Interreligious dialogue

Dr. Claude Perera, OMI, BTh (Pontifical Urban University, Rome; LSS, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome; PhD and DD, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; Masters in Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

PART 1

Buddha Founder of Buddhism: His Life and Teachings

On the full moon day of May (this year on 07.05.2020), Buddhists world over celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and demise of the Lord Buddha (BCE). This celebration is called Vesak (Sinhalese), VesŒkha (PŒli) or Vai§Œkha (Sanskrit) which is the name of the second month of the lunar calendar of South Asia (which corresponds with May-June of the Gregorian Calendar) when these triple events took place. Buddhists who belong to various denominations all over the world celebrate it by illuminations of various sort, listening and meditating on his teachings, performing meritorious deeds like almsgiving and other forms of sharing. I wish to offer a series of articles on his life and teachings of which this is the first. The rest will follow.

There are several dates for the birth and demise of the Lord Buddha; they are 624 – 544, 563 – 483 and 480 – 400 BCE. According to the sources based on Western scholars he was born at Lumbini in Ancient North India (presently, in Nepal). But there is also an alternative place proposed by a minority of Sri Lankan scholars who base themselves on archaeological and literary support as to where he was born, lived and died; namely, in Sri Lanka. Before his enlightenment, his name was Prince SiddhŒrtha Gauthama, son of King êuddh¯dhna and Queen MahŒmŒyŒ of the êŒkya clan of the City of Kapilawasthu. His birth was surrounded by certain mysterious and miraculous occurrences. At the age of 16, he was married to his first cousin, Princess Ya§¯dharŒ of the K¯liya Kingdom. His growing dissatisfaction of existence led him to make his Great Renouncement of life at the age of 29, shortly after the birth of his son RŒhula (meaning, ‘fetter’). Then he took to the life of a mendicant ascetic in the Kingdom of Mallas where he sought for definitive liberation through rigorous self-denial and learning Indian meditation form called samatha bhŒwanŒ (Tranquility Meditation) for five years. But he realized that none of these would bring him the kind of liberation from suffering which he has been seeking and adopted a Middle Way between asceticism and laxity in order to pursue his goal. He furthered his own system of meditation called vipassanŒ bhŒwanŒ (Insight Meditation). It was through this insight meditation that he attained enlightenment under a Ficus Religiosa tree (pipphala in PŒli or b¯ in Sinhalese) at the age of 35. From thence, he remained an itinerant preacher sharing the wisdom he had acquired and went about doing good. He had many followers both laity and religious. He founded the Buddhist monastic order for men and women who wished to attain the definitive liberation. These lived as celibates either in separate monasteries or as itinerant preachers. The monks and nuns had a very rigourous rule of life and were cared for by the lay followers. He passed away at the age of 80.  

Prescinding from scholarly debates about his biographical details, what matters most is the message of liberation which the Lord Buddha taught. In reaction to the excessive ritualism of Brahminism, the Lord Buddha proposed a mind-centered way of life based on a via media avoiding extreme rigourism as well as hedonism. What are the basic tenets of Buddhism?

01. The existence has three signata or characteristics: Sorrow, Impermanence, Soullessness

        a. Impermanence (Anicca in PŒli)

Change or impermanence is the essential characteristic of all phenomenal existence. All beings animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic are impermanent. All conditioned beings and things or phenomenal processes (saṅkhāra) in existence, both mental and physical are transient or impermanent. This discovery is not resulting from any kind of metaphysical speculation or of any mystical intuition, but a result of purely empirical investigation. This fact is so much permeated in Buddhism that even while offering flowers to Buddha impermanence of existence is recalled saying, “Just as these flowers must fade, so will this body undergo decay.” Impermanence means that reality is never static but is in a dynamic flux of movement (// universal flux of Heraclitus). All physical and mental events are in a constant state of flux because they come into being and dissolve. All living beings embody within them this flux of aging (jarŒ), death (maraöa) and the cycle of repeated births (jŒti). So, even those born in divine abodes (dēva l¯ka) or hells (naraka) are impermanent.. NirvŒna or the final bliss is the only reality that does not change. Impermanence (anicca) is the very core of the Buddha’s teaching, hence the basis for the other two characteristics of existence, Suffering and No-self.

