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Ethics is concerned with human conducts and deals with questions regarding what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what are justices and what are our duties, obligations and rights. Good or bad depends on one's own choice.
In Dhammapada 183, Buddhist ethics can be generally summed up as follows:
Sabba pāpassa akaraṇaṁ Kusalassa upasampadā
Sacitta pariyodapanaṁ Etaṁ Buddhānasāsanaṁ
"Not to do evil (pāpassa), to cultivate the good (kusala)
And to purify one's mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha."
Buddhist ethics allows one to be able to differentiate between a good or a bad action and allow one to choose the right kind of action logically and ethicaly. The centrality of ethics is based on the centrality of the mind which is the source of all values, virtues, and vices.
The ultimate goal in Buddhism is the cessation from suffering or unsatisfactions (dukkha). Morality (sīla), practice in meditation (samādhi) and the development of wisdom (paññā) are the three-fold training in the Buddhist discipline towards liberation from dukkha.
How do we know what is right or wrong action?
The Buddha says that when we state a falsehood knowingly or when we do something immoral, then our conscience tells us what is right and wrong.
When we do something wrong or unwholesome actions:
1. my conscience (attādipateyya) reproaches me if I do it,
2. the wise would disapprove of it after examination
3. one would tend to be born in states of downfall as a result of doing it. Hiri (sense of shame) and Ottapa (fear of wrongdoing) are the guardians of the world that will reduce one’s tendency to harm others in speech and actions.
Observing 5 precepts
By observing the 5 precepts allow people to live together harmoniously and allow the community to prosper and progress. The 5 precepts are:
1. Abstain from Killing, injuring, torturing, violence, cruelty so as to cultivate loving kindness, compassion and respect for all lives. This promotes non-violence (ahiṃsā), assures a sense of security in the society, advocates right means of livelihood and allow one to cherish all precious lives.
2. Abstain from stealing, swindling, frauds, bribes so as to cultivate contentment, generosity, sharing, non-attachment to money and respect for others’ property rights. This promotes rights of ownership over property, assures a sense of security in business cooperation, advocates right means of livelihood and promotes honesty and trust in society.
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct, adultery, perverted sexual act so as to cultivate self-control, self-restraint and self-discipline. By doing so it will promote a sense of social decency, supports social responsibility and mutual trust, prevents family break-ups/divorce and assures safe and healthy environment.
4. Abstain from lying, malicious writing, slander, harsh speech, idle chatter, back-biting, gossip so as to cultivate honest, virtuous and beneficial speech. This promotes truthfulness, assures trustworthiness and sincerity, promotes peace and harmony and provides friendly, pleasant, gentle environment. Always say kind, beneficial and truthful speech.
5. Abstain from all forms of intoxicants that cloud the mind and self-destruction so as to cultivate a sober mind, mindfulness, self-respect and efficiency in work. This promotes good health by abstaining from harmful intoxicants, a peaceful environment, supports social responsibility, avoid accidents, prevents violence, quarrels, fights, vices, and respects all other precepts.
Killing, stealing and sexual misconduct are categorized as action, lying is considered as speech and taking intoxicants is under mental action. Taming 3 actions is sila (morality) can be found in noble eightfold pathway. By practicing right speech, right action and right livelihood makes one moral and it brings about happiness, harmony and prosperity in the society.
Right attitude in observing precepts
In the Veludvāra sutta of SamyuttaNikāya, Buddha explains:
Suppose someone should deprive me of my life/my property/my partner/makes me intoxicated and harms me with malicious speech, it would not be pleasing or delightful to me. If I, in my turn, were to inflict the same thing on someone else, it would not be pleasing or delightful to him. For that state which is not pleasant or delightful to me must be not pleasant or delightful to another: and a state undear and unpleasing to me, how could I inflict that upon another?’ As a result, of such reflection one should abstain from causing harm to others, encourages others so to abstain from harming others and observe all five precepts for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The 4 sublime abodes (Cattaro Brahma Vihara)
The four sublime abodes are the central of moral virtues in Buddhism and these virtues are answers to world peace. Happiness and peace must first be established in one’s own heart before he can bring peace to others and to the world at large.
The 4 sublime abodes are:
1. Metta (loving kindness): sincere and genuine wish for the welfare and happiness for all living beings without exception, without any selfish motive or expectation. In other words it is unconditional love towards oneself, friends, foes without any preferential love. It is the antidote to anger and hatred (one of the 3 evil roots).
2. Karuna (Compassion): One helps others without expecting anything in return, shares sorrows with others and showing compassion to those who are misfortunate. This counteract cruelty and harmfulness towards others.
3. Mudita (Sympathetic joy): one feels happy when they see others being successful, prosperous and happy. This is antidote to jealousy and envy especially towards enemies.
4. Upekkha (Equanimity): is a balanced and even state of mind that arises on seeing that all beings will reap the results of their wholesome and unwholesome kamma. Understanding that we are hiers of our own deeds. The practice of upekkha discards cravings and aversions. One is neither attracted by desirable objects nor is averse to undesirable objects.
Metta embraces all beings, karuna embraces the sufferers, mudita embraces the prosperous and upekkha embraces the good and bad, the loved and unloved, the pleasant and unpleasant.
The 5 precepts are indispensable basis for people who wish to cultivate their minds. 10 meritorious acts which include dana, sila, bhavana, transfer of merits, rejoice in merits transferred, render service, pay respect, preach and teach dhamma, listening to dhamma and straightening one mind can work with 5 precepts to establish foundation of a harmonious united society and universal brotherhood.
When one’s action gets purified, it brings much public benefit. When one is peaceful ad happy, the world can enjoy peace and happiness too.