Dr. Aditya Dewan
Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University and Humanities Department
Dawson College, Montreal
This paper discusses the following: (1) Distinction between ethics and self-discipline; (2) Philosophical ethics; (3) Self-discipline withthe Buddha’s Teaching: 4) Western philosophical ethics and Self-discipline in relation to the Buddha’s Teaching.
Ethics and Self-Discipline:
At the outset, it is important to distinguish between ethics and self-discipline. The simplest way to understand ethics and self-discipline is to relate them to right and wrong conduct. Although sometimes used interchangeably, ethics and self-discipline are different. Many use these terms interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions or principles. Ethics refers to rules provided by an external source, i.e. codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Self-discipline refers to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Self-discipline are prevailing standards of behaviour that enable people to live harmoniously in a community. It also refers to what societies sanction as right and acceptable. In the following, an attempt has been made to deal with ethics only.
Ethics is ideas about right and wrong. Our ideas about right and wrong conduct have been part of our life since infancy. Parents, teachers, preachers, friends and relatives shaped our conduct and beliefs. Ethics is evaluation of human actions. However, ethics is not the only enterprise which evaluate human actions; law, religion, psychiatry and medicine also evaluate human actions. Laws evaluate actions into legal and illegal. Violators of law go to jail, pay fine or lose privilege. Religion advises us to please God for eternal happiness in heaven in order to avoid the fires of Hell. Psychiatry evaluates a person’s behaviour as normal, neurotic and psychotic. Medicine tells whether a person is healthy or not healthy. But ethics also are different from common ideas and beliefs, traditions, feelings and emotions. Ethics (or moral philosophy)is a branch of philosophy that dates back 2000 years to Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher who spent much of his time in the Athenian marketplace challenging people to think about how they lived. Socrates believed that his mission was to ask his fellow citizens, “Are you not ashamed of your eagerness to posses as much wealth, reputation, and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom and truth, or, the best possible state of your mind?” To him “the most important thing is not life, but the good life. He challenged people how they lived. Socrates investigated human behaviour, and that’s what ethics does”(White 1988, pp. 7-10).
The Original meaning of ethics and self-discipline is: the actions people do and how they do it. Ethics and self-discipline come from two ancient Latin and Pali words ethos and Sila, both means character. The common aim of ethics is to evaluate what we do. People label actions when making ethical judgments. The most common are: Right-wrong, good-bad, moral-immoral, ethical-unethical, morally-justifiable, morally-unjustifiable, just-unjust (virtues), fair-unfair, righteous-sinful (religious), sacred-profane, good-evil, positive-negative (White 1988, p.8).
“Ethics is a part of philosophy and like any other part of philosophy, it uses reason, logic, concepts and philosophical explanations to analyze its problems and find answers. Philosophical questions are abstract or conceptual, so the most common tool to use is your mind. In ethics, what counts most is what you think. There are two ways to understand the last sentence: What counts most is what you think and what counts most is how you think” (White 1988, p.9).
In sum, “Ethics is a branch of philosophy concerned with evaluating how right or wrong actions are; ethics works through making intellectual judgments on the basis of rational explanation and public discussion; the aim of ethical argument is to get someone else to freely agree with you for good reasons; neither your emotions nor the authority of an individual’s opinion, the laws, religious teachings, or another person count as much as in philosophical ethics as what you think” (White 1988, pp.16-17).
THE SELF-DISCIPLINE IN RELATION TO BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS or SILA:
THE FOURTEEN VIRTUES OFSELF-DISCIPLINE OR SILA
Tachibana (1992) discussed Fourteen Virtues of right behavior which are the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. The following discussions are based on Tachibana 1992 and Waxman (2019).
Control of our six sense-organs: eye (vision), ear (hearing), nose (smell), tongue (taste), body (touch) and mind. It is the control of mind, speech and bodily conduct. It is also control over one’s own actions such as impulse or desire. Its aim is to achieve right concentration of mind through our six sense organs: “If this is not attained, knowledge and insight which see things as they really are will not be attained” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019). Lack of self-restraint will cause vanity and attachments to human passions and desire.
