CHAPTER VI. BUDDHIST ETHICSA. General Aspects
To discuss the ethics of Buddhism in a separate chapter may at first sight seem rather arbitrary, for the ethics of a religion would seem most naturally to belong to the very core of the religious life flowing from the fundamental doctrines. If we were dealing simply with primitive Buddhism, or with only certain phases of Mahāyāna Buddhism such a separation as we are making would be impossible, but as we are discussing primarily Japanese Buddhism the treatment is not only justifiable but essential, for in a peculiar way religion and ethics seem strangely divorced in this land.
The history of religion in all lands shows tendencies to divorce the ethical elements from the purely religious. There are various forms which this separation has taken, but three general types seem rather universal. Thus we have in the first place systems which may be regarded as ethical systems but which have no real religious basis. Confucianism and primitive Buddhism are the best examples of this type. In the second place there are systems which may be said to be truly religious systems but which have no vital ethics, i.e. they are ethic-less religions. Many of the animistic and polytheistic systems show this characteristic. Not, of course, that these are altogether without the ethical element, but that this is very insignificant. And in the third place, there are systems in which the religious elements and the distinctively ethical elements exist side by side without there being always a vital connection between the two, or even with a fundamental antagonism between the two; so that the ethical principles do not only fail to flow from the religious doctrines but are more or less in direct opposition to them. This type finds its best representative in Buddhism taken as a whole.
Even in the history of Christianity do we find evidence of these strange tendencies to separate the fundamental religious doctrines from the ethical principles, or at least to neglect one or the other aspect. Thus we have had periods when great emphasis was placed on certain fundamental doctrines without a corresponding emphasis on practical Christian ethics. And again there have been periods - and the present is such a one - when the emphasis was laid exclusively upon Christian ethics and the theology underlying it was regarded as suited only for a few impractical theologians. And in the third place, we see the spectacle of professing Christians being perfectly "orthodox" and scrupulously careful as to ritual and ceremony but regarding the Sermon on the Mount as a beautiful but impractical ideal.
But while the West is more or less familiar with the various tendencies to separate religion and ethics, it is in the Orient that we most commonly find the divorce of the two, and of all religions of the world no system shows the three types of separation mentioned above more markedly than does Buddhism in its various phases.
Primitive Buddhism, as we have said, shows the first type of separation; namely, the type which divorces religion from ethics by practically eliminating what to a Western mind, at least, would seem indispensable elements of religion. So much is this the case that some scholars have hesitated to call Gautama's system a religion at all, though later Buddhism no one would refuse to recognize as such. Of course, it is possible to use the term religion in such a broad sense that any attitude towards life may be called religious. Thus a Comte, after discarding religion as a phenomenon belonging to the primitive mind, advocates his own anti-religious system as the Religion of Humanity. Or again, we have in our own day materialists and atheists speaking of the Religion of Science. In this broad sense Gautama's system was certainly a religion, and had even a better right to the title than these, for it had at least one of the cardinal elements of religion in that it had a doctrine of redemption. But if religion is essentially "a quest for the enrichment of life by establishing vital relationships with superhuman powers or persons (power or person)," then Gautama's system, with its indifference, if not opposition, to the God-idea, can hardly be called a real religion. Of course, as soon as Gautama himself was lifted into the place of a superhuman being, as happened rather early in Buddhist history, the essential elements of religion were present. But the system which he himself proclaimed may be said to be a practical ethical system which above everything else sought to make man independent of the gods and dependent solely upon himself. The Buddha did not seek to show men the vital relationships which may be established between them and the divine, but he wanted them to see the vital relationship which their present state sustains to their past deeds and which their present deeds will sustain to their future state.
But while primitive Buddhism was primarily a practical system of ethics growing out of a certain view of life; namely, the view of life summed up in the Four Noble Truths, we have even here a divorcement between this philosophy of life and some of the practical ethical teachings. The ethical teachings which have as their object the cutting of all the bonds which bind man to this life flow naturally from the view of life expressed in the Four Great Truths, but when ethical ideals center around the thought of self-discipline and selfculture, it is difficult to reconcile them with the doctrine of the non-reality of the self so important in primitive Buddhism. In short, then, many of the ethical principles even in primitive Buddhism were based upon what India had found to be practical for a moral life, but which in reality failed to grow out of the fundamental doctrines of Gautama's view of life and which were even in flat contradiction to it.
As we saw in Chapters I and II, it was not long before the fundamentals of religion which Gautama had practically ignored, found their way into Buddhism and so for the first time made it truly a religion in the generally accepted sense of the term. Unfortunately, however, the movement towards a real religion was accompanied by a movement which led away from the rather lofty ethical plain on which Gautama lived. It may almost be said that Buddhism developed from a religion-less ethic into an ethic-less religion. This may be stating the case too strongly, but it is certainly true that in spite of the change from the Arhat ideal to the more altruistic Bodhisattva ideal, the growing popularity of the old Indian deities and the deities absorbed by Buddhism as it marched triumphantly northward, somehow overshadowed the ethics of the Middle Path. That which Gautama had made central was relegated to a secondary place, and that which he had ignored or opposed as superstition was made central in the religious life of the average adherent. And thus it has remained down to the present day. So much is this the case in Japan that especially during the Meiji era religion was regarded as superstition and the real enemy of rational conduct.
