Wholesome and unwholesome actions
Th.102 Wholesome and unwholesome actions and their roots
This passage highlights certain bodily, verbal and mental actions as akusala – unwholesome or unskilful (not informed by wisdom) – and abstaining from them as kusala, wholesome, skilful. The former spring from one or more of three kinds of ‘roots’: the motives of greed or hatred, and a deluded orientation (see *Th.26). The latter spring from the opposites of these, literally non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion, i.e. anti-greed etc.: generosity and renunciation, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom.
Friends, what is the unwholesome, and what are the roots of the unwholesome? Destroying life, taking what is not given (stealing), engaging in misconduct with respect to sensual pleasures (sexual misconduct), telling lies, divisive speech, harsh speech, idle chatter, intense desire, malice, and wrong view are unwholesome.
What are the roots of the unwholesome? Greed, hatred and delusion are the roots of the unwholesome.
What is the wholesome? Abstaining from destroying life, from taking what is not given, from engaging in misconduct with respect to sensual pleasures, from telling lies, from divisive speech, from harsh speech, and from idle chatter, absence of intense desire, absence of maliciousness and right view are the wholesome.
What are the roots of the wholesome? Non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion are the roots of the wholesome.
Sammā-diṭṭhi Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.47, trans. P.D.P.
Th.103 Avoid actions which bring real harm to others or oneself
In this passage, the Buddha teaches his son, Rāhula, when he was a young novice monk under him. Rather than focussing on the inner roots of bad and good actions, as in the above passage, he focuses on their consequences as the grounds for avoiding or doing them: whether or not they lead to suffering for oneself or others. Reflection on these aids wholesome action.
‘Rāhula, what is the purpose of a mirror?’ ‘Venerable sir, it has the purpose of reflection.’ ‘Rāhula, in the same manner, after repeated reflection you should do bodily actions, after repeated reflection you should do verbal actions, after repeated reflection you should do mental actions. Rāhula, when you desire to do some action with the body, you should reflect on that very action of the body thus: “This action that I wish to do with my body – would this bodily action of mine be conducive to self-harm and would it be conducive to the harm of others or of both? Is it unwholesome? Does it have painful consequences, ripening in suffering?” When reflecting, if you know, “this action of the body would be conducive to self-harm … suffering”, Rāhula, if possible you should not do such action of the body.
Rāhula, when reflecting, if you know, “this action that I wish to do with my body would not be conducive to self-harm, not be conducive to the harm of others or of both, it is wholesome, it leads to happy consequences, ripening in happiness”, Rāhula, you should do such action of the body.
Even while doing that action with the body, you should reflect on that very action of the body thus: “Is this action that I am doing conducive to self-harm … suffering?” Rāhula, if that is so, stop doing that action … If you know, “this action of the body is not conducive to self- harm …”, then continue doing it.
Also, having done such action of the body, you should reflect. “That action I did with the body, was it conducive to self-harm … suffering?” When reflecting, if you know it was so, then you should confess, reveal, make known that action of the body to the teacher, or to intelligent associates faring the holy life. Having confessed, revealed, and made known you should set yourself to restraint in the future. Rāhula, when reflecting, if you know “this action of the body I did, was not conducive to self-harm … suffering’”, you should dwell with that very joy and gladness, training yourself day and night in wholesome qualities.’ [The same is then repeated for verbal and mental actions.]
Rāhula, whatever renunciants or brahmins purified their bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions in the past, did so by repeated reflection in this manner. Whatever renunciants or brahmins will purify their bodily, verbal and mental actions in the future, will do so by repeated reflection in this manner. Whatever renunciants or brahmins do purify their bodily, verbal, and mental actions at present, do so by repeated reflection in this manner. Therefore Rāhula, you should train thus: ‘Reflecting repeatedly, I will purify my bodily, verbal and mental action.’
Ambalaṭṭhikā-rāhulovāda Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.415–420, trans. P.D.P.
Th.104 The golden rule of ethics in the Buddha’s teaching
In the first passage, spoken to laypeople who ask for guidance on how to be successful in this life and happy in the next, the Buddha gives a version of the ‘golden rule’ of ethics: do not inflict on another being what you would not like done to oneself (cf. *V.62). The second passage succinctly expresses this principle.
What, householders, is the method of righteous living having reference to oneself? Here, householders, a disciple of the noble one reflects, ‘I really am one who desires to live, not desiring to die, desiring happiness, disliking unhappiness. If someone were to deprive me of life, I being one who desires to live, not desiring to die, desiring happiness, not desiring unhappiness, it would not be pleasing and dear to me. And if I were to deprive another person of his life, that other person being one who desires to live, not desiring to die, desiring happiness and disliking unhappiness, it would be not pleasing and dear to that other person. Whatever is not pleasing and not dear to me is also not pleasing and dear to the other as well. How could I inflict upon another what is not pleasing and dear to me?’
He, having taken this into account, himself abstains from destruction of life, encourages others to abstain from destruction of life, and speaks in praise of abstention from destruction of life. In this manner his bodily behaviour becomes pure in three aspects.
Again, householders, a disciple of the noble one reflects thus: ‘If someone were to take from me what was not given and commit what is reckoned as stealing, it would not be pleasant and dear to me … If someone were to misbehave with my wives399 … If someone were to hinder my benefit by false speech … If someone were to break my friendships by divisive speech … If someone were to use harsh speech against me … If someone were to use idle chatter with me ….’
So he takes it into account and abstains from idle chatter, encourages others to abstain from idle chatter and speaks in praise of abstention from idle chatter. In this manner his verbal behaviour becomes pure in three aspects.
Veḷudvāreyya Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.353–355, trans. P.D.P.
All beings tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, do not kill or cause another to kill.
Dhammapada 130, trans. P.H.
Th.105 The fruitfulness of giving
This passage emphasizes the benefit of any giving.
Monks, if people knew, as I know, the (karmic) fruits of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess the heart. Even if it were their last bit, their last morsel of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it if there was some other being to share it with.
Dāna Sutta: Itivuttaka 18, trans. P.H.
Th.106 Open-hearted giving
The noble disciple lives at home with a heart free of the taint of stinginess, he is open-handed, pure-handed, delighting in self-surrender, one to ask a favour of, one who delights in dispensing charitable gifts.
Patta-kamma Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.66, trans. P.H.
Now what kind of person, monks, is like a rainless cloud? Here, a certain person is not a giver to anyone; he does not give food, drink, clothing, vehicles, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, lodging, and lamps to renunciants and brahmins, to the poor, destitute, and needy. … Now what, monks, is the kind of person who rains locally? Here, a certain person … gives only to some renunciants and brahmins, to some of the poor, destitute, and needy, but not to others. … Now what, monks, is the kind of person who rains everywhere? Here, a certain person gives … to all renunciants and brahmins, to the poor, destitute, and needy. …
The person responsive to requests, who has sympathy for all beings, distributes things with delight and says ‘give, give’.
Just as a cloud thunders, roars and rains, filling the plateau and plain, drenching with water, so is such an individual with regard to the wealth he has earned with effort.
Vuṭṭhi Sutta: Itivuttaka 64–66, trans. P.H. and P.D.P.
Th.107 The goodness of giving, especially to those who are virtuous
The first passage here says that even a small act of giving generates beneficial future karmic fruits, though giving to good people brings more benefits. The second passage amplifies this point. In giving to a good person, there is more confidence that the gift will be used well, so the giving will be done with less potential reservation. Moreover, to give with confidence in the goodness and good consequences of giving also enhances the ongoing impact on the giver, and giving to the virtuous helps forge a bond of association with them.
I tell you, Vaccha, even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, ‘May the living beings here feed on this’, that would be a source of karmic benefit, to say nothing of what is given to human beings. But I do say that what is given to a virtuous person is of great fruit, and not so much what is given to an unvirtuous person.
Vaccha Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.161, trans. P.H.
When a virtuous person, with a trusting heart, gives a righteously obtained gift to an unvirtuous person, having confidence that the (karmic) fruit of this action is great, this is an offering purified by the giver.
When an unvirtuous person, with an untrusting heart, gives an unrighteously obtained gift to a virtuous person, not having confidence that the fruit of this action is great, this is an offering purified by the receiver.
When an unvirtuous person, with an untrusting heart, gives an unethically obtained gift to an unvirtuous person, not having confidence that the fruit of this action is great, this is an offering not purified by either.
When a virtuous person, with a trusting heart, gives a righteously obtained gift to a virtuous person, having confidence that the fruit of this action is great, this is gift with an abundant fruit, I say.
Dakkhiṇā-vibhaṅga Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.257, trans. P.H.
Th.108 Teaching the Dhamma is the best form of giving
The gift of Dhamma surpasses every gift; the taste of the Dhamma surpasses every taste.
Delight in the Dhamma surpasses every delight. The destruction of craving overcomes everything painful.
Dhammapada 354, trans. P.H.
Th.109 Sharing karmic benefit
In *Th.49, we saw that it is seen as good to ‘offer alms on behalf of’’ dead parents. While generating beneficial karmic results through good actions is typically done directly by oneself, there is also the idea that under some circumstances one can share with another being the karmic benefit of an action, if they are aware of the action and rejoice at it. The Petavatthu is a canonical text that has many instances of helping a dead relative who has been reborn as a hungry ghost to gain a better state. This is typically done by giving alms to a virtuous renunciant, and assigning the donation to a beneficiary as done on their behalf. The following verse is from a distressed ghost speaking to the man who had been her husband in her past life, and who wished to help her.
What is given by your hand into my hand is of no benefit to me. But please satisfy with food and drink monks who are endowed with ethical discipline, free of attachment and learned and assign that donation to me – then I will be happy and richly endowed with all I desire.
Nanda-petavatthu: Petavatthu 23, trans. P.H.
Precepts of ethical discipline
Th.110 The Three Refuges and five precepts
To be a Buddhist is to look to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as refuges in life’s troubles and as sources of inspiration. Most acts of devotion by lay Theravāda Buddhists include chanting, in Pāli, the refuge formula (see passage *Th.93) and then a formula for taking the ‘five precepts’, which affirms the resolve ‘I undertake the training-rule to abstain from …’ each of five unvirtuous actions. The resolves are to avoid: killing any living being; stealing or cheating; sexual misconduct such as adultery; lying; and taking substances that may lead to intoxication, or with the aim of intoxication. To break a precept requires deliberate intention.
‘In what way, venerable sir, is one a lay follower?’
‘When, Mahānāma, one has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, in that way one is a lay follower’
‘In what way, venerable sir, does a lay follower have ethical discipline?’
‘When, Mahānāma, lay follower abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from wrong conduct in regard to sensual pleasures, from false speech, and from liquor, wine and intoxications that bring heedless behaviour, in that way a lay follower is virtuous.’
Mahānāma Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya IV.220, trans. P.H.
Th.111 The ten courses of wholesome actions
This passage enumerates ten good actions: three of body, identical to the first three of the five precepts, and to the ‘right action’ factor of the noble eightfold path (see passage *Th.99); four of speech, identical to the ‘right speech’ path-factor, and the first being identical to the fourth of the five precepts; and three of mind, the first two being close to the ‘right resolve’ path-factor, and the third being identical to the ordinary form of the ‘right view’ path-factor (see *Th.100).
There are, monks, successful actions of wholesome volition, with happy consequences, ripening in happiness: three of body, four of speech, and three of mind.
How is there a threefold successful bodily action of wholesome volition? There is a person who abstains from killing living beings; with the rod and weapon laid aside, he is conscientious and kind and compassionate towards all living beings. He does not take what is not given to him and does not appropriate with thievish intention the property of others, be it in the village or the forest. He gives up sensual misconduct and abstains from it. He does not have intercourse with those under the protection of father, mother... nor with those betrothed with a garland. ...
