In Ethics of Buddhism, Shundo Tachibana devotes
half the book to the discussion of fourteen ethical principles in Buddhism. These fourteen ‘virtues’ are the foundations
of Buddhist morality, and represent the essential ethical teachings of the Buddha. In this paper, three important
topics are examined relating to Buddhist ethics, 1) the individual’s relationship to the Buddha, 2) the Dhamma (natural
duty or law), and; 3) the Sangha (community). Additionally, three other subjects are discussed relating to karma, 1) the five
aggregates (forms of karma), 2) the no-self (no individual soul identity) and, 3) the illusory nature of the universe. There is a review of Hindu and Chinese influences affecting
the development of modern Buddhism. Additionally, a correspondence is found between the development of ancient Chinese and
Greek cultural ethics. On the subject of cultural influences, an interconnection is found relating to Taoism, Confucianism
and Buddhism. Included is a discussion of the differences between Theravada and Mahayana
Buddhism. Comparisons are made between Theravada’s nirvanic state of ‘the here and now’, versus Mahayana’s
mystical tradition of communing with the ‘oneness of all things’. Commentary is offered relating to Theravada’s
concept of reaching nirvana in duality, versus Mahayana’s concept of achieving oneness in non-duality. Concluding
remarks summarize the benefits and limitations of Tachibana’s book. Finally, the practice of Buddhist ethics is discussed
as a pre-requisite for attaining a constant state of nirvanic bliss.
Buddhism is known as the most ethical of all religions (2008, Gunasekara).
Buddha’s great contribution to the reformation of Hinduism is his deep understanding of how karma leads to suffering. As
a method for preventing the creation of karma, and expending existing karma, Buddha reveals The Four Noble Truths
and The Eightfold Path. Additionally, he concentrates on teaching moral precepts that are as relevant today as they
were twenty-five hundred years ago.
Tachibana discusses fourteen of these principles in Ethics of Buddhism: self restraint, temperance,
contentment, celibacy, patience, purity, humility, benevolence, liberality, reverence, gratitude, toleration, veracity, and
righteousness (1992). He says that these principles of ethical behavior do not include all of Buddha’s teachings on
morality, but they are stressed more than the others. Here are descriptions of the fourteen ethical principles as described
Self-Restraint- Tachibana claims that restraining the sense organs
is an important moral issue (1992, p. 110). If the Buddhist does not restrain the sense organs, he cannot attain right concentration
of mind, “if this is not attained, knowledge and insight which see things as they really are will not be attained”
(p. 110). The eventual consequences for not achieving self-restraint, will lead to acceptance of worldly vanity, and being
bound to human passions.
Temperance: The ethic of
temperance relates to sobriety and regarding the drinking of alcohol, as “grave a sin as killing, stealing, adultery,
and lying” (Tachibana, 1992). The reason behind this severe warning, is the assumption that “moderate drinking
in many cases leads onto drunkenness, the evil and harmfulness of which to individuals and society nobody will deny”
Contentment: This feeling relates to an individual who is satisfied with what he obtains or the position in which
he finds himself (Tachibana, 1992). Therefore, the individual must feel satisfaction and pleasure while living in poverty
or in luxury. Tachibana contends that being satisfied with one’s position in life is a virtue from the standpoint of
common sense. He says, “Everybody, generally speaking, will be ready to commend a person of this
Patience: A form of self control that
is an important part of the Buddhist self-culture (Tachibana, 1992). “Endurance in the face of hardship, mental suffering
or bodily pain, or perseverance in pursuit of a certain aim and end, should be regarded as a highly valuable virtue”
(1992). Buddha needed patience to defeat Mara (his ego-self or evil-side) and overcome his fears. Additionally, Buddha considered
patience as “the best devotion” (p. 137). He says there is nothing that surpasses patience and one who acquires
patience, Buddha considers a Brahman.
