Human Rights and the World's Major Religions

By William H. Brackney | Go to book overview

SIXTEEN
State, Society,
and the Buddhist Order

There are two ideal forms of polity in Buddha’s teachings: the way for the order of world-renouncing monks and nuns to live, and the ideal state under a wheel-turning king for the rest of humanity, for the world at large. While the same ultimate laws of dharma apply to both realms—the four holy truths are true for laypeople and monastics alike, on the relative level, different rules and expectations applied for the two realms. There are five basic precepts that govern the moral life of all Buddhists. Laypeople are expected to take them on as vows and to follow them to the best of their abilities. They are to undertake to abstain from taking life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct, from false speech, and from taking intoxicants. The use of intoxicants that cloud the mind interfere with keeping the first four precepts, with meditation practices, and with the ability to attain clarity of insight.

The five precepts have stricter interpretations for monks and nuns than they do for humanity at large. Sexual misconduct for people living in the world means sexual behaviors that are not culturally sanctioned, and in Buddhist practice, these vary considerably, according to the mores of the nation in question. For monks and nuns, sexual misconduct involves any sexual activity at all with any gender of any species of being, whether or not physical contact occurs. Flirting or sexual joking are minor offenses for monks and nuns under the vinaya, while any sexual intercourse willingly undertaken is a defeat, which calls for the immediate expulsion from the order with no possibility for reinstatement in the present lifetime.

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