And how is there a fourfold successful verbal action of wholesome volition? There is a person who has given up false speech and abstains from it. When he is in the council of his community or in another assembly, or among his relatives, his guild, in the royal court, or has been summoned as a witness and is asked to tell what he knows, then, when he knows, he will say, ‘I know’; and when he does not know he will say, ‘I do not know’; when he has seen, he will say, ‘I have seen’; and when he has not seen, he will say, ‘I have not seen.’ He will not utter any deliberate lie, be it for his own sake, for the sake of others or for some material advantage.
He has abandoned divisive speech and abstains from it. Having heard something from one group of people, he will not be one to tell it somewhere else, causing others to be in conflict with them; or having heard something from those others, he will not be one to tell it to the first group, causing them to be in conflict with the other people. Thus he is a uniter of those divided, a sustainer of those united, fond of harmony, delighting in harmony, rejoicing in harmony, he is one who utters speech which brings about harmony. He has abandoned harsh speech and abstains from it. His words are gentle, pleasant to the ear, affectionate, reaching to the heart, courteous, pleasing and attractive to the many. He has abandoned idle chatter400 and abstains from it. He speaks at the right time, what is correct and to the point, of Dhamma and ethical discipline; he is one who utters speech to be treasured, timely, for a reason, measured, meaningful. ...
And how is there a threefold successful mental action of wholesome volition? Here a person is free from covetousness; he does not covet the wealth and property of others, thinking, ‘Oh, that what he owns might belong to me!’ He has no ill-will in his heart. He has pure mental resolve: ‘May these beings be free from enmity, free from anxiety! May they be untroubled and live happily!’ He has right view and an unperverted way of seeing: … [The opposite of the wrong view in *Th.56 is given] ...
As to these three bodily, four verbal and three mental successful actions of wholesome volition – it is due to them that with the dissolution of the body, after death, beings are reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world. ...
Sañcetanika Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya V.294–297, trans. P.H.
Right livelihood, and extra precepts
Th.112 Right livelihood
The first passage enumerates the commitment entailed in ‘right livelihood’, and the second describes how the Buddha practised this in many of his past lives.
Monks, these five kinds of trade should not be done by a devotee. What five? Trading in weapons,401 trading in living beings, trading in flesh, trading in intoxicants and trading in poisons.
Vanijjā Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.208, trans. P.D.P.
Monks, in whatever former life … the Tathāgata, then being human, having abandoned wrong livelihood, he was one who earned his living by right livelihood: he was one who abstained from crooked ways such as cheating with weights, false metal and measure, taking bribes, deceiving and fraud and from such acts of violence as maiming, beating, binding, mugging and looting. He, by the doing and by the accumulation of that karma, by the mass and the abundance of it was, at the dissolution of the body, reborn after death in a good destination, in a heavenly world.
Lakkhaṇa Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.176, trans. P.H.
Th.113 Semi-monastic precepts for laypeople on special observance days
As well as the five precepts for laypeople, there is a set of eight precepts to be observed by the devout on four days of the lunar month. In this set, the usual third precept, against sexual misconduct, is replaced by one on avoiding any sexual activity, then there are three additional precepts that all reduce sensory stimulation.
I will tell you the duties of a householder, acting according to which one becomes a good disciple. A person with worldly possessions does not get a chance to experience the perfect conduct of the monk.
() Do not kill living beings, and do not get others to kill. Do not approve of the killing committed by others, leaving aside the (use of) the cudgel against all beings weak and strong.
(2) Avoid taking what is not given. May the disciple with understanding not take away and approve of taking away anything from anywhere, avoiding everything that is not given.
(3) Avoid the life contrary to celibacy, as the wise would avoid a pit of burning embers. Those not capable of the practice of celibate life, should not transgress with others’ wives.
(4) Gone to an assembly, or to a gathering, do not lie to another. Do not make others tell lies and do not approve when others do so. Avoid all untruthfulness.
(5) Any householder who likes this teaching should not practise drinking of intoxicants. Knowing that it leads to madness, he should not make others drink nor approve of (their) drinking.
Fools commit evil due to intoxication and make other people also who are negligent do so. One should avoid this sphere of detrimental karma. This is maddening, deluding, and delightful to fools.
Do not destroy life, take what is not given, tell lies, drink intoxicants. Abstain from life contrary to celibacy, from sexual relations. (6) Do not take a meal at the wrong time,402 eating at the improper time.
(7) Do not wear garlands, do not use perfume, (8) one ought to sleep on a cover spread on the floor.
This is called the eight-factored sacred observance declared by the Buddha who had reached the termination of suffering.
With a pleased mind, one should take up this sacred comprehensive observance of eight precepts on the fourteenth, fifteenth and eighth days of the lunar fortnight and during the pāṭihāriyapakkha.403
Then on the following morning, the wise one who has observed the sacred observance, should offer in a suitable manner with a pleased mind food and drink to the community of monks.
Let him in a righteous way support mother and father, and let him engage in a righteous career, and the householder observing this will reach (rebirth with) the gods called the ‘self-luminous’.
Dhammika Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 393–404, trans. P.D.P.
Loving kindness and patient acceptance
Th.114 The way to cultivate loving kindness and the value of its cultivation
This passage is the classic expression of the quality of mettā – loving kindness, good-will, friendliness – and is often chanted, in Pāli, to cultivate this quality and generate an inner protective power (as a paritta chant: see heading above *Th.95). Loving kindness is the first of states known as ‘limitless qualities’, the others being compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. *Th.136, 137, *M.113 and *V.65–68 are on the meditative development of these.
One who is skilled in welfare should act thus: Having understood that path of calmness he should be able, upright, perfectly upright, open to words (of guidance), gentle, not conceited, contented, easily supported, with few involvements, of light livelihood, of calmed senses, prudent, non-aggressive, not greedily attached to families (to gain alms).
He should not behave in the slightest manner that would expose him to the censure of others who are wise. (He should think:) May all beings, be happy and secure, and may they be well.
Whatever living beings there be, weak or strong, long or large, medium, short, minute or fat, seen or unseen, living far or near, those who have come to be or those seeking to be, may all beings be well.
Let not one deceive another, nor despise anyone anywhere. Let not one desire the unhappiness of another due to anger or feelings of aversion.
Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, in the same way let one cultivate a limitless mind towards all beings.
Let one cultivate a mind of limitless loving kindness towards all beings – upwards, downwards, across without obstruction, free from hatred, free from enmity.
While standing, walking, being seated, or lying down, as long as one is awake, let one firmly maintain this mindfulness. It is called the highest living here.
Without entering into a dogma, ethically disciplined, endowed with insight, having removed greed for sensual pleasures, he will never again come to lying in a womb.404
Mettā Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 143–152, trans. P.D.P.
Th.115 Let go of hatred and anger
‘He abused me, he struck me, he defeated me, he robbed me.’ For those who brood like this, hatred is not stilled.
‘He abused me, he struck me, he defeated me, he robbed me.’ For those who don’t brood like this, hatred is stilled.
In this world, hatred is never ended by hatred, but only by the opposite of hatred. This has always been so. …
One who controls anger as it arises, as with a chariot going off-course, is a true charioteer.
Other folk just hold the reins.
Dhammapada 3, 4, 5 and 222, trans. PH.
Th.116 Patient acceptance and sustained good-will
Passage *L.40 shows the Buddha patiently and adeptly dealing with the anger of a critic. This passage holds up a high ideal of non-anger and a kindly attitude even in the face of the greatest provocation. Of course to attain this level requires great inner change and inner strength.
When others address you, their speech may be timely or untimely … true or untrue … gentle or harsh … connected with good or with harm … spoken with a mind of loving kindness or with inner hate. Here, monks, you should train yourselves like this: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to their welfare, with a mind of loving kindness, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with a mind imbued with loving kindness and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving kindness: abundant, expansive, limitless, free from hostility, free from ill-will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves. …
Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who lets his heart get angered even at that would not be acting on my teaching. Here, monks, you should train yourselves like this: ‘Our minds will be unaffected … free from ill-will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.
Kakacūpama Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.126–129, trans. P.H.
Helping oneself and helping others
Th.117 Concern for one’s own well-being and the well-being of others
These passages hold that while it is best to conduct oneself so as to serve the true welfare of both oneself and others, one who serves his own true welfare but not that of others is better than one who works for the welfare of others without having attended to his own inner welfare. This is because one needs to have got oneself into a more spiritually developed state before being able to effectively help others in this regard.
Monks, these four persons are to be seen in the world. What four? (1) A person practising for neither his own well-being nor another’s; (2) a person practising for the well-being of others but not his own; (3) a person practising for his own well-being but not another’s, and (4) the person practising for his own well-being, as well as that of others.
Monks, suppose there were a torch from a pyre, burning at both ends with the middle soiled with faeces, which would not serve as firewood either in the village or in the forest: I say that this person who is neither practising for his own well-being nor on that of another is comparable to that.
Here monks, out of these (first) two persons, whoever is practising for the well-being of others but not his own is better and of greater excellence ... Out of these (first) three persons, whoever is practising for his own well-being and not the well-being of others is better and of greater excellence ... Out of (all) four persons, whoever is practising for his own well-being and that of others is the highest, the greatest, the chief, the best and the noblest.
Chavālāta Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya II.95, trans. P.D.P.
Cunda, it is definitely not possible that he who is stuck in the mud will pull out another who is stuck in the mud. But Cunda, it is definitely possible that he who is not stuck in the mud will pull out another who is stuck in the mud. Cunda, it is definitely not possible that he, who is untamed, undisciplined, and with (defilements) unextinguished, will tame, discipline, and (help to) completely quench (the defilements of) another. But Cunda, it is definitely possible that he who is tamed, disciplined and appeased will tame, discipline and completely quench another.
Sallekha Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.45, trans. P.D.P.
Th.118 The interplay of caring for oneself and caring for others
This passage emphasizes that mindful cultivation, in oneself, of wholesome states of mind and action is an effective way of benefiting others, while kindly care for others (cf. *L.53, caring for the sick) in turn benefits oneself. What one cannot do, though, is directly control others.
Once upon a time, monks, a bamboo acrobat, having erected a bamboo pole, addressed his assistant, Medakathālikā: ‘Come, my dear Medakathālikā. Climb up the bamboo pole and stand on my shoulders.’ ‘Yes, teacher’, the assistant answered the bamboo acrobat and, climbing the bamboo pole, stood on his shoulders.
Then the bamboo acrobat said to his assistant, ‘Now you take care of me, my dear Medakathālikā, and I’ll take care of you. Thus, guarding one another, taking care of one another, we’ll show off our skill, receive our reward, and come down safely from the bamboo pole.’
When he had said this, Medakathālikā said to him, ‘That’s not the way to do it, teacher. You take care of yourself, and I’ll take care of myself, and thus with each of us guarding ourselves, taking care of ourselves, we’ll show off our skill, receive our reward, and come down safely from the bamboo pole.’
What Medakathālikā, the assistant, said to the teacher was the right way in that case. Monks, the establishing of mindfulness is to be practised with the thought, ‘I’ll take care of myself.’ The establishing of mindfulness is to be practised with the thought, ‘I’ll take care of others.’ Monks, one who takes care of himself takes care of others, and one who takes care of others takes care of himself.
How, monks, is it that one who takes care of himself takes care of others? It is by training development and cultivation (of wholesome states). And how, monks, does one who takes care of others take care of himself? It is by patient acceptance, by harmlessness, by loving kindness and by compassion.
Sedaka Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.169, trans. P.D.P.