Celibacy or chastity: An ethical principle
of Hinduism that becomes part of Buddhism with slight modifications (Tachibana, 1992). According to Tachibana, the celibacy
of a Brahman was mandatory at the beginning and end of life, however, in the middle years it was optional (1992). Conversely,
the Buddhist is only obligated to stay celibate during three days of the lunar month and on certain holidays, however, monks
must be celibate throughout their lives.
Hinduism and Buddhism both agree that by observing celibacy, one
creates, “a life of perfect holiness or purity” (p. 143). This ethic corresponds to the need for self-restraint.
Purity: The Buddhist idea of purity differs from that of Hinduism since they are entirely spiritual, and
have little to do with rituals or objects outside of one’s self (Tachibana, 1992). Purification for the Buddhist is
the work of a lifetime, and he follows the ethical teachings of the Buddha to reach this goal. Buddhism stresses the importance
of purity in thought, speech, and deed for attainment of Nirvana. Along with the attainment of spiritual purification comes
a natural outpouring of “goodness, justice, worthiness, completeness, and holiness” (1992). The three-fold training
of the Buddhist includes, “morality, concentration of mind, and wisdom; the three holy objects are the Buddha (the awakened
one), the Dhamma (or Dharma; natural duty or natural law), and the Sangha (the Buddhist community)” (1992). All the
efforts of the Buddhist become part of the process of purification, with the attainment of Nirvana being the ultimate form
Humility: Acting with humility is held in high
regard by the Buddhist and is another important ethical principle in Buddhism (Tachibana, 1992). According to Tachibana, pride
and arrogance are “abominable vices from the Buddhistic moral point of view and it is through these expressions that
we understand that Buddhism regards humility as a high virtue” (1992). The Dhammapada says, “Abandon
anger and pride…anger and pride are twin vices detestable in everybody’s eyes” (p. 179). The individual
who has not attained humility is selfish and ambitious and he does not mind if others suffer as a result of his actions. If
he cherishes the idea of self, he cannot attain peace of mind or enlightenment. This individual must free himself from the
five aggregates (skandhas): form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), predispositions (sankhara), and consciousness
(vinnana) (p. 181). According to Tachibana, these five aggregates compose the human being that is controlled by the self –
but, this is an illusion. (p. 181). Buddha teaches that through meditation, the individual realizes the concept of self is
an illusion. This philosophical principle is essential to Buddhist thought: “there exists no self in the human being,
therefore, self should not be pursued or clung to” (p. 182). As anger and pride are released from the false self, a
natural outpouring of gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, modesty and humility will follow.
An ethical behavior understood as comprising “love, kindness, friendship, sympathy, mercy, pity, and other kindred virtuous
feelings and actions” (Tachibana, 1992). A Buddhist monk will extend his heart to all living beings and feel as one
with the world. According to The Dhammapada: “Let us live happily then, not hating those who hate us! Among
men who hate us, let us dwell free from hatred” (1992). Correspondingly, Jesus teaches others to love their enemies
and their neighbors. By overcoming hatred and anger, both Buddha and Jesus believe that even the worst of enemies can live
in peace. Once an individual overcomes his negative feelings toward others, he feels a sense of equality toward mankind. He
also feels an innate sense of responsibility for ‘the other’, and begins to realize that he and ‘the other’
are one. Subsequently, the individual feels a connection between himself and ‘the other’ resulting in an outpouring
of love and compassion.
Liberality: This virtue relates to charitable actions
and serving the needs of others (Tachibana, 1992). Tachibana contends that the practical application of liberality is the
underlying value that makes benevolence a virtue (1992). Therefore, a feeling of benevolence must be in the heart of the individual
before liberality is set into motion. Accordingly, benevolence is the cause of a kind action, and takes the form of liberality
when in effect. Tachibana cites Jesus’ teaching of liberality as being similar to the Buddhist meaning.
“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
and come and follow me” (1992). In Buddhism, the concept of liberality teaches the individual to renounce attachments
to material possessions. The Buddha states:
should be, O monks heirs of spiritual things, but not of material things….There are, O monks, two gifts. What are the
two? Material gifts and spiritual gifts. Of these two gifts the spiritual are pre-eminent (Tachibana, 1992).
