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

By Peter Harvey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Key Buddhist values

Conquer anger by non-anger; conquer evil by good; conquer the stingy by giving; conquer the liar by truth Dhammapada 223

Supported by and in part arising from the world-view(s) and ideals of Buddhism, what are the central values that have been and are espoused? While greed, hatred and delusion are seen as the roots of unwholesome actions, with their complete destruction being equivalent to Nirvān$$a (S. IV.251), non-greed, non-hate and non-delusion are regarded as the roots of wholesome action, and can thus be seen as the central values of Buddhism. While expressed negatively, they are equivalent to: generosity and non-attachment; lovingkindness and compassion; and wisdom, in the sense of clear seeing of the nature of life and the absence of delusion or misorientation.

A fuller list of wholesome qualities is found in the Abhidhamma literature. In its Theravādin form, this lists twenty-five wholesome or 'beautiful' mental qualities (Bodhi, 1993: 85–91, 96–7). The first seven are:

faith (trust in one's sense of what is right),

mindfulness (i.e. careful awareness),

self-respect and regard for consequences,

non-greed and non-hate, and

equipoise (a balanced over-seeing of activities and events).

The next twelve consist of six pairs of qualities which each relate both to consciousness itself and to the 'body' of mental states which accompany it:

tranquillity, a light sense of ease,

open receptivity, readiness to act,

competence, and straightforwardness.

All the above are seen as simultaneously present (though perhaps to varying degrees) in any wholesome mental state, as a basis for being fully human, and as a protecting, uplifting refuge. The remaining factors, when present, strengthen, deepen and channel wholesome mental energies: right speech, right action, right livelihood, compassion, empathetic joy, and wisdom.

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