Th.29 Principles of good governance that ensure the stability of the state
This passage describes the way the Vajjis ran their society. They were known to have had a republican political system different from what had become the widely prevalent monarchical system of India during the time of the Buddha. Buddhist literary sources speak very highly of the Vajjian system of government which had many democratic features. The Buddha’s own adherence to similar principles is seen in the system of monastic administration established by him, which leaves no room for authoritative individual leadership, but makes arrangements for a consensual system of administration. The passage is delivered to an emissary of a king who wished to conquer the Vajjis, pointing out their strengths, which made them difficult to conquer.
At that time Venerable Ānanda was standing behind the Blessed One, fanning him, and the Blessed One addressed Venerable Ānanda: ‘What have you heard, Ānanda: do the Vajjis meet together regularly, and have frequent meetings?’ ‘Sir, I have heard that the Vajjis meet together regularly ....’
‘So long, Ānanda, as the Vajjis meet together regularly … the growth of the Vajjis is to be expected, not their decline. … [The Vajjis will also grow and not decline if they continue to] … meet in unity and disperse in unity and attend to their affairs in concord … neither enact laws that are not already enacted nor break ones that are already enacted, but proceed in accordance with their ancient Vajjian principles of justice … are hospitable, respect, honour and venerate their Vajjian elders and think it worthwhile to listen to them … refrain from abducting women and maidens of good families and oppressing them … are hospitable, respect honour and venerate their shrines, both those within the city and those outside it, and do not fail in making the due offerings made to them formerly … provide righteous watch, ward and protection to the arahants, so that those who have not come to the realm yet might do so, and those who have already come might live there at ease.
And the Blessed One addressed the brahmin Vassakāra: ‘Once, brahmin, I dwelt at Vesāli, at the Sārandada shrine, and there I taught the Vajjis these seven conditions leading to the prevention of their decline. So long, brahmin, as these seven principles conducive to non-decline remain and prevail among the Vajjis, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.’
Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.73–75, trans. P.D.P.
Th.30 Corrupt leadership and its adverse consequences for society and nature
This is a passage that shows a connection between the ethical conduct of humans and changes that occur in the natural environment. Dhamma as natural order is disrupted by unrighteous actions that go against Dhamma as right ethical order. The passage draws attention to the responsibility of a land’s leadership in maintaining moral standards in society through setting an example to the rest of the society.
Monks, at a time when kings are unrighteous, the royal servicemen too become unrighteous. When the royal servicemen become unrighteous, the brahmin householders too become unrighteous. When the brahmin householders become unrighteous, those in the townships and provinces too become unrighteous. When those in the townships and provinces become unrighteous, the moon and sun move unevenly. When the moon and sun move unevenly, the stars and the constellations move unevenly. When the stars and the constellations move unevenly, then the night and day occur unevenly. When the night and day occur unevenly, the fortnights and the months become uneven. When the fortnights and months become uneven, the seasons and the year become uneven. When the seasons and the year become uneven, winds blow unevenly and in the wrong direction. When winds blow unevenly and in the wrong direction, deities become disturbed. When the deities become disturbed, the sky does not bring proper rainfall. When there is no proper rainfall, the grains ripen unevenly. When humans eat unevenly ripened grains, their life-span is shortened, and they lose their beauty and power and are struck by many ailments.
Monks, at a time when kings are righteous … [the opposite of the above happens].
When cattle are crossing (a water way), if the leading bull goes crooked, all of them go crooked as the leading one has gone crooked.
Even so, among humans, if the one considered the chief behaves unrighteously, all the rest will follow suit.
If the king is unrighteous, the whole country rests unhappily.
When cattle are crossing (a water way), if the leading bull goes straight, all of them go straight as the leading one has gone straight.
Even so, among humans, if the one considered the chief, indeed, lives righteously, all the rest follow suit. If the king is righteous, the whole country rests happily.
Adhammika Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.75–75, trans. P.D.P.
Th.31 Noble duties and the moral qualities of a Cakkavatti monarch
These passages are on the ideal of a Cakka-vatti, a great ‘Wheel-turning’ monarch whose rule turns its influence over all India (see *LI.5). This is presented in the Buddhist canon with a view to providing a sound ethical basis for the political life of society. Since authority was greatly concentrated in a single person in the monarchical system of government that was widely prevalent at the time, Buddhism sought to address the situation by introducing the concept of a monarch who gave up the ambition of military conquest and ruled according to Dhamma, in the sense of righteous, ethical and just principles. The second passage emphasizes that the secular authority of the ruler should always be subject to such principles.
Once, monks, there was a Cakkavatti monarch named Daḷhanemi, a righteous person, a righteous king, conqueror of the four quarters who had achieved the stability of his realm and was possessed of seven treasures … He lived having conquered this earth extending on all sides to the ocean without resort to rod and sword, but through Dhamma and justice.
Then monks, king Daḷhanemi after many years, after many hundreds of years … duly installed his eldest son in kingship and, shaving off hair and beard, donned yellow robes and went forth from the household life and became a homeless renunciant. When seven days passed after the royal sage had gone forth, the heavenly Wheel Treasure255 disappeared. Then a certain person went to the king of the royal class who was anointed as king and said: ‘Look here, Lord, do you know that the heavenly Wheel Treasure has disappeared?’ ... Then the royal sage said to the anointed king: ‘My son, do not be worried and experience displeasure as the heavenly Wheel Treasure has disappeared. The heavenly Wheel Treasure is not a paternal inheritance of yours. Now my son, you must keep to the noble duties of a Cakkavatti monarch. Then it is possible that on the fifteenth day of the moon, the day of religious observances, when you have bathed your head, made the religious observances and ascended the upper storey of the palace, the heavenly Wheel Treasure would appear ….’
‘What Lord, is that noble duty of a Cakkavatti monarch?’ ‘My son, depending on Dhamma itself, honouring Dhamma, paying respect to Dhamma, esteeming Dhamma, worshipping Dhamma, venerating Dhamma, having Dhamma as the flag, having Dhamma as the banner, having Dhamma as the authority, you should provide righteous watch, ward and protection to people in the royal household, the troops, those of the ruling class, and other subjects who are brahmins, householders of the townships and provinces, to renunciants and brahmins and to beasts and birds. Let there be not within your territory one who acts in an unrighteous manner. Whoever in your territory may be poor, grant them wealth. Whoever in your territory are renunciants and brahmins that refrain from intoxication and heedlessness, established in patience and gentleness – some who discipline themselves, some who calm themselves, some who bring themselves to nirvana – go to them from time to time and ask them and question them: “Sir, what is wholesome, what is unwholesome, what is blameworthy, what is blameless, what should be practised, what should not be practised, and my doing what will conduce to my harm and suffering for a long time, and doing what will conduce to my wellbeing and happiness for a long time?” Having heard from them whatever is unwholesome, you should especially avoid it, and you should observe and live by whatever is wholesome. This, my son, is the noble duty of a Cakkavatti monarch.’
‘Alright, Lord’, said the anointed king of the royal class to the royal sage, and he fulfilled the duties of a noble Cakkavatti monarch. Fulfilling the noble duties of a Cakkavatti monarch, on the fifteenth day of religious observances, bathing his head, and himself undertaking the religious observance, when he ascended the great upper storey of the palace the heavenly Wheel Treasure appeared.
Cakkavatti-sīhanāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.59–62, trans. P.D.P.
‘Monks, whoever be that righteous Cakkavatti monarch, he too does not turn the wheel without a ruler.’ When this was said, a certain monk said thus to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, who is the ruler of the righteous Cakkavatti monarch that rules righteously?’ The Blessed One said: ‘Monk, it is Dhamma.’
Dhamma-rājā Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya, III.149, trans. P.D.P.
Peace, violence and crime
Th.32 Poverty and disparity in wealth as a cause of social unrest and breakdown of morality in society
This narrative shows the relationship between morality and the economic conditions of the people. It points out that a major cause for the gradual deterioration of morality is poverty, economic disparity, and destitution. It also shows that it is through the revival of moral standards in society that a prosperous social order can be restored. It is presented initially as a tale of the distant past, but it then extends into the distant future, when the next Buddha, Metteyya, the Kindly One, will come (though such a future golden age will itself decline, in time). It includes the idea that human life-span fluctuates in proportion with overall morality.
Then the king made them all assemble and questioned them about the noble duties of a Cakkavatti monarch. They disclosed those to him. Having heard from them he made arrangements for the righteous watch, ward and protection (of citizens and animals), but did not provide wealth to those deprived of it. When wealth was not provided to those deprived of it, poverty became rife. When poverty became rife, a certain person took what was not given, committing what was considered to be theft. They arrested him and brought him before the king, reporting the matter to him. The king questioned him on whether he had committed … theft, and he said: ‘Yes Lord, it is true.’ The king asked why he did so, and he said: ‘Lord, I have no means of living.’ Then the king provided him with wealth and told him: ‘Look here, my man, with this wealth, sustain yourself, feed your parents, wife and children, invest it in industry, make gifts to renunciants and brahmins which will be rewarding and having pleasant consequences conducive to heavenly rebirth.’ That man replied ‘Alright, Lord.’
Another person, too, committed ... theft … The king provided him also with wealth … Monks, the people heard, ‘Whoever takes things belonging to others without being given to them, and commit what is considered to be theft, to them, the king provides wealth.’ Having heard this, it occurred to them: ‘We also should take what is not given and commit what is considered to be theft.’ Then a certain person committed … theft. They arrested him and took him before the king … Then this idea occurred to the king: ‘If I keep providing wealth to everyone who commits … theft, in this way thefts will increase. I should punish him with proper punishment. I should cut him off at the root. I should chop off his head.’
So the king commanded his men: ‘Bind this man with strong ropes with his arms behind him, shave his head, and lead him through the streets and junctions, to the rough sound of the beat of a drum, take him out through the southern gate, and to the south of the city, give him the proper punishment, cut him off at the root, chop off his head’. They bound him with strong ropes … and chopped off his head.
People heard that whoever … commits … theft, his head is chopped off, and thought: ‘We should also make sharp weapons, and we shall effectively eliminate those whose things we steal (so they cannot be witnesses against us), cut them off at the root, chop off their heads’. They made sharp weapons and attempted to murder people in the villages, townships, and cities. They attempted to commit highway robbery, and they effectively eliminated those whose things they stole, cut them off at the root, chopped off their heads.
In this way, monks, when those deprived of wealth were not being provided with wealth, poverty became rife; when poverty became rife, stealing increased; when stealing increased, weapons increased; when weapons increased, destruction of life increased; when destruction of life increased, the life-span of those living beings waned, and their beauty also waned. When they were waning in their life-span and their beauty, the sons of men who had a life-span of eighty thousand years came to have a life-span of forty-thousand years … [Further declines in morality, and consequent reductions in human life-span are then described.]
There will be a time monks, when the children of these people will be of a life-span of ten years. … the ten courses of wholesome conduct will completely disappear and the ten courses of unwholesome conduct256 will excessively prevail. For those of ten years life-span, even the word ‘wholesome’ will not be there. How could there be a doer of wholesome deeds? … Among people of ten years life-span, there will be intense mutual anger, intense malice, intense envious thoughts, intense thoughts of killing, even of mother towards children … For people of ten years life-span there will be a weapons-period of seven days. They will perceive each other as beasts. Sharp weapons will appear in their hands and with those sharp weapons they will kill each other saying: ‘this is a beast’, ‘this is a beast’.