It is not enough
to feel benevolence in one’s heart. Without corresponding actions to carry-out feelings of love and compassion, there
is no giving or receiving of goodness:
Reverence: An emotion expressing our
respect toward others and toward objects we believe are sacred (Tachibana, 1992). By acting with reverence, we feel gratitude
and a form of benevolence. In early Buddhism – as in Taoism – reverence toward the community is of primary importance.
Additionally, reverence toward elders and the social welfare of the community is an essential condition. This virtue teaches
mutual respect among the members of the community bringing harmony and balance into daily life. A special form of reverence
is directed toward parents. The parents are ready to sacrifice everything on behalf of their children. Buddha believes:
They [the parents] restrain the child from vice, they exhort him to virtue, they train
him to a profession, they contract a suitable marriage for him and in due time they hand over their inheritance to him. (Tachibana,
toward parents is of utmost importance in a material and spiritual sense. The child is indebted to his parents for their sacrifices,
tolerance and guidance. According to Buddha:
We may carry
our mothers on one shoulder, and our fathers on the other, and attend on them for a hundred years, doing them bodily services
in every possible way, and establishing them in the position of universal sovereignty; still the favour we have received from
our parents will be far from requited (Tachibana, 1992)
The child reveres his parents for their love and affection and believes everything
he owns belongs to his parents. Therefore, this virtue affects family dynamics and close relationships.
Gratitude: In Buddhism, gratitude relates to a feeling of indebtedness that Buddhists feel toward each other
(Tachibana, 1992). Again, Tachibana explains that the most important form of gratitude is linked to reverence toward one’s
parents, and matricide and patricide are among the worst crimes committed (1992). Therefore, Buddhist gratitude takes the
form of how a dutiful child feels towards his parents. This same type of gratitude exists in Buddhist society. Each person
is grateful to ‘the other’ in the same way they are grateful to their parents.
An essential attribute of the Buddhist, “The Buddha, himself, was a person of a wonderfully tolerant nature” (Tachibana,
1992). Therefore, Buddhism is among the most tolerant of all religions, and is “the freest from prejudice or exclusiveness
or even from bigotry” (p. 237). While teaching or instructing others in the ways of Buddha, the Buddhist is always tolerant
of other’s opinions and behaviors. As an example, on a certain occasion the Buddha’s disciples were being too
forceful while trying to convert others to the Faith, so Buddha gently explains:
This will not do for converting the unconverted, and for augmenting the number of the converted,
but it will result in the unconverted being repulsed from the faith – and many of the converted being estranged. (Tachibana,
The Buddha does not use harsh language when speaking to his disciples about their offensive behavior.
He displays tolerance and patience in the same way a concerned father treats his child:
Speaking the truth at all times with sincerity. According to Tachibana, Buddhists of all classes receive teachings in childhood
to specifically avoid lying (Tachibana,1992). In Buddhism, lying is one of the most common types of unethical behavior. The
Buddha classifies lying as, “hypocrisy, treachery, dishonesty, double-tongues, false testimony…and he believed
it was the root of every mortal sin” (1992). Conversely, speaking the truth is considered a virtue and Buddhism is considered
a religion of truth. Understanding and knowing the truth are supreme goals in Buddhism. Living one’s truth leads to
salvation, and in Buddhism a high value is placed on attaining the truth. The first words Buddha spoke after attaining enlightenment
were, “The true nature of things have been revealed to me” (1992). Finally, truth is a moral duty and a non-negotiable
ethic to live by in Buddhism. Early Buddhism does not allow any exceptions to this rule – it requires everyone to speak
the absolute truth.
