Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Brief Code of Buddhist Ethics (DN 31)

Dharmachari Seven, Wisdom Quarterly updated translation (Sigalovada Sutta, DN 31) The Buddha at Sukhothai (Aidan McRae Thomson/

On meeting a young householder (Sigala) engaged in Saluting the Directions, the Buddha was asked for advice on the proper performance of this ancient Indian custom.

The Buddha explained the threefold preparation that must first be established: One must eradicate the
  • (1) Four Vices in Conduct
  • (2) Four Causes of Unwholesome Karma
  • (3) Six Channels of Dissipating Wealth
He then shed light on friendship in four ways by pointing out the
  • (1) Four False Friends
  • (2) Four True Friends
  • (3) Four Divisions of Wealth
  • (4) Four Bases of Popularity
Finally, the Buddha reveals what the real "cardinal directions" -- which Sigala the young householder was previously only bowing to in the performance of an empty ritual – represent and how one actually honors and upholds them.

Moreover, the Buddha explains how one is honored and upheld by them. In this way a short but thorough set of reciprocal social obligations is established -- a "brief code of Buddhist ethics."

The Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan (

Part I. The Empty Ritual
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Buddha was residing in the Bamboo Grove, at the Squirrels’ Sanctuary, near Rajagaha.

Now at that time the child of a householder, the young Sigala, arose early in the morning. This young householder set off from Rajagaha with wet hair and clothes [ancient marks of respect following the passing of someone important] to engage in the ancient practice of paying homage to the cardinal directions -- bowing at sunrise with joined hands to the east, south, west, north, below (nadir), and above (zenith).

Then the Buddha [after scanning the world for whom he might benefit], arranging his robes in the morning, took his bowl and set off toward Rajagaha for alms. He saw Sigala, the young householder, along the way worshiping in the customary manner and said:

"Young householder, on what account have you arisen early in the morning, set off from the city with wet hair and clothes, and come to salute with joined hands these cardinal directions -- east, south, west, north, nadir, and zenith?"

"My father, venerable sir, when he was dying said to me: ‘My dear child, do not neglect to worship the cardinal directions.’ Respecting and upholding my father’s word [Sigala's father was a follower of the Buddha], to show reverence and honor, I get up early in the morning, leave Rajagaha with wet hair and clothes, and with joined hands pay homage to these cardinal directions."

"But, young householder, this is not the way in which one honors and upholds the cardinal directions according to the teaching of the nobles."

"Then, teacher, how -- what is the noble way of honoring and upholding the cardinal directions? It would be a wonderful thing if the Noble One were to instruct me accordingly in the way of the nobles."

"Listen then, young householder, attending carefully to what I say, and I will tell you."

"Very well, venerable sir," replied the young Sigala.

The Buddha began by explaining, as a matter of preparation, those things to be done before setting out to honor and uphold the cardinal directions.

Giant Buddha at Leshan, China (

Part II. Preparation
"Young householder, inasmuch as a follower of the noble ones eradicates the Four Vices in Conduct [which the Buddha define along with all other terms] abandons the Four Motivations of Unwholesome Karma, and

III. avoids the Six Channels for Dissipating Wealth, to that extent, covering and protecting them, a lay follower honors and upholds the cardinal directions in the way of the nobles."

"By avoiding these [14] unskillful things, one sets off on the path leading to success here and beyond: One comes to be favored in this world and the world(s) to come. With the dissolution of this body, after death, such a person goes on to be reborn in a happy and fortunate destination."

"Young householder, what are the Four Vices in Conduct one eradicates?
  1. The destruction of life,
  2. taking what is not given,
  3. sexual misconduct [AN X.206, Buddhism and Sex], and
  4. false speech are defilements, vices in conduct.
These are the four karmic defilements one eradicates."

Thus did the Enlightened One explain, and having explained he summarized before continuing:

Killing, theft, harmful indulgence, lies --
Such vices are never extolled by the wise.

"Due to what four causes is unwholesome karma produced?
  1. Led by desire one perpetrates unwholesome actions.
  2. Spurred by anger one performs unskillful deeds.
  3. Motivated by delusion one engages in demeritorious conduct.
  4. Provoked by fear one produces unwholesome karma.
But to the extent that one is not motivated by greed, hatred, wrong view, or fear, a lay follower accumulates no unwholesome karma."