Then monks, this idea will occur to some among those beings: ‘Let us not kill anyone, and let not anyone kill us. Let us resort to grassy thickets, forest thickets, places covered thickly with trees, inaccessible rivers, uneven mountains, and live on roots and fruits of forest trees’. They will do so and at the end of seven days they will come out of those resorts and rejoice and console each other, hugging one another, saying: ‘We see good beings who survived; we see good beings who survived!’ Then this thought will occur to those beings: ‘It was due to our pursuit of unwholesome practices that such wide destruction of our relatives occurred. We should practise wholesome acts. And what wholesome practices should we adopt? We should abstain from destruction of life, and live observing this wholesome practice’. They will … observe this wholesome practice. Due to observing this wholesome practice their life-span will increase …
When people are (again) of a life-span of eighty thousand years, this Varanasi will be a kingdom known as Ketumatī … prosperous and plentiful in food … (and) a king named Saṅkha will be born, a Cakkavatti monarch, a righteous king guided by Dhamma … Then a Blessed One named Metteyya will be born in the world, an arahant, a perfectly awakened Buddha … like myself born here at this time.
Cakkavatti-sīhanāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.64–76, trans. P.D.P.
Th.33 Responsibility of the state to ensure the economic well-being of its citizens
This passage illustrates the skilful way in which the Buddha taught, and conveys the message that, as poverty leads to social disruption, a wise ruler should act to prevent this. The setting is that the brahmin Kūṭadanta, who wishes to offer a great sacrifice, goes to the Buddha as he has heard (oddly!) that the Buddha can advise on how to conduct a sacrifice. The Buddha gives his advice by way of the following story of a prosperous king who wished to conduct a great sacrifice to ensure his future well-being and happiness, and who asked his brahmin chaplain how to do this.
Thereupon, the brahmin chaplain said to King Mahā-vijita: ‘Sir, Your Majesty’s country is beset with problems and oppression. Dacoits who pillage the villages, townships, and cities and highway robbers are to be seen. When the country is beset with problems and oppression, if the king were to levy a tax, your majesty would be doing what ought not to be done. It might occur to Your Majesty: “I’ll eradicate this strong body of the robbers by inflicting execution, imprisonment, deprivation, degradation and banishment!” But the strong body of the robbers cannot be satisfactorily eradicated in that manner. The remnant left after execution would still go on harassing Your Majesty’s realm. However, by adopting this action-plan, this obstruction of the rebels will be satisfactorily eradicated. Therefore, Your Majesty, whosoever there be in Your Majesty’s realm making an effort to engage in agriculture and animal husbandry, to them let His Majesty the king give food and seed-corn. Whosoever there be in Your Majesty’s realm making an effort to engage in trade, to them let His Majesty the king provide capital. Whosoever there be in Your Majesty’s realm making an effort to engage in royal service, to them let His Majesty the king give wages and food. Then those men, engaging each in his own business, will no longer harass the realm, and the king’s revenue will go up; the country will be secured and not beset with problems and oppression. The people, pleased and happy, dancing their children in their arms, will dwell with open doors.’
King Mahā-vijita accepted the word of his chaplain, and did as he had said. And those men engaged each in his business, harassed the king’s realm no more. The king’s revenue went up and the country was secured and not beset with problems and oppression. The people being pleased and happy, dancing their children in their arms, dwelt with open doors.
Kūṭadanta Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.135–136, trans. P.D.P.
Th.34 Causes for social and family conflict
The first of these passages highlights envy and miserliness as causes of ill-will and conflict in communities, whether human or divine, such as those of nāga snake-deities and gandhabba heavenly musicians. The second highlights attachment to sensual pleasures as a cause of conflict.
‘Sir, due to what fetter do gods, humans, nāgas, gandhabbas and whatever other different communities there are, in spite of the thought “Let us live without hatred, without taking sticks, without enmity, without malice, free from hate”, live with hatred, taking sticks, with enmity, with malice and not free from hatred?’ So did Sakka, the king of gods question the Blessed One.
When so questioned the Blessed One explained to him thus: ‘It is due to being fettered by envy and miserliness that gods, humans … live with hatred, taking sticks, with enmity ….’
Sakka-pañha Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.276, trans. P.D.P.
Further monks, with sensual pleasures as the cause and the source, the basis, the cause being simply sensual pleasures, kings dispute with kings, people of the ruling class with people of the ruling class, brahmins with brahmins, householders with householders, mother disputes with the son, the son with the mother, the father with the son, the son with the father, brother with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. They dispute, quarrel, and fight each other with hands, clods, sticks, weapons, and herein they meet with death, and also deadly pain.
Mahā-dukkha-kkhandha Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.86, trans. P.D.P.
Th.35 War, peace and reconciliation
This pair of passages show armed conflict to bring frustration and further conflict, especially if one is not magnanimous in ‘victory’. In the first, the Buddha comments on the report that King Ajātasattu had attacked King Pasenadi, who had withdrawn in defeat.
Monks, King Ajātasattu of Magadha has evil friends, evil associates, and evil companions. King Pasenadi Kosala has good friends, good associates, and good companions. Tonight the defeated king Pasenadi Kosala will lie unhappily.
Victory breeds enmity, the defeated lie unhappily,
The one at peace lies happily, giving up victory and defeat.
Then many monks ... came to the Blessed One, paid respect to him, sat on one side and said: ‘Venerable sir, King Ajātasattu of Magadha, … advanced towards Kāsi for battle against King Pasenadi Kosala. … King Pasenadi Kosala defeated King Ajātasattu of Magadha and captured him alive. Then this thought occurred to King Pasenadi Kosala: “Even though King Ajātasattu … betrays me who does not betray (him), he is my nephew. What if I were to capture his entire array of elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers and dismiss him alive?” Then King Pasenadi Kosala, captured ... the entire array of elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers of King Ajātasattu ... and dismissed him alive.’
The Blessed One, having understood the situation uttered these verses on that occasion:
A person plunders indeed in the way he thinks fit, and when others plunder, the plundered, too, plunder.
The fool thinks it’s alright, until evil bears fruit. When evil bears fruit, the fool comes to sorrow.
The killer gets (in turn) a killer, the victor (in turn) will get a victor.
He that abuses, (in turn) will get abuse, and an offender an offender (in turn).
So with the action that comes around the plundered one plunders.
First and second Saṅgāma Suttas: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.83–85 <189–193>,257 trans. P.D.P.
Th.36 The power of patience and non-anger
The first passage, also set in a conflict situation, advises calm and patience in the face of angry provocation. This is not weakness, but real strength, of benefit to oneself and those one is in conflict with. The second passage succinctly expresses the power of this kind of response.
In that war the gods won and the demi-gods were defeated. Then the gods of the Thirty-three, binding Vepacitti, the king of the demi-gods (in five places of the body) with his neck as the fifth brought him to the Sudhammā assembly, to Sakka, the king of gods. There, Vepacitti, the king of demi-gods … when Sakka, the king of gods was entering and exiting the Sudhammā assembly, was abusing and insulting him with foul and harsh words.
Monks, then Mātalī, the charioteer questioned Sakka, the king of gods thus in verse: ‘Is it out of fear or out of weakness that Sakka endures hearing harsh words in the face of Vepacitti?’
Sakka: ‘It is neither due to fear nor due to weakness that I am patient with Vepacitti. How could a wise person like me engage with a fool?’
Mātalī: ‘Fools get increasingly aggressive when there is none to put a stop to this. Therefore, let the wise person resist the fool with exceedingly effective punishment.’
Sakka: ‘I consider this itself as resistance against the fool, that is, having known that the other person is angered, one mindfully keeps one’s calm.’
Mātalī: ‘Vāsava, I see a fault in this very act of patience. When the fool imagines, “through fear of me he is patient”, the stupid one becomes more aggressive like the bull that chases the person who flees.’
Let him imagine or not ‘It is through fear of me that he is patient’. There exists no greater gain than patience: that is of the highest benefit to oneself.
He who being strong really is patient towards the weak, that patience is called the supreme, for the weak person is always patient.
They call that power no power at all, the power that is the power of a fool. There is no one to resist the power of him who is guarded by Dhamma.
It is really worse for him who responds in anger to one who is angered. One who does not show anger towards the angered wins a battle that is difficult to win.
He who, having known that the other person has been angered, mindfully keeps his calm, conducts himself for the well-being of both himself and the other.
The person who heals both himself and the other: those people who think him a fool are not proficient in Dhamma.’
Vepacitti Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.221–222 <475–479>, trans. P.D.P.
Conquer the angry by non-anger; conquer the bad by goodness; conquer the miser by generosity, and the liar by truth.
Dhammapada 223, trans. P.H.
Wealth and economic activity
Th.37 Craving for riches brings ruin
Riches destroy the foolish, but not those seeking the Beyond.
By craving for riches, the fool destroys himself as he would others.
Dhammapada 355, trans. P.H.
Th.38 Do not be blind in one eye
This passage sees the best, and happiest, kind of person as one with an eye to both profit and ethics.
Monks, there are these three kinds of persons found existing in the world. What three? The blind, the one-eyed, and the two-eyed.
What, monks, is blind person? Here, a certain person lacks the kind of eye with which to acquire wealth not yet acquired and increase already acquired wealth, and he also lacks the kind of eye with which to know wholesome and unwholesome qualities, blameworthy and blameless qualities, inferior and superior qualities, dark and bright qualities with their counterparts. This is called the blind person.
What, monks, is one-eyed person? Here, a certain person has the kind of eye with which to acquire wealth … but he lacks the kind of eye with which to know wholesome and unwholesome qualities …
What, monks, is two-eyed person? Here, a certain person has the kind of eye with which to acquire wealth … and he also has the kind of eye with which to know wholesome and unwholesome qualities …
The two-eyed is declared the best kind of person. His wealth is acquired by his own exertion, with goods that are righteously gained.
Andha Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.128–129, trans. P.H.
Th.39 A happy life comes from industriousness, appropriate guarding of possessions, friendship with the good, and wise use of money
This passage explains what kinds of behaviour bring happiness in this and the next life for ordinary laypeople involved in life’s pleasures.
Byagghapajja, these four things are conducive to the wellbeing and happiness of a child of good family in this immediate life. What four? Achievement by industry, achievement by protection, friendship with the good and balanced living.
Byagghapajja, what is achievement by industry? Here, Byagghapajja, by whatever occupation a child of good family makes a livelihood, whether farming, trading, cattle rearing, archery, royal service or any other profession, he becomes skilled, not lethargic, and is possessed of proper judgment and understanding of means regarding what needs to be done and what needs to be organized. Byagghapajja, this is the achievement by industry.
Byagghapajja, what is the achievement by protection? Here, Byagghapajja, whatever wealth there is to the child of good family achieved through industrious effort, righteously earned through his own labour, the sweat of his brow, he arranges for its ward and protection (thinking): ‘My wealth should not be carried away by the king, by robbers, it should not be burnt by fire, carried away by floodwaters or by unloved inheritors’. Byagghapajja, this is the achievement by protection.
Byagghapajja, what is friendship with the good? Here, Byagghapajja, in whatever village or hamlet the child of good family lives, there may be householders or children of householders, those young people developed in ethical discipline, or those old people developed in ethical discipline, those endowed with faith, endowed with ethical discipline, generosity and wisdom. He stays with them, talks with them and discusses with them. He trains himself in accordance with the achievement in faith of those endowed with faith, the achievement in ethical discipline of those endowed with ethical discipline, the achievement in generosity of those endowed with generosity, and the achievement in wisdom of those endowed with wisdom. Byagghapajja this is friendship with the good.
Byagghapajja, what is balanced living? Here, Byagghapajja, the child of good family having known his income and expenditure, lives neither in an extravagant manner nor in a miserly manner, but adopts a balanced style of living, considering: ‘So shall my income exceed my expenditure and my expenditure not exceed my income.’ Like one holding the balance or one who is the apprentice of one holding the balance would know, this side is more by this much and this side is less by this much, in the same way the child of good family, having known his income and expenditure, lives neither in an extravagant manner nor in a miserly manner, but adopts a balanced style of living … Byagghapajja, when the child of good family, having known his income and expenditure, … adopts a balanced style of living it is called balanced living.
