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BUDDHIST ETHICS KEY CONCEPTS, PERSPECTIVES AND TEACHINGS In Buddhism, moral virtue is the foundation of the spiritual path.. Dr Peter Harvey – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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  • In Buddhism, moral virtue is the foundation of
    the spiritual path.. Dr Peter Harvey

A Summary of ideas
  • Enlightenment (nirvana / nibbana)
  • Karma
  • Skilful means
  • Noble Eight Fold Path 5 Precepts
  • - Wisdom (Panna), Meditation (Samadhi) and
    Morality (Sila)
  • Non-attachment
  • Loving-Kindness - Metta
  • Ahimsa harmlessness
  • Compassion and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
  • Dalai Lama
  • Therevada Mahayana attitudes

The Buddhist approach
  • Buddhism is distinct as a religion in that it
    does not involve the existence of a god. This has
    implications for ethics.

Theistic (god based) religions have an ethical
system based around their deity - be it God,
Allah or Brahman - i.e., acting in accordance
with Gods will, following Gods laws morality.
By removing god as a motivating force, Buddhists
must explain why they should act morally - what
is their motivation?
Why act morally?
  • Enlightenment (nirvana, nibbana)
  • The ultimate goal of Buddhists is to achieve
    enlightenment, to escape Samsara - the cycle of
    suffering. Acting morally brings one close to
    this goal (this is usually seen to be through a
    series of positive rebirths).
  • Karma
  • Within the Natural Law that is Dharma, Karma
    is the universal law of causal relationships.
  • By acting morally i.e., according to the
    teaching of the Buddha, one generates good karma,
    this will lead Buddhists closer to their goal.
    And vice versa, acting immorally generates bad
    karma and takes Buddhists away from their goal.

Skilful means
  • Developed in the Mahayana tradition, inspired by
    the Buddhas skill in teaching the Dharma.
  • Good karma is generated by acting skilfully
  • Bad karma is generated by acting unskilfully,
  • This concept leaves flexibility in the
    interpretation of teachings as provisional rather
    than ultimate in contrast to the traditional and
    more strict Theravada understanding.

  • Eight Fold Path - the path to enlightenment
  • Divided into 3 parts Wisdom (panna),
    Meditation (samadhi) and Morality (sila).
  • Each must be practised well and although distinct
    the parts are complimentary. The better one part
    is practised, the better the other parts will be
  • For example The better your Meditation then the
    clearer your mind will be the better you will
    understand the Dharma (Wisdom) the better you
    are able to make good moral choices based on
    Buddhist teachings the clearer your mind will
    be for meditation!

  • The 5 Precepts
  • 1) I undertake to abstain from harm (killing)
    / compassion
  • 2) I undertake to abstain from taking the not
  • (stealing) / giving
  • 3) I undertake to abstain from misuse of
  • pleasures / satisfaction
  • 4) I undertake to abstain from false speech /
  • 5) I undertake to abstain from intoxicants
    that cloud
  • the mind / mindfulness awareness
  • The precepts are also about cultivating positive
    behaviour (indicated above by ) developed in
    Thich Nhat Hanhs formulation of the precepts.
  • Following the precepts is a way to generate good

Non-attachment Buddhism teaches that nothing is
permanent (Impermanence) and that it is our false
belief that it is that leads to doomed
attachments that will result in suffering through
the Three Root Evils that spring from attachment
- Greed, Hatred and Ignorance (seen at the hub of
the Wheel of Life).
  • Buddhism teaches that we should seek to develop
    the three opposing Cardinal Virtues of
    Non-attachment, Benevolence and Understanding.
  • These are clearly linked to our moral behaviour.

Task 1 Answer the following based on what you
have heard
  • 1) How does our understanding of morality differ
    in Buddhism from theistic religions?
  • 2) List three concepts you might use in a
    discussion about Buddhist morality.
  • 3) How does morality compliment the whole
    practice of Buddhism?
  • 4) Why are the 5 Precepts especially important in
    a discussion on Buddhism and how should they be
    regarded / interpreted?
  • 5) Why is the teaching of Non-attachment relevant
    to morality?

Task 2 Concepts based answer
  • Try to link all the concepts (and any more you
    think relevant) in a coherent answer to the exam
  • For what reasons should a Buddhist behave
    morally? (45 marks)
  • Consider the best combinations of concepts and
    repeat them as necessary.

Lovingkindness metta
  • Feeling of happiness for all beings, warding off
    hatred and fear.
  • Emphasised in the Dhammapada in such teachings
    as conquer anger by lovingkindness conquer
    evil by good..
  • To be expressed to all beings like a mothers
    love for her child.
  • To be practiced in daily life by kind actions.
  • Meditation is often focussed around the ideal, a
    full understanding of its meaning must be

Ahimsa harmlessness
  • Life is sacred. The intentional destruction of
    life is morally wrong.
  • Buddhists and the earlier Jains promoted this
    ideal. Illustrated by the influence they had over
    the move from animal sacrifice (which they saw as
    cruel) in traditional Indian religions to more
    symbolic ritual offerings i.e., food and milk.
  • Some monks use a strainer to avoid harming small
    animals in their drinking water.
  • In some cultures agriculture is unacceptable due
    to its destructive impact on the ground.
  • Links with the analogy of the Jewel Net of
    Indra which sees all things as an
    interconnected web, a jewel at each join
    reflecting all others.