      b. Sorrow (Dukkha in PŒli):

Etymologically, dukkha is related to “bad space” or “empty space.” Many meanings to it are suggestedsuch as: “suffering,” “sorrow,” “pain,” “grief,” “illness,” “discomfort,” “misery,” “distress,” “agony,” “affliction,” etc.. But the full gamut of connotations the word has cannot be represented by any single English word. Lacombe rightly says that it is the totality of “ennui, unease, difficulty, deception, pain, distress and unhappiness.”. The Theravāda School’s (to be spoken in a subsequent article) notion of dukkha goes well beyond the three forms of suffering, namely, to suffer what you hate, to be deprived of what you love and to want, and not get what you want. As Walpola Rahula extends it further saying, “Whatever is impermanent is dukkha.” Dukkha has a wider connotation, including imperfection, unrest and conflict. To put it briefly, it means that the dissatisfaction inherent to existence. The Buddha rightly describes dukkha, rather than defining it when he says, ‘Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, …. sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and unrest are dukkha,. union with the unlovable is dukkha; separation from the loved ones is dukkha; not getting what one wants is dukkha (Dhammapada 153; 201-02; 207; 210; 248; 278; 302; 338; 342; 371; 390). Dukkha is closely related to the other two signata of existence, viz. anicca and anattā.

       c. Soullessness (Anatta in PŒli):

Anattā (no-self) is the last of the Three Characteristics or Signata of Existence. Anattā is the opposite of the PŒli  attā [// Sanskrit ātma ] (“self’/“soul”). Etymologically, attā is thought to be parallel with Greek atmos (‘steam’ or ‘vapour’).  In ancient Non-Buddhist Indian Philosophy, the word ātma could refer to three things; oneself, one’s personality, and one’s metaphysical soul. What interests us most is the third meaning around which various soul-theories abounded in the time of the Buddha (Deegha NikŒya 1:44f; compare with Chand Upa 7:7:1; B¨had Upa II, 3:17; 4:14). The entirety of all reality inclusive of those things conditioned by causes as well as those unconditioned by causes (such as Nibbāna) is anattā. Hence, nothing has a soul. The Buddha spares nothing from being ridden of a soul. If there is no self, how could one explain the continuity at rebirth? There is no self which experiences (the sensations), ages, dies, or is reborn (Sanyuktha NikŒya 2:62). We can only say that there is old age, death and rebirth. But there is no person who undergoes them, just as the “chariot” is the name for the whole collection of its composite parts (Sanyuktha NikŒya 1:134; 2:62)..Having no self does not mean that all s/he did ceases to exist after death. The associated generation of thoughts consisting of his/her deeds passes on to the next birth. The no-soul theory has led to many contentions; some accept it, while others deny it. There are still others who propose modifications to it.

02. Theory of Dependent Origination (paṭicca samuppāda)

The PŒli term paṭicca samuppāda signifies the cyclical process in which the present phenomena is dependent on the previous causes in a concatenation of events. It means that all phenomena (Dharmas) arise in dependence upon other phenomena: “If this exists, then that exists; if this ceases to exist, then that also ceases to exist” (Majjima NikŒya 79, 115). There is a twelve-membered concatenation that leads to the repetition of suffering, death and rebirth. Everything that exists is characterized by this dependent origination except nirvana. The twelve members in this concatenation are:

i. Ignorance (illusory misrepresentation or a false understanding the nature of things) leads to                         
ii. Volitional Activity leads to  
iii. Consciousness leads to
iv. Mind and Body lead to
v. Six Sense-Bases leads to
vi. Sense Impressions lead to
vii. Feelings lead to
viii. Craving leads to
ix. Clinging leads to
x. Acquiring a New Existence leads to
xi. Rebirth leads to
xii. Decay and Death lead back to

It asserts neither a direct causality nor a single causality like the Newtonian, but rather an indirect one conditioned by a plurality of causes linked to actions. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing independent, except the state of nirvana. All physical and mental phenomena depend on and arise from other pre-existing states, and in turn other dependent states arise from them while the former ceases.According to Early Buddhism, causal conditioning is the basis of ontology and not a transcendent principle like the creator God or a Universal Self (Brahman) as in Vedic Religion. Peter Harvey reckons that dependent origination highlights the Buddhist notion that all apparently substantial entities within the world are in fact wrongly perceived.