Righteousness: The early Buddhists equate righteousness
with the cosmic Brahmanical concept of Rita (order in life, nature and the cosmos) (Tachibana, 1992). As nature moves in cycles,
a form of order unfolds. Similarly, the flow of human consciousness moves in cycles as morality progresses. Since nature is
an orderly aspect of the cosmos, it is identified with the individual’s orderly, moral behavior in society. This orderly
correspondence between the progression of nature and the ethical nature of the individual is defined by Dhamma. This concept
is also closely related to the concept of natural law and righteousness (1992). According to Bhikkhu (2008):
The Dhamma, the truth taught by the Buddha, unfolds gradually. The Buddha made clear
many times that Awakening does not occur like a bolt out of the blue to the untrained and unprepared mind. Rather, it culminates
a long journey of many stages.
In Buddhism the word Dhamma
replaces the Vedic word Rita. Both words are used to express a semblance of order in the universe and in life. However,
Dhamma has a broader meaning of moral behavior relating to duty and allegiance to community. An individual living ‘on
Dhamma’ is known as “a person who is just or upright in action and living respectfully” (p. 260). As an
example, the Buddhist says, “I am the genuine son…One who makes righteousness his body…One who is identical
with righteousness” (p. 269). Here we can see a similarity between Buddhist and Christian beliefs. The Buddhist is declaring
that he is a ‘son of perfection’, in the same way that Jesus is being called the ‘Son of God’. In
the New Testament, Jesus is not referring to himself as the ‘Son of God’, but rather as the Son of Man.
The "Man" he is referring to - is the ‘perfect Man’ - or the perfect form of man being created on the
Sixth Day of Genesis. Nevertheless, the meaning of the Buddhist and Christian phrases, stress the importance
of living righteously for the person wanting to become a perfect human being. By understanding that righteousness is the path
to perfection, the individual lives in strict accordance with Buddhist ethics. He understands that living an ethical life
is leading him to his awakening.
In addition to the fourteen ethical
principles in Ethics of Buddhism, Tachibana explains The Five Precepts:
1) Do not kill;
2) Do not steal;
3) Do not commit adultery;
4) Do not tell
a lie and;
5) Do not take intoxicating liquors (Tachibana,1992)
These five ethical principles are seemingly identical to Taoism’s
Five Precepts. The ‘wording’ is slightly different, but the meanings are the same. Consequently, these Five Precepts
can be interpreted as Chinese cultural ethics as well as religious ethics. Although Buddhism is originally influenced by Vedic
teachings, Chinese culture has an immense influence on later developments of Buddhist ethics:
Buddhism, as a foreign culture, had undergone mainly three stages of the development in China:
with its dependence upon the traditional Chinese culture---Confucianism and Taoism at its early stage, in conflict with the
latter later on and to merge with the traditional Chinese culture at its last stage. A process of the development of Buddhism
in China is somehow the process of Buddhism Chinalization, or to say localization. Buddhism was so well accepted by China,
it is not only because the character of open-minded and all-inclusive of the Chinese nation, but also because that Buddhism
has itself a rich and colorful connotation which serves a supplement to the Chinese traditional culture (Jiahua, 2008).
It can be argued that if religion had never existed in China, The Five Precepts would have evolved anyway as an outgrowth
of community living. Kohn (2004) examines the early Chinese community and the continuation of ancient cultural rituals:
Priests underwent ordinations which retained the patterns of early initiations as well
as the formalities of blood covenants from Chinese antiquity.
The three major Chinese religions, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, feel the influence
of ancient Chinese culture. Since the I-Ching (circa. 2800 BCE) is written over two-thousand years before Lao-Tzu,
Confucius, and Buddha, these three religions are heavily influenced by Chinese religious philosophers of the past. When Buddhism
arrives in China in 67 CE, Taoism and Confucianism have already been taught there for over five hundred years. Consequently,
Buddhism is seen as an extension of Chinese religious thought by both Taoists and Confucianists.
When Buddhism was just introduced into China, it was regarded as a kind of Taoist practice. This is because the foreign
Buddhist monks attempting to propagate Buddhism in China, adopted both Taoist and Confucian theories to interpret Buddhism.