It is true that, as intimated above, there was a nobler side to this development in Buddhism of the religious element which also brought with it lofty ethical ideals. Thus the self-centered ethics of the Arhat was augmented by the altruistic ethics of the Bodhisattva. The goal of ethical conduct was no longer so much the breaking of the bonds of existence, but rather the development of the self into the higher self. The Buddha was regarded as having had many incarnations, and as having finally prepared for man a way to this perfection. It became the ideal of some Buddhists to attain unto this perfection of character and to help others attain. That is, the ideal for self-discipline and selfculture and the desire to help others was an ethical ideal consistently flowing from the fundamental religious doctrines of later Buddhism. But when this later Buddhism sought at the same time to perpetuate the ethics of primitive Buddhism based upon a view of life which practically denied the reality of the self, we have again an example of ethical principles divorced from, and antagonistic to, the religious doctrines. This, however, is really an example of the third type of separation mentioned above; namely, the existence of religious and ethical elements side by side without there being a vital connection between the two.
But a better example of the third type is seen in Japanese Buddhism where we find various religious and ethical elements taken from widely separated sources existing side by side without there being a vital connection. It is this which accounts for the strange spectacle in the present educational system of the land which makes moral training the first subject in the curriculum and excludes religion not only from the course, but in many cases from the very school grounds. We do not mean to say that there are no ethical principles in Japanese Buddhism growing out of the fundamental philosophic doctrines, but that there are many which came from systems quite alien to Buddhism, and even antagonistic to its fundamental doctrines. Thus it is a common-place to say that, perhaps, the most vital elements in the practical ethics of Japanese Buddhism are taken from Confucianism, and it is an open secret that some of the progressive priests are not averse to vitalizing their moral instruction by an infusion from the ethics of Jesus. One frequently hears it said that as a philosophy Buddhism is more profound than Christianity, though the latter may be superior in its practical ethics. All of which goes to show how real is the divorcement of religion and ethics even in the minds of religious leaders. At any rate must it be admitted that they would regard the practical ethics of every-day life as belonging to the realm of Accommodated Truth, and therefore being purely relative.
Since Japanese Buddhism contains such a complex of philosophic doctrines and its ethical teachings are based only in part upon this complex and in part are taken from other sources, it becomes practically impossible to give a systematic presentation of the subject in hand. Even the barest outline of Buddhist ethics leads one to flatly contradictory positions, so that even a writer like Professor Anezaki has to say that "the moral and intellectual perfection of a personality, in spite of the doctrine of the non-ego, is the highest aim of Buddhist morality." How is it possible to say that "moral and intellectual perfection of personality" is the highest aim of a system when personality itself is said to have no real existence? It is possible only by admitting, as Professor Anezaki- does admit, a flat contradiction between Buddhist ethics and one of its fundamental doctrines. The reader will, therefore, forgive us if in what follows, things do not always hang together, or if they appear contradictory.
To the extent to which Buddhist ethics is grounded in Buddhist doctrines, we might say that it has its basis and aim in the philosophy of the good. What is meant by "the Good" we have already discussed in the previous chapter under the head of the essence of salvation, and in what was said there about the essence of true enlightenment. All moral principles have as their criterion the essence of enlightenment; and since enlightenment is a matter of degrees, it follows that ethical principles are also matters of degree. There is no categorical right and wrong, but right and wrong are purely relative. The good varies with the true, and the true changes with the point of view, so that what is true and good for one being is not necessarily so for another. In the long scale of beings into which Buddhism divides the world of phenomena, each being has its own laws and may appropriate the true and the good in its own way. Thus the standard of ethics is necessarily varied and relative. There is one standard only in the sense that all beings have the capacity for attaining Buddhahood, and will attain this if they obey the varying ethical principles as they advance from stage to stage.
In the beginning of the preceding chapter we gave, as the complete summary of all Buddhist teachings, the pregnant sentence, "Tenmei kaigo, Riku tokuraku, Shiaku shuzen," the last phrase of which presents the ethical side of the system; namely, "Ceasing from evil and doing good." When this thought is put by itself it reads, "Not to commit any sin (evil), to do good, and to purify one's own mind; this is the teaching of all the Buddhas." To this general way of stating the core of all Buddhist ethics all Buddhists would agree, and even a Christian would have no objection to expressing his ethical ideal in such terms. But when it comes to defining more specifically what is meant by "sin" which is not to be committed, and the "good" which is to be done, then, of course, the differences begin to appear.
Roughly speaking, Buddhist ethics may be divided into two great types; namely, the older Hīnayāna type and the later Mahāyāna type. The two have very much in common in the ethical principles which pertain to man as a citizen of this world, but in so far as they pertain to man as a candidate for salvation out of this world the older type may be said to be less altruistic than the later Mahāyāna ideal. It will be remembered that the Hīnayāna ideal of salvation was the Arhat, and the Arhat was above all else interested in his own salvation. He walked in the path of righteousness for his own sake; not so much for the positive good which he sought to achieve as for the sake of escaping from a positive evil. He perfected his personality in order to destroy the conditions of individuality and personality.