Abstinence and Temperance:
Buddha has rejected sensual pleasures, but asceticism also denounced. Temperance be observed in eating, feasting and drinking alcohol. Excessive drinking may lead to drunkenness and harmfulness to individuals and society. With regard to the satisfaction of appetite, the Buddha advises us to eat moderately. On many occasions he mentions ‘moderation in eating’ as commendable, or he praises ‘one who is moderate in taking food and filling his stomach. …. Moderation in eating therefore is recommended by all teachers, and monastics (Tachibana 1992, p.114).Bhikkhus moderate not only food but also number of meals. They refrain from taking solid food between noon and sunrise. “The Buddha does not forbid his disciples, whether lay or monastic, to take meat. The Bhikkhus may receive alms consisting of animal food, if this is free from three conditions: if the Bhikkhus do not see, hear, or suspect that the meat which is offered to them is cooked for special purpose of being offered to them, they may receive and eat it. It raises question as to the Buddha’s Teachings allowing eating meat which teaches absolute abstinence from taking life? According to the Buddha the disciples are allowed to receive any food offered to them, and not to prefer one sort to another, animal or vegetable. Preference means lack of self-control on the part of the receiver. Buddha prohibited eating the flesh of human, horse, dogs, serpent, elephants, tiger, lion, panther, bear or hyaena for several reasons. In the case of other animal, they are free to eat their meat if they are sure that is not purposely prepared for them. Animal food being allowed, it may feared that the food will excite passions. As for drinking of alcohol the devotees are absolutely forbidden to take them, whether monastic or lay” (Tachibana 1992, pp.116-117).
It“Is the self-discipline condition of a person who is satisfied with what he possesses or obtains, or with the position with he finds himself. It is a state of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment; a feeling of satisfaction with one’s quality of life, possessions, and occupations. Laymen and devotees should feel pleasure in living either in poverty and luxury. A person is a rich person who is content with a little.
Self-control is an important part of Self-discipline or Sila. “We have to persevere not only for the attainment of noble objects … but even in our daily life we have so much to endure pain, physical or mental, difficulty, poverty, sickness, various sorts of obstacles, must be borne with unfaltering firmness of mind. “Endurance in the face of hardship, mental suffering or bodily pain, or perseverance in pursuit of a certain aim and end, should be regarded as a highly valuable virtue” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019).
Celibacy or chastity:
Celibacy is compulsory only for those who have voluntarily joined the noble order. As to the other sects or lay people, they are not obliged to observe celibacy, except when they keep the eight precepts on the Uposatta days which come two or three times every lunar month or on some other special occasions.” (Tachibana 1992). “Chastity is a virtue included in the five precepts which are incumbent upon all lay followers of the Buddha to keep. The contingency of married is considered as important as the single life of unmarried. The unchaste life of the married man is absolutely repudiated as unbecoming for a follower of the Buddha” (Tachibana 1992. p.151).
Means freedom from adulteration or pollution. Spiritual purification of mind, body, thought, speech, and deed is an essential part of Self-discipline or Sila. “disciples of Buddha ideas of purity and purification are entirely spiritual, and naturally richer in ethical character. Purity, perfect purity, is the final end of Buddha’s way of life, and purification is nothing but the process necessary to reach this goal. The Buddha’s way of life is a series of purification in thought, speech, and deed, and when it is complete, the end has been attained” (Tachibana 1992, p.166). Thus Spiritual purification shows the path to nirvana and also leads to “goodness, justice, worthiness, completeness, and holiness” (Tachibana 1992, pp.166-171). According to Waxman (2019), “disciples of the Buddha will study and meditate to learn “noble discipline, concentration of mind, and wisdom. To understand the nature of self-discipline, the devotee must come to know the three universal objects: 1) the Buddha (the awakened one), 2) the Dhamma (or Dharma; natural duty or natural law), and 3) the Sangha (the community of Noble Order) Acquiring self-discipline is an essential part of the purification process, and attaining nirvana is the ultimate form of purity” (Waxman 2019.
“Pride or arrogance, which is usually expressed by the word Mana, and its derivatives, is one of the most abominable vices from the perspective of self-discipline of Buddha’s Teachings, and it is though these expressions that we understand that the Buddha’s Teaching regards humility as a high virtue. Abandon anger and pride. Do not be controlled by anger and pride. Anger and pride are twin vices, detestable in everybody’s eye. (Tachibana 1992,P.179). A person becomes selfish and ambitious when he fails to attain humility. His intention is always concentrated on himself, and his efforts are always to bring himself into prominence; he is selfish and ambitious; and he does not mind if others suffers on that account (Tachibana 1992,P.180). They do not feel responsible if others suffer as a result of their actions. If aspirants are absorbed in themselves, they cannot attain peace of mind or enlightenment. Consequently, they must work harder and longer to free themselves from karma. There are five aggregates associated with karma: 1) form (rupa), 2) feeling (vedana), 3) perception (sanna), 4) predispositions (sankhara), and 5) consciousness (vinnana). The aggregates cling to the false self. However, by learning humility and the other virtues, the aggregates are purified. As anger and pride are released, a natural outpouring of gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, modesty, and humility will follow” (Waxman 2019).