Thus did the Buddha explain then he summarized before continuing:

Who led by craving, contempt, cowardice, or confusion
Transgresses the self-discipline thus proclaimed,
All of that person’s glory dims and fades away
Declining like the light of the waning moon.
But who in spite of desire, dislike, delusion, or dread
Does not transgress the self-discipline thus proclaimed,
All of that person’s glory gains in strength
Dazzling like the light of the waxing moon.

"What are the Six Channels for Dissipating Wealth one abstains from pursuing? They are:
  1. Indulging in intoxicants which occasion heedlessness,
  2. roaming the streets at unseemly hours,
  3. frequenting unsavory shows,
  4. being infatuated with gambling,
  5. associating with the foolish, and
  6. being addicted to idleness."
"[Why?] There are, young householder, these six miserable consequences to indulging in intoxicants which occasion heedlessness:
  1. loss of wealth,
  2. increase in quarrels,
  3. susceptibility to disease,
  4. loss of reputation,
  5. indecent exposure, and
  6. weakened intellect.
"There are, young householder, these six harmful consequences to roaming the streets at unseemly hours:
  1. You are unprotected and unguarded.
  2. Your spouse and children are unprotected and unguarded.
  3. Your property is unprotected and unguarded.
  4. You’re suspected of crimes.
  5. You’re the subject of false rumors.
  6. You encounter many troubles.
"There are, young householder, these six unskillful things associated with frequenting unsavory shows. One who does so remains restless and agitated, wondering:
  1. Where is there dancing?
  2. Where is there singing?
  3. Where is there music playing?
  4. Where is there reciting?
  5. Where is there this entertainment?
  6. Where is there that entertainment?
"There are, young householder, these six unwelcome consequences to being infatuated with gambling:
  1. One is despised due to winning.
  2. One grieves on account of losing.
  3. One dissipates one’s wealth.
  4. One’s word is not relied on.
  5. One comes to be disparaged by friends and associates.
  6. One, unable to properly support another, is not much sought after."
"There are, young householder, these six disagreeable consequences to associating with the foolish:
  1. Any gambler,
  2. any wastrel,
  3. any drunkard,
  4. any cheater,
  5. any swindler,
  6. any violent person
is one’s friend and companion."

"There are, young householder, these six unprofitable consequences associated with being addicted to idleness. Nothing is accomplished because one is not inclined to put forth the effort to get any work done, instead thinking:
  1. It’s too cold!
  2. It’s too hot!
  3. It’s too late in the evening!
  4. It’s too early in the morning!
  5. I’m too hungry!
  6. I’m too full!
Living in this way, one leaves many wholesome and profitable things left undone. New wealth is left unacquired. And savings dwindle away."

The Buddha dispelling fear (

Thus did the Buddha explain and then he summarized before moving on to a new topic:

Some are two-faced friends,
Calling you ‘friend, friend’ only to your face.
Some are with you through your hour of need
And should be recognized as friends indeed.

Sleeping and cheating,
Quarreling and causing harm,
Unwise association and miserliness --
These six causes ruin a person.

One regarding fools as friends
Is given to disadvantageous ways
On account of which one grieves in two places --
In this world and the world to come.

Dice-and-promiscuity, drinking, dance-and-song,
In bed by day and taking night as the time to rise,
Associating with fools, a heart to hardness inclined --
These manifold causes ruin a person.

Who indulges in games of chance, consumes intoxicants,
Consorts with partners as dear to others as their very lives --
Associating with clouded rather than enlightened minds --
Such a person declines just as the waning moon.

Intoxicated, broke, destitute,
Thirsty even when drinking,
One sinks in debt like a stone in water --
And bringing family disrepute, one is soon bereft of kin.

Who by habit sleeps the day away,
Looks on night as the time to wake,
Ever intoxicated and indulgent,
Is unfit to lead the household life.

Who cries, ‘Too cold!’ ‘Too hot!’ ‘Too late!’
Thereby leaving many things left undone,
What opportunities for good one might have had
Soon slip past such a person.

Yet one who regards cold and heat
As less than a pinch of grass,
Performing one’s duties with vitality,
That person does not fall away from happiness.

The Buddha and Brahma, Thailand (BobyBahar/

Part III. Friendship

"These four, young householder, should be understood as Foes in the Guise of Friends:
  1. one who borrows your possessions,
  2. one who renders lip-service,
  3. one who flatters,
  4. one who encourages ruin.
"[Why?] In four ways, young householder, should one who borrows your possessions be understood to be a foe in the guise of a friend:

One borrows with no thought of returning,
appropriating everything
One gives little wanting much in return
What one must do one does out of fear
One is always looking out for selfish ends.