03. The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are: dukkha (“the fact of suffering”), samudaya (“the cause of suffering”), nir¯dha (“the cessation of suffering”), and magga (“the way to cessation of suffering”). These truths represent not only the enlightenment process of the Buddha, but also of any human who similarly seeks release from craving. The four truths have assumed a central role in Theravada Buddhism, which is aimed at the total release.

a. The First Noble Truth: Dukkha (“Sorrow)

We spoke about it under the three signata of existence.

b. The Second Noble Truth: Cause of Dukkha (Samudaya Ariya Sacca)

Causality in everything in this existence was something fundamental to TheravŒdi Buddhist reasoning. Destruction of the consequence implies the destruction of the cause. The second Noble Truth revolves round the principle of causality; namely, the cause of dukkha. On the night of his enlightenment the Buddha was able to trace the cause of dukkha to a causal chain; namely, dukkha is dependent on birth, and birth is a result of karma; and the karma is determined by taö{‘desire’} (Sanyuktha NikŒya 5:412)..Desire is a too simple rendition of this term taö. Desires are meant to achieve what one wants or what one does not want. They are generally amoral, and they begin to be moral depending on the moral value of the goal.. There are several desire related Pāli words all of which do not possess the same intensity and nuance of desire. They are: kāma (‘sensuality or sense-desire’) raga (‘passion’ or ‘uncontrolled lust’), rati (‘attachment,’ ‘pleasure,’ ‘liking,’ or ‘fondness.’ āsā (desires that intoxicate or mess up the mind, and become a corrupting influence; taint or canker), and taö.

Taö is a central concept in this desire vocabulary.  Literally it means, “thirst,” though often rendered, ‘desire.’ Nevertheless, it is not a simple desire, but a craving. Hence, it has a moral dimension. Thus, “craving” is a better rendition for taö. When there is stimulation of the senses, then there is feeling. Feeling is followed by craving to enjoy it. With craving there comes grasping (upādāna), followed by existence (bhava). From existence comes birth followed by aging, death, and various forms of pain..In addition to craving, there are two other aspects that go into taö; namely, attachment to speculative views (di  hi) and conceit (māna). Taöleads to dukkha in terms of views that lead to senseless, foolish, evil or wrong views, practices or behaviour, preventing moral perfection. Such views and pride are hidden forms of assertion of a false self or egoism conducive to conflicts with those who have different views. It must be re-affirmed that what stands at the bottom of all desire is the notion of an inexistent of self. It is a question of this imaginary self waŒnting to have more and more of the pleasurable things and rejecting the non-pleasurable things. The more the self has, the more dissatisfied it is. When the self does not get the desires fulfilled, there is greater sorrow. The self compares its package with others and that leads either to sorrow or to further craving.

Early Buddhism did not advocate a negation of each and every desire for all its followers..It is true that for a recluse, who renounces lay life, mundane desires are obstacles to his goal; hence s/he has to give them up (Anguttara Nikya 3:374). Only desire (and that in the sense of a noble aspiration) permitted to her/him is that of the advancement in spiritual growth. But the laity is not debarred from enjoying the legitimate desires of their state of life (Deegha NikŒya 3:180; Anguttara NikŒya 4:281. However, there remained the attainment of Nibbāna as the ultimate goal for both laity and recluse. 

c. The Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Dukkha (Nirodha Ariya Sacca)