The hindrance to this goal of the ethical ideal of Hīnayāna Buddhism lies not so much in man's will as in man's mind. In order to overcome the obstacles in the path of righteousness the mind must be enlightened with the truth. This necessary truth is above all else the truth above the nature of existence, i.e. the nature of human life and the causes which have brought about man's present condition. Thus the beginning of all ethical conduct is correct knowledge. This knowledge is formulated first of all in the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, and then in the various moral maxims suited for practical life. To be sure, the mere knowledge of the truth does not bring deliverance; man must walk by the knowledge he has received, for it is only in the union of theoretical knowledge and practical application of it to life that deliverance is found.
But what is it that gives man the motive power to walk in the way of truth as it is presented to the mind?
It is the truth itself which gives this motive power, for truth expels ignorance, and ignorance is the core of all sin. Hence to know the truth is to be free from sin and to do the good.
It is a question whether this is good psychology, and whether Buddhism does not give too much prominence to the intellectual aspect of the human personality and not enough to the aspect we call the Will. Of course, a knowledge of the truth is necessary as a step toward freedom from sin, but it does not always follow that to know the truth is to obey it. After all, there is that mysterious aspect of our personality called the Will which enables a man to choose as to whether he will obey the truth as he sees it, or not. It is true, as Buddhism says, that man is in ignorance and that ignorance is a source of sin, but sin is more than mere ignorance. It is not merely an intellectual mistake, but rather a rebellion of the will. In short, man is not simply a mind, but a personality. Personality has as its core the Will aspect as truly as the intellectual, and consequently abstract truth does not make a sufficiently strong appeal to enable man to forsake sin and do good, but the appeal must be made by a perfect personality. And here is exactly where the ethics of primitive Buddhism must inevitably break down. It can never consistently present the ethical appeal in the truth of a perfect personality, for it denies that personality is a permanent reality. It can therefore never have the drive of Christian ethics which is grounded in the perfect personality of God expressed in human terms in the historic perfect personality of Jesus Christ. It can never say to man "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The best it can say is, "Be ye perfect as S'akyamuni was perfect in order that ye may escape from the evils of life." The appeal which this older ethic makes is therefore more of an appeal of man's sense of fear. It is, "be good lest you suffer the consequences." This was a powerful appeal to a world-weary civilization, but it can never be as powerful as the appeal to a man's higher self which finds its ground in the thought that the universe has as its source the eternal Personal God and has as its goal the achievement of perfected personalities after the likeness of Christ Jesus. It is not strange therefore that even Buddhists admit that Christian ethics have a greater vitality and make a stronger appeal to the heart of man than Buddhism.
Now, the newer ethic of Mahāyāna Buddhism has a more positive goal than the older and it is also more altruistic in its tone. That is, it not only leads away from a positive evil but also to a positive good, and the good is both for the self and others. Its ideal is the Bodhisattva, and he is one who achieves perfection for himself, but refuses to enjoy the fruit of his labors to the full until he has helped others achieve the same benefit. In fact, the Bodhisattva is one who might say of himself, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." This type of ethic therefore makes a stronger appeal than the older type in that it directs itself to the higher self in man and centers more on what good he may achieve rather than on what evil he is to escape. The Mahāyāna ethic has, however, some of the weakness of the Hīnayāna in that it, too, makes the intellectual aspect of human nature central and does not give due recognition to the Will. Sin is also in this system primarily a matter of mere ignorance, and not the perversion of the entire personality. And further, while this ethic makes an appeal to the higher self, the philosophy on which it rests, after all, denies that personality is really permanent. The Bodhisattva may be personal as long as he chooses to be a Bodhisattva, but when he enters into the full Buddhahood he disappears as personal. And so it comes about that though the highest aim of Mahāyāna ethics may be "the moral and intellectual perfection of the personality," this end when achieved is really not permanent, but only a stepping into that which is neither personal nor impersonal. One might wonder why one should strive to achieve a perfect personality if the real goal is as truly the impersonal as the personal.
Approaching the subject of Buddhist ethics from the ecclesiastical standpoint, we may say that it again divides itself into two main branches; namely, the ethics for the layman and the ethics for the monk and priest. There is usually a double standard, that for the monk being higher than that for the layman and including it. Thus e.g. in the older Buddhist Ten Commandments the first five only are for the layman while the monk must observe the entire ten. In fact this is one of the outstanding characteristics of Buddhism - not only of its ethical teachings, but of all its teachings - that there is such a wide chasm between the layman and the priest. Not that the priest is actually so superior in holiness and learning to the layman, but that theoretically he is so. The lay Buddhist is supposed to go on in his life very much as he did before he became a Buddhist; practically nothing is required of him. But the monk and priest are expected to leave behind, not only the evil ways of this world, but also much of what is normal and good in human life. The very expression in Japanese for entering the monk's life indicates his break with the normal life. He is said to "forsake home" and to "ascend the mountain." (Most monasteries are in the mountains far removed from the world of men.) The monk alone is supposed to read and know the sacred scriptures, and with his advance in knowledge is supposed to come an advance in holiness. Only the Shin Sect has sought to spread "household religion," but even here the sect has not at all kept true to the high ideal of its founder. The writer is, of course, familiar with the fact that in Christianity, and in practically every religion, there have been these wide gaps between the layman's religion and the professional religionist's religion, but there is at least in Protestant Christianity an attempt to make the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and to set up but one standard of conduct for layman and clergy; namely, the standard of perfect manhood revealed in Jesus Christ.