Byagghapajja, to wealth thus arisen there are four sources of loss. They are addiction to women, intoxicants, gambling and having evil friends, associates, and intimates. Just as, Byagghapajja, to a great reservoir there are four inlets and four outlets and a man closes up the inlets and opens the outlets; rain, too, does not fall abundantly. If this happens, wasting away could be expected to the reservoir, not growth. In the same manner, to arisen wealth there are four sources of loss …
Byagghapajja, to wealth thus arisen there are four sources of gain as non-addiction to women, intoxicants, gambling, and having friends, associates, and intimates who are good. Just as, Byagghapajja, to a great reservoir there are four inlets and four outlets. A man opens the inlets and closes up the outlets; rain too falls abundantly. If this happens growth could be expected to the reservoir, not wasting away. In the same manner to arisen wealth there are four sources of gain …
Byagghapajja, those four things are conducive to the well-being and happiness of a child of good family here and now. Byagghapajja, these four things are conducive to the well-being and happiness of a child of good family hereafter. What four? Achievement in faith, in ethical discipline, in generosity, and in wisdom.
Byagghapajja, what is achievement in faith? Here, the child of good family has faith in the awakening of the Tathāgata, ‘The Blessed One, arahant, perfectly awakened Buddha …’258
Byagghapajja, what is the achievement in ethical discipline? Here, Byagghapajja, the child of good family abstains from destroying life ... from taking drinks that lead to intoxication and heedless behaviour … Byagghapajja, this is achievement in ethical discipline.259
Byagghapajja, what is the achievement in generosity? Here, Byagghapajja, the child of good family lives in the household with a mind free from the stain of miserliness, extending generosity, delighting in relinquishment, with pure hands (ready to give), ready to comply with the requests of the needy and delighting in sharing through liberality. Byagghapajja, this is the achievement in generosity.
Byagghapajja, what is the achievement in wisdom? Here, a child of good family is endowed with wisdom, with the noble and penetrative insight into arising and passing away that rightfully leads to the destruction of suffering. Byagghapajja, this is achievement in wisdom.
Byagghapajja Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya IV.281–285, trans. P.D.P.
Th.40 How to live ethically and not waste one’s resources
This passage sees an ethical life, avoidance of negative mental states, and avoidance of such things as idleness and drunkenness, as all aids to happiness in this life and the next life.
To the extent, young householder, that the four defilements of action are abandoned by the disciple of the noble one, and that person commits no evil action in four ways, does not associate with the six sources of loss of wealth, they, moving away from fourteen evil things, cover the six quarters260 and enter the path leading to victory in both worlds: they have succeeded in this world and in the world beyond. Upon the dissolution of the body after death they are born in a happy heavenly world.
What are the four defilements of action that have been abandoned? The destruction of life, householder, is a defilement of action, and so are taking what is not given, wrongful conduct in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures261 and lying. These are the four vices that they have abandoned.
… In which four ways does a person commit no evil action? Committing an evil action through favour … through hatred … through delusion … or through fear …
What are the six channels for loss of wealth not to be associated with? Indulging in substances that cause intoxication and heedlessness; sauntering in streets at unseemly hours; frequenting parties; indulgence in gambling that causes heedlessness; association with evil friends; giving oneself to idleness.
Sigālovāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.181–184, trans. P.D.P.
Th.41 Being generous and respectful brings a happy family and social environment
This passage urges people to use their ethically-generated income to support family members and be generous to employees, neighbours, deities, and priests and renunciants.
In whatever son of good family, Mahānāma, these five qualities are evident – whether it is a head-anointed king of the ruling class, or a countryman inheriting parental wealth, or a general of the army, or a headman of a village, or a head of a guild, or one having authoritative control in a particular family – growth should be expected, not decline. What five?
Here Mahānāma, with the righteous wealth he has earned righteously by aroused effort, toiling with his hands, with sweat dripping, he acts hospitably towards his mother and father, shows them honour, respects them and makes offerings to them. The mother and father, when treated hospitably, shown honour, respected and provided with offerings, are compassionate towards him with a good heart and wish him, ‘May you be long lived, may you safeguard your life for a long time!’ Growth and not decline can be expected for the son of good family to whom the compassion of the mother and father has been extended.
Further, Mahānāma, with the wealth he has earned ethically ... he acts hospitably towards his wife and children, servants, workmen, shows them honour ... Wife and children ..., when treated hospitably, ... are compassionate towards him ... Growth and not decline can be expected for the son of good family to whom the compassion of wife and children ... has been extended.
Further, Mahānāma, with the wealth he has earned ethically ... he acts hospitably towards the people in the fields and workplaces in the neighbourhood. The people in the fields and workplaces in the neighbourhood, when treated hospitably ... are compassionate towards him ... Growth and not decline could be expected for the son of good family to whom the compassion of the people in the fields and workplaces in the neighbourhood has been extended.
Further Mahānāma, with the wealth he has earned ethically ... he acts hospitably towards the deities who accept offerings. The deities ... when treated hospitably ... are compassionate towards him ... Growth and not decline could be expected for the son of good family to whom the compassion of the deities ... has been extended.
Further, Mahānāma, with the wealth he has earned ethically ... he acts hospitably towards renunciants and brahmins. The renunciants and brahmins, when treated hospitably, are compassionate towards him ... Growth and not decline could be expected for the son of good family to whom the compassion of the renunciants and brahmins ... has been extended. … Doing his duty towards mother and father, he is always bent on the welfare of wife and children. He is committed to the well-being of the people within the household and (his) dependants.
For the wellbeing of both, for departed former relatives as well as for those living here and now, he is bountiful and is virtuous.
The wise person, dwelling ethically in the household, is a producer of wealth for renunciants, brahmins and the deities.
He, having done good, becomes honoured and praised. Here itself they praise him and hereafter he rejoices in heaven.
Licchavi-kumāra Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.76–78, trans. P.D.P.
Th.42 Four praiseworthy aspects of making and using wealth
For a layperson, this passage praises ethical wealth-making, using wealth to make oneself happy, to make others happy, which generates beneficial karma, and not being attached to wealth.
Therein, headman, the one enjoying sensual pleasures who seeks wealth ethically, without violence; who (with this wealth) makes themselves happy and pleased; who shares it and does karmically beneficial deeds (with it); and who uses wealth without being tied to it, uninfatuated with it, not blindly absorbed in it, seeing the danger in it, understanding that which is the escape (from it): he may be praised on (these) four grounds.
Rāsiya Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.336–337, trans. P.H.
Th.43 Contentment as wealth
This short verse implies that contentment brings a sense of being well off.
Health is the highest gain, contentment is the greatest wealth.
A trustworthy friend is the best kinsman. Nirvana is the highest bliss.
Dhammapada 204, trans. P.D.P.
Th.44 There is no superiority simply due to social class; moral conduct is what counts
This passage critiques the idea that members of the brahmin hereditary class of pre-Buddhist priests are naturally superior and descended from Brahmā, seen by brahmins as the creator-deity. They are born from human mothers, like everyone else, and like members of the other three social classes of ancient India, they can act both unethically and ethically. What is truly worthy of respect, even from kings, is not birth but living according to Dhamma: justly, ethically, with wholesome actions, words and states of mind. The passage ends with a passage at *Th.4, highlighting the Buddha’s true followers as born from the Dhamma he teaches and embodies, equivalent to ‘Brahmā’ in the sense of what is truly the best of all things.
Then the Blessed One addressed (his disciple) Vāseṭṭha. ‘Vāseṭṭha, you have here gone forth from home to homelessness and become renunciants from the brahmin class, from the brahmin high rank, from families of brahmins. Vāseṭṭha; do not the brahmins accuse you and insult you?’
‘Surely, sir, the brahmins accuse us, insult us to their heart’s content with complete, not incomplete insults. Sir, the brahmins say thus: “Only the brahmins are of the highest (social) class. Other social groups are inferior. Only the brahmins are of white colour; others are of black colour. Only brahmins become pure; not non-brahmins. Only brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmā, born of his mouth. They are Brahmā-born, Brahmā-created, inheritors of Brahmā. You have abandoned the highest rank and gone into the lower rank, that is, these shavelings, renunciants, the menial, the black, those originated from the feet of (our) kinsman (Brahmā).” Sir, this is how the brahmins accuse us … ’.
‘Surely, Vāseṭṭha, the brahmins say this because they do not remember their past … It is evident, Vāseṭṭha that the brahmin women have their seasons, become pregnant, deliver, and breast-feed. And (yet) those brahmins being persons who are surely born of wombs say this: “brahmins are of the highest class … are Brahmā-born.”
Vāseṭṭha, there are these four classes: rulers, brahmins, tradesmen and labourers. Sometimes, Vāseṭṭha, a person of the ruling class is someone who destroys living beings, takes what is not given, misbehaves with regard to the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, lies, use harsh speech, divisive speech, idle chatter, has intense desire, is malicious in thought, is of wrong views. It is seen that even a ruler engages in these things that are unwholesome, reckoned as unwholesome, blameworthy, reckoned as blameworthy, ought not to be practised, reckoned as what ought not to be practised, not in keeping with what is noble, reckoned as what is not in keeping with what is noble, dark and of dark consequence, censured by the wise. Sometimes, Vāseṭṭha, even a brahmin, or a tradesman, or a labourer is someone who destroys living beings … It is seen that even a brahmin … engages in these things that are unwholesome, reckoned as unwholesome …
Sometimes, Vāseṭṭha, even a ruler abstains from destroying the life of living beings, taking what is not given … It is seen that even a ruler … engages in these things that are wholesome … praised by the wise [and likewise with members of the other classes].
When among these four classes are to be found a mixture of both things dark and white, what is censured by the wise as well as praised by the wise, what the brahmins say here: “Brahmins are of the highest class, other classes are inferior …”, this, the intelligent people do not approve of. What is the reason for that? Vāseṭṭha, out of these four classes, whoever is a monk, an arahant with intoxicating inclinations destroyed, who has lived the good life, done what ought to be done, laid aside the burden, attained to well-being, eradicated the fetter (of attachment to) ways of being, liberated with right gnosis, he is called the highest among them; and that is in terms of Dhamma, not in terms of non-Dhamma. Dhamma is the greatest among these people both in this immediate life and in the life after. In this way too, Vāseṭṭha it should be known how Dhamma alone is the greatest among these people in this immediate life and in the life hereafter.
Vāseṭṭha, King Pasenadi Kosala knows that the renunciant Gotama is unsurpassed, and that he became a renunciant from the family of the Sakyas. Sakyans do regularly obey the commands of King Pasenadi Kosala. The Sakyans show respect, do salutation, offer a seat, do respectful salutation, pay homage to King Pasenadi Kosala. Vāseṭṭha, whatever showing of respect, doing of salutation … the Sakyans perform to King Pasenadi Kosala, similar respect is shown by him … to the Tathāgata (a Sakyan). And does he do so thinking: “Isn’t it indeed the case that renunciant Gotama is well-born, I am ill-born; renunciant Gotama is powerful, I am weak; renunciant Gotama is good looking, I am not of good appearance; renunciant Gotama is of great standing, I am of small standing?’ (‘No’). But it is due to respecting, honouring, paying respect to, worshipping, paying homage to Dhamma itself that King Pasenadi Kosala shows respect to the Tathāgata. In this way also Vāseṭṭha, it should be known that among these people, Dhamma alone is the greatest both in this immediate life and in the life hereafter.
Vāseṭṭha, you indeed are persons who have gone forth from home to homelessness from various classes, various names, various clans, various communities and become renunciants. And when you are questioned who you are, you should reply: “We are renunciants, who are sons of the Sakyan (teacher).”’
Aggañña Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.81–84, trans. P.D.P.
Th.45 People of all backgrounds are equal in their potential; social divisions among them are conventional
In this passage, the brahmin Vāseṭṭha figures again, probably before becoming a disciple of the Buddha. He expresses the view that action, not birth, is what counts in being a ‘brahmin’ in the sense of a person of genuine ethical superiority. His fellow brahmin, Bhāradvāja, holds that purity of descent is what makes a person a real brahmin. They go to the Buddha to ask which view he agrees with. The Buddha says action is what matters. He emphasizes that while plants and animals have differences according to their species, humans are one species, not divided into four types according to the class they are born into. Class differences are merely conventional labels based on mode of livelihood.