"In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood to be an adversary disguised as a friend:
  1. One speaks proudly of favors attempted in the past.
  2. One makes friendly vows regarding the future.
  3. One tries to gain favor with empty words.
  4. One pleads inability when an opportunity to be of service actually arises.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood to be a foe masquerading as a friend:
  1. One consents to the doing of unwholesome deeds.
  2. One dissents to the doing of beneficial actions.
  3. One praises you to your face.
  4. One speaks ill of you behind your back.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who encourages ruin be understood to be an enemy in the guise of a friend:
  1. One is a companion for indulging in intoxicants which occasion heedlessness.
  2. One is a companion for roaming the streets at unseemly hours.
  3. One is a companion for frequenting unsavory shows.
  4. One is a companion for gambling."
Thus did the Buddha explain then summarized before continuing:

The friend arrogating selfishly,
The friend airing empty promises,
The friend overflowing with flattery,
The friend accompanying ruin --
These four as foes the wise behold!
Thus recognizing them even from afar,
They avoid them as paths of peril.

The Buddha at Weherahena Temple, Matara, Sri Lanka (DurbanBay/

"Conversely, young householder, these four should be understood as warmhearted friends:
  1. one who helps,
  2. one who is the same in good times and bad,
  3. one who provides good counsel,
  4. one who sympathizes [throbs with sympathy].
"[Why?] In four ways, young householder, should one who helps be understood to be a warmhearted friend:
  1. One guards you when you’re heedless.
  2. One protects your wealth when you’re heedless.
  3. One serves as a refuge when you’re afraid.
  4. One, when you have obligations to meet, provides you with twice as much as you need.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who is the same in good times and bad be understood to be a warmhearted friend:
  1. One shares one’s secrets.
  2. One guards your secrets.
  3. In your misfortune, one does not abandon you.
  4. Even one’s life one sacrifices for your sake.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who provides good counsel be understood to be a warmhearted friend:
  1. One restrains you from performing unskillful deeds.
  2. One encourages you to do what is beneficial.
  3. One informs you of things you did not know.
  4. One points out the path to a fortunate rebirth.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who sympathizes be understood to be a warmhearted friend:
  1. One does not rejoice in your misfortune.
  2. One rejoices on account of your success.
  3. One restrains others from speaking ill of you.
  4. One commends those who speak well of you."
Thus did the Buddha explain then he summarized [with an important addition on the earning and apportioning of one’s money] before moving on to explain how one honors the cardinal directions in the way of the nobles:

The friend who is a guardian and helpful,
The friend alike through weal and woe,
The friend who provides sage counsel,
The friend throbbing with sympathy, too --
These four as friends the wise behold
And cherish them with warmest regard
As a mother does her own child.
The wise and virtuous shine like a flame blazing forth!
Who acquires wealth in harmless ways
Like a bee that without harm its nectar gathers --
Riches soon mount high for such a person
Accruing like an anthill with stunning growth.
With riches acquired in this way,
The layperson fit for household life
In four portions divides such wealth.
Thus does one friendship win:
One portion for one’s wants one uses,
Two portions on one’s business spends
[Satisfying the past, ensuring the future].
The fourth for times of need one keeps.

The bodhisattva Hotei, the historical Buddha, and Happy Buddha (Khorsani/

Part IV. The Cardinal Directions

"Now, young householder, how does a lay follower indeed honor and uphold the cardinal directions in the way of the nobles? [It is not by bowing to the six directions with joined hands, but rather by looking upon the following persons as the directions and honoring them in the following way.]

Parents are looked upon as the east,
Teachers as the south,
Family as the west,
Friends as the north,
Employees as the nadir,
Advisers as the zenith."

[Rhys Davids points out the underlying wisdom of the Buddha’s choice of directions. "The symbolism is deliberately chosen: as the day in the east, so life begins with parents’ care; teacher’s fees and the south are the same word: dakkhina; domestic care follows when the youth becomes [the adult], as the west holds the later daylight; north is ‘beyond’ (attara) so by help of friends, etc., [one] gets beyond troubles" (PTS).]

