Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1996

Don't Get Off The Train; Ajahn Thanavaro
Vision and Focus; Sister Thanasanti
Saving Forests; Nick Scott interviews Ajahn Pasanno
The Retreat of Light; Reflections from California
Sutta Class: Morals & Ethics; Ajahn Thiradhammo
The Open Road; Sister Candasiri
Signs of Change:


Sutta Class: Morals and Ethics
Ajahn Thiradhammo

The word sila has several meanings depending upon the context in which it is used. Thus, it can mean, 'nature, character, habit, behaviour', or 'moral practice, good character' (PED.712), or a body of training precepts, such as the five, eight or ten precepts. Most teachings concerned with ethics affirm the non-doing of evil and the cultivation of good. The Buddha's teaching, however, adds a further dimension to the realm of ethics, that of purification of mind.
  • The non-doing of all evil,
  • The cultivation of the wholesome,
  • The purifying of one's mind -

  • This is the Teaching of the Buddhas. [Dh.183]

    This means purifying the mind of selfishness - of all tendencies and references to self or selfhood. This is accomplished through the sequential development of morality, which gives rise to collectedness of mind, which in turn gives rise to liberation.

    Ananda, kusala sila (wholesome conduct) gives freedom from remorse as its gain and advantage; freedom from remorse gives delight as its gain and advantage; delight gives joy; joy gives tranquillity; tranquillity gives well- being; well-being gives collectedness; collectedness gives knowledge and vision of things as they really are; knowledge and vision of things as they really are gives disenchantment and dispassion; disenchantment and dispassion gives knowledge and vision of liberation as its gain and advantage.
        So indeed, Ananda, wholesome conduct gradually leads on to the highest. [A.V,2; cf.A.III,19-20]

    Although technically only the three qualities of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood are grouped under the heading of morality - sila, in practice all eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path function as supports for morality.

    Thus there are different forms of moral training, which are voluntarily undertaken - depending upon individual circumstances, abilities and determination - by those seeking to be free of suffering. They are not absolute commandments from some higher power, who then stands in judgement over them instilling a fear of punishment; such an approach inevitably gives rise to guilt, since human beings invariably fail to live up to ideal standards of perfection. It is interesting that guilt is unknown in Buddhist countries, whereas remorse, a perfectly natural response to wrong-doing, is recognised as an important moral force - its penetrating sting prevents the repeating of unwholesome behaviour. The impersonal and automatic Law of Kamma is what judges a Buddhist's actions, so rather than trying to cover up wrong-doing, the most that can be done is to do good actions to counteract the wrong.

    Supports For Good Conduct:
    The most important support for good conduct is Knowledge, or Right View. At [M.9], Bhikkhu Sariputta says to understand both the unwholesome and wholesome, and their roots is to have Right View. Elsewhere, [M.III,71], Right View is defined as understanding that there are results to good and bad actions. This inclines one to follow good conduct in body, speech and mind, and to avoid misconduct, seeing in unwholesome states the danger, degradation, and defilement, and, in wholesome states:
    the blessing of renunciation, the aspect of cleansing" [M.I,114f].

    From this follows:
    right intention; right speech; non-opposition to noble ones; convincing another to accept true Dhamma; and avoidance of self-praise and disparagement of others. These wholesome states thus come into being with Right View as their condition.
         It is said that Right View arises from these two sources: another's speech or from wise attention. [A.I,87; M.I,294].

    Personal & Social Conscience - hiri-ottappa
    Ignorance, bhikkhus, precedes and gives rise to unwholesome states, lack of personal and social conscience follows after. Knowledge, bhikkhus, precedes and gives rise to wholesome states, personal and social conscience follows after.[It.Vut.40]
         Personal and social conscience are called in the Pali Canon the world protectors [It.Vut.42;A.I,50].

    Personal conscience - hiri is that moral quality which is founded upon personal integrity; it aims at preserving an honourable and praiseworthy standard of conduct, which we can feel comfortable with within ourselves. A further explanation is that:
         [ It ] has the characteristic of disgust with evil, is dominated by a sense of self-respect, and manifests itself as conscience. [MLDB,nt.416]

    Social conscience - ottappa is that moral quality which is concerned with maintaining an honourable and blameless reputation in society, free from other people's recrimination and criticism.
         [ It ] has the characteristic of dread of evil, is dominated by a concern for the opinions of others, and manifests itself as fear of doing evil. [ibid.]