Caring for animals and the environment
Buddhist texts show a respect for non-human sentient beings and the natural environment that supports them and humans. The Buddha allowed monks and nuns to accept food containing animal flesh, but only if the animal had not been killed specifically to feed them: (*L.56). Of other passages in this book: *Th.30 has the idea that the weather and crop-growth can be affected by human moral failings; *Th.32 holds that one of the duties of a good Buddhist ruler is giving protection to ‘beasts and birds’; *Th.143 has a liberated monk experiencing joy at the beauties of nature; and passage *Th.198 shows how the early community recycled donated robes so as not to be wasteful.
Th.119 Non-harming of other sentient beings
This verse is said to have been uttered by the Buddha when he found some children tormenting a snake with a stick.
Whoever, seeking his own happiness, injures with violence other beings who desire happiness, he experiences no happiness when he has passed away.
Dhammapada 131, trans. P.H.
Th.120 Abandon animal sacrifice and treat animals kindly
In this passage, the Buddha is approached by the brahmin Kūṭadanta, who is planning to hold a huge sacrifice, supposedly to bring benefit to himself and his community, in which he planned to kill 700 bulls, 700 bullocks, 700 heifers, 700 goats and 700 rams. He goes to the Buddha and asks for advice for how best to conduct the sacrifice. In reply, the Buddha tells him a story of a past king who was going to conduct a bloody sacrifice, but was advised by his chaplain (the Buddha in a previous life) to first ensure his rebellious people were not poor (see*Th.33). The king then performed a sacrifice, but in the non-violent way in which his chaplain advised.
‘In that sacrifice, brahmin, no bulls were slain, goats, sheep, cocks or pigs were slain, nor were any kinds of living creatures put to death. No trees were cut down to be used as sacrificial posts, no grasses mown to strew around the sacrificial spot. And those who are called slaves or servants or workmen did not perform their tasks due to fear of blows or threats, weeping with tears upon their faces. Whoever chose to help, did so; whoever chose not to help, did not. What each chose to do, he did, what they chose not to do, that was left undone. With ghee, and oil, and butter, and milk, and honey, and sugar only was that sacrifice accomplished.’
… [The Buddha then explains, in response to Kūṭadanta’s questioning, that better forms of ‘sacrifice’ are the various forms of Buddhist practice, starting with generosity to renunciants, right up to attaining awakening. Kūṭadanta then expresses faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and says:] ‘May the venerable One accept me as a disciple, as one who, from this day forth, as long as life endures, has taken him as his guide. And I myself, O Gotama, will have the groups of 700 animals set free. To them I grant their life. Let them eat green grass and drink fresh water, and may cool breezes waft around them.’
Kuṭadanta Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.144–148, trans. P.H.
The power of goodness
M.77 Good overcomes evil
This passage points to the power of goodness to overcome evil.
My good men, in this world-system called Earth there are ten wholesome practices which are not taken up by anyone in any other Buddha-fields. What are these ten practices? They are: to attract the poor by means of generosity; to attract those of bad conduct by means of ethical discipline; to attract the hostile by means of patient acceptance; to attract the lethargic by means of vigour; to attract those whose minds are distracted, by means of meditation; to attract the unwise by means of wisdom; to attract those who are born in the eight kinds of unfortunate circumstances405 and teach them how to free themselves from them; to teach the Mahāyāna to those whose practice is limited in scope; to attract those who lack wholesome roots by means of wholesome roots; and to continually and uninterruptedly bring living beings to maturity by employing the four means of drawing together harmoniously.406
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.9, section 17, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.78 The practice of generosity
What is the Dharma-door of cultivating generosity? When you see that someone has come to you to beg, give them your own property. Give away whatever you have with no trace of meanness, and bring joy to the other person. When you see people who are in crisis, or who are being oppressed, employ skill in means to help them and rid them of their fear. If anyone comes to you and asks you for the Dharma, you should explain the Dharma to him yourself, in a suitable manner.
You should practise the cultivation of these three kinds of generosity in this way, with no desire for fame or benefit for yourself. You should not have any desire for worldly rewards either. Simply bear in mind the benefits of peace and happiness that your generosity will bring to both yourself and others, and dedicate your actions to unsurpassed, perfect awakening.
‘Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna’/Dasheng qixinlun (trans. by Śikṣānanda), Taishō vol.32 text 1667 p. 590a26-b3, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.79 Types of giving
Son of good family, there are three types of giving. The first is giving the gift of Dharma. The second is giving the gift of fearlessness. The third is giving property. Giving the gift of Dharma means teaching others … If a bodhisattva sees that a living being is afraid of kings, lions, tigers, wolves, floods, or fire, he rescues them from these things. This is giving the gift of fearlessness. … There are four hindrances to giving. The first is a miserly attitude. The second is not practising generosity. The third is not regarding it as worthwhile to give small gifts. The fourth is looking for worldly rewards. …
Son of good family, there are three kinds of giver: inferior, average and superior. An inferior giver is someone who does not have faith that actions bear fruit, who is deeply attached to his miserly attitude. He worries that his possessions may run out, and becomes angry when he sees beggars approaching. An average giver is someone who has faith that actions bear fruit, but who still has a miserly attitude. He worries that his possessions may run out, but nonetheless decides to give his possessions away when he sees beggars approaching. A superior giver is someone who has faith that actions bear fruit, and who is not miserly with his possessions. He understands that his possessions are impermanent, and when he sees someone approaching him to beg, he is happy if he has something to give. If he has nothing to give, he will be disappointed, and he gives away even his most precious possessions. …
Son of good family, a sage practises generosity for his own sake and for the benefit of others. He understands that all possessions, all precious things, are impermanent. He gives because he wants to fill the minds of living beings with joy. He gives out of compassion, in order to overcome miserliness, without expecting reward in the future.407 He gives because he wants to honour the path to awakening.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.19, pp.1054c02–08, 1054c14–16, 1055a13-19, 1055b3-6, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Precepts of ethical discipline
M.80 Act ethically, but do not be attached to ethical discipline, or judge others
As one’s keeping of ethical precepts and other people’s breaking of them are ‘empty’ of independent existence, avoid attachment and judgementalism about them.
Moreover Śāriputra, when a bodhisattva cultivates the perfection of ethical discipline, … he should not rely on his pure ethical discipline, or be attached to it. He should not be offended by bad conduct, although he does not act unethically himself. Both abiding by the precepts and breaking the precepts are essentially empty. This, Śāriputra, is why it is said that all bodhisattvas are clad in the great virtuous armour of perfect wisdom whilst they cultivate the perfection of ethical discipline.
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol.5, text 220, p.269b13–22, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.81 The five precepts
The Buddha said to the householder Ugra, ‘A householder bodhisattva should act with ethical discipline, in accordance with the five precepts. He should delight in non-violence, abandoning the use of swords and sticks, and, with regret for what one has done in the past, taking a firm vow not to kill any living being, not to become angry with any living being, and to always cultivate compassion equally for all.
He should not take what is not given, being content with his own property, and not longing for others’ possessions. He should eliminate greed and not allow delusion to arise, never feeling jealous of others’ property or income. He should not take even a blade of grass that has not been given to him.
He should abstain from adultery, and be satisfied with his own wife. He should not desire the wives of others, or gaze longingly at beautiful women of others. In his mind, he recoils from suffering, and his thoughts often turn to renunciation. (When attuned to renunciation,) if he sees that desire for his own wife arises, he should cultivate an aversion to what is unlovely,408 knowing that this is a powerful form of bondage. He should reflect, ‘I must not act out of desire’. He should always cultivate an awareness of impermanence, of what is painful, of the non-existence of an essential self, and of impurity. He should reflect, ‘I shall not indulge in desirous thoughts, and certainly not in mutual physical contact.’
He should avoid false speech. What he does should be in harmony with what he says. He should not deceive others. He should do what he has planned to do, in a wholesome state of mind. He should speak truthfully when he talks about what he has heard or seen, abiding by the truth. He should give up his life rather than tell a lie.
He should abstain from drinking alcohol. He should not be intoxicated or disorderly. He should not speak rashly or behave impetuously. He should not ridicule others or wrestle with them. He should remain mindful, with clear awareness. If he wants to give up all his wealth and property, he should give food to those who need food, and drink to those who need drink. When he gives to others, he should reflect, ‘I will give them anything they want. I will satisfy the desires of those who beg.’ If giving someone alcohol will lead him to become composed and mindful, without deceit, he will give him alcohol. Why would he do this? This is the perfection of giving, satisfying the desires of others. This, householder, is why the Buddhas do not criticise a bodhisattva who gives alcohol to others.
Ugra-paripṛcchā: Taishō vol.11, text 310, p.473c05–25, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.82 The refuges and the precepts
The wise recognise that there are two kinds of ethical discipline. The first is worldly convention, the other is ultimate ethical discipline. Conventional ethical discipline is taking the precepts without having gone for refuge to the Three Jewels. This kind of ethical discipline is not stable, like dye that has not been fixed. Because of this, I go for refuge to the Three Jewels before taking the precepts.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.22, p.1063c19-c22, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.83 Keeping precepts removes fear from other beings
Son of good family, giving the gift of fearlessness is the most important kind of giving. That is why I say that the five great sacrifices are the five precepts that alleviate living beings’ fear.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.22, p.1064a16–18, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.84 On suicide
This passage points out that in the context of belief in karma and rebirth, suicide in the face of present difficulties is a very unwise move. It also makes clear that any form of self-torture is no way to bring an end to life’s pains.
Some say that if one takes one’s own life by throwing oneself into an abyss or a fire, or starving oneself, this will bring freedom from pain. These things cause pain, so how can they be the end of pain? All living beings do things that are wholesome and things that are unwholesome, and experience the results of these actions.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.20, p.1062b05–08, trans. D.S.
M.85 On meat eating
This passage presents the Buddha as having forbidden all meat eating by his followers, unlike earlier texts which allowed it to some extent (see *L.56).
There are countless reasons, Mahāmati, why it is not appropriate for a compassionate bodhisattva to eat any kind of meat. I will explain them to you. In this world, Mahāmati, in the long course of saṃsāra, there is no living being who has not had some kind of family relationship to you, either as your mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter. These beings are reborn in another state of existence, born from a womb as a wild animal, as livestock, or as a bird, or they are born as someone with whom you have a family relationship. How, then, can it be appropriate for a bodhisattva, a great being, to eat meat, when he wants to relate to all living beings as if they were part of himself, and wants to practise the Buddha-Dharma? … Therefore, Mahāmati, it is not appropriate for any living beings anywhere in the cycle of rebirths who have any notion of family relationships to eat any kind of meat. This is so that they might cultivate a perception of all living beings as being as precious to them as their only child. It is not appropriate for a compassionate bodhisattva to eat meat. Even in exceptional circumstances, Mahāmati, it is not appropriate for a bodhisattva who is engaged in spiritual practice to eat any kind of meat. …
Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, ch.8, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.86 A bodhisattva precept on meat eating
This is one of the forty-eight secondary precepts of the East Asian Brahmā’s Net Sūtra code.
If a son of the Buddha deliberately eats all meat that he is forbidden to eat, he destroys the seed of the great mind of compassion, and he will be shunned by all living beings. This is why all bodhisattvas must refrain from eating the flesh of a living being. A bodhisattva who eats meat commits countless offences. A bodhisattva who intentionally eats meat disgraces himself by committing a secondary offence.
‘Brahmā’s Net Sūtra’/ Fan wang jing, Taishō vol.24, text 1484, p.1005b10–b13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.87 The qualities of right speech
Moreover, Śāriputra, what is right speech for a bodhisattva, a great being? Śāriputra, the bodhisattva’s speech is speech which does not cause distress to himself or others, and which does not involve him in quarrels between living beings.
Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Assembly 12, ch. 14, Taisho vol. 11, text 310, p.312a19-21, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
There are two kinds of people who live in accordance with the Dharma: those who possess the eight kinds of understanding, and those who do not. The eight kinds of understanding are: understanding the Dharma, understanding the goal, understanding time, understanding contentment, understanding oneself and others, understanding living beings, understanding the faculties, and understanding what is inferior and what is superior. The speech of those who possess these eight kinds of understanding has sixteen qualities. It is timely, clear, coherent, harmonious, meaningful, pleasant, and agreeable. It is not contemptuous, nor is it critical of what others say. It accords with the Dharma, and brings benefit to oneself and others. It does not wander off the point, but is concise, truthful, and unconceited. It is free from any expectation of worldly rewards.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.10, p.1043 b20–29, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Right livelihood, and extra precepts
M.88 Right livelihood
Son of good family, there are five kinds of occupation which someone who observes the precepts of a householder should not engage in. He should not sell living beings; he should not sell weapons; he should not sell poison; he should not sell alcohol; and he should not press sesame seeds for oil.409 … Son of good family, there are three more things which someone who observes the precepts of a householder should not do. He should not make nets or traps; he should not dye silk; and he should not tan leather.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.14, p.1048c02–08, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
10. A son of the Buddha should not horde swords, sticks, bows, or arrows, or do business with people who cheat others using false scales or measurements. He should not abuse a position of authority to appropriate others’ property, nor restrict and sabotage others’ success out of jealousy.
Neither should he raise cats, foxes, pigs, or dogs. A bodhisattva who does so disgraces himself by committing a secondary offence.
Bodhisattvas, great beings, Śāriputra, … should not make their living by means of flattery, lies, or fraud. They should not be demanding, or pressure others. They should be easy to satisfy, easy to support, and observe the rules of training conscientiously. They should not become arrogant, or jealous of others’ gains and profit. They should be content with what they have. They should not abuse the tolerance of the noble ones, but always guard their own purity of conduct. This, Śāriputra, is the right livelihood of bodhisattvas, great beings.
Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol.11, text 310, p.312a29–b06, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.89 The eight precepts
This passage concerns the practice of the eight semi-monastic precepts discussed in *Th.113. They are observed from dawn one day to dawn the next.
The Buddha said to Śrīgāla: ‘Son of good family, if someone who has gone for refuge to the Three Jewels wishes to observe the eight precepts, … they should be taken from someone who is completely pure and not simply before an image of the Buddha. Once the precepts have been taken, they should be observed with purity, with purified awareness and purified mindfulness, with the aim of obtaining purified karmic fruit.’
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.21, p.1063a27–b2, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Helping oneself and helping others
M.90 Benefitting self and others
The Buddha said to the householder’s son Śrīgāla, ‘Son of good family, a bodhisattva who possesses faith, and who has already brought benefit to himself, then brings benefit to others. Bringing benefit to oneself is not really benefitting oneself. It is when one brings benefit to others that that one is really benefitting oneself. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, will happily give up his body, his life and his wealth for the benefit of others, but doing so also brings benefit to himself.
… To benefit others is to benefit oneself. … A bodhisattva who abandons others to distress and suffering, and lives in blissful comfort himself, cannot benefit others. If he does not cultivate the virtues of generosity, ethical discipline, and great learning in himself, but only instructs others to do so, this is what is known as benefitting others, but not oneself.’
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.10, p.1043a05-15, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.91 Purifying one’s ethical discipline by looking after others
Sujāta said to the Buddha, ‘If someone has taken up the precepts, how can he purify his ethical discipline?’ The Buddha said: ‘Son of good family, he can purify his ethical discipline … in four ways. The first is with a mind filled with loving kindness. The second is with a mind filled with compassion. The third is with a mind free from greed. The fourth is to help those whom no-one else has helped. … There are three more ways to purify one’s ethical discipline. The first is to abandon one’s own concerns, and to deal with those of others. The second is to deal with others’ concerns whenever they arise. The third is to not worry that this might cause difficulties for oneself.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.15, p.1050c16–18, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.92 Caring for the community, human and non-human
Son of good family, a wise man who wishes to attain awakening, who is wealthy, and who has also studied medicine, will set up medical facilities to tend to the sick and supply them with food and medicine. If there is a bumpy, narrow road, he will level and widen it, removing thorns, splinters, rocks, excrement and other dirt.410 If people need help in dangerous places, he will supply planks or ladders, and climbing ropes. Alongside roads in the wilderness, he will have wells dug, groves of fruit trees planted, and brooks and ponds dredged. … If he sees an animal which is running in fear, without hesitation he will save it, give it shelter, and persuade the hunter to leave it in peace, either by persuading him with words of kindness or by paying him. If he sees a traveller wandering into a dangerous place, he will immediately lead him through the danger ... If he sees people suffering because they have lost their possessions, or because their parents have died, he will give them money, comfort them with kind words, and encourage them by teaching them the Dharma, explaining the effects of virtues and of the defilements.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.19, p.1060c21–1061a05, 1061a23-26, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.93 A bodhisattva precept on caring for the sick
This is one of the forty-eight secondary precepts of the East Asian Brahmā’s Net Sūtra code.
If a son of the Buddha sees anyone who is sick, he should attend to them in exactly the same way as if they were the Buddha. Of the eight fields of beneficial karma, attending to the sick is the most important. If his parents, his teacher, or a member of the Sangha becomes sick, their faculties impaired, and suffering in a hundred different ways, he should attend to them until they recover. If, instead, out of ill-will and resentment, he does not go to help the sick, whether they are in the monasteries of the Sangha, in cities, in the wilderness, in forests, or on the road, but leaves them helpless, he disgraces himself by committing a secondary offence.
‘Brahmā’s Net Sūtra’/Fan wang jing, Taishō vol.24, text 1484, p. 1005c8–c13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.94 Help others to help themselves
This passage says that a bodhisattva, choosing to stay in the rounds of rebirth to compassionately help others, should not bind himself by believing that he can ultimately help living beings directly. Instead, he should focus on enabling them to rid themselves of their defilements.
The bodhisattva should cultivate the kind of great compassion which does not fall into the view that it is possible to benefit living beings, but which is focused on ridding living beings of their non-intrinsic defilements. Why should he do this? The kind of compassion which falls into the view that it is possible to benefit living beings will exhaust the bodhisattva in his rebirths. The kind of compassion which avoids the arising of the view that it is possible to benefit living beings will not exhaust the bodhisattva in his rebirths. He is reborn in this way, and not with such views having arisen. Being reborn with a mind free of the arising of such views is like liberation. His birth is like liberation. When he is reborn in this way which is like liberation, born in this way which is like liberation, he has the strength and the power to teach living beings who are in bondage the Dharma which will liberate them from their bonds.
As the Blessed One has said, ‘One who is in bondage himself cannot liberate others from their bonds. This is not possible. One who is liberated from bondage, however, can liberate others from their bonds. This is possible.’411 A bodhisattva, therefore, should be liberated, not in bondage.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.4, section 15, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.95 A bodhisattva as inexhaustible in giving Dharma-teachings
This passage shows the ever-giving nature of the bodhisattva.
Vimalakīrti said, ‘Sisters, there is an entrance into the Dharma which is called “The Inexhaustible Lamp”, and this is where you should enter. What is this entrance into the Dharma? It is like this, sisters. From a single oil-lamp, a hundred thousand others can be lit without diminishing the original lamp. In the same way, a single bodhisattva can establish many hundreds of thousands of others in awakening without the mindfulness of that original bodhisattva weakening or decreasing. In fact, it will grow stronger. Indeed, any wholesome practice grows stronger in oneself when one explains it and teaches it to others.
This is the entrance into the Dharma which is called “The Inexhaustible Lamp”. When you are living in the realm of Māra, you should illuminate the awakening-mind for innumerable nymphs and sons of the gods. In this way, you will demonstrate your gratitude to the Tathāgata, and all living beings will be able to depend on you.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.3, section 66, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
Care for animals and the environment
M.96 Caring for all sentient beings
Sons of the Buddha, when the bodhisattva was born as a king, and could dictate the law as he wished, he issued a decree to prohibit the taking of life. Killing was prohibited in every town and village in the realm. All species of living beings – those with no legs, those with two legs, those with four legs, and those with many legs – were all free from fear, and no-one thought of harming them.
He cultivated all the many forms of conduct of a bodhisattva, and treated animals with kindness, not harming them in any way. He cultivated the wondrous awakening-mind, in order to bring comfort to living beings.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p.149b16–21, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
These are some of the forty-eight secondary precepts of the East Asian Brahmā’s Net Sūtra code (see *M.108).
14. If a son of the Buddha, with an unwholesome mind, intentionally sets fire to forests or wilderness between the fourth and the ninth month of lunar year,412 or if he intentionally sets fire to others’ houses, buildings, towns, cities, monasteries of the Sangha, trees in fields inhabited by yakṣas, or the property of others which he does not have permission to set fire to, he disgraces himself by committing a secondary offence. …
20. If a son of the Buddha, with a mind filled with compassion, releases animals from captivity,413 he should reflect, ‘All men are my fathers. All women are my mothers. From one life to the next, I have never been born without a parent. All living beings in the six realms have been my parents at one time.414 If I kill and eat a living being, I will be killing one of my parents, who are the reason I have a body. Earth and water are my primordial body. Fire and wind are my original form.’ This is why, in every existence, releasing animals from captivity is his unchanging spiritual practice. He also teaches others to release animals from captivity. When he sees someone killing an animal, he will try to find a way to rescue them, to save them from suffering. He will instruct the killer, and explain to him the bodhisattva precepts on rescuing living beings.
‘Brahmā’s Net Sūtra’/Fan wang jing, Taishō vol.24, text 1484, p.1006a6–7, b9–18, p.1007b11-13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Loving kindness and compassion
M.97 Loving kindness
Loving kindness is the enemy of hatred, and of not showing kindness to living beings. Loving kindness is to cultivate joy when one has a common purpose with others, such as eating together. It is the desire, the wish, the craving, the longing for others’ happiness. It is an affection unsullied by the desire for sensual pleasure, or the expectation of receiving something in return. This is what ‘loving kindness’ means.
Śikṣā-samuccaya of Śāntideva, ch.12, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.98 The power of compassion
A householder should first cultivate compassion. If he does not, he will not be able to practise the precepts of a householder. If he cultivates compassion first, then he will be able to practise them. A renunciant can only fully practise five of the perfections: he cannot fully practise the perfection of generosity. Only a householder can fully practise the perfection of generosity. Why is this? It is because he can give anything at any time. A householder, therefore, should first cultivate compassion. Once he has cultivated compassion, he can perfect his ethical discipline, patient acceptance, vigour, meditative concentration, and wisdom. If he cultivates a compassionate mind, he will be able to give what is difficult to give, patiently accept what is difficult to patiently accept, and do what is difficult to do. This is why compassion is the root of all wholesome qualities. Son of good family, if someone is able to cultivate a compassionate mind in this way, he will be able to remove the effects of previous evil actions which were as great as Mount Sumeru, and he will soon attain unsurpassed perfect awakening. Even the smallest wholesome actions which he performs will yield (karmic) fruit as great as Mount Sumeru.”
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.3, p.1036c12–20, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.99 The bodhisattva’s selfless, compassionate movement through the world
This passage describes how the bodhisattva moves through the world, unattached to it, compassionately helping others.
69. It is wonderful how the son of the Victorious Ones, who has discerned the unchanging nature of phenomena, manifests himself as an ignorant, blind being, subject to birth, and so forth.
70. In his skill in means and his compassion for others, he is bound to the world. Although he has attained the sphere of the noble ones, he manifests in the sphere of immature beings.
71. He has gone beyond the whole world, and yet he does not abandon the world. He acts in the world for the benefit of the world; worldly affairs do not stick to him.
72. Just as water does not stick to a lotus, even though it grows in the water, worldly things do not stick to him, even though he is born in the world.
73. His mind is constantly blazing into action like a fire, yet he never abandons his practice of calm and meditative concentration.