Vāseṭṭha I will say in accordance with truth about the classification of those living things according to species. Species indeed are various.
You would know this in respect of the grass and trees: although they would not make a claim, they have the mark of their species. The species indeed are various.
So also in respect of insects, grasshoppers and ants; they have the mark of their species ...
You would know in respect of four-footed ones, small and large, that they have the mark of their species …
Also you would know in respect of those with long backs using their bellies as their feet (snakes) that they have the mark of their species ...
Then you would know in respect of fish too, aquatic, living in water that they have the mark of their species …
Then you would know in respect of birds too who fly in the air borne by their wings that they have the mark of their species …
As among these species there are separate marks of their species, there is not among humans separate species-marks.
Neither in the hair, nor in the head, the ears, the eyes, the mouth, the nose, the lips the eyelashes,
In the neck, the flanks, the stomach, the back, in the womb, the chest, the pudendum, in sexual intercourse,
In the hands, feet, fingers nor nails, nor in the thighs and calves, nor in the hue262 or voice are there (differing) species-marks as among other species.
In the individual bodies of humans, these are not evident. Designations with regard to humans are used according to conventions.
Among humans, whoever makes a livelihood by looking after cattle, Vāseṭṭha, know that he is (by that) a farmer, not a brahmin.263
Among humans, whoever makes a livelihood by some craft, Vāseṭṭha, know that he is a craftsman, not a brahmin.
Among humans, whoever makes a livelihood by trading, Vāseṭṭha, know that he is a merchant, not a brahmin. …
[Parallel points are made about workmen, robbers, soldiers, sacrificial priests, and kings.] I do not call one a brahmin because of his maternal origin or his breed. He may be addressed as ‘sir’ but be a man of attachment.
He who does not become agitated, having cut off all fetters, such a person who has overcome all impurity, released from bondage, I call a brahmin. …
The name and clan conceived in the world is mere convention. Such conception in various contexts has come about due to common agreement.
For those lacking in understanding, dogmatic belief has been lying latent. They without understanding tell us, ‘One becomes a brahmin by birth’.
One becomes neither a brahmin nor a non-brahmin by birth. One becomes a brahmin and a non-brahmin by action.
Vāseṭṭha Sutta: Sutta-nipāta p.115 and vv.594–621 and 648–650, trans. P.D.P.
The equality of men and women
In this section we have included only canonical passages that show a favourable attitude towards women. However, there are other passages that represent the prevailing discriminative attitudes of the time. It is possible that such seeming contradictory attitudes are expressed in some instances in the literature due to editorial handling over many centuries. Some of the Brahmanical attitudes that were dominant in early Indian society may have found their way into the Buddhist canonical literature itself, although in other passages, of which instances are given below, a clearly reformatory attitude of the Buddha regarding the issue of gender is represented.
Th.46 Subtle elevation of the status of women
In this passage, the Buddha undermines the idea of the lesser status of females in the society of his time, though in a skilful way that appeals to some existing values and avoids a direct challenge.
King Pasenadi Kosala approached the Blessed One, paid respect to him and sat on one side. Then a certain person approached King Pasenadi Kosala and whispered in his ear that Queen Mallikā had given birth to a daughter. Hearing this, King Pasenadi Kosala, became displeased.
The Blessed One, knowing the displeasure of King Pasenadi Kosala, uttered at that time these verses:
Some woman too may be better than a man if she is intelligent, virtuous, respectful towards the mother-in-law and is faithful to her husband.
Those born to her will be heroes and district leaders, the son of such a good wife might even rule as a king.
Dhītā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.86 <194>, trans. P.D.P.
Th.47 Women’s equal potential for wisdom and awakening
In this passage, Māra, the evil one is made to represent the wrong notion that dominated social perceptions about women during the time that Buddhism emerged. The expression ‘two-finger-wisdom’ is used to suggest that women have very little intelligence. The commentarial tradition explains the expression in two different ways. According to the Saṃyutta-nikāya commentary, the common notion was that women’s understanding is limited to the use of two fingers in weaving threads with cotton wool. According to the Therīgāthā commentary, although women cook rice from the age of seven or eight, in order to know whether the rice is properly cooked, they have to take the boiling rice with a spoon and press it with two fingers to know whether it is cooked.
At one time the Blessed One was living in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika in Jetavana in Sāvatthī. Then the nun Somā, putting on robes in the morning and taking bowl and robes, entered Sāvatthī for the alms-round. Going on the alms-round and after the meal, she approached the Andha forest and sat at the root of a tree to find (meditative) seclusion. Then Māra, the evil one, desiring to frighten the nun Somā, approached her and uttered this verse:
That difficult to achieve state, which should be achieved by sages,
women, with the two-finger-wisdom, cannot achieve.
Then it occurred to the nun Somā, ‘Who is it that utters this verse, is it a human or non-human?’ Then nun Somā thought: ‘it is Māra the evil one, desiring to frighten me and disturb me in my seclusion who has uttered this verse.’ And the nun Somā, knowing it was Māra the evil one, replied with this verse:
Why should being a woman matter when the mind is well composed, understanding is present and for whom there is proper insight into the Dhamma?
Māra, it is fit for you to say this to someone who thinks in terms of ‘I am man’, or ‘I am woman’ or in some such terms.
Then Māra the evil one thinking: ‘The nun Somā knows me’, displeased, disappeared there itself.
Somā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.129 <283–284>, trans. P.D.P.
Th.48 Demonstration of a woman’s spiritual powers
This passage concerns Mahā-pajāpatī Gotamī, the Buddha’s aunt who became his step-mother, and who helped persuade him to grant ordination to women (see*Th.220). After becoming the first Buddhist nun, she went on to attain awakening as an arahant. Here the Buddha urges her, now 120, to demonstrate her spiritual powers, so as to challenge people’s doubts as to women’s abilities. Other parts of the passage, not given here, mention her numerous other feats of meditation-based supernormal power.
(Gotamī ‘That state (nirvana) which is not seen by elderly non-Buddhist teachers Is experienced by some good (Buddhist) young girls of seven years. …’
(The Buddha ‘Gotamī, in order to dispel the dogmatic view of those who entertain doubt about the realization of Dhamma by women, do display (your) supernormal powers.’
Then having bowed to the perfectly awakened Buddha, plunging into the sky, Gotamī displayed numerous supernormal powers with the sanction of the Buddha.
Having become one she became many, and having become many she became one. She appeared, disappeared, went through walls, through mountains.
Without obstruction she went and even dived into the ground Like on the earth she walked on water without sinking.
Getting herself into a posture she moved in the sky like a female bird.
She exercised the range of her bodily power as far as the abode of Brahmā.
She made (mount) Sineru the shaft, and made the great earth a parasol and turning it from the bottom and holding it she walked about in the sky.
She set the world up in smoke like at the time of the dawn of six suns and made the world enveloped in a net of garlands like in the end of the great period.
Gotamī Apadāna vv.66 and 79–85: Apadāna 535–536, trans. P.D.P.
Good human relationships
Th.49 How to have harmonious social relationships with six kinds of people
In this passage, the Buddha gives advice to Sigāla, a layperson who had adopted the practice of paying homage to the six quarters or directions – east, south, west, north, nadir (below) and zenith (above) – as a regular ritual. The Buddha gives a new meaning to this ritual by reinterpreting the directions as kinds of people with whom dutiful mutual relationships should be established: parents, teachers, spouse, friends, employees, and religious guides. Here, parents are the ‘east’, the direction from which the sun rises. The recommendations are given in the context of the social conditions of the Buddha’s day.
‘And how, householder, does a disciple of the noble one cover the six quarters? The following should be understood as the six quarters: parents should be understood as the east, teachers as the south, wife and children as the west, friends and associates as the north, servants and labourers as the nadir, renunciants and brahmins as the zenith.
In these five ways, householder, a child ought to minister to his parents as the east: “(i) having been supported by them I shall support them, (ii) I shall do what ought to be done for them, (iii) I shall keep the family tradition, (iv) I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance,
(v) furthermore, I shall offer alms on their behalf when they are dead and departed.”
Householder, when the parents have been ministered to as the east by their children in these five ways, they will in turn show their care for their children in five ways: (i) they will restrain them from evil, (ii) they will get them to be established in the good, (iii) they will get them trained in a craft, (iv) they will get them married to a suitable spouse, (v) at the proper time they will hand over their inheritance to them … In this manner the east becomes covered, made safe and secure.
In these five ways, householder, a pupil ought to minister to a teacher as the south: (i) by rising from his seat in salutation, (ii) by attending upon the teacher, (iii) by eagerness to learn, (iv) by serving, (v) by properly receiving the instruction pertaining to a craft.
Householder when the teachers have been ministered to as the south by their pupils in these five ways, the teachers will in turn show their care for their pupils in five ways: (i) they will train them well, (ii) they will see that they grasp their lessons well, (iii) they will provide them with complete instruction pertaining to a craft, (iv) they will introduce them to their friends and associates, (v) they will provide for their safety in every quarter … In this manner the south is covered, made safe and secure.
In these five ways, householder, a husband ought to minister to his wife as the west: (i) by being courteous, (ii) by not showing disrespect, (iii) by not being adulterous, (iv) by handing over authority, (v) by providing her with adornments.
Householder, when the wife is thus ministered to as the west by her husband in these five ways, she in turn shows her care for her husband in five ways: (i) she will perform her work in a well organized way, (ii) she will be hospitable to relations, (iii) she will not be adulterous, (iv) she will protect earnings, (v) she will be skilled and industrious in discharging her duties … Thus is the west covered by him and made safe and secure.
In these five ways, householder, a son of good family ought to minister to his friends and associates as the north: (i) by liberality, (ii) by endearing speech, (iii) by benevolent behaviour, (iv) by equal treatment, (v) by non-deception.
Householder, when in these five ways the friends and associates have been ministered to as the north, they in turn will show care for him in five ways: (i) they will protect him when he is heedless, (ii) they will protect his property when he is heedless, (iii) they will become a refuge when he is in fear, (iv) they will not forsake him in his troubles, (v) they will show respect to the others in his family … Thus is the north covered by him and made safe and secure.
In these five ways, householder, a master ought to minister to his servants and labourers as the nadir: (i) by assigning them work according to their ability, (ii) by supplying them with food and wages, (iii) by tending them in sickness, (iv) by sharing with them any delicacies, (v) by granting them leave at times.
Householder, when in these five ways the servants and employees have been ministered to as the nadir by their master, they in turn show their care for him in five ways: (i) they rise before him, (ii) they go to sleep after him, (iii) they take only what is given, (iv) they perform their work well, (v) they uphold his good name and reputation … Thus is the nadir covered by him and made safe and secure.
In these five ways, householder, a son of good family ought to minister to renunciants and brahmins as the zenith: (i) by kindly bodily acts, (ii) by kindly verbal acts, (iii) by kindly thoughts, (iv) by keeping open house to them, (v) by supplying their material needs.
House holder, when the renunciants and brahmins have been ministered to as the zenith by a son of good family in these five ways, they in turn show their care for him in six ways: (i) they restrain him from evil, (ii) they cause him to be established in the good, (iii) they show sympathy towards him with a good heart, (iv) they make him hear what he has not heard, (v) they clarify what he has already heard, (vi) they point out the path to a heavenly state. Thus is the zenith covered by him and made safe and secure.’
Thus spoke the Blessed One. And when the teacher had thus spoken, he spoke yet again: …
Charitability, endearing speech, benevolent behaviour, equal treatment, appropriately on the appropriate occasion.
These four forms of benevolence make the world go round, like the linchpin in a moving chariot.
If these in the world exist not, neither mother nor father will receive respect and honour from their children.
