: ’an object to which one ought not go’.


Trans: ’karmically’.


For more on this subject see Appendix 5.


A. II. 61-2.


Referred to at J. IV. 53; explained at JA. IV. 53. Even Vessantara (the Bodhisatta) asked for the blessing of being one who is contented with his wife (see: J. VI. 572; JA. VI. 572).


The commentaries define khema as ’safety’, ’assistance’, and ’lovingkindness’, and state that this passage refers to purity by way of the mind door (mano-dvāra) – MA. I. 178.


D. III. 180-93; DA. III. 943.


In this sutta the Buddha also describes the harm of each of these ’paths to ruin’ (apāya-mukha).


See the section of chapter 13 on virtuous friendship.


Trans.: as in ’great talkers are little doers’.


Trans.: unlike fair-weather friends.


Adhanānaṃ dhanānupadānaṃ; or in full: ye ca te tāta vijite adhanā tesañca dhanaṃ anuppadajjeyyāsi (D. III. 61).


M. III. 75.


E.g.: S. III. 240; Nd. I. 372, 495; Nd. II. 61; a fairly comprehensive list of activities deemed ’wrong livelihood’ is found in the short, middle, and large sections on morality in the suttas, e.g.: D. I. 8, 67.


Vin. V. 99.


Ud. 66.


S. II. 199.


Sn. 13.


A. V. 181-2.


’Does his duty’: attends to his work and helps others.


J. III. 301.


There is another story of appropriating the wealth of a deceased wealthy merchant at S. I. 89-91; this story is continued and expanded upon in the Mayhakasakuṇa Jātaka (JA. III. 298). See also: the Sudhābhojana Jātaka (JA. V. 382); the story of the wealthy merchant Macchariyakosiya (DhA. I. 366); the Illīsa Jātaka (JA. I. 345); and the story of the wealthy merchant Biḷārapādaka (DhA. III. 16).


Trans.: of course this is true in all Theravada Buddhist countries.


Trans.: the four paths to success: wholesome desire (chanda; ’aspiration’), energy (viriya; ’effort’), focused attention (citta; ’dedication’), and ’investigation’ (vimaṁsā).


In these four suttas, two of them were given to householders, while the remaining two were given to bhikkhus.


This verse is a common idiomatic expression found in the Tipiṭaka, e.g.: A. II. 69; A. III. 45.


See: J. IV. 166.


For more on the seven qualities of a virtuous person (sappurisa-dhamma), see chapter 13 on virtuous friendship.


J. VI. 287.


Trans.: E.M. Hare in ’The Book of Gradual Sayings’ (Pali Text Society; © 1955; p. 189) states: ’The commentaries explain that when one shakes the fig-tree, wishing to eat the fruit thereof, much fruit falls, a large amount of which is wasted.’


Similar passages at: A. IV. 281, 322, 323. For more on the four qualities leading to future welfare, see the section on stream-enterers in chapter 7 on awakened beings. These four qualities are part of the five factors pertaining to noble growth (ariyā vaḍḍhi).


Trans.: AA: ’He divides the types of happiness into two shares – the first three types make up one share, the happiness of blamelessness is a share on its own. Then he sees with wisdom and knows that the former three types of happiness combined are not worth a sixteenth part of the happiness of blamelessness.’ Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, translated by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi; Altamira Press; © 1999; p. 292.


Or: ’support to one’s religion’.


A similar passage exists at A. II. 67. This teaching was particularly suited to the social situation of the Buddha’s time; modern readers may distil the essence of this teaching.


The commentaries explain that action = right action; knowledge = right view and right intention; righteousness = the three factors comprising the section on samādhi (right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; cultivating the quality of mind); moral conduct = right speech and right livelihood; and an excellent life = the Noble Eightfold Path or right livelihood (see other explanations at MA. V. 81; SA. I. 88; VismṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Nidānādikathāvaṇṇanā).


Trans.: the Thai ’silapa-vitayah’ (ศิลปวิทยา; ’arts and sciences’) stems from the Sanskrit ṡilpa-vidyā.


Blameless activity refers to virtuous, non-harmful acts, especially beneficial actions like offering one’s service to others, establishing public parks, planting woodland, building bridges, and undertaking the observance day precepts (see: KhA. 141).