Benevolence is another virtue within Self-discipline of Buddha’s teachings) which includes: “love, kindness, friendship, sympathy, mercy, pity, and other kindred virtuous feelings and actions” (Tachibana, 1992 p.184 in Waxman 2019). Order of the noble Sangha or Bhikkhus extend their hearts to all living beings and experience oneness with the world. According to The Dhammapada: “Let us live happily then, not hating those who hate us! Among men who hate us, let us dwell free from hatred” (Tachibana 1992). Once devotees overcome negative feelings, the mindset of equality comes naturally. Followers of the Buddha’s path come to realize they are one with “the other.” (Waxman 2019).
Liberality is an extension of benevolence. “Benevolence is a charitable action or disposition to do good to others and liberality is concerned with charitable action, or practical exertion put forth to promote the happiness of others by giving them chiefly food, drink, and other requisites of life” (Waxman 2019). The application of liberality is contingent upon acquiring benevolence. The heart must be filled with benevolence before liberality is set into motion. Thus, benevolence is the cause of a kind action, and liberality is the effect (Waxman 2019). The follower of noble path who attains liberality, renounces attachments to material possessions. According to the Buddha:
You should be, O Bhikkhus, heirs of spiritual things, but not of material things . . . There are, O Bhikkhus, two gifts. What are the two? Material gifts and spiritual gifts. Of these two gifts the spiritual are pre-eminent. (Tachibana, 1992, p.209 in Waxman 2019)
It is not enough to feel benevolence in one’s heart. Daily actions expressing liberality are necessary.
Who and what are worthy of receiving reverence? Devotional reverence paid to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and respect toward others and sacred objects; and the other towards parents, elders, wise men, teachers, benefactors. In the family and social life of laymen or in the spiritual life of Bhikkhus reverence is always regarded as a prominent virtue.” (Waxman 2019). When acting with reverence, the devotee feels gratitude which is an aspect of benevolence. In early Buddha’s Teaching, reverence toward the community was of primary importance. Also, reverence toward elders and cultural traditions are a priority. Mutual respect among members of the community brings harmony and balance into daily life. Parents sacrifice for their children and receive a special form of reverence. Children are indebted to their parents for patience, tolerance and guidance. They revere their parents for giving them love and affection. Everything they own belongs to the parents.
It’s a feeling of indebtedness toward one another; a feeling of gratitude toward friends, family, and community. Expression of gratitude is a way of life in our society. Each person is grateful for their position in life such as laymen’s expression of gratitude and thanks to noble Sangha, obligation of noble Sangha to laymen (Tachibana 1992, p.227).
“The Buddha himself was a person wonderfully tolerant in nature; be tolerant to others; forgive the indolence or offences of other people; but be strict in controlling yourself. This is the gist of the Buddha’s perspective of self-discipline). The Buddha’s Teachings we dare to say, is among the most tolerant of all faiths and is “the freest from prejudice or exclusiveness or even from bigotry” (Tachibana 1992, p.237). Buddha did not use harsh language when speaking to the disciples about their offensive behavior. He displayed tolerance and patience in the same way a concerned parent treats a child (Tachibana 1992).
Truth-seeking is an essential part of Buddha’s Self-discipline. Followers of the Buddha are taught to avoid lying within the disciples of Buddha sense, this means speaking the truth with sincerity. Devotees attend classes in childhood to specifically avoid lying (Tachibana 1992). In The Buddha’s teachings, lying is one of the most common types of unethical behavior. The Buddha classifies lying as “hypocrisy, treachery, dishonesty, double-tongues, false testimony . . . and he believed it was the root of every consequence of bad kamma” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019 ). Speaking the truth is a virtue, and the Buddha’s teachings is a purification of truth. Understanding and knowing the truth are supreme goals in the Buddha’s teachings. Living one’s truth leads to salvation. The first words Buddha spoke after experiencing enlightenment were: “The true nature of things have been revealed to me” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019). Truth is the highest virtue in daily life.
is the order in life, nature, and cosmos. Nature moves in cycles, and an orderly transition unfolds. Human consciousness evolves, and morality unfolds. This correspondence of sequential unfolding in nature and morality is defined by Dhamma. However, Dhamma has a broader meaning relating to duty and allegiance to the community. An aspirant living with Dhamma is “a person who is just or upright in action and living respectfully” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019). For instance, Buddha said: “I am the genuine son . . . One who makes righteousness his body . . . One who is identical with righteousness” (Tachibana 1992 in Waxman 2019). By understanding that righteousness is the path to perfection, the devotee lives in accordance with the Buddha’s Self-discipline. Living a good life leads to an awakening.