Because of these four forms of benevolence the wise discern, to eminence they attain, and praiseworthy they become.
Sigālovāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.187–193, trans. P.D.P.
Parents and children
Th.50 Repaying one’s parents in gratitude for what they have done for one
This passage urges recognition of what we owe our parents, and repaying them in gratitude.
Monks, I say, there are two who cannot easily be repaid (in gratitude). Who are the two? Mother and father. Monks, if you were to bear your father and mother on your shoulders and lived a hundred years and meanwhile rubbed and massaged their bodies as they let loose urine and excreta, you would not yet have repaid them for what they have done for you. Even if you cause them to be established in kingship with power and authority on this earth, along with its plentiful sevenfold gems, even then you will not have returned in terms of gratitude for what they have done for you, because they have done much more. Parents have been guardians of and have fed their children; they have showed them this world.
Monks, whoever causes their parents who lacked faith to participate in, to enter into, to become established in the accomplishment of faith, or causes them, if of poor ethical discipline, to participate in … accomplishment of good ethical discipline, or causes them, if miserly, to participate in … the accomplishment of liberality, or causes them, if lacking in wisdom, to participate in the accomplishment of wisdom – to that extent, monks, gratitude to your mother and father has been amply shown, shown to a great extent.
Mātā-pitara Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.61–62, trans. P.D.P.
Husband and wife
Th.51 Moral qualities of married couples
This passage makes clear that either partner in a couple may be a bad person – as if spiritually dead –, or a good person, like a divine being.
Householders, there are four kinds of cohabitation. What four? A dead male lives with a dead female, a dead male lives with a goddess, a god lives with a dead female and a god lives with a goddess.
Householders, how does a dead male live with a dead female? Here, householders, the husband destroys living beings, takes what is not given, engages in wrongful enjoyment of sensual pleasures, tells lies, takes intoxicating drinks; he is not virtuous, lives in the household with a mind overwhelmed by the stain of miserliness, scolds and abuses renunciants and brahmins. The wife does the same. Householders, thus, a dead male lives with a dead female.
Householders, how does a dead male live with a goddess? Here, householders, the husband acts as above. The wife abstains from these bad actions. Householders, thus, a dead male lives with a goddess.
Householders, how does a god live with a dead female? Here, householders the husband abstains from these bad actions. The wife does them. Thus a god lives with a dead female.
Householders, how does a god live with a goddess? Here, householders the husband abstains from these bad actions. The wife does the same. Thus a god lives with a goddess.
Householders, there are these four kinds of cohabitation. …
If both husband and wife have faith, are charitable, self-controlled and live righteously,
Addressing each other with pleasant words,
Then benefits would be abundant, and are easily produced.
Enemies, of the two with equal ethical discipline, would be unhappy.
Dutiya-saṃvāsa Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.57–59, trans. P.D.P.
Th.52 A loving couple equal in ethical discipline will be together in the next life
This passage is on a couple of the last of the above four types.
Then the householder Nakulapitā and the housewife Nakulamātā approached the Blessed One, paid respect to him and sat on one side. Then the householder Nakulapitā said this to the Blessed One:
‘Venerable sir, from the day I married Nakulamātā when she was young, even when young, I do not know of having committed adultery in relation to her even mentally. How could I physically do so? Venerable sir, we wish to see each other not only here and now, but also in the hereafter.’
Then the housewife, Nakulamātā too said this to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, from the day Nakulapitā married me when I was young, even when young, I do not know of having committed adultery in relation to him even mentally. How could I physically do so? Venerable sir, we wish to see each other not only here and now, but also in the hereafter.’
‘Householders, if husband and wife want to see each other not only here and now, but also in the hereafter, they should be endowed with the same measure of faith, ethical discipline, generosity, and wisdom. Then they will see each other both here now and also hereafter.
Both being faithful, understanding, restrained and living righteously they are husband and wife who speak to each other lovingly.
Benefits would be abundant, and are easily produced. Enemies, of the two with equal ethical discipline, would be unhappy.
Having led a righteous life here, those equal in ethical discipline and in dutiful living will be delighted in the heavenly world. They, desiring sensual pleasures will be happy.’
Paṭhama-nakula-samajīvī Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.61–62, trans. P.D.P.
Th.53 A man’s wife as his best friend
‘What indeed is the wealth of humans, and who indeed is the best friend? …’
‘Children are the wealth of humans, and one’s wife is one’s best friend.’
Vatthu Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.37 <81>, trans. P.D.P.
Th.54 Good and bad friends
This passage is of benefit in helping one to choose one’s friends wisely, which is important as friends can have a big influence on one. For the qualities of wise, spiritual friends, see *Th.85–8.
These four, householder, should be understood as foes in the guise of friends: he who misappropriates, he who renders lip-service, he who flatters, and he who aids in bringing ruin.
In four ways, householder, should one who misappropriates be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend: (i) he misappropriates things, (ii) for the little he does, he asks much, (iii) he does what ought to be done out of fear, (iv) he associates with one for his own advantage.
In four ways, householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend: (i) he speaks of benefits he could have bestowed in the past, (ii) he speaks of benefits he might bestow in the future, (iii) he speaks of a senseless benefit he is ready to bestow, (iv) with regard to what ought to be done in the present, he shows his own misfortune.
In four ways, householder, should one who flatters be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend: (i) he approves his friend’s evil, (ii) he does not approve of his friend’s good deeds, (iii) he speaks in praise of him in his presence, (iv) he speaks ill of him in the presence of others.
In four ways, householder, should one who aids in bringing ruin be understood as a foe in the guise of a friend: (i) he is a companion in indulging in intoxicants that cause infatuation and heedlessness, (ii) he is a companion in sauntering in streets at unseemly hours, (iii) he is a companion in frequenting parties, (iv) he is a companion in indulging in gambling, which causes heedlessness.
These four, householder, should be understood as good-hearted friends: (i) he who is a helpmate, (ii) he who is the same in happiness and sorrow, (iii) he who gives good counsel, and (iv) he who sympathizes.
In four ways, householder, should a helpmate be understood as a good-hearted friend: (i) he guards him when he has become heedless, (ii) he protects his wealth when he has become heedless, (iii) he becomes a refuge when he is in fear, (iv) he provides him with double the supply needed when there are matters to be attended to.
In four ways, householder, should one who is the same in happiness and sorrow be understood as a good-hearted friend: (i) he reveals his own secrets, (ii) he conceals the secrets of his friend, (iii) in misfortune he does not forsake the friend, (iv) he sacrifices even his life for the sake of his friend.
In four ways, householder, should one who gives good counsel be understood as a good-hearted friend: (i) he restrains one from evil, (ii) he causes one to be established in the good, (iii) he makes one hear what he has not heard, (iv) he points out the path to heaven.
In four ways, householder, should one who sympathizes be understood as a good-hearted friend: (i) he does not rejoice in failings, (ii) he rejoices in success, (iii) he restrains others speaking ill of the friend, (iv) he praises those who speak well of the friend.
Sigālovāda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.185–187, trans. P.D.P.
M.23 A good ruler
This passage escribes such a ruler as compassionate and caring.
Son of good family, a lay bodhisattva who is the king of a great country should care for his subjects as if they each were his only child. He should teach them to refrain from unwholesome actions and to cultivate wholesome qualities. If a criminal is caught, he should receive corporal punishment and public humiliation, but he should not be put to death.
A sixth of people’s property should be paid in tax. When he sees evil-minded, short-tempered people, he should teach them to cultivate patience and awareness, speaking to them with kind words. As king, he should be able to separate good people from bad. He should be tolerant towards criminals, and not punish them. He should practice charity often, giving according to how many possessions he has. …
When he sees the poor he should generate great compassion. He should always be content with his own lands. He should never believe the slander spread by evil-minded people. He should never seek to accumulate wealth in a way which is contrary to the Dharma.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.13, p.1047a02–05, 09–11, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.24 Leaders should be generous and helpful
This urges leaders to act with compassion for poor and disabled people.
The Buddha addressed the bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha, ‘In this world, there are kings, prime ministers, high officials, great elders, great leaders, great brahmins, and so forth. Such people may encounter those who are most lowly, poor and in need, or those who are infirm, crippled, dumb, mute, deaf, insane, blind, or who have some other kind of deficiency. These great kings, and others, may wish to give these people alms. Whether they give by their own hand, or by having others arrange for gifts to be given on their behalf, if they can give with great compassion, with awareness, with a smile, and with kind words of comfort, they will obtain as much karmic benefit as if they had given alms to as many Buddhas as there are grains of sand in a hundred River Ganges.’
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrva-praṇidhāna Sūtra, Taishō vol.13, text 412, ch.10, p.786b20–25, trans. D.S.
M.25 The vows of a queen
In this passage a queen vows to always act for the benefit of others.
When she had heard the Buddha’s prophecy, Śrīmālā264 stood respectfully and took the vow of ten great undertakings, ‘Blessed One, from now until I realize awakening, no thought of breaking the precepts that I have undertaken will arise in me, … no thought of disrespect for the elders will arise in me, … no thought of hatred toward living beings will arise in me, … no thought of jealousy of others’ physical appearance or possessions will arise in me, … no thought of miserliness regarding inner or outer things will arise in me, … I will never accumulate things for my own benefit; whatever I possess will be given away in order to help those who are miserable and destitute, … I will never practice the four methods of drawing together harmoniously 265 for my own benefit, but in order to help all living beings; … I will help living beings with a mind which is not clouded by attachment, tiredness, or hindrances, … when I see beings who are lonely, unprotected, imprisoned, afflicted by disease, or suffering from any kind of disaster or misery, I will not desert them even for an instant, but will instead bring them to safety and help them, with the right motivation of helping to free them from suffering; only then will I be happy to leave them, … when I see unwholesome practices such as hunting or trapping living beings or breaking the precepts, I will not leave them be. As I have the power to help them, if I see people like this anywhere, I will train those who are to be trained, and assist those who need assistance, … I will never fail to bear the true Dharma in mind. … I therefore take this vow of ten great undertakings.’
Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, ch.2, p.217b24–c22, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Peace, violence and crime
M.26 Bodhisattvas work for peace
In the midst of great battles, they favour neither side.
Greatly powerful bodhisattvas delight in bringing people together in harmony.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.7, section 6, verse 27, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.27 How to deal with difficult behaviour
So when seeing an enemy or even a friend behaving badly, by thinking that such things arise from particular conditions, I shall remain happy.
People’s faults are temporary visitors. Beings are by nature pleasant. So anger towards them is no more appropriate than anger at the sky when it is filled with acrid smoke.
Bodhicaryāvatāra VI. 33 and 40, trans. From Sanskrit by P.H.
M.28 Against capital punishments
This passage advises that a ruler should not punish people by killing or mutilating them as this will mean that they die angry, so as to be reborn in a lower state, thus:
It is not right to kill, destroy sense organs, or cut off limbs that cannot be restored ... (these) are improper and dishearten and repulse people. They are not the ways of a righteous ruler.
Ārya-satyaka-parivarta, p.200 of L.Jamspal’s trans. From Tibetan.
M.29 Occasionally, a bodhisattva should regretfully use violence to save others
This passage allows violence in very limited circumstances, to save others, but only by spiritually developed people who are prepared to take on the potential bad karma of such acts.
A bodhisattva who sees a thief or a robber who is about to kill many hundreds of living beings, great individuals, disciples, solitary-buddhas, or bodhisattvas in order to profit himself, or who is ready to repeatedly commit the five acts which have immediate bad karmic consequences, should reflect in the following way. ‘If I take the life of this living being, I will be reborn in hell. I would gladly be reborn in hell if it means that this living being can avoid such a fate, a fate which will certainly befall him if he commits one of the five acts which have immediate bad karmic consequences.’ With this attitude, a bodhisattva should take the life of this person in a wholesome state of mind, a neutral state of mind, out of empathy, even though he fears the rebirth it will bring him. This is not a transgression, but on the contrary will bring him a great deal of beneficial karma.