According to the third Noble Truth, elimination of taöis elimination of dukkha. The state in which there exists no craving is nibbāna. In TheravŒda Buddhism the nibbāna is seen as the ultimate reality (parama sacca) and the highest good (parama kusala). It is most likely that etymologically, it is a bivalent term including both the idea of extinguishing of the craving as well as that of the attainment of highest happiness or refreshment. Nirvāöa is sometimes defined as the destruction of lust (rāga), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha) (SN 4:251; 5:8). It is attained by the transformation of the personality by eliminating its negative emotional traits, and by a radical change in one’s outlook on the nature of reality. All conditioned beings and things or phenomenal processes in existence are (saṅkhāra)

These processes of conditioning are caused by actions and their inevitable results. All conditioned things are characterized by arising, decay, and change. Therefore, all conditioned factors are dukkha, while its ending is nirvāöa. Nirvāöa is the only unconditioned factor because it is not the result of anything or not produced by anything such as a trance or concentration. Meditation is only the path leading to it is not the result of the path. It exists independent of the path (SN 4:362).

According to a few Early Buddhist texts, nirvāöa is the unconditioned factor is permanent (nicca), constant (dhuva), eternal (sassatam), not subject to change (aviparināma dhamma), and endless (ananta)..Being endless does not imply that its temporal duration is endless, but that being beyond time, it cannot have an end..In late canonical texts the nirvāöa is presented as ultimately empty {parama- suñña} (Patis 2:184, 240); it is the highest emptiness {aggasuñña} (Patis 2:184). That is empty of attachment, hatred, and delusion. All conditioned and unconditioned factors are anattā(“without self”). Accordingly, Nirvāöa being the unconditioned factor, has no self (Vin 5:86)..

Nirvāöa can be spoken in two successive stages such as in life and after life, a.v. nirvāöa with a remainder element of the aggregates (saupādisesa-nibbāna), and that without a remainder element {anupādisesa-nibbāna} (TherigŒthŒ 1, 46).. The latter is also called parinirvāöa (Jathaka)..Those who realize Nirvāöa are only the Buddhas and Arhants..Nirvāöna after death is said to be beyond reckoning in the sense of its inability to be counted among temporal and conditioned categories (DN 3:220; AN 1:197; It 53-54). Speculations such as whether an Arhant exists or is conscious after death or what is there after Nirvāöa are irrelevant (DN 3:220; AN 1:197; Ithiwutthaka 58). S/he is like an extinguished fire (SN 1074, 1076; SN 4:206-07). But that is not an implication of annihilation. When asked whether an Arhant will be born again, the Buddha replied to Vaccagotta that such questions are irrelevant (PatisambhidŒ Magga 3:198). This kind of reply may have been a way of avoiding any speculation about annihilation. The enlightened person is unfathomably deep and immeasurable like the ocean (MN 1:486-88). Once his/her body dies, nobody will see him/her because with death s/he reaches a stage beyond designation (Dhammapada 218). It is indescribable (avatabbatāya) in the sense that it falls beyond discursive language (Dhammapada 289).

Early Buddhism admits an absolute truth in the sense that everything in life is relative, conditioned and impermanent (except nirvaöa) and there is no absolute and everlasting substance such as a soul within or an all-powerful Creator-God from without..Nirvaöa is the absolute or ultimate truth about a supra-mundane experience which cannot be exhausted by deceptive and misleading human language.  Therefore, nirvāöa is not something about which total clarity can be attained. However, since we have to talk about it, bearing in mind such limitations, the preference is to talk in negative terms (rather than positive) such as extinction of thirst’, unconditioned’, absence of desire’, cessation’, or extinction.’ Because of this negative tone of the definitions, some tend to think that nirvāöa is a negative reality expressing self-annihilation. Of course, it must be first remarked that there is no self in Early Buddhism to be annihilated. A negative word need not necessarily imply a negative reality.