74. Because of the power of his previous practice, and because he has abandoned conceptualization, he no longer has to exercise effort in order to bring living beings to maturity.
75. He knows who is to be trained, how they are to be trained, and with what means, whether by his teaching, his physical appearance, his conduct or his practice.
76. Always effortlessly unobstructed in his wisdom, he acts in the world for the benefit of living beings, limitless as space.
77. When he has reached this state, the bodhisattva is like a Tathāgata, in that he rescues living beings in the world.
78. Yet the difference between a bodhisattva and a Buddha is like the difference between an atom and the Earth, or between a cow’s hoof-print and the ocean.
Ratnagotra-vibhāga of Sāramati or Maitreya, ch.1, v. 69–78, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
The bodhisattva perfections
The six perfections (pāramitā) of the bodhisattva are qualities that are to be developed to a high degree, in order that he or she can develop compassion and move closer to Buddhahood. They are: generosity (dāna), ethical discipline (śīla), patient acceptance or forbearance (kṣānti), vigour or energy (vīrya), meditation (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā).
M.100 Developing the perfections for the sake of others
A bodhisattva, a great being, who trains himself in these six perfections always bears this in mind: ‘Living beings in the world, their minds distorted, are drowning in the ocean of saṃsāra, with no way to escape. If I do not cultivate skill in means and excellent conduct, I will not be able to rescue them from the suffering of saṃsāra. I should therefore make an effort to cultivate skill in means and excellent conduct in order to help those living beings, and cultivate the perfections – from the perfection of generosity to the perfection of wisdom – in order to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, and rescue living beings from the great suffering of saṃsāra.’
Bearing this in mind, a bodhisattva, a great being gives up all of his mental and physical possessions for the benefit of living beings. When he has given up all of his possessions in this way, he bears this in mind: ‘In reality, I do not have anything to give up. Why is this? It is because those mental and physical possessions are empty by their nature,415 and they cannot really be given up.
They do not actually belong to me.’ A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of generosity, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
A bodhisattva, a great being, in order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, will never compromise his ethical discipline. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, always bears this in mind: ‘In order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, and to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, I must not take the life of any living being, or perform any of the other ten unwholesome kinds of action, up to not holding any wrong views. I must not pursue sensual pleasure either, longing for the pleasures of heaven, or wishing to become a god such as Indra, Māra, or Brahmā. I must not aim to become a disciple or a solitary-buddha either, as they only make an effort to liberate themselves.’ A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of ethical discipline, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
A bodhisattva, a great being, in order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, will not give in to angry thoughts. Even if he is constantly insulted, slandered, tortured, and rebuked, suffering intense pain, he will never allow even the slightest hateful thought to arise in his mind. Even if he is beaten with a stick, or hit with rocks, even if his body is chopped into pieces and his limbs are torn apart, even then he will never allow even the slightest unwholesome thought to arise in his mind. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, perceives every sound as being like an echo in a valley, and he perceives every form as being like a mass of froth. Because of this, there is no reason for him to allow anger to arise, and undermine his wholesome qualities. A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of patient acceptance, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
A bodhisattva, a great being, in order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, will put great energy into acquiring every excellent good quality, until he attains unsurpassed perfect awakening. Until he has done so, he will never indulge in laziness. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, always bears this in mind: ‘If I am lazy, I will not be able to rescue all living beings from the great suffering of saṃsāra, and also I will not be able to attain omniscience.’ A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of vigour, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
A bodhisattva, a great being, in order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, practises the excellent forms of meditation. Until he attains unsurpassed perfect awakening, he will never allow his mind to become distorted by greed, hatred and delusion. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, always bears this in mind: ‘If I allow my mind to become distorted by greed, hatred and delusion, I will not be able to do anything to benefit others, and I will not be able to attain Buddhahood.’ A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of meditation, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
A bodhisattva, a great being, in order to liberate living beings from the suffering of saṃsāra, is never parted from the perfection of wisdom. Until he attains unsurpassed perfect awakening, he will make a constant effort to cultivate sublime and excellent worldly and transcendental knowledge. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva, a great being, always bears this in mind: ‘If I were parted from the perfection of wisdom, I would not be able to help living beings to fully develop, and I would not be able to attain omniscience.’ A bodhisattva who meditates in this way will quickly perfect his practice of the perfection of wisdom, and in due course will attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
This is why, Subhūti, although all phenomena in reality have no substantial nature or function, but are by nature empty, the bodhisattvas, great beings, make a vigorous effort to cultivate the six perfections which lead to the attainment of unsurpassed perfect awakening, without resting for a moment.
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol.7, text 220, p. 323a21-c13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.101 The six perfections functioning together
This passage shows how the six perfections can function together even in the most difficult circumstances. The Venerable Subhūti again spoke to the Blessed One. ‘Blessed One, how can a bodhisattva, a great being, dwell in the perfection of generosity, in order to practise the perfection of patient acceptance?’ The Blessed One said, ‘Subhūti, when a bodhisattva, a great being, practises generosity with a mind free from grasping and free from meanness, he shares the karmic benefit he acquires from that practice of generosity equally with all living beings, dedicating it to the attainment of unsurpassed perfect awakening. Even if a bodhisattva is slandered, injured, or insulted by others for no reason, his state of mind is not affected. He bears them no ill-will, and has no wish to harm them. Instead, he treats them with friendliness, loving kindness, and compassion. This, Subhūti, is how a bodhisattva, a great being, can dwell in the perfection of generosity, in order to practise the perfection of patient acceptance.’
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol. 6, text 220, p. 791c14–17, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.102 The perfection of patient acceptance I
Even if people treat him in horrible, vicious ways he never allows any angry thoughts to arise, and never repays evil with evil. If someone comes to him to apologise, he immediately accepts their apology. The sight of living beings always delights him. When he sees them acting in unwholesome ways, he has compassion for them. He praises patient acceptance, criticises hatred, and explains that hatred has harmful effects.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.18, p.1052c, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.103 The perfection of patient acceptance II
This passage praises the Buddha’s patient acceptance in a past life when he was once hacked to pieces. It says that this was possible as he lacked any idea of an essential ‘self’ that was being attacked,416 and urges a deep non-attachment to everything.
The Tathāgata’s perfection of patient acceptance, Subhūti, is not really a perfection. Why is this? It is because, Subhūti, when an evil king cut the flesh from every part of my body, I did not perceive an essential self, a living being, a life force, or a person. Indeed, I had no perception or non-perception at all. Why is this? It is because, Subhūti, if I had perceived an essential self at that time, I would also have perceived hostility. If I had perceived a living being, if I had perceived a life force, or if I had perceived a person at that time, I would also have perceived hostility. Why is this? With my higher knowledge, Subhūti, I know that I have lived five hundred times as the sage Kṣantivādin.417 During those lives, I did not perceive an essential self, I did not perceive a living being, I did not perceive a life force, and I did not perceive a person.
Therefore Subhūti, a bodhisattva, a great being, should avoid any perception,418 and cultivate a mind set on unsurpassed, perfect awakening. He should cultivate a mind which is not based on form, a mind which is not based on sounds, smells, tastes, physical objects or mental objects. He should not cultivate a mind which is based on phenomena, nor on the absence of phenomena. He should cultivate a mind which is not based on anything. Why is this? It is because whatever the mind is based on is not really a basis.419 This is why the Tathāgata has said that a bodhisattva should give a gift without basing himself on anything.
Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, section 14, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.104 The perfection of vigour
The importance of vigilance, and how best to relate to tasks.
Son of good family, there are four kinds of seed of awakening. The first is to not be attached to possessions. The second is to not be concerned about one’s own body and one’s own life. The third is the cultivation of patient acceptance. The fourth is compassion for living beings. There are five ways to cultivate these seeds. The first is to have no sense of oneself as inferior, never thinking ‘It is impossible for me to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening’. The second is to be able to tolerate physical suffering. The third is to make great effort without interruption. The fourth is to save living beings from immeasurable suffering. The fifth is to always praise the wonderful qualities of the Three Jewels. A wise person who cultivates awakening always trains himself in these five ways. There are six more practices. These are the six perfections, from the perfection of generosity to the perfection of wisdom. There is one thing which allows one to make progress in these six perfections, and this is vigilance. A bodhisattva who is not vigilant will not be able to make progress in these five ways of cultivating the seeds of awakening. If he is vigilant, he will be able to make progress in them.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.4, p.1037c5-16, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Someone who is not lazy does not enjoy sitting and lying around. He does not take pleasure in this. He sees the powerful virtue of carrying out both important and incidental tasks, and regards any task he undertakes as worth being taken to successful completion. When he works, he is not concerned about whether he is hungry or thirsty, cold or hot, on time or behind time. He does not have a negative view of his own abilities. He does not get upset if a major task is left unfinished. When he successfully completes a task, he is pleased by his own abilities, and praises the results of the energetic efforts he has made. … He does not leave a task unfinished halfway through.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.18, p.1053a1–9, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.105 The perfections as generating a Buddha-field
This passage explains that the practice of the perfections both creates a better world here and now and leads to an even better Buddha-field in which the bodhisattva will dwell when he attains Buddhahood, and which will be an ideal realm for other beings to be reborn into.
The Blessed One said, ‘Son of good family, the Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of living beings. Why is this? It is because a bodhisattva obtains a Buddha-field to the extent that he helps living beings. A bodhisattva obtains a Buddha-field as living beings develop discipline. A bodhisattva obtains a Buddha-field as living beings enter into Buddha-knowledge through entering his Buddha-field. A bodhisattva obtains a Buddha-field as living beings cultivate noble spiritual faculties through entering his Buddha-field. Why is this? Son of good family, it is because the Buddha-fields of bodhisattvas are created for the sake of living beings.
Ratnākara, even if one wants to measure space, space cannot be measured or adorned. In the same way, Ratnākara, a bodhisattva understands that all phenomena are just like space, and even if he wanted to measure his Buddha-field in order to bring living beings to maturity, a Buddha-field is like space, and cannot be measured or adorned.
What’s more, Ratnākara, the Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of good intentions, and when he attains awakening, living beings who are sincere and honest are born in his Buddha-field. … The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of generosity, and when he attains awakening, living beings who have given everything up gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a
bodhisattva is a field of ethical discipline, and when he attains awakening, living beings who have perfected their motivations, and who guard their practice of the ten wholesome kinds of action, gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of patient acceptance, and when he attains awakening, living beings who are adorned with the thirty-two bodily characteristics of a Buddha, and who have attained perfection in patient acceptance, moral self-discipline, and meditative calm, gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of vigour, and when he attains awakening, living beings who have undertaken the vigorous pursuit of everything which is wholesome gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of meditation, and when he attains awakening, living beings who have fully developed mindfulness and awareness gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is a field of wisdom, and when he attains awakening, living beings who are firmly established in perfection gather in his Buddha-field. The Buddha-field of a bodhisattva is the four limitless states, and when he attains awakening, living beings who dwell in loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity gather in his Buddha-field. …
So, son of good family, the good intentions of a bodhisattva are as strong as his determination to attain awakening. His practice is as strong as his good intentions. His determination is as strong as his practice. His profound meditative understanding is as strong as his determination. His good conduct is as strong as his profound meditative understanding. His development is as strong as his good conduct. His skill in means is as strong as his development. The purity of his Buddha-field is as strong as his skill in means. The living beings in his Buddha-field will be as pure as the Buddha-field itself. Their knowledge will be as pure as those living beings themselves. The teachings they receive will be as pure as their knowledge allows for. The good conduct that is based on their knowledge will be as pure as the teachings they receive. Their minds will be as pure as the good conduct that is based on their knowledge.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.1, sections 12–14, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.106 The true bodhisattva
This passage outlines the wondrous wisdom and heroic and adaptable compassion of the true bodhisattva.