If there are kings or ministers who are excessively violent and cruel towards other living beings, and who put all of their energies into oppressing others, a bodhisattva should not hesitate to use force to remove them from their positions of power. A great deal of beneficial karma will flow from such an action when it is done out of empathy, and with the intention to benefit others and bring them happiness.
Bodhisattva-bhūmi 9.1 and 9.2, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
Wealth and economy
M.30 Contentment and generosity
Anyone who wishes to obtain worldly pleasure and transcendental bliss should be generous. The wise should think … ‘Even if I possessed all four continents, and could thereby indulge in countless pleasures, I would still not be satisfied. I should therefore practice generosity, in order to obtain transcendental bliss. I should not seek heavenly or human pleasure, because this is impermanent and limited.’
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.19, p.1056b14–19. Trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.31 The danger of attachment to celebrity, beauty and wealth
19. The Buddha said, ‘People follow their desires, and long for fame. This is like burning incense. Living beings smell the incense, but the incense itself is burned up and turns to smoke. This is the fame of the ignorant, the greedy, the vulgar, those who do not guard the truth of the Path. Fame is dangerous and brings misfortune. One comes to regret being famous.
20. The Buddha said, ‘People crave money and sex. This is like a child’s desire for honey smeared on a razor blade. The honey will not bring the satisfaction of a full meal, but still the child risks cutting his tongue to get it.’
‘Sūtra of Forty-two Sections’/Sishierzhang jing, Taishō vol.17, text 784, p.723a22–26, trans. D.S.
Equality of men and women
M.32 Gender prejudice
This striking passage criticizes prejudice against women, as it wrongly views gender as being based on unchanging essential natures.
Śāriputra said, ‘Goddess, why don’t you transform yourself from your female state?’
The goddess said, ‘I have searched for the state of being female for fully twelve years, and yet I have not found it. Brother Śāriputra, if an illusionist created an apparition of a woman and someone were to say to her, “Why don’t you transform yourself from your female state?”, what would he say?’ Śāriputra said, ‘She does not exist in any state.’ The goddess said, ‘In just the same way, Brother Śāriputra, as all phenomena do not exist in any state, and are illusory apparitions, why would you ask “Why don’t you transform yourself from your female state?”?’
Then the goddess used her supernormal powers to make the Elder Śāriputra look like her, and to make herself look like the Elder Śāriputra. Then the goddess, who looked like Śāriputra, asked Śāriputra, who looked like the goddess, ‘Brother Śāriputra, why don’t you transform yourself from your female state?’
Śāriputra, who looked like the goddess, said, ‘I do not know what to transform! My male body has disappeared, and been transformed into a female body!’
The goddess said, ‘If the elder could transform himself from his female state, then so too any woman could transform herself from her female state. Just as the elder is not a woman, but only looks like a woman, so too all women only have the bodies of women. They are not really women, but only look like women. This is what the Blessed One meant when he said, “All phenomena are neither female nor male.”’
Then the goddess stopped using her supernormal powers, and the Venerable Śāriputra got his own body back again. Then the goddess said to the Venerable Śāriputra, ‘Brother Śāriputra, where have you made your female body go?’
Śāriputra said, ‘I haven’t made anything, or transformed anything’.
The goddess said, ‘In just the same way, all phenomena are neither made nor transformed, and that nothing is made or transformed is the word of the Buddha.’
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.6, sections 14–15, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.33 A wise woman who is prophesised to become a Buddha in the future
Here the Buddha addresses Queen Śrīmālā, having just said that she will in time attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
You have praised the true qualities of the Tathāgata. Because of this wholesome root you will become a ruler of the gods, innumerable immeasurable eons from now. Wherever you are born, you will see me and praise me just as you have done in this present existence, in exactly the same terms. Moreover, you will serve innumerable countless Buddhas for twenty thousand immeasurable eons. You will then become a Buddha, a Tathāgata, an arhant, a perfectly awakened Buddha named Universal Light.
Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, ch.1, p.217b11–16, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Respect for and gratitude to parents
M.34 Consideration and respect for parents, especially one’s mother
This passage details what we owe our parents, and teaches that we should not neglect them.
The Buddha said, ‘People are born into this world with a father and a mother as their parents. If there is no father, there will be no birth. If there is no mother, there will be no giving birth. Relying completely on its mother, the foetus dwells within her body for ten lunar months. When the mother’s term is complete, the child is born onto the ground. The father and mother raise the child. They lay him in a crib. The father and mother carry the child in their arms. They make the child say “He, he”. The child smiles, but cannot speak. They feed the child whenever he is hungry, and without a mother he cannot be fed. They give the child something to drink whenever he is thirsty, and without a mother he will have no milk to drink. Even if she is hungry herself, she will take bitter food for herself, and nourish her child with her sweet milk. She will give up a dry place to her child, and sit in the damp herself. If there are no such bonds, there is no family. Without his mother, the child will not be provided for. A loving mother raises her child. She takes him out of his crib when he is dirty, and feeds him without worrying about the dirt she gets under her own fingernails. Altogether, a child drinks fully four hundred and forty litres of milk from his mother. The care a mother gives to her child is immeasurable, like the heavens. Oh, how can a mother’s kindness be repaid?’
Ānanda said to the Buddha, ‘Blessed One, how can the care she gives to her child be repaid? Please explain this for us.’
The Buddha replied to Ānanda, ‘Listen carefully and attentively, and I will explain this to you in detail. The care given to us by our fathers and our mothers is immeasurable, like the heavens. If a child, filled with love and respect for his parents, makes copies of sūtras in order to make his father and mother happy, or makes ullambana trays on the fifteenth day of the seventh month266 and offers them to the Buddha and the Sangha, then the karmic fruits he will obtain will be immeasurable. In this way, he can repay the care he has received from his father and his mother. Alternatively, if anyone copies this sūtra, disseminates it widely, accepts it as true, and recites it, then this person will repay the care he has received from his father and his mother.
How can the care given by one’s father and one’s mother be repaid? Every day, one’s father and mother go to work. One’s mother goes to draw water from the well, walking half a kilometre to the east or to the west to do so, and pounds rice in the cellar. Whenever she is away from home, she worries that her child might be at home crying. She thinks about how her child responds when she returns home, and he sees her approaching. He might shake his head from side to side in his crib, or crawl on his belly whilst he cries out for his mother. She will bend down to pick him up, and brush the dust off him with both hands. Then, making comforting sounds, she will breast-feed him. The mother is filled with joy when she sees her child. The child is filled with happiness when he sees his mother. The care and affection they have for one another is precious. There is nothing greater than this love.
When the child is two or three years old, he begins to form his own ideas and thoughts, but he still doesn’t know when it is time to eat without his mother to tell him. If his father and mother are invited to a fine banquet where they are served with cake and meat, they will not eat everything they are offered, but take some of it back with them and give it to their child. Nine times out of ten, the child is happy, but if he doesn’t get anything, he will cry, or pretend to cry, out of pride. A child who is filled with pride does not show respect to his parents, and should be spanked five times. A child who respects his parents will not complain, but will show them love and obedience.
When the child grows up, and begins to spend time with his friends, his father and mother will comb and brush his hair. If he wants nice clothes to wear, they will wear worn and threadbare clothes themselves, and give their child good-quality new silks. When he begins to go out on his own, on public or private business, his parents cherish him in their hearts, whether he goes north or south, and follow him in their minds, whether he goes east or west, holding their heads to one side.
When he starts to think about finding a wife, they find a woman for him. He distances himself from his father and mother, sharing conversation and pleasure with his wife in the privacy of their room. Although his father and mother are now old and frail, he ignores them all day long, from morning until evening, and doesn’t go and speak to them.
Sooner or later, either his mother or his father will pass away, and his surviving parent will be left to sit alone in an empty room, like a guest in someone else’s house. They receive no care or affection, and are cold without a quilt to keep them warm. They suffer hardships and difficulties. A weak and elderly parent may even become infested with lice, such that they cannot sleep day or night. They may give a long sigh, and ask themselves, “What unwholesome action did I perform in the past, in order to give birth to a child who has no respect for his parents?”, or go to their child and scold him, with angry stares. He and his wife lower their heads, but with a smirk, and the child shows not respect for his parent. He deserves to be spanked five times, like a child, as what he and his wife have done is equivalent to the five acts with immediate bad karmic consequences.267
When his parents call out for help with some urgent problem, nine times out of ten, the child will not respond. He is constantly disobeying his parents, staring at them with anger and hatred in his eyes, and saying “You should die soon. Why are you still above the ground?” When his parents hear this they are sad and distressed, and they weep. With tears flowing down their cheeks, they cry out to their child with swollen eyes, “When you were small, you could not have survived without us. We gave you life. Perhaps it would have been better if we hadn’t.”’
The Buddha said to Ānanda, ‘If a son or daughter of good family accepts this sūtra, The Great Perfection of Wisdom Mahāyāna Sūtra on the Importance of Caring for One’s Father and Mother, as true, reads it recites it and copies it for their father and mother, and if even one sentence or one verse of it should reach their eyes or their ears, then their five grave sins will be completely and permanently eradicated. They will often see the Buddha and hear the Dharma, and they will swiftly attain liberation.’
Ānanda rose from his seat, placed his upper robe over his left shoulder, knelt before the Buddha with folded hands, and said, ‘Blessed One, what is the name of this sūtra? How is it to be preserved and honoured?”
The Buddha said to Ānanda, ‘This name of this sūtra is the “Sūtra on the Importance of Caring for One’s Father and Mother”. Any living being who makes copies of this sūtra, burns incense, invites the Buddhas to teach, worships and honours the Three Jewels, or gives food and drink to the Sangha, in order to bring blessings to his parents, will repay the care they have given to him.
‘Sūtra on the Importance of Caring for One’s Father and Mother’/Fumuenzhong jing, Taishō vol. 85, text 2887, pp.1403b27–1404a19, trans. D.S.
M.35 Help for dying parents
This passage urges people to ease the karmic burden of parents or other relatives who are dying by doing good deeds on their behalf.
Living beings have unwholesome habits ranging from the trivial to the immeasurably serious. All living beings have these kinds of habits. When one’s parents or relatives are approaching death, it is appropriate to generate karmic benefit for them, to help them on the road ahead.
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrva-praṇidhāna Sūtra, Taishō vol.13, text 412, ch.7, p.784a05–07, trans. D.S.
Sharing karmic benefit with dead relatives
M.36 Benefitting parents and ancestors by giving donations on their behalf
This passages urges one to do good deeds on behalf of one’s parents and other ancestors, which they can benefit from.
The Buddha told Maudgalyāyana, ‘The fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month268 is the pravāraṇa day for the Sangha.269 On this day, for the benefit of one’s mother and father, and one’s ancestors going back seven generations, one should serve the most virtuous Sangha who have gathered from every direction. One should serve them food, all kinds of fruit, jars and vessels, incense, oil, lamps, bedding, mats to sit on, and all sorts of delicious things from many places.
On this day, there may be members of the noble Sangha present who have been in meditation in the mountains, as well as those who have attained the fruits of practice and the path, those who have been doing walking meditation beneath trees, those who have mastered the six supernormal powers, those who have been teaching, those who are aiming to becoming disciples or solitary-buddhas, those who are bodhisattvas, great beings at the tenth stage, and those who have temporarily transformed themselves and taken on the form of monks. They have all assembled in order to receive the pravāraṇa offerings with unity and unanimity of mind, having attained the pure morality of the noble Sangha, with their lofty and limitless virtues.
The mother and father, the ancestors going back seven generations, and all the relatives of those who make offerings to the members of the Sangha at the pravāraṇa ceremony will be delivered from the suffering of the three states of misfortune.270 They will receive food and clothing, and in due course they will attain liberation. If their parents are still alive, they will enjoy happiness for more than a hundred years. If their parents are dead, then they, along with their ancestors going back seven generations, will be reborn among the gods, entering into the heavenly radiance of divine flowers, and enjoying innumerable pleasures.’