    The Noble Eightfold Path:
    Although technically only the three qualities of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood are grouped under the heading of morality - sila, in practice all eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path function as supports for morality. At [M.III,76], the Buddha is quoted as saying that one with Right View has right thought, from right thought comes right speech, and thus all the factors of the eightfold path come into being, and from Right Concentration follow Right Knowledge and Right Deliverance for the Arahant - cf. [A.V,212ff].

    Right Thought:
    During the Buddha-to-be's striving for Awakening, he divided his thoughts - vitakka, into two categories: thoughts of sensual desire, ill-will and cruelty, and thoughts of renunciation, non-ill- will and non-cruelty. He then reflected upon such thoughts, thus:
         This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me. This leads to my own affliction, to other's affliction, and to the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nibbana.
         When he thus considered, the thoughts of sensual desire subsided. Whenever they did arise, he abandoned and did away with them - and similarly with thoughts of ill-will and cruelty:
         Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of sensual desires, he has abandoned the thought of renunciation to cultivate the thought of sensual desire, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of sensual desire.
         Likewise with thoughts of ill-will and cruelty. Contrariwise, thoughts of renunciation, non-ill-will and non-cruelty do not lead to affliction but to Nibbana. [M.I,114f]

    Right Livelihood:
    Right livelihood is incumbent upon both homeless and householder disciples. The household disciple is able to cause benefits in various ways from wealth he has gained by

  • rousing energy,
  • accumulated by strength of arm,
  • earned by sweat,
  • lawfully and justly acquired.

  • He is able to make himself, his parents, family and friends happy; is able to ward off misfortune; is able to make the fivefold offering to relatives, guests, the departed, leaders and celestials; is able to make offerings to noble religious persons which lead to heaven. cf. [A.II,67-8; III,45]
    This is how wealth is properly used.
         Wrong livelihood is generally explained as:
    Scheming, talking, hinting, belittling, pursuing gain with gain. [M.III,75 = MLDB,p.938]

    Right Livelihood is explicitly detailed as:
    refraining from cheating with false weights and measures, from bribery and corruption, deception and insincerity, from wounding, killing, imprisoning, highway robbery, and taking goods by force. [D.III,176 = THIH,p.458-9]

    The five trades which should not be plied by any lay-follower are:
    Trade in weapons, trade in human beings, trade in flesh, trade in intoxicants and trade in poisons [A.III,208]

    Right Effort:
    The way of practice for the cessation of unwholesome and wholesome behaviour is the four right efforts:
         Here a bhikkhu awakens zeal for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states; for the arising of unarisen wholesome states; for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and fulfilment by development of arisen wholesome states. So he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives. [M.II,26 = MLDB,p.651]

    Right Mindfulness:
    Here a bhikkhu understands mind affected by lust as a mind affected by lust, and mind unaffected by lust as a mind unaffected by lust. Similarly with the mind affected by hate or delusion. [M.I,59 = MLDB,p.150]

    Right Concentration:
    Right concentration, ie. the four jhanas, leads to the suppression of the five hindrances, including greed and aversion. Thus one can experience the bliss of renunciation from the five strands of sense pleasure.
         Various beneficial qualities are mentioned as causes for the arising of wholesomeness and the ceasing of unwholesomeness. These various qualities are: earnestness - appamaado. cf.[It.Vut.23], putting forth effort, satisfaction with little, contentment, wise attention, clear awareness - sampajanna and good friendship - kalyaanamitta [A.III,419) (A.I,11f].

    Further Practices of Good Conduct:
    Generosity - dana is one of the three bases for making merit, together with sila and mental development; it is also one of three things encouraged by the wise (along with going forth into homelessness and support of parents). [A.I,151]
    One with faith: ... dwells at home with a mind free of the stain of stinginess, given to liberality, pure handed, fond of giving, open to requests, fond of offering generosity. [A.I,150]
         The Buddha realised himself the value of this virtue: Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving and sharing they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. [It.Vut.26: Ireland trans.]
         It is said that by giving food, one gives four things to the receiver: long life, beauty, well- being and strength, and that one also partakes of them oneself. [A.II,63]
    Regarding the manner of offering:
    It should be done with faith, deference, timely, with satisfied mind, not harming oneself or others.
         Two kinds of generosity are mentioned: the giving of material things - aamisa, and the giving of Dhamma. Of these, the giving of Dhamma is the superior. [It.Vut.98,100; A.I,90].