Compassion and the Bodhisattva
  • Sanskrit,enlightenment-being, in early
    Buddhism the term used to refer to the Buddha
    before he attained supreme enlightenment or any
    being destined for enlightenment or intent on
  • The path of the bodhisattva is the central
    teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. One becomes a
    bodhisattva by arousing the mind of
    enlightenment, vowing to attain supreme
    enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
  • The bodhisattva does not aspire to leave samsara
    until all beings are saved he is thus
    distinguished from the arhant of earlier
    Buddhism, who seeks nirvana only for himself and
    who, according to Mahayana teaching, has an
    inferior spiritual attainment.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
  • The bodhisattva of compassion
  • Often shown with thousands of arms showing a
    readiness to help everyone.
  • Tibetan buddhists believe he works through the
    Dalia Lama.
  • Featured
  • in the
  • Lotus
  • Sutra.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara guiding souls
6 Perfections of a Bodhisattva Generosity /
Morality / Patience / Courage / Meditation /
Dalai Lama
  • Speaks out in support of the principles contained
    within the UN Universal Declaration of Human
    Rights 1948.
  • ..without a sense of universal responsibility,
    our very survival becomes threatened. Basically,
    universal responsibility is feeling for other
    people's suffering just as we feel our own. It is
    the realization that even our enemy is entirely
    motivated by the quest for happiness. We must
    recognize that all beings want the same thing
    that we want. This is the way to achieve a true
    understanding, unfettered by artificial
    consideration. 1989

Theravada Mahayana attitudes drawing
distinctions between the two contributes to the
AO2 part of the question
  • Closely follow the Precepts regarding them as
    strict principles / rules.
  • Mention the lay and monastic differences
  • Their aim is to become an Arhat (enlightened
    being) best achieved in the monastic
  • Emphasise importance of acting skilfully, which
    may allow for flexibility in interpreting the
  • Aspire to the Bodhisattva ideal, seeking
    enlightenment for others, not themselves. Open to
    lay and monastic Buddhists.

Recap why how should Buddhists act morally?
  • 1. To achieve their ultimate goal of
  • 2. To better practice the Eight Fold Path
  • 3. As a way to removing suffering (Dukkha)
  • 4. To follow the 5 Precepts is to follow a set of
    moral principles (interpreted differently by
    Therevada and Mahayana traditions)
  • 5. Because of specific teachings from and about
    the Buddha e.g., Loving-Kindness, Compassion,
    harmlessness (Ahimsa), Jataka tales, skilful
  • 6. Because of the example of the Bodhisattva (in
    Mahayana) e.g., Avalokiteshvara and modern
    Buddhists including the Dalai Lama.

Final points.
  • Include a good variety of concepts well explained
    in terms of their moral relevance and
    thoughtfully connected.
  • Refer to the different teachings, experiences and
    objectives that apply to Theravada, Mahayana, lay
    and monastic Buddhists.
  • Remember, although the question may be very
    open, the specification does highlight the 5
    Precepts as particularly important. So learn and
    use these thoroughly.
  • Read the question carefully there is a
    difference between why and how might a
    Buddhist act morally. You can draw on the same
    information, but ensure you are answering the
    question in the correct way.

Task 3
  • Using pages 99 106 of Cush
  • Create a brainstorm of information about the
    Bodhisattva with particular reference to
    Avalokiteshvara. Include information that is
    directly relevant to a discussion about ethics.

HOMEWORK Buddhist Ethics Topic
  • Print this Power Point as a handout ( 6 slides to
    a page) from the Intranet site. For revision and
    2 3 below.
  • 2. Create a detailed neat mind map summary
    of all the concepts, ideas, teachings and
    perspectives relevant to a discussion on ethics.
  • Keep it brief and visual in order to use
    this as a revision tool.
  • 3. Plan and write a full answer to the exam
  • For what reasons should a Buddhist behave
  • morally? (45 marks)
  • remember you have already looked at this question
    a number of times.

Examiners guide to marking this question
  • The importance of ethical behaviour in the Noble
    Eightfold Path should be noted morality is
    essential for personal development, treating
    others correctly and according to principles of
    harmlessness is part of the path to nibbana.
    Moral behaviour is important for the lay
    Buddhist, for the acquisition of good karma. The
    example of the bodhisattva, who postpones his own
    enlightenment for the sake of others, might be
    considered, with the importance of karuna in
    Mahayana Buddhism. Candidates should recognise
    that there is no concept of a judging God.
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