Ullambana Sūtra, Taishō vol.16, text 685, p.779b12-24, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.37 A bodhisattva precept on the transfer of karmic benefit
This is part of one of the forty-eight secondary precepts of the ethical code of the East Asian Brahmā’s Net Sūtra (Fan wang jing).
The bodhisattva’s precept on rescuing living beings: On the day his father, mother, or siblings die, he should ask a Dharma Teacher to recite the Sūtra on the Precepts of the bodhisattva for the benefit of the deceased, in order that they might encounter a Buddha or be reborn amongst human beings or amongst the gods. A bodhisattva who fails to do so disgraces himself by committing a secondary offence.
‘Brahmā’s Net Sūtra’/Fan wang jing, Taishō vol.24, text 1484, p.1006b16–b18, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.38 Doing good deeds on behalf of dead relatives reborn as hungry ghosts
This passage urges one to care for dead relatives by doing good deeds on their behalf (cf. *Th.109), in order to bring them karmic benefits.
A father who has been reborn as a hungry ghost may be able to share in the karmic benefit accumulated by his son, if the actions which generate this karmic benefit are dedicated to him. If he was reborn among the gods, he would not care about human affairs. Why is this? It is because he would have obtained the precious possessions of the heavenly realm. If he was reborn in hell, he would be unable to receive the benefits of the offering, because he would be in great physical agony, with no chance to think about anything else. He would also be unable to receive the benefits of the dedication of good karma if he was reborn as a human being or an animal. Why is it that only a hungry ghost can share in the karmic benefit of actions which are dedicated to him? The reason that he has been reborn as a hungry ghost is that he was bound by greed and meanness in his previous existence. When he is born as a hungry ghost, he regrets the way he has acted, and thinks about how he can receive the benefits of good karma which is dedicated to him. This is why he is able to receive these benefits. If karmic benefit is dedicated to others, who have been born in other realms, then relatives of the one making the dedication who have been born as hungry ghosts will receive the benefits of this dedication, rather than those for whom they were intended. This is why those who are wise should accumulate karmic benefit, and dedicate it to hungry ghosts.271
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.19, p.1059c05–13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Advice on compassionate royal policy
V.12 Nāgārjuna on royal policy
Since the principles of good governance and a peaceful society were set by the Buddha himself, there was not much left to be added by later Buddhist authors. While Vajrayāna, in particular, did not develop any social theory of its own, its followers have considered the Mahāyāna principles of compassion, generosity and so forth to be the most important guidelines in the social arena. They were inspired by Indian Mahāyāna literary sources such as the ‘Precious Garland’ (Ratnāvalī, or Ratnamālā)272 of Nāgārjuna, one of the greatest Buddhist masters, the founder of Madhyamaka philosophy. Written in the form of an epistle addressed to a young ruler of the Ṥātavāhana Empire (c. second century CE), it is a series of Mahāyāna instructions in 500 verses. The selected passages are derived from the third (‘Amassing the collections for awakening’) and fourth (‘Royal policy’) chapters of that work, where Nāgārjuna instructs his royal benefactor on how to rule his kingdom as part of practising the bodhisattva path.
[Supporting the Dharma]
231. Out of respect (for the Three Jewels), create a vast abundance of Buddha-images, stūpas, temples, and other large (monastic) buildings.
232. Please have beautifully shaped Buddha-images sculpted from all kinds of precious material, nicely painted, seated on lotuses, adorned with precious gems.
233. Please protect with all your might the Holy Dharma and the community of monks, and decorate stūpas with gold and jewelled lattice-work.
234. Pay homage to the stūpas with many gold and silver flowers, diamonds, corals, pearls, emeralds, cat’s eye gems (lapis lazuli), and sapphires.
235. Pay homage to those teaching the Holy Dharma, satisfy their needs with fees and services, and always rely on the Dharma.
238. Please provide the palm-leaves (for paper), black ink, and bamboo pens necessary for writing down the texts containing the words of the Buddha.
239. In order to spread knowledge, establish schoolhouses around the country and provide for field-workers to take care of teachers’ livelihood.
240. In order to alleviate the pain of sentient beings, the old, the young, and the sick, grant remuneration of land to doctors and surgeons in your country.
[Setting up public facilities]
241. Please, in your fine wisdom, set up guesthouses, pleasure parks, bridges, ponds, pavilions, and water-tanks, equipped with bedding, food, fodder, and firewood.
242. Please erect pavilions in every town and village, and by Buddhist temples, and provide water-tanks along roadways where water supply is scarce.
[Social welfare measures]
243. With compassion, always take care of the sick, the homeless, the pain-stricken, the lowly, and the poor. Render dedicated service to their sustenance.
244. It is improper to partake of any readily available food or drink – whether cooked, grain, or fruit – before giving to the people who ask for them.
[Supplying equipment for public facilities]
245. Provide felt shoes, parasols, strainers, thorn-removing tweezers, needles and thread, and cool roof protection by the water-tanks.
246. Place some of the three medicinal fruits,273 the three hot medicines,274 butter, honey, eye-medicine, and anti-poisons by the water-tanks. Write up medical instructions and mantras (spells).
247. Please provide ointment for the body, feet and head, as well as woollen blankets, stools, some porridge, copper bowls, and axes (for chopping wood) by the water-tanks.
248. Please arrange for small tanks filled with sesame, rice, grains, spices, molasses, oil, and water to be stored in a cool shady place.
249. Please have reliable men to always put some food and water, heaps of molasses and grain, outside the openings of ant-nests.275
[Food offering to non-humans]
250. Before and after taking meals, always offer proper food to the hungry ghosts, dogs, insects, birds, and others.
251. Provide special care for the victims of persecution, crop failure, oppression, epidemics, and for the populace of conquered areas.
252. Help out poverty-stricken farmers with seeds and nourishment. Make sure that you have remitted their taxes and reduced their levy on the harvest.
253. To protect them from the affliction of want, remit tolls and reduce sales taxes. Also, spare them from the misery of waiting at your door (for alms).
254. Pacify the thieves and robbers of your country and other countries (under your dominion). Please keep interest rates level, and set market prices fairly.
[Principles of governance]
255. Whatever is reported by your ministers, you should find out about everything by yourself. Always do everything in a way that is beneficial to the world.
256. Just as you care to think ‘What shall I do to benefit myself?’, in the same way should you care about thinking what to do to benefit others.
257. You should make yourself readily available to provide all that is desired, just as earth, water, fire, wind, plants, and forest trees (are available to all). ...
[Founding new religious establishments]
307. You have obtained your wealth through being generous to the needy in the past. If you are ungenerous, due to your ungratefulness and attachment, you will never get anything in the future. …
309. Always delight in great compassion and sublime deeds, because the fruition of sublime deeds is going to be even more sublime.
310. Create religious establishments, famed and glorious homes for the Three Jewels that lesser kings have not even conceived in their minds. ...
313. You will have to pass away powerless, leaving behind all your possessions, but whatever you will have done for the sake of Dharma will help you move forward. ...
315. If you use up your wealth you will be happy in this life, if you give it away you will be happy in another one. If you neither use it up nor give it away but waste it, you will have only suffering – no happiness at all.
316. You will not be able to make a donation just before you die because your unfaithful ministers, no longer treasuring you but wishing to please the new monarch, will render you powerless.
317. Therefore use your wealth to create religious establishments while you are still at power, your life always being threatened by extinction like an oil lamp in the tempest.
[Maintaining existing establishments]
318. You should also preserve all other existing religious establishments – temples and so forth – founded by previous monarchs in their previous condition.
319. Please have them attended by the harmless, the virtuous, the morally disciplined, the kind-hearted, the truthful, the tolerant, the uncompetitive, and the ever-diligent.
[Further welfare measures]
320. Let the blind, the sick, the lowly, the homeless, the destitute, and the cripple also receive their share of food and drink without any obstacle.
321. Provide all kinds of support to the followers of Dharma who are not looked after, even if they live in other countries.
[Appointing chief officials]
322. As chief leaders of religious establishments, appoint people who are not negligent, not irritating but wise; who live in accord with the Dharma, and do not harm anyone.
323. As ministers, appoint people who know the social tradition and follow the Dharma; who are gentle, pure, faithful, and non-malicious; who are of good family, perfect demeanour, and are grateful (to you).
324. As army commander, appoint someone who is magnanimous, free of attachment, courageous, gentle, reliable, ever-conscientious, and is a follower of Dharma.
325. As chief leaders, appoint venerable elders who can remember the pure ways of the Dharma, who are knowledgeable and skilled in the sciences; are well-balanced and of gentle character.
[Way of governance]
326. Get monthly reports from them on every affair (belonging to their office), and having heard them, you should decide personally on all matters relating to the religious establishments and so forth.
327. If your governance is for the benefit of Dharma rather than for the sake of fame and greed, then it will be very fruitful – otherwise it will not. ...
329. You should gather around you many (advisors) of good family who are old in experience, who know the custom, abstain from evil, and who can perceive what must be done.
[Treatment of criminals]
330. Never resort to executing, binding, and torturing (criminals) even if they deserve it. Filled with compassion, always take them under your care.
331. Monarch, you should always think of just compassionately benefitting even those embodied beings who have committed some intolerable crime.
332. Exercise even more special compassion toward those who have committed the horrible crime of murder. Those people who ruin themselves are worthy of a great being’s compassion.
333. Release those imprisoned for minor offences within one to five days, and do the same to the rest of them whenever appropriate. Never leave anyone unreleased.
334. Should you forget to release anyone, lack of self-restraint will follow, and continuous evil will follow from that lack of self-restraint.
335. As long as prisoners are not released, keep them happy and comfortable by putting barbers, bathing facility, food, clothing, drink, and medicine at their disposal.
336. Just as a (parent) wishing to civilize his ill-mannered children, exercise punishment out of compassion rather than out of anger or for wealth.
337. Once you have found under investigation that someone had committed murder out of extreme hatred, expel them from the country without killing or harming them in any way.
[Advice on how to rule the kingdom]
338. Independently keep a spying eye over the whole country. Ever-conscientious and mindful, do everything in a way that accords with the Dharma.
339. You should offer appropriate gifts, respect, and service to those (religious persons) who are the foundations of good qualities, and also to the rest of them according to their merits.
340. Let the birds of the people rest on the tree of the monarch with its shade of patience, its blooming flowers of respect, and its big fruits of generosity.
341. People are going to be pleased with a king that is generously disposed and majestic, just like with a sugar candy with cardamom and pepper coating. ...
343. You have not brought this kingdom with you from a former life, nor will you carry it with you to the next – you have won it through practising the Dharma, and therefore you should not do anything against the Dharma.
‘The Precious Garland’, vv.231–257, 307, 309–10, 313, 315–27, 329–41, and 343, trans. T.A.
Reflection on the kindnesses of one’s mother
V.13 Developing loving kindness and compassion by reflecting on the kindness of one’s mothers in this and past lives
This passage is a full translation of the seventh chapter of a famous Tibetan text, ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ of the great Tibetan master Gampopa (1079–1153). It is a straightforward instruction on the meditative development of loving kindness and compassion, the two most important factors of the bodhisattva’s path to Buddhahood, the goal he wants to attain for the sake of all sentient beings. The two qualities are applicable in all the social aspects of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism; they are to be cultivated in all walks of life – friendships, relationships, family, and society at large. An important theme in the passage is that just as one owes great kindness to one’s present mother, due to her great kindness and care for one, so one should be kind and compassionate to all beings, as they have each been one’s mother in countless past rebirths (see *Th.74 and *V.18).