Originally, support of one’s relatives is the final factor, but as this passage occurs in verse, the sequence of the factors need not be held too strictly; I have thus placed it next to support for wife and children. In the commentaries to this sutta (KhA. 141; SnA. I. 299) the term ’relatives’ (ñāti) is given a very narrow definition, but the Nettivibhāvinī (p. 185 of the Burmese edition) defines ñāti to include friends and acquaintances (Nett. 108).


D. III. 211, 273; S. V. 64; A. V. 55-6; Ps. I. 5, 122.


See the above section ’Virtuous Conduct for Enhancing One’s Life and Society’.


E.g.: D. III. 181.


Trans.: ’worldly things’ here is used to cover two expressions used by the author: loka-dhamma and loka-āmisa.


Trans: the author focuses here on the bhikkhu sangha. It is valid here to substitute ’monks and nuns’ or ’monastics’ for the term ’monks’.


Trans: again, it is valid to include the bhikkhuni sangha within this classification of an independent community as a separate entity. For more on this subject of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, see: ’The Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis’ by Ven. Phra Payutto; translated by Robin Moore © 2015.


A. II. 27-8 (for the unwholesome qualities to be abandoned, compare with the first principle, i.e. to abandon infatuation, obsession, etc.). Similar passages are found at: D. III. 224-5; Nd. II. 59.


Vism. 15-46; Comp.: Kammaṭṭhānaparicchedo, Vipassanākammaṭṭhānaṃ, Visuddhibhedo. Note that in the Pali Canon indriya-saṁvara is classified under samādhi (e.g.: D. I. 207).


Concentrative attainments: samādhi, jhāna, vimokkha, and samāpatti; stages of enlightenment: magga, phala, and Nibbāna.


Trans.: colloquially referred to as ’good karma’.


The Buddha said that a righteous person arises in the world for the wellbeing of all (A. IV. 244-5). Similarly, when a righteous person gains wealth he or she is like a lotus pond in a sheltered location – everyone can make use of the water and be refreshed; but an unrighteous person who gains wealth is like a pond in a deserted area; although the water may be clear and clean, it is useless (S. I. 90-91).


Compare this with the Buddhist teachings on the origin of power and on the origin of kings (e.g. in the Aggañña Sutta – D. III. 92-3). Some wealthy Buddhist merchants like Anāthapiṇḍaka adhered to this principle, relinquishing their wealth for the benefit of the monastic community and for the poor, until they themselves were left penniless, but without regret.


A. III. 352.


D. III. 65-6, 70-71.


E.g.: D. I. 135; D. III. 61. The teachings emphasize assistance along with promoting diligence, i.e. one should also prevent poverty resulting from indolence.


E.g.: A. IV. 151; It. 22.


Trans.: an outer robe, an inner robe, an under robe, a bowl, a razor, a needle and thread, a belt, and a water-strainer.


Trans.: ’land of the rose-apple trees’.


See the tenth inscription of the Asokan Stone Edicts.


Academic books and other works by contemporary scholars (most of them Western scholars) who research Buddhism and its connection to society tend to overlook the Buddhist teachings on morality, especially the code of moral disciple (Vinaya) of the bhikkhu sangha. Their work is thus often incorrect or at least significantly lacking.


The five precepts have been upheld and practised since ancient times. They were acknowledged by and incorporated into Buddhism from the beginning. Generally speaking, there is not a large body of training rules for householders, and therefore the term ’lay vinaya’ is not used (the five precepts are considered the code of discipline for the laity). Having said this, the commentaries occasionally classify specific principles or factors as a vinaya for householders, e.g.: the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī states that the Siṅgālaka Sutta is a ’discipline for laity’ (gihi-vinaya) – [DA. 3/151]; and the Paramatthajotikā states that abstaining from the ten unwholesome ways of action (akusala-kammapatha) is a ’discipline for householders’ (āgāriya-vinaya) – [KhA. 117].


For more about the term vinaya in relation to society in general, see chapter 5 on kamma.


Trans.: note that I am translating Dhamma here as ’absolute truth’, thus referring to paramattha-sacca, as a contrast to conventional truth (sammati-sacca). For more on the subject of paramattha-sacca (absolute truth) see chapter 2.