The perfection of wisdom, my friend, is the mother of the bodhisattvas. Skill in means is their father. The Guides are born from these two.
Their wife is the pleasures of the Dharma, and loving kindness and compassion are their daughters. Truth and Dharma are their sons, and their home is contemplation of the meaning of emptiness. …
They are victorious heroes who have destroyed their enemies, the defilements. They have dared to attack the four Māras,420 and planted their banners on the seat of awakening.
They appear to choose to be born, but they are not born, they do not come into existence.421 They appear in all Buddha-fields like rising suns.
Having worshipped countless Buddhas, Guides, with all kinds of offerings. They do not take themselves or the Buddhas as a foundation.422
They purify all Buddha-fields, just as they purify the actions of living beings. They have attained the field of space and have no concept of living beings.423
The skilful bodhisattvas can, in an instant, manifest the forms, sounds, and speech of living beings.
They are awake to the actions of the Māras and imitate their actions. With perfect skill in means, they manifest all of their deeds.
They make themselves appear to be old, ill, or dead. They live creating illusions to bring living beings to maturity.
They manifest the burning of the Earth when the world is consumed by fire at the end of an eon. They demonstrate impermanence to living beings who think in terms of permanence. … In the shorter eons afflicted by disease,424 they become the best of medicines, by which
living beings are liberated and become happy and healthy.
In the shorter eons afflicted by famine, they become food and drink. They teach the Dharma to living beings who have been relieved of their hunger and thirst.
In the shorter eons afflicted by the use of swords, they meditate on loving kindness, and instruct countless living beings in non-violence.
In the midst of great battles they favour neither side. Greatly powerful bodhisattvas delight in bringing people together in harmony.
In order to help living beings, they descend with full awareness into the hells which are inconceivable to those in a Buddha-field.
They reveal themselves amongst all kinds of animals. Because they teach the Dharma everywhere, they are called the Guides.
They manifest the gratification of sensual desire and the meditation of the meditators. They confound the Māras and give them no way in.
Just as the illusion of a lotus in the midst of fire can be shown to not really exist, they show that both sensual desire and meditation do not really exist.425
With full awareness, they become prostitutes in order to draw men to them. They use lust to hook them, and when they have enticed them, they establish them in the understanding of a Buddha.
They always become village headmen, caravan-leaders, priests, prime ministers, or ministers in order to help living beings.
They become inexhaustible treasures for living beings who are in poverty. Having given them gifts, they cause the awakening-mind to arise in them.
For living beings who are full of arrogant pride, they become great champions and set them on the path of supreme awakening in which all pride is destroyed.
They always remain in the presence of living beings who are tormented by fear. Having given them the gift of fearlessness, they bring them to the maturity of awakening.
They become celibate sages who possess the five kinds of higher knowledge, and spur living beings on in their ethical discipline and in holding fast to the joys of patient acceptance.
The Leaders regard living beings as spiritual teachers worthy of service. They become their slaves, their servants, and enter into their discipleship.
They use whatever means they have at their disposal that living beings might delight in the Dharma. They have great mastery of skill in means, and manifest all kinds of actions
Their skill is limitless, and their sphere of activity is limitless. They possess limitless understanding, and liberate a limitless number of living beings.
It would not be easy even for the Buddhas to express all of their good qualities, even over the course of countless eons, of countless hundreds of eons.
What intelligent person, having heard this incomparable Dharma would not set out to attain awakening? Only inferior beings who have no concept of wisdom.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.7, section 6, verses 1–2, 12–19, 24–42, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
Bodhisattva vows and precepts
M.107 The vows of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra
This passage focusses particularly on the vow to serve all living beings.
What are these ten great vows? The first is to worship all the Buddhas. The second is to praise the names of the Tathāgatas. The third is to make abundant offerings. The fourth is to confess all actions performed in the past that hold one back. The fifth is to rejoice in other’s virtues. The sixth is to request that the wheel of the Dharma be set in motion. The seventh is to request that the Buddhas remain in the world. The eighth is to always follow the Buddhas’ teaching. The ninth is to always serve living beings. The tenth is to dedicate all good, pure actions to all living beings. …
Moreover, son of good family, the vow to constantly serve living beings can be explained in this way. In the realm of phenomena, throughout the ten directions of space, there are many different kinds of living beings. … I will be a good doctor for all those who are suffering from illness. I will show the right path to those who have lost their way. I will bring blazing light to those in the dark of the night. I will lead the poor to discover hidden wealth. A bodhisattva brings abundant benefits to all living beings equally in this way.
Why is this? If a bodhisattva serves living beings in any way he can, then he makes offerings to all the Buddhas. If he worships and honours them, then he also worships and honours the Tathāgatas. If he bring happiness to living beings, then he bring happiness to all the Tathāgatas.
Why is this? It is because all Buddhas, all Tathāgatas, take the mind of great compassion as their body. For the sake of living beings, they cultivate great compassion. Out of this great compassion arises the awakening-mind. On the basis of this awakening-mind, they attain perfect awakening.
It is like a great tree, a king of trees, growing in the wilderness, in the sands of a desert. If its roots find water, its branches, leaves, and glorious fruit will flourish. The Bodhi-tree,426 the king of trees, growing in the wilderness of birth and death is like this. All living beings are its roots. All the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are its glorious fruits. By helping living beings by nourishing them with the water of great compassion, one can attain the glorious fruit which is the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Why is this? If all bodhisattvas help living beings by nourishing them with the water of great compassion, they will be able to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening. Awakening is thus dependent on living beings. If there were no living beings, no bodhisattva could attain unsurpassed perfect awakening.
You should understand things in this way, son of good family. Great compassion can be fully developed when one views all living beings with an impartial mind. With a mind of great compassion, one is able to serve all living beings, and thereby makes offerings to the Tathāgatas. This is how a bodhisattva should serve living beings.
Even when the realm of space is exhausted, when the realm of living beings is exhausted, when the effects of the previous actions of living beings are exhausted, when the defilements of living beings are exhausted, my service will not be exhausted. I will think of them continuously, without interruption. I will not grow weary in body, speech, mind, or activity. …
At that time, the bodhisattva, the great being Samantabhadra, in order to emphasize the meaning of what he had said, addressed these words to the ten directions of space:
Pure in body, speech, and mind, I bow to all the lions amongst men of the three times,427 throughout all worlds in the ten directions of space, omitting none.
Through the great power of the vows of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, I appear before all the Tathāgatas.
By manifesting as many bodies as these are atoms in the world, I bow to as many Buddhas as there are atoms in the world.
In every atom, there are as many Buddhas as there are atoms in the world, each surrounded by a host of bodhisattvas.
Every atom in the endless expanse of phenomena is, I firmly believe, completely permeated by all the Buddhas. …
I will work unceasingly for the benefit of all beings in the ten directions of space, for as many eons as there are atoms in the world, bringing an end to all of the evil paths of suffering, and bringing happiness to all beings.
I will always serve all living beings. In all the eons to come, I will follow the conduct of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, and attain unsurpassed, great awakening.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 293, pp.844b24–29, 845c24–25, 846a07–28, 846c29– 847a07, 847b13–16, ch.40, trans. D.S.
M.108 The Brahmā’s Net Sūtra code of bodhisattva precepts
This passage gives a set of ten primary and forty-eight secondary precepts for bodhisattvas. It was developed in China, and used by monastics as a supplement to their monastic precepts, and also by some pious laypeople. This was also the case in Korea, though in Japan it came to replace the monastic code.
The Ten Major Precepts428
The Buddha said to the sons of the Buddhas: ‘There are ten major bodhisattva precepts. Someone who has received the bodhisattva precepts, and fails to recite these precepts is not a bodhisattva, and he does not possess the seed of Buddhahood. I recite these precepts. All past bodhisattvas have studied them. All future bodhisattvas will study them. All present bodhisattvas study them. The bodhisattva precepts have been taught in this way. This should be studied and observed wholeheartedly.’
1. Taking life
The Buddha said, ‘A son of the Buddha does not kill, encourage others to kill, provide others with the means to kill, praise killing, have sympathy for killing, use his supernormal powers to kill, create the causes or conditions for killing, provide ways of killing, or engage in business which involves killing. He is prohibited from intentionally killing any living being whatsoever. A bodhisattva should act in order to permanently establish a mind filled with loving kindness and compassion, a mind filled with respect for his parents, and always be looking for ways to rescue all living beings. A bodhisattva who takes pleasure in killing commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.429
2. Taking what is not given
A son of the Buddha does not steal, encourage others to steal, provide others with the means to steal, create the causes or conditions for stealing, provide ways of stealing, or engage in business which involves stealing. He does not conjure up yakṣas or spirits to steal others’ property for him. He is prohibited from stealing anything whatsoever which is owned by someone else, even something as insignificant as a needle or a blade of a grass. A bodhisattva should act in order to cultivate a mind filled with compassion, the nature of a Buddha, and to always help all people to accumulate karmic benefit and happiness. A bodhisattva who steals the property of others commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
3. Engaging in sexual intercourse430
A son of the Buddha does not have sex or encourage others to do so. He is prohibited from having sex with any female being whatsoever, from creating the causes or conditions for sex, or providing ways of having sex, to engaging in business which involves sex. He may not have sex with female animals, female gods, yakṣas, or spirits; nor may he engage in any other improper form of sexual activity. A bodhisattva should act in order to cultivate a mind filled with respect for his parents and to save all living beings. He should teach people the pure Dharma. How could he abandon compassion and encourage people to have sex with animals, or even with their mothers, their sisters, or their relations? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
4. False speech
A son of the Buddha does not speak falsely, encourage others to speak falsely, provide others with the means to speak falsely, create the causes or conditions for false speech, provide ways of speaking falsely, or engage in business which involves false speech. He does not say that he has seen something that he has not seen, and he does not say that he has not seen something that he has seen. He does not speak falsely in mind or body. A bodhisattva should always act in order to develop right speech and right view and encourage all living beings to do the same. How could he encourage living beings to speak falsely, to hold wrong views, or to engage in wrong conduct? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
5. Dealing in alcohol
A son of the Buddha does not deal in alcohol, encourage others to deal in alcohol, create the causes or conditions for dealing in alcohol, provide ways of dealing in alcohol, or engage in business which involves dealing in alcohol. He is prohibited from dealing in any kind of alcohol. This is because alcohol provides the causes and conditions for unwholesome actions. A bodhisattva should act in order to help all living beings develop the wisdom of clear insight. How could he encourage living beings to distort their minds? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
6. Discussing the faults of others
A son of the Buddha does not discuss the faults of renunciant bodhisattvas, household bodhisattvas, monks, or nuns. He does not encourage others to discuss their faults, create the causes or conditions for discussing faults, provide ways of discussing faults, or engage in business which involves discussing faults. If a bodhisattva hears non-Buddhists or wicked followers of the path of the disciple or the path of the solitary-buddha denouncing what they suppose to be to undharmic or unlawful in the Buddha-Dharma, he should always develop a mind filled with compassion, and instruct those wicked people in such a way that they develop faith in the Mahāyāna. How could he then discuss the supposed faults of the Buddha-Dharma? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
7. Praising oneself and criticising others
A son of the Buddha does not praise himself and criticise others, encourage others to praise themselves and criticise others, create the causes or conditions for praising oneself and criticising others, provide ways of praising oneself and criticising others, or engage in business which involves praising oneself and criticising others. A bodhisattva should take the place of all living beings in enduring their humiliation, taking responsibility for the unwholesome actions of others, and giving others the credit for his own wholesome actions. A bodhisattva who displays his own virtue and conceal other’s merits to the extent that others might be criticised commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
A son of the Buddha is not mean, nor does he encourage others to be mean, create the causes or conditions for meanness, provide ways of being mean, or engage in business which involves meanness. A bodhisattva should act in order to provide all poor people who come to him to beg with everything they ask for. How could he refuse to give anything at all, even a penny, a needle, or a blade of grass? How could he fail to teach the Dharma to those who seek it, even a sentence, a verse, a tiny speck of the Dharma, but instead insult them and abuse them? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
9. Becoming angry and using violence
A son of the Buddha does not become angry, nor does he encourage others to become angry, create the causes or conditions for anger, provide ways of becoming angry, or engage in business which involves becoming angry. A bodhisattva should act in order to create peace, harmony, and wholesome roots among people. He should always cultivate a mind filled with compassion. How could he, whether he is surrounded by living beings or not, insult others with abusive words or resort to violence, using his hands or a weapon? If he does act in this way, how could he refuse to apologise for his behaviour when the offended party asks him to? A bodhisattva who does so commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
10. Maligning the Three Jewels
A son of the Buddha does not malign the Three Jewels, nor does he encourage others to malign them, create the causes or conditions for them to be maligned, provide ways of maligning them, or engage in business which involves maligning them. A bodhisattva should feel like he is being struck by a hundred spears if he hears non-Buddhists or wicked people say a single defamatory word about the Buddha.431 How could he malign the Three Jewels himself, cultivating a mind without faith or respect for his parents? A bodhisattva, who maligns the Three Jewels along with wicked people with wrong views, commits an offence of such gravity that he is defeated.
