Buddha & Buddhism Ethics

Ethics in Buddhism are based on the enlightened perspective of the Buddha. Morality is woven into the fabric of Buddhism; and all major Buddhist schools emphasize the importance of the moral life.

Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path

Buddha laid out guidelines for each of Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path which serve as basic pillars of Buddhist Ethics. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are – there is suffering; there is a cause or origin of suffering; there is an end of suffering; and there is path out of suffering which is the Eightfold Path. Each of these Truths has three aspects so all together there are twelve insights. In these simple words Buddha teaches us to shine our light, and find peace.

1st Truth

The first of the four noble truths that constitute his central message identifies the pervasiveness of suffering in human life. it also applies to everything that you can possibly experience or do or think concerning the past, the present or the future. All things must arise and pass away. Whenever you feel suffering, first make the recognition: ‘There is suffering’, then: ‘It should be understood’, and finally: ‘It has been understood’. This process of insight is the first noble truth.

2nd truth

The Second Noble Truth identifies the cause of suffering in a kind of desire that people universally have. They are afflicted by craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being are the causes of suffering. Our suffering comes from the attachment that we have to ideals, and the complexities we create about the way things are. One should learn to let go of the desire by actual practice and understanding to have the insight of second noble truth.

3rd truth

The Buddha taught that the way to extinguish desire, which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. When something arises, we grasp it and proliferate around it; and this complicates everything. We can be released from the narrow limits of self-interest into the vast expanse of universal life; to cease suffering, people have to bring about the cessation of this kind of desire. This truth explains the possibility of liberation.

4th Truth

The Fourth outlines the way to bring this cessation about; it requires rectifying eight aspects of one’s life: ‘the Eightfold Noble Path’ that is,

  • Wisdom (pañña)
    1. Right Understanding (samma ditthi)
    2. Right Aspiration (samma sankappa)
  • Morality (sila)
    1. Right Speech (samma vaca)
    2. Right Action (samma kammanta)
    3. Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)
  • Concentration (samadhi)
    1. Right Effort (samma vayama)
    2. Right Mindfulness (samma sati)
    3. Right Concentration (samma samadhi)

The Right Understanding and Right Aspiration emanates from Right Intention. Further, the Right Speech teaches us to not lying, not slandering, not using harsh words and not participating in idle chatter. Right Action teaches us to not killing or hurting other living creatures, not stealing, and non acting with sensual misconduct including desires like drugs, sex, over eating which distract us from the goal of Nirvana. The guidelines to Right Livelihood include not being a butcher, selling intoxicants and poisons, selling humans etc.

Apart from bodily and verbal actions, Buddhist ethics emphasizes a variety of mental actions including thoughts, motivations, emotions, perspectives etc. In effect, the core ethics in Buddhism emanates from the mental actions rather than bodily actions.

Key Elements of Buddhist Ethics

The precepts in both traditions Theravada as well as in Mahayana are essentially identical and are commitments to abstain from no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or intoxicants.

Not killing or causing harm to other living beings

Fundamental ethical principle for Buddhism and it implies acting non-violently wherever possible and its matching part is percept of love.

Not taking the not-given

Taking advantage of people, exploiting or manipulating them is wrong. All these are ways of taking that is not given well known as stealing. The positive counterpart is generosity.

Avoiding sexual misconduct

Essentially it means not causing harm to others or oneself in the area of sexual activity. It also includes avoiding breaking commitments and avoiding encouraging others to do the same. The precept of contentment is its matching part.

Avoiding false speech

Speech is the vital component in any relationship with others, and language is a dicey medium, and we often deceive others without even realising what we are doing. Truthfulness is therefore essential in an ethical life. But it is not enough, others should enjoin that our speech should be kindly, helpful, and harmonious.