B. The Vices and Virtues
We must now leave the general characteristics of Buddhist ethics and come more specifically to the ethical teaching and moral maxims themselves. These will be seen to fall into two great groups; namely, teachings concerning the vices of life and teachings concerning the virtues of life. The contrast between ignorance and enlightenment which Buddhism makes in its fundamental doctrines is carried out in its ethical teachings by the contrast between the vices and virtues, for ignorance may be said to be the cardinal vice and wisdom the cardinal virtue. Buddhists are exceedingly fond, not only of classifying all ethical teachings under these two main heads, but of making lists upon lists of the various major and minor vices and virtues. This is often done in a rather mechanical way, and particularly do the methods of inculcating these ethical teachings frequently degenerate into a mere mechanical process which kills the real spirit of the teaching.
1. The Vices of Life . - The cardinal vice is the vice of egoism grounded in ignorance; or to put it the other way around, it is ignorance expressing itself in egoism. Egoism whose taproot is ignorance is the trunk from which grow all other vices, so that whatever may be the specific vice under consideration, it can always be traced back to a form of egoism, and this always grows out of ignorance; for in Buddhism all individual life is essentially nothing but the desire of Ignorance, or the expression of an unconscious desire - a blind "will-to-be."
This egoism manifests itself in three primary vices usually spoken of as the Three Poisons; namely, Lust, Anger and Folly. From these three main branches of the tree of vice come other smaller branches, twigs and leaves. The classifications which follow below overlap and are not always logical divisions. Thus we have a list of the Five Vices of Greed, Seeking for Pleasure, Hatred, Stupidity and Indifference. Following this may be given the Five Lusts of the Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue and the Organs of Touch. The Five Hindrances are: Sensual Desire, Ill-will, Torpor of Mind or Body, Excitement and Vanity and Perplexity. The Seven Fetters are: Sensual Pleasures, Repugnance, Opinion, Perplexity, Pride, Attachment to Life and Ignorance. These Fetters are divided and subdivided until there are ten, sixteen, hundred and eight, etc. The Five Impurities are: Primary Impurity which gives rise to the following four; namely, Impurity of Doubt, Impurity of Passion, Impurity which weakens the body and Impurity which shortens life. The Five Crimes are: Patricide, Matricide, Killing a Saint, Disturbing the Peace of the Monks and Opposing the Buddha. The Seven Prides are: Pride towards Inferiors, Pride towards Equals, Pride towards Superiors, Pride of Self-confidence, Pride of Pretence, Pride of thinking oneself equal to one's peer and Pride of boasting to be able to do what one cannot do.
But the most widely known lists of vices and the warning against which may be said to form a real vital part of the practical ethical teachings of Japanese Buddhism for all classes of believers are the Ten Evils forbidden in the Ten Commandments. (These Ten Commandments differ somewhat from the Ten Commandments mentioned in Chapter I.) These Ten Evils, or Sins, are: Killing, Stealing, Committing Adultery, Lying, Exaggerating, Slandering, Being Double-tongued, Coveting, Being Angry and Being Heretical. These Ten Sins are divided into three groups. The first group consists of the first three and these sins are called Sins of the Body, or Evil Works. The second group is made up of numbers four to seven, and these are called Sins of the Mouth, or Evil Words. The third group is composed of numbers eight to ten and these are called Sins of the Mind, or Evil Desires.
It will be seen at a glance that many of the vices and sins given in these various lists are such as one would expect to find recognized by any advanced religion. And likewise would most advanced systems of ethics agree with Buddhism that the cardinal vice is a low, base egoism or selfishness. But when it is held that all sorts of egoism, even the egoism which seeks the development of the higher self, is a vice, then Christianity at least must part company with Buddhist ethics. And still further when it is held that all vice is mere ignorance and all sin is essentially nothing more than a "big mistake," Christianity again must part company, for it must ever be more accurate in its psychology and treat sin as not simply a matter of the intellectual aspect of the human personality, but also as a matter of the will and the affections; in short, as a marring of the entire personality.
2. The Virtues of Life . - Let us next consider very briefly the virtues of life which Buddhism seeks to inculcate. If egoism rooted in ignorance is the cardinal vice, then the suppression of this egoism through knowledge is the cardinal virtue. That is, all virtue is rooted in right thinking. Thus Buddhists regard mental discipline rather than a discipline of the will as a thing of first importance, and among the primary virtues methods of mental discipline occupy a prominent place.