Nirvāöa cannot be desired in terms of an affective state of desire (= craving) because desire is the cause of dukkha. However, we can talk of aspiring for nirvāöa in the sense of purposive action directed towards the goal. The attainment of nibbāna is the end of dukkha. But it does not mean that a living Arhant does not experience pain and pleasure, since his/her five senses continue to function (Therigatha 707). S/he could experience certain bodily pain and mental discomfort (Vinaya I:352-53; Udana 41-42). But the difference is that such sensations have no impact on his/her mind, and hence, is unagitated or unmoved by them nor takes delight in or develops an aversion to them (Ithiwuttthaka 38; MN 3:104f.). So, it would be more correct to say that after the attainment of nibbāna one is no more affected by the vicissitudes of dukkha as it is in a state of absolute calmness. When the mind does not react to the sense-experience, there is truly no dukkha. Could nirvāöa be conceived in terms of a transcendental or metaphysical reality? Yes. For if the Early Buddhist epistemology was only empiricist and not transempirical, then why did the Buddha deny that he was a nihilist (in the sense of advocating that once the aggregates cease to exist, nothing exists which implies that even the nirvāöa does not exist (MN 1:140)?. The Early Buddhism never denied transempirical realities. The goal of nibbāna, i.e. the destruction of craving is not being non-existent because the being is not annihilated. The Buddha was not a nihilist of that kind implying a total annihilation. Nirvāöa is not an annihilation (SN 1:122; MN 1:139-40). It exists but is indescribable (SN 1076).

c. The Fourth Noble Truth: The Way to Cessation of Dukkha (Magga Ariya Sacca)

The Noble Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way (majjima patipadā). This is because it stands as the middle between the extremes of self-mortification (atthakilamathānuyoga) and self-indulgence (kāmasukhallikānuyoga). The Noble eightfold path has three basic divisions such as Morality, Concentration and Wisdom. The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, in terms of Development of Wisdom (Pa––Œ), Moral Virtue (ê”la), and Meditation (SamŒdhi). Under Moral Virtue come Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Under Concentration come Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Under Wisdom comes Right View and Right Resolve.

I. Right View (Understanding) – Sammā Diṭṭhi

A person seeking right understanding should avoid wrong views (micchādiṭṭhi) such as: personality beliefs which posit the existence of a soul, extreme viewpoints such as self-mortification and self-indulgence/hedonism, eternity beliefs, annihilationalism, accidentalism/ fatalism and strict determinism. Buddha’s path is not mere speculation, philosophizing and rationalizing, but coming to terms with true life issues. We need to understand things as they are, not as they appear, without bias, prejudice and emotion. Right Understanding according to Piyadassi is “… the application of insight to the five aggregates of clinging, and understanding their true nature, that is the understanding of oneself. It is a self-examination and self-observation.” Seeker of true knowledge cannot remain on the periphery blindly but must go beyond the naked eye. This kind of knowledge makes one sees the arising and ceasing of all conditionalities of things

There are two conditions that bring about R.U. The first is that one must refrain from accepting what one has heard from others (parat¯gho·a) gullibly, without questioning. The second is unsystematic & unwise attention (ayoniso mānasikāra). The source of the first is external while that of the second in internal. We must avoid harmful and unwholesome utterances of others. But the unsystematic utterances mean radical and seasoned attention. R. U. is the understanding of the dukkha, its arising, cessation and the path leading to cessation. People are ignorant of this truth and as a result they are born again and again.