Abstaining from drink and drugs that cloud the mind

Being in the state of mindfulness, or awareness. Mindfulness is a central value to be established in one’s life to live harmoniously and ethically. Following the Buddha’s path and experience shows that taking intoxicating drink or drugs tends to route straight counter to this percept.

Buddhist Values

Buddhist values are rooted in overcoming greed/attachment, hatred and delusion, which are seen as the roots of unwholesome actions and the key causes of suffering. Greed is to be overcome by generosity and sharing, combined with restraint from theft and cheating, with subtler forms of attachment overcome by monastic training and meditative training. Hatred and anger are to be dealt with by restraint from behaviour harming others, cultivation of loving kindness and compassion, and insight into the distorted vision that makes hatred possible.

Delusion is to be overcome by avoiding intoxication, and cultivating the mental clarity that allows one to see things directly as they really are.  This project begins with moral virtue, but also entails the other aspects of the Buddhist path: meditative development and the cultivation of insight. It has implications for individual conduct as well as inter-personal relationships and social ethics.

What can I learn from Buddha?

Following are the key life lessons that one can learn from Buddha and Buddhist Ethics.

Thoughts are material

Buddha says: “The mind is everything. What you think you become“. In order to live properly, we should keep our mind occupied with right thoughts. Our thinking determines actions, our action determines result. Right thinking can help us to get everything we want. Wong thinking can damage and destroy us. Thus, by changing our mind, we can change our life.

Action is what counts

Words are worthless if they are not translated into action. Success comes to those who work / act constantly. Buddha says: “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act, but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” I am responsible for my own life, the future, the kind of work I do & the life I live, all depends on just myself.

Control the Thoughts

Stronger than anyone is the one who wins himself / herself. In order to win over ourselves, we need to control our thoughts and get rid of thoughts that are not compatible to principles which we follow.

Doubt everything, find your own truth.

One shoud not believe in something just because it is written in some holy book or just because someone in our family is following. I must put my own mind to it and put it to test. I should use my own life experiences and if I feel that it would help human life move forward, I should accept it; otherwise reject it. Buddha asked his followers to test even him.

If there is meaning in life, there must be a meaning in suffering

Each of us likes happiness and each of us believes that pain is not for us. But this is not correct. Each one of has his own share of Dukkha or pain and we understand the truth only when reality hits us in the form of either death of a loved one or some other loss. Thus, pains, sufferings, discomfort are unavoidable and we need to accept it and make peace with them.

Death is inevitable and we should find our own salvation

No matter what we do, we will end up aging, getting ill and would eventually die. This truth makes every minute of our life precious. This truth should be in mind so that we can live our life with diligence.

It is useless to inquire into the questions which don’t get us closer to truth

When someone shoots a arrow in your heart, it’s useless to stand their and ask, who shot the arrow, what was that person’s cast, was he a black or white man, what bow did he use to shoot me, how far was the arrow shot from. It’s better we understand the arrow has to be removed for our heart now to help us live more. So, some of the questions like existence of god, life after birth, life before birth were never answered by the Buddha because he knew they never lead us to truth. No matter what the answers for that questions are, the truth is, we all have anger, hatred, jealously, lust which wont let us stay at peace. These are the things most important to solve.

Notable Buddha Quotes for Examination

  1. Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” ~ Buddha
  2. It’s not what you say but what you do that defines you.
  3. “A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in truth called wise.” ~ Buddha
  4. “A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”
  5. “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” ~ Buddha
  6. “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
  7. “Who looks inside awakens.”
  8. “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” ~ Buddha
  9. “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” ~ Buddha
  10. “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha
  11. “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
  12. “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” ~ Buddha
  13. “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
  14. Don’t believe everything you are told to believe.
  15. “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”
  16. The truth has a way of always leaking out.
  17. “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
  18. “It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”
  19. “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”
  20. “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”
  21. “Do not be jealous of others’ good qualities, but out of admiration adopt them yourself.”
  22. “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
  23. “To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”
  24. “There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.”
  25. “In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”