I. "In five ways, young householder, should a child minister to mother and father as the east:
  1. I shall support them, having formerly been supported by them.
  2. I shall fulfill their obligations when they are no longer able to.
  3. I shall keep up the family tradition.
  4. I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance.
  5. I shall, when they depart, make charitable offerings to benefit them.
"In five ways, young householder, do the parents thus ministered to as the east by their child show their compassion:
  1. They restrain you from doing harm.
  2. They encourage you in what is wholesome.
  3. They provide for your education enabling you to become independent.
  4. They offer you appropriate help in selecting the best marriage possible.
  5. They, at the appropriate time, hand over your inheritance.
"In these five ways does a child minister to one’s parents as the east, and the parents show their compassion to that child. Thus is the east honored and upheld by householders and made safe and secure in the way of the nobles."

II. "In five ways, young householder, should a student minister to teachers and tutors as the south:
  1. by rising to greet them,
  2. by attending on them,
  3. by an eagerness to learn,
  4. by rendering appropriate personal service, and
  5. by [study and practice thus] learning one’s lessons well.
"In five ways, young householder, do teachers and tutors thus ministered to as the south by their students show their compassion:
  1. They train them to the best of their ability.
  2. They see to it that they grasp their lessons well.
  3. They instruct them widely and thoroughly.
  4. They recommend them to their colleagues and friends.
  5. They provide for their safety in all directions.
"The teachers and tutors thus ministered to as the south by their students show their compassion towards them in these five ways. Thus is the south honored and upheld by them and made safe and secure."

III. "In five ways, young householder, should a spouse minister to one’s partner as the west:
  1. by being courteous,
  2. by not disparaging one’s partner,
  3. by being faithful,
  4. by handing over household authority [relinquishing control of domestic matters], and
  5. by providing one’s partner with adornments.
"The partner thus ministered to as the west by the spouse shows compassion to that spouse in these five ways:
  1. by organizing one’s duties well,
  2. by being hospitable to those around the house,
  3. by being faithful,
  4. by protecting what is stored up in the house, and
  5. by the skillful and efficient discharging of one’s duties.
"In these five ways does a partner show compassion to the spouse who ministers to one as the west. In this way is the west honored and upheld by partners and is protected and made safe."

IV. "In five ways, young householder, should a friend minister to friends and associates as the north:
  1. by liberality,
  2. by kind and courteous speech,
  3. by looking out for their welfare,
  4. by being impartial, and
  5. by keeping one’s word to them.
"The friends and associates thus ministered to as the north by a friend show compassion to that friend in five ways:
  1. They protect you when you are heedless.
  2. They protect your property when you are heedless.
  3. They act as a refuge when you’re in danger.
  4. They do not desert you in your times of trouble.
  5. They show consideration for your family members.
"The friends and associates thus ministered to as the north by a friend show their compassion toward that friend in these five ways. Thus is the north honored and upheld by friends, making it safe and secure."

V. "In five ways should an employer minister to one’s employees and assistants as the nadir:
  1. by assigning them work according to their ability,
  2. by supplying them with wages and necessities,
  3. by nurturing them through times of illness,
  4. by sharing with them unexpected treats, and
  5. by granting them leave from time to time.
"The employees and assistants thus ministered to as the nadir show compassion to their employer in five ways:
  1. They commence before you.
  2. They leave off after you.
  3. They take only what is given.
  4. They perform their duties well.
  5. They uphold your good name and reputation.
"The employees and assistants thus ministered to as the nadir by an employer show their compassion toward that employer in these five ways. Thus is the nadir honored and upheld, making it safe and secure."

VI. "In five ways, young householder, should a householder minister to wandering ascetics and temple brahmins as the zenith:
  1. by loving deeds,
  2. by loving words,
  3. by loving thoughts,
  4. by opening one’s home to them, and
  5. by providing for their material needs.
"The wandering ascetics and temple brahmins thus ministered to as the zenith by a householder show their compassion towards that householder in five ways:

[The text lists six things, as if to remind us that advisers do more for supporters than supporters do for advisers. But to preserve regularity of exposition, two have been collapsed into one.]
  1. They dissuade you from harmful things.
  2. They persuade you to adopt beneficial things.
  3. They are benevolent and compassionate toward you.
  4. They acquaint you with things you are unfamiliar with and clarify what is already familiar.
  5. They point out the path to happy and fortunate realms of rebirth.
"In these [five] ways do advisers show their compassion towards a householder who ministers to them as the zenith. Thus is the zenith honored and upheld making it safe and secure."