But if the suppression of egoism is the primary virtue, a question arises as to whether this means the suppression of a lower egoism by the self-assertion of a higher and nobler egoism or does it mean the suppression of all egoism or selfassertion? Or to put it in another form: Is enlightenment positive knowledge or simply a "breaking of error"? Some Buddhists hold - and it would seem that to be consistent with Buddhist psychology a Buddhist must hold - that it means the latter, and that virtue is not a positive goodness but simply the absence of a positive evil. This is why most of the teachings of Buddhism are cast in a negative mold. The Ten Commandments of Buddhism are ten prohibitions, ten "Don'ts." Keeping these ten negative commandments constitutes the Ten Virtues which the average Buddhist is supposed to cultivate just as breaking them is to commit the Ten Vices mentioned above. The Ten Virtues, then, are the following: Not to Kill, Not to Steal, Not to Commit Adultery, Not to Lie, Not to Exaggerate, Not to Slander, Not to be Double-tongued, Not to Covet, Not to be Angry and Not to be Heretical. Thus, as we have said, at least according to the form in which these virtues are stated, they seem to be negative virtues, or merely the suppression of vices.
But while Buddhist ethics makes more of the suppression of vices than of the inculcation of positive virtues, there is, after all, a good deal in Buddhist ethics which is built up on the conception that virtue is the expression of the higher and nobler ego. That is, not only are the vices of a low egoism to be suppressed, but a higher self expresses itself in this suppression and goes beyond this in exerting itself in positive virtues. For example, man is not only to suppress his feeling of anger and hatred towards his fellow-man, but his heart should go out to him in sympathy and love. Even in the older Buddhism, which made the denial of the reality of the self a cardinal doctrine, one finds ethical principles based upon the conception that "the intellectual and moral perfection of the personality" is the highest aim of ethics. Thus the Noble Eightfold Path itself is a path of rather positive virtues and more than a mere suppression of vices.
In enumerating the main positive virtues one must begin with the virtues of walking in the Noble Eightfold Path, i.e. the virtues of Right Opinion, Right Decision, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Contemplation.
When the virtues are thought of in terms of psychological faculties, Buddhists speak of them as Organs, and of these they usually distinguish five; namely, Faith, Exertion, Mindfulness, Contemplation and Wisdom. Three of these are regarded as cardinal virtues and are included in every list. These three are Faith, Exertion and Wisdom; the greatest of these is Faith according to some, and Wisdom according to others. Other virtues emphasized in Buddhist ethics are the following: A Sense of Shame, Conscientiousness, Clear Conscience, Thoughtfulness, Sympathy, Gentleness, Kindness, Mercy, Pity and Benevolence; the latter being divided into the Four Benevolences directed respectively towards parents, people in general, the ruler, and the Three Treasures (i.e. Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood).
Of these major virtues Buddhism has been especially successful in inculcating widely the virtues of Gentleness, Pity and Sympathy. It is not strange that this is so, for especially the virtues of Pity and Sympathy for others grow directly out of the Buddhist view as to the nature of human life. Life is suffering, and sympathy (suffering with) becomes a natural attitude of mind and heart. The German words "Leid" and "Mitleid" express the relationship in a nutshell. Das Leben ist Leid und darum ist die höchste Tugend Mitleid. To be sure, the Buddhist conception of Pity and Sympathy lacks something of the positive element which we find in the Christian conception of Love, for it lacks the underlying conviction of the eternal value of human life. Human life seems very cheap in Buddhist lands and especially does the life of the masses seem but as the foam on a turbulent sea. But still Buddhism has done much to promote the feeling of the solidarity of the human race. Humanity is a great brotherhood of suffering, yea, even the dumb animals are our fellow-sufferers and bound to us by the strong links of the Karma-chain. Who knows but that the ox which draws the driver's heavy load is the great ancestor of the driver, appearing in the form of an ox in obedience to the law of Karma. Shall not, then, the driver be kind to his beast?
Thus far we have spoken of what might be regarded as rather ordinary virtues. There are higher virtues which are practiced by those who are really seriously bent upon attaining Buddhahood. These are the so-called Perfections. The full list are ten in number; namely, Charity, Morality, Resignation, Wisdom, Exertion or Diligence, Forbearance, Truthfulness, Persistency, Love and Equanimity. Ordinarily Japanese Buddhism reduces these to six; namely, Charity (almsgiving and teaching), Morality (keeping the various commandments), Patience and Forbearance, Exertion or Diligence (in keeping the vows of a Bodhisattva), Meditation and Wisdom (for self and others).
These virtues were originally regarded as the special virtues of the few rare souls who sought to be Bodhisattvas and finally Buddhas, but in Mahāyāna Buddhism it is theoretically the purpose of every believer to become a Bodhisattva and Buddha, and so these virtues are theoretically virtues which every believer should practice. But as a matter of fact, in practice, Mahāyāna Buddhism makes as truly a distinction between the ordinary believer and the candidate for Buddhahood as the older Buddhism ever did, and these Six Perfections are therefore not a very vital part of the ethics of the average Buddhist. In fact, a great many Mahāyāna Buddhists hold that these difficult steps towards perfection are not necessary as they have been taken by the various Bodhisattvas whose accumulated merits the believer may appropriate unto his own benefit by the simple act of faith. So it comes back to this, that for the common man at least, the only necessary virtue is the virtue of faith in the holiness and all-sufficient merit of the saints and Buddhas who have gone before. That is why the great formula of faith for every Buddhist is the confession, "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Law, I take refuge in the Priesthood." Even the sects which make the doctrine of "Save thyself" their cardinal teaching, combine with this severe injunction the comfort that somehow the goodness of the good and the wisdom of the wise who have gone before will help those who put their trust in them.