In addition to the Fourteen Virtues, there are Five Precepts, Four Noble Truths and then Eightfold path in Buddha’s teachings.
“The simplest compendium of Buddha’s Self-discipline is the five precepts: (1) Do not kill, (2) Do not steal, (3) Do not commit adultery, (4) Do not tell a lie, and 5) Do not take intoxicating liquors.” Tachibana 1992, p.58. Thus the five precepts means refraining from harming living things and abstinence from destruction of life; abstinence from taking what is not given; abstinence from fornication or sexual misconduct; abstinence from speaking falsely, lying or gossiping; abstinence from drinking spirituous, strong and maddening liquors, which is the cause of sloth (Tachibana 1992). The Five Precepts are universal ideals which are an outgrowth of community living.
The Four Noble Truth:Suffering, cause of suffering, ending suffering and path leads to suffering.
The Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right efforts, right mindfulness, right Samadhi (meditative absorption or union.
In Buddha’s teachings the Fourteen Virtues are studied and practiced as self-discipline and ethical frameworks. These teachings are also found in: The Five Precepts, The Four Noble Truths, and The Eightfold Path. “By assimilating the Virtues into one’s being, the path to perfection comes naturally. Devotees do not need to live in a particular community to practice virtue. A follower of the Buddha can live anywhere and still achieve the nirvanic state. However, those in a community recognize their natural duty to help others. Although the Buddha’s teaching is a spiritual way of discipline life the importance of family, friends, and relationships are of paramount importance” (Waxman 2019).
Self-discipline within the Buddha’s Teachings and Western philosophical ethics:
“Socrates in the latter half of the fifth century (468-400 B.C) taught the oneness of knowledge and virtue. It was not, until Socrates appeared that Greek Philosophy was fully concerned with human interests, especially with ethical problems. He was the founder of Greek moral philosophy. The doctrine of the identification of knowledge and virtue which he taught made an epoch in the history of Greek philosophy. The Buddha’s noble discipline resembles that of Socrates in three ways. “First Buddha and Socrates fixed the object of their efforts mainly upon human interests. Socrates engaged himself in the questions concerning human affairs. His famous admonition, ‘know thyself’, the doctrine of the identification of knowledge and virtue, the assertion of the usefulness of knowledge for practical life, and the purpose of teaching his countrymen how to live as good citizen; all these have a direct spiritual impact with a man’s actual life, especially within disciplinary aspect. The Buddha on his part, repudiating spiritual actions and way of practice, taught a new method of a characteristically self-disciplined nature through the practice of Eightfold Path. Secondly, common to both is the pursuit of knowledge as of high importance to human life. Acquisition of knowledge was necessary to every man. As a citizen, as a professor, as an artisan, in public or private life, what a man primarily needs is knowledge. Knowledge makes a man good; a wise man is always a good man. Lastly, both of them posses an unique and charming personality and in consequence the more valuable as founders of the path to awakening and a self-discipline-spiritual system”(Tachibana 1992 pp.7-8). Greek Philosopher “Aristotle also defines Temperance as ‘moderation or observance of the mean with regard to pleasures’, so the Buddha advises us to avoid the two extremes and to follow the middle way. This is the only virtue. … The Greek philosopher thinks that that virtue always lies between the two extremes, too much and too little, courage between cowardice and foolhardiness, and liberality between prodigality and illiberality, so also the Buddha finds virtue in the middle way”(Tachibana 1992, p.112-13).
Thus ethics and Self-discipline is an evaluation of human conduct or human behavior. It evaluates human conduct as right-wrong, just-unjust, acceptable and unacceptable, and so on. There are striking similarities between Western philosophical ethics and the Buddha’s noble Discipline. Both of them evaluate human conduct and teach us how to act and consequences of our actions.
Tachibana, S. (1992). Ethics of Buddhism. New Jersey: Reprinted in 1992 by Curzon Press Ltd.
Waxman, Robert (2019). Fourteen Virtues of Buddhism. Retrieved in March 2019 from https://www.academia.edu/38350064/Fourteen_virtues_of_Buddhism
White, Thomas, I.(1988) Right and Wrong: A Practical Introduction to Ethics. First Edition. Prentice-Hall Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.