The Buddha and monks in Cambodia (Roger Cracknell Photography/

Part V. Summary
Thus did the Enlightened One explain then he concluded by summarizing:

Guardians as the east,
Instructors are the south
Family as the west,
Associates are the north
Assistants below,
Ascetics above --
One suited to exert a householder’s discretion
Honors and upholds these cardinal directions.
Wise and full of virtue,
Gentle and keen,
Humble and amenable --
Such a person may indeed honor attain.
Energetic, overcoming indolence,
In the midst of adversity unshaken,
Immaculate in manner, and intelligent --
Such a person may indeed honor attain.
Hospitable, amicable to all,
Beneficent, and liberal,
A guide, counselor, and model --
Such a person may indeed honor attain.
Generous, of sweet speech,
Helpful, and impartial to all --
By these four* fixed, the world goes round
As the linchpin serves the moving cart.
If these in the world were not found
Then this repercussion would redound:
Neither mother nor father could expect
From children proper honor and respect.
Since these four winning ways
The wise approve and display,
They to eminence have attained
With praise and honor rightly gained.

[*The Four Bases of Popularity (sangaha-vatthu, "winning ways"): liberality, affability, beneficence, and impartiality. In the Lakkhana Sutra, the Buddha says of himself, "The Tathagata, then being human, became popular to the people by the four bases of popularity, to wit, by giving, by kindly speech, by sagacious conduct and by impartiality, he by the doing and by the accumulating of that karma, by the mass and by the abundance thereof, was when the body perished reborn after death in a bright and blessed world..." (Dialogues of the Buddha III, p. 145; also in Anguttara II, 32, 248; Jataka V, 330).]

Part VI. Reaction
When the Buddha concluded the young householder exclaimed: "Excellent, Enlightened One, excellent! It is as if a person were to set upright what had been overturned, or were to reveal what had been hidden, or were to point out the way to one who had become lost, or were to hold a lamp against the dark so that those with eyes might see exactly what was there! Just so has this ennobling Doctrine and Discipline been explained in a variety of ways by the Enlightened One.

"I go for guidance to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. May the teacher take notice of me as a seeker, a lay follower, as one having gone for guidance to the Three Jewels [Buddha, Dharma, Sangha] from this day forward!"

Buddha Eyes, Swayambhunath Stupa just outside Kathmandu, Nepal (Prateekdahal/

Part VII. Commentary
Buddhist go for "guidance" (sarana) as explained a century ago in the classic A Buddhist Catechism by the American Col. Olcott. "Wijesinha Mudaliar writes me: ‘This word [sarana] has been hitherto very inappropriately and erroneously rendered refuge by European Pali scholars and thoughtlessly so accepted by native Pali scholars. Neither Pali etymology nor Buddhistic philosophy justifies the translation.

Refuge, in the sense of a fleeing back or a place of shelter, is quite foreign to true Buddhism, which insists on every [person] working out [his or her] own emancipation. The root sr in Sanskrit (sara in Pali) means to move, to go so that saranam would denote a moving, or [one] or that which goes before or with another -- a guide or helper.

I construe the passage thus: Gachchami, I go, Buddham, to the Buddha, saranam, as my guide. The translation of the Tisarana as the ‘Three Refuges’ has given rise to much misapprehension...

The term refuge is more applicable to nirvana, of which saranam is a synonym. The [chief abbot] Ven. Sumangala also calls my attention to the fact that the Pali root sara has the secondary meaning of killing, or that which destroys. Buddham saranam gachchami might thus be rendered ‘I go to the Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Order, as the destroyers of my fears -- the first by his preaching, the second by its axiomatic truth, the third by their various examples and precepts’" (Note 1, pp. 43-44).

The Buddha (enlightened teacher), the Dharma (Doctrine and Discipline leading to enlightenment), and the noble Community (followers who have any of the stages of enlightenment). These "Three Jewels" (Tiratana) may also be rendered as the teacher (of enlightenment), the teaching (of enlightenment), and the successfully taught.

Unless Sangha as one of the Three Jewels is understood as the noble Sangha of accomplished practitioners, the "community" of those who have rightly practiced and attained, one might become disheartened by the misconduct of monastics.

The four noble disciples (arya) are the stream enterer, once returner, non-returner, and fully enlightened. (Sometimes these four are divided into eight by distinguishing the attainment of "path" and "fruition" consciousness, explained by most commentaries as differing only by a single moment, yielding the "eight kinds of persons").

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