The above may be enough to give the reader a general idea of Buddhist ethics, but it is too much like a skeleton without flesh and blood. We therefore give below extracts from the sacred scriptures which set forth succinctly the ethical ideals. The reader should not think, however, that the Buddhist scriptures always maintain this rather lofty level. The extracts are choice bits, "golden words" as the Japanese compiler calls them, or "Buddhist Gold Nuggets" as we have called them in the "Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan," Vol. XL, from which they are taken.
C. Buddhist Gold Nuggets
Commit no evil, do good and purify your own heart; this is the teaching of all the Buddhas. (Nehankyō) Hate not, quarrel not, abuse no one; these are the teachings of Buddhism. (Hōzōkyō)
Do not make light of little evils, thinking them harmless; for even drops of water, small as they are, will at length fill a large vessel. (Nehankyō) Evils are born of the heart, and reacting upon it destroy it; just like rust is born of the iron which it consumes. (Hainiku)
Rather thrust a dagger into your bosom than embrace evil; and it is more desirable to be crushed under the weight of Mt. Sumēru than to commit one evil deed. (Ninnikukyō)
Peace of mind and understanding the Way are both born of goodness. Goodness is a great armor which fears no weapon. (Ananfumbetsukyō) A good man does good deeds and he passes from bliss unto bliss, from light into light; but an evil man does evil deeds and he goes from affliction unto affliction, from darkness into darkness. (Muryōjukyō)
Buddha said to Shamon, "Beware of trusting your own heart; for the heart, after all, is unreliable." (Shijunishōkyō) Be the master of your own heart, and do not let it master you. (Nehankyō)
The heart is the source of great disasters; keep, then, this heart under control. (Hōunkyō)
Stand resolute, keep your body erect and your conduct upright. Do every good, keep yourself under control and your body pure. Wash the filth from your heart, and make your words and conduct harmonize. Be sincere, frank and temperate, helping one another and praying with understanding. In this way you shall be able to heap up virtue. (Muryōjukyō) I am not ashamed when I sit among men, and the reason I am held in esteem by them is because my heart is pure and upright. (Shōgyōkyō)
Buddha said, "O Monks, the heart that flatters cannot conform unto the Way; therefore make your heart sincere. Moreover know this that flattery only works deception, and he who walks in the Way has nothing to do with it. Make, then, your heart upright and let integrity be your guiding principle. (Yuigyōkyō)
First examine yourself and then others; first examine your own will and then the will of others; first examine your own principles and then the principles of others. (Chūshinkyō) Man usually fails to curb his own will and yet he tries to conquer the will of others. First therefore curb your own will and then shall you be able to control the will of others. (Sanekyō)
The Bodhisattva knows nothing but his own heart. And why is this? Because he who knows his own heart knows the heart of all beings, and he whose heart is pure, to him the heart of every being is pure. (Daisogonhōmonkyō)
Buddha said, "O my Disciples, refrain from meaningless words, be always on guard as to what you say, know when to speak and when to keep quiet, let your words conform unto the Law, and let your words always be edifying unto others even when making a joke. (Kegonkyō) Men of this world are prone to use their tongue like a sharp knife; with their mouth they speak glibly about various poisons and evils, while it is the tongue itself that really poisons the body. (Chōseinponkyō)
Men who speak true words gain a boundless fortune; not through the gifts they may receive, nor through their ascetic practices or profound learning, but solely by being truthful. (Chidoron)
Do not use many words and put a watch upon your lips that you use no violent language, for this is what is meant by True Words. (Daishūkyō) Foolish utterances are the affliction of all mankind, and they live in darkness. Life they have but it is like unto death. (Shōhōnenjokyō)
Patience is the source of all happiness. (Rokudoshūkyō) The happiness born of patience brings peace, prosperity and endless joy. (Ninnikukyō)
If one tries to end strife by strife, there will be strife forever. Forbearance alone can end strife, and this is truly a precious law. (Chūagonkyō)
Nothing is so strong as patience; and where patience dwells malice takes flight. (Shijunishōkyō)
Patience is the real cause which brings true deliverance. The understanding of the ultimate rightness and equality of things is but the fruit of patience. (Ubasokukaikyō)
O Monks, be diligent in your work and then nothing will be difficult. Wherefore, O Monks, consecrate yourselves earnestly to your work; for even little drops of water, falling ceaselessly, will finally make a hole even in a rock. (Yuigyōkyō) It is not necessary to wait several Kalpas to obtain the reward; the greater the consecration the sooner the reward. (Kegonkyō)
Negligence is the enemy of all discipline. In the case of laymen negligence leads to want, and industry lags because of it. With monks negligence hinders the work of deliverance from suffering and blocks the entrance to the Way. (Hongyōkyō)
Licentiousness is the fountainhead of all evil; sobriety, the source of all good. (Nehankyō) Licentiousness stands foremost in the rank of sins. (Shōhōnenjokyō)
Licentiousness is the taproot of all suffering and sorrow; if, then, you desire to escape from suffering, fling away licentiousness. (Shōhōnenjokyō)