On the revelation of truth (’teaching the Dhamma’) and the prescription of moral codes (’laying down the Vinaya’), see Appendix 1.


Trans: this corresponds to the Latin terms malum in se (’wrong or evil in itself’; inherently wrong by nature) and malum prohibitum (’wrong as or because prohibited’; conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of a statute).


The commentaries refer to this group of moral principles as ājīvaṭṭhamaka-sīla: ’morality with livelihood as the eighth factor’ or ’eightfold morality including livelihood’. Eight factors: sammā-vācā = 4 kinds of virtuous speech (vacī-sucarita) + sammā-kammanta = 3 kinds of virtuous physical actions (kāya-sucarita) + (1) sammā-ājīva. See: Vism. 11-12.


On the terms sīla, vinaya, and sīla-dhamma, see Appendix 2.


Sīla as volition, as a mental concomitant (cetasika), as restraint, and as non-transgression (avītikkama): Ps. I. 44-5; explained at Vism. 6-7. [Trans: the preceding paragraphs come from pp. 722-3 of Buddhadhamma.]


KhA. 135; SnA. I. 299.


DA. III. 943.


E.g.: S. IV. 245; A. III. 170-71, 203-4, 275-7; and see: A. V. 257-61.


E.g.: D. III. 235; Pv. 591; Vbh. 285.


Vin. II. 162.


E.g.: Bu. 21.


Trans: on the terminology of the five precepts and the ten wholesome courses of action see Appendix 3.


For a further examination on the meaning of the term vinaya, see: Appendix 6.


Male novice: sāmaṇera; female novice: sāmaṇerī. Vin. I. 83-4; Vin. V. 138; Kh. 1. These ten training rules for novices are later referred to colloquially as the ten precepts. In the Vinaya Piṭaka a male or female novice is defined simply as ’one who maintains the ten training rules’ (dasasikkhā-padika and dasasikkhā-padikā): V. IV. 122.


This is true for almost every training rule that the Buddha laid down: see volumes III and IV of the Vinaya Piṭaka, beginning at Vin. III. 20.


For example: Once there is joyful confidence a person either attains to the imperturbable now or else he is devoted to wisdom (M. II. 262); When a person recollects the Tathāgata, his mind is bright, delight arises, the mental impurities are abandoned (A. I. 206-7). Cf.: D. I. 110; D. II. 142, 161; A. I. 8-9; A. III. 244-5, 256, 336-7, 392; It. 13-4; Sn. 75-6.


See: Vin. I. 15-6, 18, 23, 36-7, 181, 225-6; Vin. II. 156-7; D. I. 109-10, 148; D. II. 41, 44-5; M. I. 379-80; M. II. 145; A. IV. 186-7, 209-10, 213-4; Ud. 49 (all of these passage are identical except for the names of the listeners).


E.g.: D. II. 222, 331-2; A. I. 22. See chapter 7 on awakened beings. For further examples of this vital principle, see Appendix 7.


See Appendix 8.


For instance the practice of Ven. Mahākassapa (S. II. 203). On the difference between moral precepts (sīla) and religious practices (vata) see Appendix 11.


On the subject of sīlabbata-parāmāsa see chapter 7 on awakened beings, including a description of the different stages of enlightenment.


Vin. III. 21; A. V. 70-71.


A. I. 98-9; this list contains ten pairs of factors.


It. 11-12; cf.: Vin. I. 358.


[Trans.: this hierarchy is calculated by the day and time of one’s ordination or by the number of years – literally, ’rainy seasons’ (vassa) – that one has been a monk.] For more information on the paying of respects according to seniority see Appendix 9.


Compare with the teaching at Miln.: Dutiyavaggo, Seṭṭhadhammapañho sattamo.


Even in the case when they do not pay respects, they do so with lovingkindness and after having considered that by abstaining from showing respect they will be benefitting the monk in question. Note however that in regard to the method of imposing a punishment (brahma-daṇḍa) by the bhikkhu sangha on an individual bhikkhu (Vin. II. 290) or the decision by the bhikkhuni sangha to abstain from paying respects to an individual bhikkhu (Vin. II. 262), these actions should only be done with the consensus of the respective communities.