You should all study this thoroughly. These are the ten major bodhisattva precepts which you should study. You should not transgress a single one of them in even the smallest degree, let alone all of them. …
The Forty-Eight Secondary Precepts
Now that I have explained the ten major precepts, I will explain the forty-eight secondary precepts, namely the precepts against: 1. failing to honour teachers and friends; 2. drinking alcohol; 3. eating meat; 4. eating the five kinds of pungent food; 432 5. not encouraging people to confess their unwholesome actions; 6. not giving offerings or requesting the Dharma; 7. not going to hear the Dharma; 8. turning one’s back on the Mahāyāna and taking up the Hīnayāna; 9. failing to treat the sick; 10. possessing weapons for killing living beings; 11. serving as an emissary for a country; 12. engaging in the business of selling; 13. speaking ill of others; 14. starting wildfires; 15. teaching the Dharma in a distorted way; 16. misrepresenting things for one’s own gain; 17. using one’s position to acquire more for oneself; 18. teaching things one doesn’t understand; 19. speaking with a forked tongue; 20. failing to rescue living beings; 21. taking angry and violent revenge; 22. failing to request the Dharma out of arrogance and pride; 23. distorting the truth out of arrogance and pride; 24. failing to practise and study the teaching of the Buddha; 25. teaching without understanding the needs of one’s listeners; 26. hoarding things for oneself; 27. accepting special treatment from the laity; 28. giving special treatment to individual members of the Sangha; 29. wrong livelihood; 30. failing to observe the full and new moon days;433 31. failing to save and release living beings; 32. harming living beings; 33. unwholesome entertainment; 34. thinking of following the Hīnayāna, even for a short time; 35. failing to wish for what one needs to practise the bodhisattva path; 36. failing to take vows; 37. risking difficult journeys; 38. sitting in improper sequence at gatherings;434 39. failing to cultivate beneficial karma and wisdom; 40. failing to confer the precepts on all, without bias; 41. teaching for one’s own gain; 42. conferring the precepts on evil people; 43. receiving gifts without a sense of humility; 44. failing to honour the sūtras; 45. failing to train living beings; 46. teaching the Dharma in an improper way; 47. making rules which conflict with the Dharma; 48. destroying the Dharma.
‘Brahmā’s Net Sūtra’/Fan wang jing, Taishō vol.24, text 1484, p.1004b11-5a24, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Wholesome and unwholesome actions
V.41 The ten wholesome actions
This passage is a simple listing of the ten courses of wholesome actions as taught by the Buddha (see passage *Th.111), in the form of the avoidance of certain unwholesome deeds and the practice of their positive antidotes.
The ten wholesome actions consist of abstaining from the ten unwholesome actions and putting their positive antidotes into practice. The first wholesome action of the body is to abstain from killing and to protect beings’ lives instead. The second wholesome action of the body is to abstain from taking what is not given and to practise generosity instead. The third wholesome action of the body is to abstain from sensual misconduct and to maintain ethical discipline instead.
The first wholesome action of speech is to abstain from lying and to tell the truth instead. The second wholesome action of speech is to abstain from divisive speech and to settle hostilities instead. The third wholesome action of speech is to abstain from using harsh language and to talk pleasantly instead. The fourth wholesome action of speech is to abstain from idle chatter to recite prayers instead.
The first wholesome action of the mind is to abstain from covetousness and to embrace generosity instead. The second wholesome action of the mind is to abstain from malevolence and to practise benevolence instead. The third wholesome action of the mind is to abstain from holding wrong views and to apply the correct view instead.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.186, trans. T.A.
The perfection of generosity
The passages below describe the three modes of practising the perfection of generosity: giving material things, giving Dharma, and protecting beings from danger.
V.42 Giving material things
Giving material things can take three forms: (simple) generosity, great generosity, and extreme generosity.
Generosity means giving to others all kinds of material objects starting with a cup of tea or a pot of barley. As long as you give something away with a pure intention, its quantity does not matter.
In general, if people gain possession even of just a small property and wealth they clutch at it until their last breath, and so it cannot serve for their benefit either in this lifetime or in the future. No matter how much they have, they think they have nothing and loudly proclaim to be starving to death. They already seem to have become hungry ghosts as a causally concordant result of their actions.
Avoiding such attitudes, you should endeavour to practise generosity by making offerings to the Three Jewels, giving to the lowly and the poor, and so forth. As Milarepa said, ‘Deny food to yourself and give to the needy.’ Otherwise, if you succumb to desire, though you may have all the wealth in the world you will never be satisfied. You will not be able to renounce what you have and will always believe that you need to obtain even more (riches) before being able to make any offerings or give any alms.
The Dharma practice of giving material things and other kinds of wealth was taught by the Buddha chiefly for householder bodhisattvas. Monastics should merely train in reducing their desires and being content with whatever they have. What is most important for them is to practise the three higher trainings (of ethical discipline, meditative concentration, and wisdom) with great determination – even among difficult conditions of mountain hermitages and other solitary places.
Some people go against their spiritual practice and amass material possessions through cheating in trade, or from farming,435 or other unwholesome activities and then they make a boast of practising the Dharma through making offerings (to the Three Jewels) and giving alms to the poor. However, even the Dharma can lead to a bad destiny if it is not practised according to the Dharma. That kind of generosity is absolutely useless. The most important thing therefore is to always remain content with whatever one has.
Great generosity means giving up to others something that is very rare and precious to oneself, such as a horse, an elephant, a son, or a daughter.
Extreme generosity refers to sacrificing one’s own body, life, limbs, and so forth. It is like Prince Great Courage giving his body to a tigress, Ācārya Nāgārjuna giving his head to the Sātavāhana Prince, or Princess Mandhabhadrī giving her body to a tigress, for example.436 This, however, cannot be practised by ordinary beings, only by those who have attained the bodhisattva stages (where one no longer has many ordinary human limitations). Presently we can (only) mentally dedicate our body, life, and all possessions to the benefit of sentient beings without attachment, and pray that we may be capable of actually giving them away in the future.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.381–84, trans. T.A.
V.43 Giving Dharma
Giving Dharma means to do all kinds of things to help others on the spiritual path – such as giving empowerments, Dharma-explanations, text-transmissions, and so forth. However, until one’s own desires (for such things as material gain and respect) are completely extinguished, though one may pretend to be working for the benefit of others, it is a mere mock show. …
It is really quite difficult to give the gift of Dharma to sentient beings. Teaching the Dharma to others without gaining some personal experience (of its truth) is not going to help others at all. Collecting offerings and wealth by teaching the Dharma is what the Indian Dampa 437 has called ‘turning the Dharma into merchandise to acquire riches.’ So as long as your own desires are not exhausted, you should not haste to work for others’ benefit. Pray instead that whenever benevolent gods and spirits overhear your reciting Dharma texts and prayers or reading the words of the Buddha, their minds may be liberated. After performing water-offering or the (symbolic) offering of the body, recite the well-known verse ‘Abandon all evil, perform only wholesome actions, tame your own mind; that is the teaching of the Buddhas’ (Dhammapada 183), and rest content with that much giving of Dharma.
When your own desires are finally exhausted, then will it be time to devote yourself mainly to helping others without falling under the power of pleasure-seeking or indolence for an instant. So that is how you should proceed.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.384–87, trans. T.A.
V.44 Giving protection from danger to humans and animals
Giving protection or freedom from danger refers to such activities as giving protection to beings who are unprotected, giving shelter to those who are without any shelter, or offering support to those without any support. Specifically, since The Blessed One has said that of all conditioned wholesome deeds, protecting sentient beings’ lives is the most beneficial, you should most assiduously try to rescue beings in all kinds of practical ways, such as prohibiting hunting and fishing whenever you have the power to do so, ransoming sheep on the way to the slaughterhouse, saving lives of fish and insects that are going to be killed, and so forth.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, p.387, trans. T.A.
The perfection of ethical discipline
The passages below describe the three modes of practising the perfection of ethical discipline: refraining from evil, gathering wholesome qualities, and bringing benefit to sentient beings.
V.45 Refraining from evil
The discipline of refraining from evil means avoiding like poison all the ten unwholesome actions of body, speech, and mind, which do not serve the benefit of others.438
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.387–88, trans. T.A.
V.46 Gathering wholesome qualities
The discipline of gathering wholesome qualities refers to creating all the kinds of wholesome roots439 that it is possible to create, whenever possible, ranging from the tiniest ones. Even according to the common saying of mundane people, ‘wholesome actions and evils are created all the time through our mouths, through our hands, even as we walk, even as we sit.’ That is why, unless we take care to avoid (evil actions) and adopt (wholesome attitudes) by mindfully and attentively examining ourselves all the time in whatever we do,440 we may commit very serious unwholesome actions even while we are just having fun. As it is said, ‘Do not underestimate even the slightest evil believing it can do no harm; even a tiny spark of fire can set alight a mountain of hay’ (cf. Dhammapada 71).
On the other hand, if we get used to applying mindfulness and alertness all the time in whatever we do, then we may create even an inconceivable mass of wholesome (qualities) while going about our everyday business. Even such a small act as taking off your hat to pay respect to a pile of maṇi stones441 on the road and keeping it on your right side while passing round it, when performed in the framework of the three excellent modes,442 can lead you straight on to perfect awakening. As it is said, ‘Do not underestimate even the slightest wholesome action, thinking it can bring no benefit; water-drops assembling can gradually fill up a large vessel’ (cf. Dhammapada 122, *Th.72). Remember the story of a pig that once upon a time was chased around a stūpa by a dog, or the one about seven caterpillars who once fell into the water upon a tree leaf and were carried around a stūpa in the water, circumambulating it seven times, which caused them eventually to attain liberation. Therefore, at all times and in all circumstances avoid even the tiniest evil and create even the tiniest wholesome root you can create, and then offer the karmic benefit to all sentient beings. This includes all the bodhisattva vows and precepts.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.388–89, trans. T.A.
V.47 Bringing benefit to sentient beings
The discipline of bringing benefit to sentient beings means actually working for the benefit of sentient beings through relying on the four ways of attracting disciples443 – once one has completely exhausted one’s desires as mentioned earlier.444 While one is a beginner, it is done by offering the karmic benefit of one’s training and practice of creating wholesome (roots) and avoiding evil, done in the framework of the three excellent modes,445 for the benefit of all sentient beings.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, p.389, trans. T.A.