O my Disciples, flee from fornication, know how to be content with your own wife, and do not even for a single moment lust after another woman. (Kegonkyō) Fornication is an act of impurity. He who falls into this temptation loses the straight Way, ruins his own life and early ends in the grave. His sin will lead to obstinacy and stupidity, and in the next world he will be doomed to the evil way. Wherefore be careful that you do not get entangled in sensuality. (Hasshikyō)
Buddha said, "Sell not your love for gain, O Men and Women, for this cannot lead to a righteous life. (Bonmōkyō)
A sense of shame is a garment for all goodness. (Daiunkyō) If the dirt and filth (of the heart) is washed off with tears of penitence, both body and soul will become vessels of cleanliness and purity. (Shinjikankyō)
He who has a feeling of shame and humiliation shall have his sins wiped out and he shall become as clean and pure as before. (Nehankyō)
There are two wonderful laws in the world which shield man; namely, the feeling of shame and the feeling of humiliation. Without these two laws mankind would be on a level with the beasts, whether one is a father or mother, older or younger brother, wife or child, wise man or teacher, great or small. (Zōichiagonkyō)
Honesty is the Paradise of the Bodhisattva. (Yuimakyō) The Way is born of the heart; if the heart is upright, the Way will be open. (Butsuhatsuhannehankyō)
O Disciples, shun every kind of theft, know that you shall not lack any of the necessities of life; and take nothing which belongs to others unless it is given to you. (Kegonkyō)
The Nyōrais of the Ten Regions pass through life and death by the one road of honesty. (Engakukyō)
Wine is the source of vice and all evils. He who avoids wine shall be saved from many a sin. (Nehankyō) He who henceforth makes me his master must avoid tasting even so small a drop of wine as the dewdrop falling from a blade of grass. (Shiburitsu)
He who does not know how to be content with what he has is poor however rich he may be; but he who has learned to be content is rich even though he may have very little. (Yuigyōkyō) Buddha said, "O Monks, excessive wants are the seat of suffering; and the labor and weariness of this world of Life and Death arise from covetousness. Remember that he who wants little and so is above the concerns of this life is perfectly free both as to body and mind. (Hachidaininkakukyō)
Contentment is the domain of wealth and pleasure, of peace and rest. The contented man is happy and at peace even though his bed is the bare ground; while the man who knows not the secret of being content is not satisfied even when dwelling in heavenly places. (Yuigyōkyō)
Wisdom is the strong ship which carries us across the sea of life and death. It is the lighthouse which lights up the encircling darkness; it is the good medicine for all patients, and the sharp ax which cuts down the trees of passion. (Yuigyōkyō)
The advent of truth and wisdom is like the sunrise which drives away darkness, no one knows whence. (Ajaseiōkyō)
Even if one commits a serious crime, its traces will be wiped out if one repents. If one repents daily with all one's might, the root of sin will forever be torn out. (Zōichiagonkyō) A man may commit a grave sin, but if he takes himself seriously in hand and truly repents so that he desires to sin no more, the effects of his sin shall be eradicated. (Gōho)
If you would repent, call upon all the Buddhas of the universe, read the scriptures, make vows with a sincere heart, and seek to destroy every evil deed of body and soul; for thus shall your sins be blotted out moment by moment. (Kanfugenkyō)
Gratitude is the foundation of great mercy and the door which leads to good deeds. A grateful man is beloved and esteemed by men, his name will be made famous, after death he will be born into heaven and at last he will be perfect in the ways of Buddha. An ungrateful man is even lower than the brutes. (Chidoron)
A state without a ruler is like a body without a head; it cannot exist very long. (Bussetsujiaikyō) Prosperity and happiness of the people depend upon the king. (Shinjikankyō)
The king looks upon his subjects with a heart of mercy as if they were his children; and the people regard the king as their father. (Skōgunō- shomonkyō)
Great and wide are the mercy and virtue of a righteous king. He who knows no gratitude towards the king shall suffer for it. (Shinjikankyō)
When you see the king, entertain a feeling of reverence in your mind; and when you are in the presence of your parents, show affection. (Myōhōshōnenjokyō)
Nothing is greater than filial piety, for it is the culmination of virtue. The culmination of all wickedness is ungratefulness to parents. (Ninnikukyō) A devotional service to parents is more noble than giving alms, even though the pile of treasure disbursed should reach from the earth into the twenty-eighth heaven. (Matsuramatsukyō)
Filial piety is more noble than devotion to the spirits and gods that inhabit heaven and earth; for parents are indeed the highest gods. (Shijōnishōkyō)
If there is no Buddha in the world, be good to your parents; for to be good to one's parents is to minister unto Buddha. (Daishōkyō)
Food, drink and treasures are not sufficient to express one's gratitude for the love of parents; the best expression is shown by turning them to the right doctrine through Indō (saying mass for the spirits of ancestors and so guiding them on the Way). (Fushigikōkyō)
The duties of parents towards their children are five, namely: To see to it that they shun all evil and do good, to teach them how to read and write, to teach them to observe the doctrines and commandments (of Buddhism), to see to it that they get married, and to pass on to them the property of the family. (Ropporaikyō)