M. III. 11; and see the Uruvela Sutta at A. II. 22. This original system of sangha administration relies on a basic system of training (the training and discipline that begins at ordination). During times when this basic system of training is faulty or lost, the authentic system of sangha administration cannot function and is replaced by some other system of governance. This is because the true system of sangha administration depends on all monks having received a genuine and effective training. Moreover, at times when the system of sangha administration has gone into decline and there are efforts to restore it, occasionally people merely make a perfunctory appeal for restoration without considering the true causes for it to prosper.


Vin. III. 87-91.


Vin. IV. 23-5.


Vin. II. 110-12.


See chapter 9 on the supernatural and the divine.


See the stories of Ven. Isidatta and Ven. Mahaka at: S. IV. 283-91; AA. I. 387.


S. II. 279; Ud. 76; DhA. II. 147; DhA. III. 386; JA. II. 141.


See: VinA. IV. 751.


Cf.: A. IV. 394-5.


Trans.: this story was also referred to in chapter 15 on wise reflection.


For example, see the teaching at: VinA. VII. 1377.


See: Vin. I. 56.


M. III. 253.


The ten qualities inspiring confidence (pasādanīya-dhamma) are: (1) to possess moral conduct, (2) to be one of great learning, (3) to have contentment, (4) to have attained the four jhānas, and (5-10) to possess the six kinds of supreme knowledge (abhiññā).


Vin. V. 163.


Vin. I. 105.


Vin. I. 109. (The commentaries at VinA. V. 1049 claim that the distance was one gāvuta = 4 km, but some commentators claim the distance was three gāvuta = 12 km.)


See: Vism. 706-7; PsA. I. 320; [VinṬ. 3/595].


For example, the first, second, and third recitations (’councils’), and the events surrounding King Milinda (Vin. II. 284-5, 297-300; VinA. I. 57; Miln.: Bāhirakathā; VbhA. 445).


E.g.: VinA. I. 36; Miln.: Bāhirakathā.


Vin. II. 289.


VinA. 3/212.


The first presentation of the sārāṇīya-dhamma, e.g.: A. III. 288-9; the second presentation of the sārāṇīya-dhamma is found at A. V. 89, and is often known as ’virtues making for protection’ (nāthakaraṇa-dhamma): see, e.g.: A. V. 23-4. The factor of kiṅkaraṇīyesu-dakkhatā appears in many other groups of virtues, e.g. at: Vin. I. 70; A. III. 113-14; A. V. 338.


E.g.: D. II. 76; A. IV. 21. ’To adjourn in harmony’ (samaggā vuṭṭhahissanti) can also be translated as ’to cooperate in harmony’ (DA. II. 524).


Trans.: kuṭī: meditation hut; monk’s dwelling.


S. II. 277-8.


See the story of Ven. Attadattha Thera at DhA. III. 158 (cf.: Dh. verse 166).


E.g.: Vin. I. 121-2.


See: A. IV. 24-5.


The Buddha discusses this social evolution in the Aggañña Sutta (D. III. 92). For more on this topic, see chapter 4 on Dependent Origination.


Whether these traditions are appropriate to the modern era, or whether they have disadvantages, I will not examine here.


A. III. 87.


VinṬ. [1/7]; VinṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhāgo, Paṭhamamahāsaṅgītikathāvaṇṇanā.


E.g.: D. I. 192; A. I. 286; S. II. 25-6.


D. II. 154; DA. II. 591.


See: DA. III. 998; ItA. II. 25; DhsA. 158; Comp.: Vīthimuttaparicchedo, Kammacatukkaṃ.


The five precepts referred to as the five training rules (sikkhāpada): D. I. 146; D. III. 235; A. III. 211-12; Vbh. 285-91. Further references: D. II. 12 (= M. III. 120-21); D. III. 195; M. II. 51; S. II. 69; S. IV. 245; S. V. 387-8; A. I. 225; A. II. 57-8, 99, 217 (= Dhtk. 22), 234; A. III. 35, 170-71, 203-5, 209, 276; A. IV. 220; It. 63; Nd. I. 388; Vbh. 378.


Sn. 69.