02. Right resolve/thought/aspiration (Samma saÜkappa)

The second aspect of the NEP the Right Resolve (sammā saṅkappa) can also be called “Right Thought,” “Right Intention,” or “Right Aspiration.” Accordingly, the recluse resolves to leave home, renounce the worldly life and chooses an ascetic way of life. What consist of the right thought? They are the thoughts of renunciation, good-will, non-violence and compassion. Wrong thoughts are their opposites; namely, sensual desire, ill-will. and harm. Thought is very important because thought precedes words and actions. The above three kinds of thoughts free one from pain and generate intuitive wisdom leading to nirvana. By means of getting rid of wrong thoughts and developing right thoughts, he made his mind firm, calmed his mind, unified the same and concentrated on his meditation and attained the four jhānas (meditative absorptions) leading to enlightenment. When the mind is obsessed by lust or hate it is not possible to see things clearly as they are. One must learn to see how such thoughts appear, reappear and overpower the mind. Without Right Understanding it is impossible to remove the three roots of evil, namely, lust, hatred, and delusion/ignorance. At the same time, without the Right Thought, sense desire and ill-will cannot be removed. Removal of evil thoughts in the mind will free to the cultivation of good thoughts. To grasp the deeper concepts of Dhamma, a person’s mind must entertain calm thoughts, be ready, pliable, avoid of hindrances, uplifted and be pleased. A person with disturbed thoughts and vehement of passion and anger in the mind cannot grasp the Noble Path. Such persons need to be calmed down first, e.g. Patāchārā. The Buddha was never angry. He never used an unkind word to even to those who harmed him. He disagreed agreeably. Even when people were intolerantly offensive with abusive terms, he retained a smile on his face. He was the embodiment of compassion. Vicious and angry thoughts are harmful to those who entertain them. When angry, one cannot distinguish between right and wrong. S/he cannot grasp an idea. Mind is the best antidote or medicine for those who are angry. It is only with compassionate thoughts that one can reach out to others.

Compassion should not be identified with morbid manifestations of sadness, sentimentality or feelings of sorrow. Compassion is not flabby or soft. When someone dies, we weep because of the loss incurred. We cry out of selfishness because we love only ourselves. If we really feel sorry at death why don’t we cry when strangers unknown to us die? Death of a stranger hardly matters to us because they are far from us and we incur no loss at their death. Buddhist concept of karuöa excludes no one, not even the tiniest of creatures. It is extended to every form of life that exists without any distinction. The moment one starts making distinctions on accidentals these boudless virtues of compassion and kindness become limited and lose their true sense.

II. Morality/Virtue (Sīla) in the Noble Eightfold Path

Moral conduct in the Noble Eightfold Path can be broken up as Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. The common definition of sīla as “abstinence from unwholesome bodily and verbal action” stresses external actions. But there is more to sīla. The practice of sīla necessarily involves the training of the mind. In Abhidharma Literature sīla is the mental factors of abstinence in view of purification. Being based on universal love and compassion, Early Buddhist morality is directed not only towards the individual, but also towards fellow sentient beings (sattvas). Now let us see how morality consisting of right speech, right action and right livelihood is linked to the path of liberation.

03. Right Speech (Sammā VācŒ)

Sammā vācā denotes “right speech.” It is connected to the fourth of the five precepts which both the religious and laity ought to follow. The follower of Early Buddhism is exhorted to voluntarily refrain from the four kinds of speech amounting to false words and witnesses, slander, harsh words, and idle/empty words (AN 10:176; DN 22:21). It is the kind of speech free from ill will, self-interest and dogmatic assertions. Right speech is free from harm to oneself and others. Like physical action, the effects of speech are as pervasive that they have limitless good or bad consequences. Words need to be cautiously spoken at the correct time and with circumspection. This language may sound negative and injunctive, but it is not so, when we look at their implications in positive realities such as truth and meaningfulness of speech. In fact, the exhortation is to right speech is something positive. Positively speaking, the first is a commitment to being reliable and truthful. The second means the kind of speech that promotes amity, harmony and friendship instead of division and animosity. The positive implication of the third is the use of pleasant and appealing words. Fourth is an invitation to use meaningful, purposeful, useful and timely speech. What underlies right speech is compassion. Right speech leads one to attain the final goal (SN 1:189). That is the language of the enlightened. Next, we shall move on to “Right Action.” 

