The Development of Morality by Darsa Bhikkhu

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The Development of Morality by Darsa Bhikkhu

An article by Darsa [Dhammadāsa] Bhikkhu

It is well known in Thailand that the Buddha taught three trainings: Morality/Ethics Sīla, Concentration/Meditation Samādhi and Wisdom/Insight Paññā. They are called the “Trisikkhā” and are trainings in the sense that we have to develop them, by our own efforts. Others can help us only in showing the way to develop them. This is a special feature of the Buddha’s teaching.

In other religions, one can pray to a spiritual being or god to purify us, or save us from consequences of certain actions, but not in the Buddha’s Teaching. He said that he cannot control who, or how many, or how much people end suffering, but he is only a guide, someone who shows the way and people must walk it themselves.

Ideas from other teachings, that are not compatible with the Buddha’s Teaching, are being accepted by Buddhist people in Thailand, both monks and lay people. This is due to not thinking carefully about one’s speech or the meaning of one’s speech, or not understanding the meaning of Pali words. The Buddha said his teaching is very subtle. So one should be careful about it. One very common example of wrong ideas coming into Buddhist practice is: going to the temple to request the five sīla [ไป วัดฃอสีลห้าล] and accepting the five sīla [รับสีลห้าล] from a monk.

Sīla means “morality” or “ethics” and it is a training in the Buddha’s teaching. No one can give us sīla; not the Buddha, not his Arahant disciples of long ago and not an Arahant, or lesser disciple in the present time. What a monk, or disciple of the Buddha CAN do, is to show us how we must train to develop sīla. This is actually evident in the ceremony of taking “the pañca sīla”. The monk does not, or SHOULD not say, “come to receive the five sīla” or "these are the pañca sīla". At the end of the ceremony the monk says:

  • Imāni pañca sikkhāpadāni.
  • Sīlena sugatiṃ yanti.
  • Sīlena bhogasampadā.
  • Sīlena nibbutiṃ yanti.
  • Tasmā sīlaṃ visodhaye.

It may be because the terms sikkhāpadāni and sīla [sīlena – “with sīla”] appear so close together that confusion has arisen. The translation of these sentences is:

  • These are the five training rules.
  • With morality one goes to a good birth.
  • With morality one obtains wealth successfully.
  • With morality one goes to the end of suffering.
  • Therefore purify morality.

The monk does not say, “these are the five moralities [pañca sīla or sīlāni; plural]”. He says, “these are the five training rules [pañca sikkhāpadāni]”. When one trains in these rules, one develops sīla, or morality. The training rules are not sīla [morality], but sīla comes from the training. One obtains and purifies morality by the training rules, if one has Right View. That is, if one understands correctly, especially about cause and effect, regarding our behavior and our emotions, that how we behave affects how we feel.

If one does not understand this, one may think that after taking the five training rules, one immediately has perfect morality, but this is not the case. This is wrong view. If one did not have perfect morality immediately before the ceremony of accepting the five training rules, then one will not have it immediately afterwards, because a ceremony cannot purify us. The idea that we can become pure in various ways through a ceremony, may be a teaching of Brahmanism and Hinduism, but it is not the Buddha’s Teaching and it is not compatible with the Buddha’s teaching.

In English I have noticed that pañca sīla is translated “the five training rules” or “the five precepts”. This is good and we should continue doing so, but if the Pali words “pañca sīla” are included as a title, then I suggest they should be changed to “pañca sikkhāpadāni”.

Undertanding how the training rules relate to morality is the first step. From there we need to know what “morality” is exactly, in the Buddha’s Teaching. I plan to write on that another time.

So I hope you can give up such Wrong Views associate with the training rules, if you haven't already and help others to understand the Buddha’s Teaching clearly, so that you can end suffering more and more, and thereby be more happy.

See also