The disciple, in following his master, should be careful not to tread upon his master's shadow. (Shamiigikyō) He who knows gratitude towards his teacher pays heed to the teacher's words when he is in his presence; and in his teacher's absence he meditates upon his teachings. (Chōshingyō)
There are five things which a disciple observes in his devotion to his teacher: He supplies his wants, does him homage and bestows upon him a devotional service, honors and reveres him, gives implicit and respectful obedience to his commands, gives heed to his instruction in the Law and observes the teaching, never forgetting it. (Chōagonkyō)
The teacher should observe the following five rules towards his disciple: He should train him in accordance with the teachings of the Law, teach what his disciple has not yet learned, make him appreciate the moral value of the doctrines, choose good friends for him, and give him his best and fullest knowledge. (Chō- agonkyō)
The virtuous man should be regarded as a Buddha. (Kikkyōkyō) Be not haughty in the presence of a wise man, nor slander the good man. (Kikkyōkyō)
For an evil man to slander a wise man is like spitting at the heavens; the spit will never reach the heavens but only fall on the face of the spitter. And again, it is like throwing dust against the wind which ends in being blown against the one who tries it. He who reviles the wise only brings calamity upon himself. (Skijōnishōkyō)
If a man has wise and good men for friends, his heart and body will be made clean both inwardly and outwardly. Such men are the really true and good men. (Daisōkyōron) Wise men are the source of all bliss; in this world they help us escape from the prisons of kings, and after death they protect us from the gates of the Three Infernal Regions. Thus our ascending into heaven and our entering upon the Way are made possible through the help of good friends. (Tanyokyō)
There are three rules which a friend should observe towards a friend, namely: He should admonish him when at fault, cherish with a deep joy whatever good there is in him, stand by him in time of trouble. (Ingwakyō) A friend should not be forsaken simply on the strength of some other person's evil report. If you hear your friend evilly spoken of, be all the more careful to find out the truth in the matter. (Komponbinakyō)
Let father and son, brother and sister, husband and wife, all the members of the family and all relatives love and respect each other; and never let them entertain a feeling of bitterness and hatred. Those who have great possessions should not be avaricious towards those who have little. Word and conduct should harmonize, and all inconsistency in dealing with one another should be avoided. (Muryōjukyō) If all are faithful, there will be peace in the home, and fortune will smile upon the family naturally and without there being any need to have it bestowed by the gods. (Ananfumbetsukyō)
A husband should support and please his wife by observing the following five points: He should respect her with a sincere heart, never bear any ill-will against her, love her with a pure affection, give her whatever food and clothing she may need, and from time to time present her with gifts to adorn her person. (Zenshoshikyō) A good wife spares not her own life, and under no circumstances does she do anything contrary to her husband's will. (Zōichiagonkyō)
Only a chaste, wise and clever wife is fit to bring up children; and children who have such a mother cannot fail to become men and women of great character. (Zōichiagonkyō)
All the doctrines of Buddhism are grounded in mercy. (Kegonkyō) Every virtue has mercy as its root. (Nehankyō)
The heart of mercy is the primary and secondary cause of all peace and pleasure. (Ubasonkukaikyō)
He who shows pity towards a beggar opens the prison gates of Hungry Spirits. (Bosatsuhongyōkyō)
He who gives alms shall receive a blessing; he who shows mercy shall never be hated; he who does good destroys evil; and he who conquers evil desires shall be free from all trouble. (Chōagonkyō)
He who gives alms with a view of obtaining birth into heaven, or does it in order to make a name for himself and receive a reward in return, or again is kind, being prompted only by a feeling of fear, shall in no way obtain the pure fruit. (Fumbetsugōhōkyō)
He who walks in the way of benevolence and shows mercy, loving all and saving many, shall obtain the Eleven Blessings and shall always be attended by fortune. These Eleven Blessings are: A restful sleep, peace when awake, without bad dreams, protected by Heaven, beloved by men, immune to poison, not in danger of water, not in danger of fire, always prosperous, and after death birth into Heaven. (Hōkukyō) Do nothing unto others which you would not have done unto yourself. (Gokushōkukyō)
Nothing lives that does not fear the sword and rod, and that does not love life. Therefore treat others as you would yourself. Do not kill or wield the big stick. (Nehankyō)
To spare not yourself in saving others is the noblest. The second grade of nobility is to save others and yourself. The third grade in point of nobility is to save yourself when you cannot save others; and the lowest is to save neither yourself nor others. (Hōshakukyō)
He who with a steady heart raises his voice and without ceasing prays the prayer, Namu Amida Butsu, "I adore Thee Thou Buddha of Boundless Light and Life," shall be free from his sins committed during eighty Kalpas of Life and Death and he shall obtain birth into Paradise. (Kwammuryōjukyō)