04. Right Action(“Sammā Kammantā”)

The phrase sammā kammantā denotes “right action.” Right actions are the opposite of unwholesome actions, i.e. actions contrary to the first three and the last of the five precepts. The first precept is the voluntary abstinence from killing of living beings (öātipāta). When it comes to express the intrinsic moral worth of life, Early Buddhism uses the Pāli word öa. Early Buddhism teaches that since all sentient beings have mind or consciousness, no one has the right to take away one’s life or that of another, including those of animals (Vinaya 1:83, 85; DN 3:68, 70, 149; MN 3:82). Euthanasia had no place in Early Buddhism because life as such was sacred. Suicide was not permissible, though it was tolerated in the case of a future Buddha (Bodhisattva) led by motives of compassion, e.g. Sasa Jātaka (Jathaka 316). This was especially so in Mahāyana Buddhism (to be spoken in a subsequent article) which appreciates self-determination in the matter of death, and lauds those who decide as to when and how they die. The Japanese Buddhist tradition seems to be quite tolerant of suicide and euthanasia. One could not inflict violence on living beings (DN 1:69). Positively, it is a question of promoting non-violence. Life can be taken away in six ways; namely, by the person himself, giving a commission to another, by projectiles, treachery or trapping, magic or demonic help. Life could be destroyed by eight causes, namely, evil desire, anger, ignorance, pride, covetousness, poverty, wantonness, and law. The second precept is voluntary abstinence from taking what is not given. This includes stealing (secretly), robbing (openly by force or threat), fraud and deceit of every kind. That would be a violation of the rights of others. Irrespective of what one steals, even if it amounts to the size of a hairbreadth, it is theft. To steal from a Buddha or recluses is the highest theft. The third precept is voluntary abstinence from sexual misconduct. This is so since lust is like a fire (AN 3:40). The ordained monks and nuns have detailed rules (vinaya) pertaining to sexual conduct. So does the laity who takes upon themselves the Eight and Ten Precepts. The laity is expected to avoid illegitimate sexual practices, particularly the sexual use of any female under another’s patronage; and the married are expected to live in conjugal fidelity (AN 9:176; DN 22:21). Positively put, it is a question of living chastely. The fifth precept is voluntary abstinence from the consuming of alcoholic substances that confuse the mind. Since Early Buddhism advocates constant mindfulness (sati), it cannot encourage anything that destroys the same. Early Buddhist soteriology is totally a mental process which cannot be retained without mindfulness. It is essential to the path of purification. Right action also forbids gambling of every sort. To summarize more positively what we have said about sammā kammantā, we could say that it is simply a question of practicing non-violence, compassion, charity, honesty, generosity, chastity, self-control, and mindfulness. The last of the series under sīla is Right Livelihood.

05. Right Livelihood(“Sammā ājīva”)

The Pāli term ājīva means, ‘livelihood,’ ‘mode of living,’ or ‘subsistence.’ In the Early Buddhist community, it was only a handful who became recluses, while the majority remained lay followers. The laity had their families to be looked after. In addition, the recluses depended on the laity for their necessities. Hence, the laity had to be engaged in some form of livelihood. The Buddha stresses that certain kinds of livelihood are taboo for his lay followers. Jobs that involve the selling of living beings, meat, liquor, and poison (AN 5:177), and employment as butcher, fowler, hunter, fisherman, robber, executioner, and jailor was forbidden (MN 51:1). Dīghajānu Sutta speaks more positively about how to make the life of the laity happy in terms of acquiring professional proficiency, vigilance over property against loss, wisdom to balance income and expenditure, and inculcation of beautiful friendships (AN 8:54). Singālovāda Suttaspeaks of how thrifty one should be in spending one’s income, in the sense, that it should be divided into three in terms of one half for investment, a quarter for saving and only a quarter for day-to-day expenses (DN 31). However, even for the laity the absolute ideal of being totally empty of things that tie one to existence remains valid. The duality of being detached, in a spirit of renunciation, from wealth and its legitimate use existed already in the time of the Buddha and continued to get varied interpretations in the Theravāda School down through the centuries. As a concluding remark to what we have seen in this subsection, we could say that Early Buddhist morality is not merely negative formulations, because each stipulation has its corresponding positive virtue. Having spoken of sīla in general as the Early Buddhist morality, now let us move on to the next five; namely, Right View, Right Resolve, the Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Wisdom. First let us take up the first two among these; namely, the Right View and Right Resolve.

(To be continued)

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