Monday, October 18, 2010

Buddhism's Ten Commandments

Seven Dharmachari (Wisdom Quarterly)


Buddhism, of course, does not have any "commandments." The Buddha did not reveal the Teaching and Training by commanding, coercing, or ordering anyone to follow the path to enlightenment (which also leads to other happy results in the round of rebirths*).

There are Ten Precepts one may voluntarily undertake to uphold for one's own benefit and the benefit of others, particularly during times of intensive practice. There are also Eight Precepts, which are almost exactly the same, with only one difference (yes, not two).

The merit (good karma) that results in a human rebirth is keeping the Five Precepts, which all practicing Buddhists undertake to maintain. Being a "Buddhist" means that one goes for guidance (sarana) -- almost always mistranslated as "going for refuge" -- to the Buddha, Dharma, and [accomplished] Sangha and keeps the precepts.

Although there are no commandments, there are Ten Courses of Unwholesome Action (explained in detail at AN X.206). They can be read as a kind of Buddhist Ten Commandments for those wishing to be commanded. They are called "courses" (routes, paths, corridors) because they have the karmic potency in and of themselves to lead to woeful rebirths:
  1. Thou art well advised not to take the lives of living beings.
  2. Thou art well advised not to take what is not given.
  3. Thou art well advised not to engage in sexual misconduct.
  4. Thou art well advised not to commit perjury (speak falsely when questioned as a witness).
  5. Thou art well advised not to speak divisively (separating those who are united).
  6. Thou art well advised not to speak harshly (offensively).
  7. Thou art well advised not to speak frivolously.**
  8. Thou art well advised not to covet.
  9. Thou art well advised not to harbor ill-will.
  10. Thou art well advised not to hold wrong-views.***

*Other fortunate results include rebirth in heavenly realms or again in the human world. The Dharma encourages good karma that is of benefit in every kind of endeavor. In fact, it is only on account of good karma that living beings enjoy or meet with any benefits in any plane of existence. This is counter intuitive. But the benefits one experiences while engaged in wrongdoing -- for example, when stealing -- are not coming from the wrongdoing. They are coming from good karma performed in the past. Were that karma not in place, or if it gets exhausted, one is unable to have and enjoy even what one has stolen. See The Workings of Kamma (PDF) for an explanation of why this is so.

**Frivolous: chit chatting, speaking what is not timely, not factual, not good, not connected to Dharma [the doctrine or social obligations], not connected to discipline. In other words, speaking out of season, uttering speech not worth treasuring, unpleasant, unrestrained, disagreeable, and unconnected with what is truly profitable). This kind of "low speech" is commonly referred to as "animal talk" (tiracchana-katha), because it is base and drags close to the ground. Animal talk is defined as "talk about leaders and thieves, heads of state and armies, danger and war, eating and drinking, clothes [fashion] and dwellings, cosmetics and scents, relations, vehicles, neighborhoods and marketplaces, towns and districts, women and heroes, street talk, water cooler [the well] gossip, talk about the long since departed, tittle-tattle, talk about the [origin of the] world and sea, gain and loss" (AN X.69, Wisdom Quarterly translation).

***Wrong understanding includes holding such pernicious views as: "There is no result of giving, offering, or sacrificing for others. There is no fruit or ripening of good and bad actions (karma). There is no here and now [this world], no hereafter [a world to come]. There is no [special significance to things done to or for one's] mother or father. There are no spontaneously-born beings. There are no noble and virtuous recluses and brahmins who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declared [the nature of] this world and of other worlds."

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