Now, as the antidote for attachment to the happiness of peace, I will teach contemplation on loving kindness and compassion. ‘Attachment to the happiness of peace’ means to aspire to nirvana just for oneself and, due to lack of love for sentient beings, not to do anything for the sake of others. That is the attitude of those on the Lesser Vehicle.276 As it is said, ‘For one’s own concerns the concerns of others, though they be many, should be neglected. If one considers one’s own concerns more important, one will achieve one’s highest aim.’277 But once loving kindness and compassion dawn in one’s mind, one will love sentient beings and will not be able to reach liberation just alone. That is why one should better cultivate loving kindness and compassion. As Master Mañjuśrīkīrti said, ‘Those on the Mahāyāna path should not neglect loving kindness and compassion even for a moment.’ Furthermore, ‘Others’ concerns are taken under care by loving kindness and compassion, rather than by anger.’
Immeasurable loving kindness will be discussed under six aspects: its types, objects of reference, definition, method of cultivation, full development, and benefits.
There are three types of loving kindness: (1) loving kindness with reference to sentient beings, (2) loving kindness with reference to the Dharma, and (3) non-referential loving kindness. The ‘Akṣayamati Request Sūtra’ says: ‘Loving kindness with reference to sentient beings is practised by those bodhisattvas who have just developed awakening-mind.278 Loving kindness with reference to the Dharma is practised by those bodhisattvas who are already engaged in the bodhisattva activities. Non-referential loving kindness without reference to anything is practised by those bodhisattvas who have acquired patient acceptance with respect to the unborn’.279
Loving kindness regarding sentient beings: The first type of loving kindness is directed towards sentient beings. It is defined as the mentality of wanting them to find happiness. The method of cultivating loving kindness basically depends on recalling the kindness of others. So first you should reflect on the kindness of sentient beings.
In this life, the person who has showed us the greatest kindness is our mother. How many types of kindness did our mother show to us? Four kinds, namely: (1) the kindness of nurturing our bodies, (2) the kindness of undergoing hardships for us, (3) the kindness of protecting our lives, and (4) the kindness of showing us the world. As the ‘Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in 8,000 Lines’ says: ‘Why is it? Because the mother nurtures us, goes through hardship for us, she protects our lives, and she shows us the world.’
First you should reflect on the kindness of her nurturing your body. This body of yours did not arise at once fully grown, with muscles well-developed and in fine complexion. Rather it developed in your mother’s belly gradually from a quivering, gelatinous mass, due to the elemental essence which is the life-sap of your mother’s flesh and blood. It was nurtured by the vital essence of her food and developed even while she had to endure embarrassment, sickness, and all kinds of pain. Later, after she gave birth to it, she also took care of it and brought it up from a tiny thing to something as big as a yak.
The second is the kindness of her undergoing hardships for you. To begin with, you did not arrive here wearing clothes, adorned by ornaments, owning goods, and bringing provisions. You came empty-handed, with no material possessions other than a mouth and stomach. When you arrived in this unknown land with no acquaintances, your mother did not let you starve but gave you food to eat; she did not let you go thirsty but gave you drink to drink; she did not let you get cold but gave you clothes to wear; and she did not leave you poor but gave you possessions. She did not just give you things she did not need. She gave up her own food, her own drink, and her own clothes. She would not do anything for the happiness of her present life, or even for the well-being of her future lives, but looked after her child without actually caring for the happiness of either her present or future lives.
She did not obtain those things easily, but gave them to her child by undergoing much toil, wrong-doing, and pain. In terms of wrong-doing, she committed various unwholesome actions like fishing or butchery to feed her child. In terms of pain, while she was doing some kind of business or farm-work, day and night, she was wearing frost for her shoes, the morning star for her hat, riding the shank of her legs for her horse, flinging a woollen thread for her whip, exposing her calves to the dogs and her cheeks to the people in order to provide for her child.
Furthermore, she loved this useless stranger much more than her own father, mother, and teachers who were very kind to her. She looked upon him with loving eyes and warmed him with her smooth caress. She rocked him on top of her ten fingers and called him in a sweet voice, saying things like ‘my dearest, precious one, darling, sweetheart, you are Mommy’s delight!’
Third is the kindness of protecting your life. In the beginning, you did not have any functional mouth or hands, or the greater strength that you have now that makes you capable of working. Rather you were just like a tiny worm: frail, insignificant and lacking the ability to care for yourself. Your mother, however, did not reject but served you, held you in her lap, protected you from fire and water, held you away from precipices, dispelled all harm, and prayed for your safety. In fear for your life, in fear for your health, she performed an inconceivable and unthinkable number of divinations, astrological calculations, correcting-rites, recitations and other rituals. That is how she protected her child’s life.
Fourth is the kindness of showing you the world. You did not come into this world knowing everything, greatly experienced, with a keen intellect from the first. You did not know how to do anything except to call out to close ones by wailing and crying and to beckon them with your hands and legs. When you could not eat, she taught you how to eat. When you could not dress, she taught you how to dress. When you could not walk, she taught you how to walk. When you could not talk, she taught you how to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and so forth. She raised you up by teaching the various skills needed so that your personal capacities now matched those of others.
Furthermore, she has not been your mother only in your present lifetime, but given that you have been wandering in saṃsāra since times without beginning, she has been your mother countless, innumerable times. That is what is said in the ‘Beginningless Saṃsāra Sūtra’: ‘If all the earth and stones, plants and trees, and all the forests in this world were reduced down to bits as tiny as the pits of a juniper tree by one person and another person were to count them, they would one day come to an end. However, it is impossible to count how many times one sentient being has been your mother.’ Also, (Nāgārjuna’s) ‘Letter to a Friend’ (v.68) says: ‘We would run out of earth trying to count our mothers with balls of clay the size of juniper berries.’
Each time she was your mother, she demonstrated the same kind of kindness as seen before. Therefore, since her kindness has been limitless, cherish her from your heart and meditate in order to develop a genuine care for her benefit and wish for her happiness.
Furthermore, all sentient beings have been your mother and every time they were so they were just as kind to you as the present one. How many sentient beings are there? Wherever space extends, it is filled up by sentient beings. That is what the ‘Aspiration Prayer for Excellent Conduct Sūtra’ says: ‘Limitless as the infinity of space, such are the numbers of sentient beings.’ Therefore, meditate for as long as it takes to develop a genuine wish for the benefit and happiness of all sentient beings wherever space extends. When that has been developed, it is actual loving kindness.’ The ‘Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras’ says: ‘From the marrow of their bones, bodhisattvas treat all sentient beings as their only child. That is why they always want to benefit them.’
When, through the power of loving kindness, tears well up in your eyes and the hairs on your body are made to stand up, that is great loving kindness. When that kind of loving kindness is developed toward all sentient beings equally, it is limitless loving kindness.
Loving kindness is fully developed when one no longer desires one’s own happiness, but only those of other sentient beings.280
Contemplation on loving kindness has countless good qualities. As the ‘Moon Lamp Sūtra’ says, ‘Limitless offerings of various kinds filling up myriads of Buddha-fields presented to the supreme beings do not match the worth of loving kindness.’
Even practising loving kindness for one moment brings limitless karmic benefit. The ‘Precious Garland’ (by Nāgārjuna) says: ‘Even three-hundred pots of food given three times a day cannot match the karmic benefit of one moment of loving kindness’ (RV.283).
Due to this practice one will, until the time of attaining awakening, receive eight kinds of benefit. According to the ‘Precious Garland’: ‘One will be loved by gods and humans, one will also be protected by them, will have peace of mind and lots of happiness, will not be harmed by poison or weapons, will achieve one’s aims without effort, and will be reborn in the (heaven-)world of Brahmā. Even if not liberated from saṃsāra, one obtains these eight qualities of loving kindness’ (RV.284– 85).281
When loving kindness has thus been fully developed, it is not difficult to develop compassion. Immeasurable compassion is also discussed under six aspects: its types, objects of reference, definition, method of cultivation, full development, and benefits.
There are three types of compassion: (1) compassion with reference to sentient beings, (2) compassion with reference to the Dharma, and (3) non-referential compassion. The first type is born when one sees the pain of sentient beings in the lower realms, and so forth. The second is born as one meditates on the four Truths of the Noble Ones and, understanding the two types of causality,282 one’s mind turns away from the conceptions of permanence and solidity. Then one thinks ‘How confused other sentient beings are, who, unaware of causality, grasp at permanence and solidity!’, and develops compassion. The third type is born as, abiding in equipoise, one realizes the emptiness of all and everything – one develops special compassion for all sentient beings who grasp at the concrete existence of things. As it is said, ‘When the bodhisattva in equipoise is perfected by the power of meditation, he develops special compassion for those who are seized by the demon of grasping at things.’ 283
Of these three types of compassion, now we shall present meditation on the first one. Its objects are all sentient beings. It is defined as the mentality of wanting them to be free from pain and its causes.
The method of cultivating this kind of compassion is that one meditates in connection with one’s mother in this life. Imagine how strongly you would feel for your mother if some people in this life beat her up and cut her to pieces, cooked or roasted her, or if she was freezing so much that blisters developed all over her body and finally burst open. The sentient beings who have been born in the hells and suffer in just those ways have definitely been your mothers, so if they die such horrible deaths, how could you not feel compassion for them? Cultivate the compassion that wishes them to be free from their pain and its causes!
Again, if your mother in this life was tormented by thirst and hunger, tortured by sickness and pain, intimidated by fear and anxiety, then you would feel for her very strongly. The sentient beings who have been born as hungry ghosts and suffer in just those ways have definitely been your mothers, so if they are tormented by such pain, how could you not feel compassion for them? Cultivate the compassion that wishes them to be free from their pain and its causes!
Again, if your mother in this life was decrepit and disadvantaged, helplessly being used and exploited by others, stricken and beaten or slaughtered and cut into pieces, you would feel compassion for her. The sentient beings who have been born as animals and suffer in just those ways have definitely been your mothers, so if they are overpowered by such pain, how could you not feel compassion for them? Cultivate the compassion that wishes them to be free from their pain and its causes!
Again, if your mother was close to a precipice a thousand miles deep, unaware of the danger, with no-one to warn her against walking into it, and was just on the verge of falling into that precipice where she would experience immense pain and would never be able to come out of it, you would feel for her very strongly. The gods, humans, and demi-gods are also by the great precipice of the lower realms, unaware of the danger, unable to discard their unwholesome wrong-doings, out of the reach of spiritual friends, just about to fall and experience the pain of the three lower realms which are very difficult to emerge from; so how could you not feel compassion for them? Cultivate the compassion that wishes them to be free from their pain and its causes!
Compassion is fully developed when one has cut the ties of self-cherishing and has learned the mentality, not just the words, of wanting all sentient beings to be free from pain and its causes.
Contemplation on compassion has countless good qualities. As the ‘Narration of the Realization of Avalokiteśvara’284 says: ‘If one had just one quality, it would be as if all Buddha-qualities were in your palm. That one quality is none other than great compassion.’ The ‘Dharma Compendium Sūtra’ says: ‘Blessed One, wherever the precious wheel of a Cakravartin (‘Wheel-turning’ universal monarch) is present, his whole army is also present. Likewise, Blessed One, wherever the great compassion of a bodhisattva is present, all Buddha-qualities are also present.’ The ‘Secrets of the Tathāgata Sūtra’ says: ‘Owner of the Secret,285 the omniscient wisdom of the Buddha grows from the root of compassion.’
When by loving kindness one wants sentient beings to find happiness and by compassion one wants them to be free from suffering, then one is no longer interested in just pursuing one’s own happiness but rather, prefers to attain Buddhahood for the sake of sentient beings. Loving kindness and compassion are thus the antidotes for attachment to peace.
Thus, when you have developed loving kindness and compassion in your mind-stream, and cherish others more than yourself, then it is as said (in Atiśa’s ‘Lamp for the Path to Awakening’ v.5: *V.10): ‘A supreme being is someone who wants to eliminate completely all the suffering of others through realizing it as one’s own suffering.’ This is the birth of a supreme being’s mentality. ...
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.105–16, trans. T.A.