The discipline of bringing benefit to sentient beings consists of eleven things, which are listed in the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’ as follows: ‘Participating in meaningful activities, dispelling the pain of suffering sentient beings, teaching knowledge to those who do not know the method, appreciating and returning help received, protecting others from danger, eliminating the misery of those who are in pain, providing necessities to those who do not have them, attracting a circle of Dharma-friends and engaging them in accordance with their mentalities, arousing delight through authentic good qualities, properly eliminating and frightening off (enemies of the Dharma) through supernormal powers, and creating inspiration.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, p.220, trans. T.A.
V.48 The discipline of restraint
This passage described the types and reasons for taking the vow of individual liberation which is the basis of taking the bodhisattva vow.
The discipline of restraint has common and uncommon variants. The common one is (any of) the seven types of (vows for) individual liberation. As said in the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’: ‘The bodhisattva’s discipline of restraint is the vow of individual liberation that a person has taken. There are seven types: the discipline of the monk, nun, nun-in-training, male novice, female novice, layman, and laywoman. One should know how they fall into lay and monastic/renunciant categories.’446
Those vows keep one away from harming others and its basis (i.e. anger). Someone taking the vow of individual liberation turns away from it for their own sake, while a bodhisattva turns away from it for others’ sakes. As the ‘Sūtra Requested by Nārāyaṇā’says, ‘(The bodhisattva) does not maintain discipline for the sake of political power, nor for the sake of higher rebirth, nor for the sake of Indra, nor for the sake of Brahmā, nor for the sake of enjoyments, nor for the sake of Śīva,447 nor for any object of the senses. Likewise, he does not maintain discipline through fear of rebirth in hell, in the animal kingdom, or in the netherworld. Rather, he maintains discipline in order to assume the style of a Buddha; he maintains discipline because he seeks the benefit and ease of all sentient beings.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.214–15, trans. T.A.
The perfection of patient acceptance
The following passages from the fourteenth chapter of Gampopa’s ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ discuss the perfection of patience: the patient acceptance of difficult and painful situations, and of challenging teachings.
V.49 Why we need patience
This passage is a meditation on the disadvantages of not having patience and the advantages of having it. One may be generous and ethically disciplined, but still one can easily get angry if one does
not have patience. If one gets angry, then all one’s wholesome (roots) created through generosity, ethical discipline, and other means can at once come to naught.448 As is taught in the ‘Collection on Bodhisattvas’, ‘Anger can destroy your wholesome roots amassed through one-hundred-thousand eons.’ Also, in ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, ‘One deed of anger can defeat all your good actions of generosity, offerings made to the Tathāgatas, and so forth, that you have been collecting for thousands of eons’ (BCA VI.1).
Moreover, unless you have patience you can be beset by hatred, causing such a sharp pain to arise in your heart as if it was pierced by a poisonous arrow, so that you will no longer have any joy or peace of mind – you will not even be able to sleep. As ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’ says, ‘Gripped by the painful feeling of hatred, one’s mind cannot have any peace at all. Unable to get any joy or happiness, one cannot fall asleep nor find any stability.’ (BCA VI.3). And again, ‘In brief, nobody can live peacefully with anger in their hearts’ (BCA VI.5b).
Moreover, if you do not have patience, every time you get angry you will put on a wrathful appearance, making your husband or wife and all your companions feel depressed and annoyed. They will not come near you even if you give them food and gifts. As is said, ‘Your loved ones will be disheartened. They may be attracted by what you give them, but they will not trust you’ (BCA VI.5a).
Moreover, if you do not have patience, Māra will find the opportunity to give you trouble. As taught again in the ‘Collection on Bodhisattvas’, ‘Whoever is overcome by anger will give Māra a chance to cause him trouble.’ Moreover, if you do not have patience, the six perfections of the path to Buddhahood will be incomplete and you will be unable to attain unsurpassed awakening. As taught in the ‘Noble Collection’, ‘How could one become enlightened if one is angry and impatient?’
On the other hand, if you have patience, it is supreme among all wholesome roots. As is said, ‘There is no evil like hatred, and no austerity like patience. Therefore, one should make efforts to practise patience in every way’ (cf. Dhammapada 184). Moreover, if you have patience, you will even obtain all kinds of temporary (worldly) pleasures. As is said, ‘Whoever defeats anger by meditative absorption will be happy in this life and hereafter.’ Again, if you have patience, you will reach unsurpassed awakening. As the ‘Meeting of Father and Son Sūtra’ says, ‘If you always meditate on loving kindness, thinking “anger is not the way to awakening”, that is how you will attain awakening.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.227–29, trans. T.A.
V.50 What is patience
This passage gives a short definition of patience and lists its three types, which are then discussed in the three passages that follow.
Patience with something is defined as not being concerned by it. As taught in the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’, ‘In brief, the patience of a bodhisattva is defined as an undisturbed (state of) mind and a lack of concern about anything but compassion.’
There are three types of patience: patience in the sense of being unconcerned about those doing you harm; patience in the sense of undertaking the painful; and patience in the sense of understanding the Dharma. The first one is arrived at through examining the nature of the sentient beings who are doing the harm; the second through analysing the nature of pain, and the third through investigating the actual nature of phenomena. The first two types of patience are practised from the relative point of view, while the third is from the ultimate point of view.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.229–30, trans. T.A.
V.51 Being unconcerned about those doing one harm
Besides describing the nature of the first type of patience, this passage introduces a method of cultivating patience towards sentient beings that are perceived as harm-doers.
The first type of patience means tolerating those who do to one or one’s belongings such disagreeable things as beating, criticizing, insulting, or exposing one’s hidden flaws; or those who create obstacles to (the fulfilment of) one’s desires. And what does it mean to tolerate them? It means not being upset by them, not retaliating, and not holding any resentment. ...
[Meditative cultivation of patience]
The ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’ teaches that patience should be cultivated by forming five conceptions. They are, as the text puts it, ‘Conception of the harm-doer as dear to one’s heart, the conception of there being only phenomena, the conception of impermanence, the conception of suffering, and the conception of taking responsibility.’
Conception of the harm-doer as dear to one’s heart: You should think, ‘This being who is now doing me harm must have been my mother, father, sister, brother, or teacher in a previous life. He must have helped me before in innumerable ways, so I must not retaliate for their doing me this harm. Thus be patient with the harm-doer by conceiving of him as someone dear to your heart.
The conception of there being only phenomena: You should think, ‘This harm-doer depends on conditions; there is just conception, there are only phenomena. There is not anyone – not any (inherently existent) sentient being, any living being, any soul here who is beating, criticizing, insulting me, or who is exposing my hidden flaws.’ Try to develop patience by thinking in this way.
The conception of impermanence: You should think, ‘Sentient beings are impermanent, subject to death. The worst damage that can happen is losing one’s life, and since everybody is going to die anyway, no-one’s life should be taken. Try to develop patience by thinking in this way.
The conception of suffering: You should think, ‘All sentient beings suffer from three kinds of suffering.449 I should try to dispel these rather than causing them suffering.’ Try to develop patience towards the harm-doer by conceiving of him as someone who is suffering.
The conception of taking responsibility: Since I have aroused the awakening-mind, I should be working for the benefit of all sentient beings. I have taken responsibility for all sentient beings as (taking responsibility) for a wife. Having taken responsibility for them in that way, it is inappropriate to retaliate for such a small insult.’ Try to develop patience by thinking in this way.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.230, 233–35, trans. T.A.
V.52 The patience of undertaking the painful
The next type of patience is enduring the difficulties of the Buddhist path, which is said to be a heroic endeavour.
The patience of undertaking the painful means to never get upset with the pains involved in (the path for) accomplishing unsurpassed awakening but to undertake them with a joyful heart. According to the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’, there are eight types of painful things to be undertaken – such as those related to places, and so forth. In actual fact, they are as follows. Having renounced the world, (one must undertake) the pains of seeking Dharma robes, alms, and so forth. Then there are the pains coming from the effort needed to make offerings to, attend, and honour the Three Jewels and spiritual masters, to listen to the Dharma, to receive explanations, to recite prayers, to meditate, and to practise yoga without sleeping in the first and last watches of the night; as well as the pains coming from the effort needed to perform the earlier-mentioned eleven things to benefit sentient beings.450 All those painful things are to be undertaken without concern about hardship, fatigue, feeling hot or cold, hunger or thirst, or any kind of mental disturbance. It is like undertaking the painful treatment of bloodletting in order to recover from a severe disease. Or, as taught in ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’: ‘The pain of my working for awakening is limited; it is like the pain of inflicting a wound on the body in order to remove a thorn stuck within’ (BCA VII.22).
If you can undertake the painful aspects of (practising) the Dharma in this way, then you will be a great hero who will have repelled the attack of saṃsāra and defeated the foe that is the defilements. In the world, someone who slays ordinary enemies that would die anyway is called a ‘hero’, yet he is not a hero at all. It is as if he was stabbing his sword into corpses. As it is stated in ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, ‘Those who have slain all the pain, defeated the enemies that are hatred and the rest (of the defilements) are victorious heroes – the rest are (as if they were) killing corpses’ (BCA VI.20).
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.235–36, trans. T.A.
V.53 Patience in understanding the Dharma
The third and last type of patience is putting up with the difficulty of comprehending the profound Dharma teachings: patient acceptance which is open to its depth and challenges. In particular, it refers to the ultimate patience of tolerating the teaching (and experience) of emptiness. Gampopa’s short definition is supplemented by an illustrative story from ‘The Words of my Perfect Teacher’.
Patience in understanding the Dharma, according to the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’, means ‘having faith in eight subjects, such as the good qualities of the Three Jewels and so forth.’ Furthermore, it means having faith and patience with respect to the fact of suchness, the emptiness of both identities.451
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.235–36, trans. T.A.
The Noble Lord (Atiśa) was once visited by two Indian monks who were abiding by the twelve good qualities of training.452 First he gave them a teaching on the absence of personal identity and both of them were very happy. But when he started telling them about the lack of identity of other phenomena, they became frightened and begged him not to talk like that. When they heard him quoting from the profound (Mahāyāna) sūtras, they blocked their ears. Atiśa became upset and told them: ‘Unless you train yourselves in the awakening-mind of loving kindness and compassion and develop trust in the profound Dharma (of emptiness), you are not getting anywhere by just keeping your vows intact.’
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.397–98, trans. T.A.
The perfection of vigour
V.54 Vigour in practising the Dharma
Even though you might feel inclined to practise the Dharma, if you keep putting it off till tomorrow and tomorrow, you will run out of our human life. You must stop wasting your whole life while still wanting to practise the Dharma. As Padma Karpo, the famous Drukpa Kagyupa master has said: ‘This human life, like an animal being led to the slaughterhouse, with each passing moment is getting closer to death. If you put off till tomorrow what could be done today, your lamentation on your deathbed will be of no avail’
Therefore, do not waste another moment deferring Dharma practice. Just like an intelligent man who has found a snake on his lap, or like a maiden whose hair has caught fire, immediately get rid of all worldly activities and start practising the Dharma straight away! Unless you do that, you will be oppressed by never-ending worldly activities following one another like ripples of water, and the time to practise the Dharma will never arrive. That time will only come when you make up your mind to get rid of all worldly preoccupations. As the All-knowing Longchen Rabjam453 has said, ‘Worldly activities never stop until we die, but when they are dropped they naturally stop’, as well as ‘Activities are like children’s games; as long as they are continued they do not end, but they are finished as soon as we leave them.’
So once you have developed a wish to practise the Dharma, draw inspiration from (the thought of) impermanence and start practising it immediately without falling under the power of laziness or procrastination even for an instant. This is what we call ‘vigour in practising the Dharma.’
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.399–400, trans. T.A.