An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues

By Peter Harvey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The shared foundations of Buddhist ethics

Life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill. Whoever, seeking his own happiness, harms … beings, he gets no happiness hereafter. Dhammapada 130–1

Fundamental features of Buddhism's world-view relevant to ethics are the framework of karma and rebirth, accepted by all schools of Buddhism, with varying degrees of emphasis, and the Four Noble Truths, the highest teachings of early Buddhism and of the Theravāda school. In the Mahāyāna tradition, an increasing emphasis on compassion modified the earlier shared perspective in certain ways, as will be explored in chapter 3.


SOURCES OF GUIDANCE TO BUDDHISTS

In ethics as in other matters, Buddhists have three key sources of inspiration and guidance: the 'three treasures' or 'three refuges': the Buddha, Dhamma and San·gha. The Buddha is revered as (1) the 'rediscoverer' and teacher of liberating truths and (2) the embodiment of liberating qualities to be developed by others. In addition, in the Mahāyāna, heavenly Buddhas are looked to as contemporary sources of teaching and help. The Dhamma is the teachings of the Buddhas, the path to the Buddhist goal, and the various levels of realizations of this goal. The San·gha is the 'Community' of Noble Ones (Pali ariyas; Skt āryas): advanced practitioners who have experienced something of this goal, being symbolized, on a more day-to-day level, by the Buddhist monastic San·gha (Harvey, 1990a: 176–9).

The Dhamma, in the sense of teachings attributed to the Buddha(s), is contained in voluminous texts preserved and studied by the monastic San·gha. The advice and guidance that monks and nuns offer to the laity are based on these texts, on their own experience of practising the Buddhist path, and on the oral and written tradition from earlier generations of monastics and, sometimes, lay practitioners. Lay people are under no strict obligation to do what monks or nuns advise, but rather respect for their qualities and way of life is the factor that will influence

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