Further references at: D. I. 138; D. II. 322; D. III. 74, 82-3, 269; M. I. 287-8, 313-4, M. II. 87, 150; M. III. 47-50, 210; S. IV. 313, 321-2, 350-51; A. I. 269-72, 297; A. II. 59-60, 220, 253-4; Nd. I. 37-8, 48 (= 501-2), 218-19; Vbh. 363-4, 391; Pug. 39-41.


D. II. 311-12; M. III. 23, 251-2; S. V. 353-4; A. II. 83-4, 219; Vbh. 105, 235, 383.


D. III. 182; M. II. 35-6; A. II. 71; A. III. 432-3; Vbh. 376.


Abhijjhā as one of the hindrances is equivalent to the term kāma-chanda (’sensual desire’) and is often used as a substitute for kāma-chanda (e.g. at: D. I. 207).


The moment of abandoning the five hindrances is classified as ’access concentration’ (upacāra-samādhi).


Cf.: VbhA. 75.


See: DA. III. 1048; MA. I. 201; SA. II. 148; DhsA. 101; NdA. I. 118.


See the references cited at footnote 20; see also: VbhA. 383.


DA. I. 236; MA. V. 107; AA. II. 353; AA. IV. 173.


The term ariya-vinaya appears in a verse at A. III. 353-4; apart from this, it appears in the phrase ariyassa vinaya: Vin. I. 315 = Vin. II. 192 = D. I. 85 = M. III. 247 = S. II. 128 = A. I. 237-8 = A. II. 146-7; D. I. 245; M. I. 40-41, 266, 359-60; M. III. 298-9; S. II. 271; S. IV. 95, 157; S. V. 362; A. I. 163, 167-8, 261; A. II. 113; A. III. 352-3, 411; A. IV. 430; A. V. 234-5 (= 250), 263; Nd. I. 378-9.

The commentators give a comprehensive explanation of the term vinaya at VinA. I. 225. The commentaries at AA. V. 33 offer four definitions, and of these four definitions other commentaries subdivide the first two into another ten definitions: MA. I. 22; SA. II. 252; SnA. I. 8; NdA. 77; DhsA. 351.


Vin. I. 20-21; S. I. 105-106.


A. II. 147.


D. II. 119-20; D. III. 127, 210-11.


See: D. III. 246; M. II. 245-6; A. I. 18-21; A. III. 114-15, 334-5; It. 11; Vin. II. 89; Vin. V. 167-8.


This practice as an attribute of the Buddha: A. V. 66; as an attribute of a ’great man’: A. II. 35-6. Compare with the passage at A. III. 115-16, which describes the attributes of an elder monk who is called one who practises for the welfare of the manyfolk; one important attribute is to lead the manyfolk away from the untrue Dhamma and to establish them in the true Dhamma.


A. II. 21; and see: A. III. 122.


A. III. 330, 424; A. IV. 28.


M. I. 439-40.


The Buddha’s prescription for monks to pay respects according to seniority appears at Vin. II. 160-62.


For an exception to showing respect according to seniority, made out of respect for the Dhamma, see: Vin. II. 168-9; and see also: S. IV. 122-3.


Trans.: I have used the lowercase ’sangha’ to refer to the monastic community and the uppercase ’Sangha’ for the community of awakened disciples. See the earlier section ’The Dual Freedom of the Sangha’ discussing the contrast between the conventional sangha (sammati-saṅgha) and the ’community of true disciples’ (sāvaka-saṅgha) – sometimes referred to as the ’noble community’ (ariya-saṅgha).


D. III. 218. The commentators created the division of the three conditions of being an elder (vuḍḍhi): elders by birth (jāti-vuḍḍhi), elders by age (vaya-vuḍḍhi), and elders by virtue (guṇa-vuḍḍhi): JA. I. 220; at [VinṬ. 4/399] and SnA. I. 332 ’elders by wisdom’ (paññā-vuḍḍhi) is added to make four conditions.


Therakaraṇa-dhamma: A. II. 22; and see the ten qualities of an elder (thera-dhamma) at A. V. 201.


Henry Holt and Co.; New York; 1936, p. 112.


Indiana University; Bloomington; 1962, p. 3.


Ud. 92.


Nd. I. 66, 475-6.


Vin. I. 157-9.


E.g.: A. I. 295-6.