In the same way that Greek ethics begin with Homer, Chinese ethics begin with the I-Ching. Early Greek ethics
are passed down to Thales, Pythagoras and Socrates, as Chinese ethics are passed down through Lao-Tzu, Confucius and Buddha.
Therefore, the continuing advancement of ancient ethical ideals paves the way for later philosophers and religious reformers.
These progressive thinkers continue to refine and improve upon the ethical teachings of the past (2008). Although little is
known about ancient Chinese religions, an early belief in the Godhead along with a hierarchy of pantheistic gods begins during
the Bronze Age in 2250 BCE:
This description of ‘everyday
nirvanic bliss’ occurs when the individual is living in accordance with the fourteen ethics established by the Buddha.
Once the individual learns how to liberate himself from selfish desires, he experiences a mystical feeling of liberation and
enlightenment. Consequently, he is living in ‘the here and now’ of nirvana. For the individual
wanting to live in a constant state of nirvana, he must purify his five skandhas (karmic forms, feelings, perceptions, will
and consciousness). He must avoid unethical conduct, cultivate good deeds, and train his mind. He must understand: 1) the
fundamental precepts of the Buddha’s teachings, 2) the concept of ‘reality’ as an illusion (the temporary
nature of all things), 3) the rejection of a God-object and; 4) the acceptance of the ‘no-self’ (no existence
of a personal soul and impermanence of the individual identity).
the individual awakens, he is always thinking with his Buddha-mind. His natural way of ‘being’ is by living in
a transcendent state of happiness, tranquility, and love. Therefore, he is always communing with the ‘oneness of all
things’ – and is therefore - living the mystical life.
In Ethics of Buddhism, Tachibana presents his views on the most important
ethical principles in Buddhism. In the first few chapters, he offers insightful information about Siddhartha and his spiritual
journey before becoming the Buddha. Tachibana explains the need for reform in Hinduism, and the reasons for Siddhartha’s
dissatisfaction with prevailing Hindu thought. Tachibana describes the links between Hinduism and Buddhism throughout the
book, and cites the shared teachings of these two religions. The details of Buddhist life are presented in a comprehensive
manner, and Tachibana covers important moral and ethical frameworks. These include The Four Noble Truths, The
Eightfold Path, The Dhammapada, The Five Precepts, Precepts for Monks, and The Ten Good Actions.
This is an
excellent book for understanding the basis of Buddhist ethics. Much credit should be given to Tachibana for his thorough explanations
and concise writing style. He makes the point that Buddhism is practiced by individuals seeking to perfect themselves. These
individuals do not need to live in a Buddhist community or adhere to any man-made regulations. The Buddhist can live alone
on an island and still live in the nirvanic state. Conversely, the Buddhist can live in any type of community, and recognize
his natural duty to help others. Although Tachibana explains that Buddhism is a religious philosophy of ethics, he also stresses
the importance of community, family and relationships.
The book is lacking, however, in several respects.
There are few ‘real-life’ examples of the fourteen principles in action as described by Tachibana. Such specifics
would clarify when Buddhist ethics are needed, missing, or being applied properly or improperly. At times, Tachibana is repetitive,
and uses previously defined ethics to describe a new ethic under discussion. This leads to overlapping definitions and confusion
about whether certain ethics are just sub-sets of others. If Tachibana cited more examples of how the fourteen ethics are
related to each other, he would have stronger and clearer definitions. Additionally, he does not comment on the difficulties
of applying these ethics in ‘real world’ situations. He misses an opportunity to address ‘real-life’
dilemmas when an individual is ‘being taken advantage of’, abused, or ridiculed. Finally, he does not discuss
the immense challenges that the individual encounters while cultivating each ethic.
In this paper, other religions have also been discussed. Similarities are described between the teachings of The
New Testament and Theravada Buddhism. Both religions teach that each person is a divine ‘child’ - trying
to improve moral behavior and move closer toward perfection. Therefore, before the Buddhist attains nirvana, he must first
assimilate the fourteen ethical principles of Buddhism into his natural way of being.
In terms of mysticism, the transcendent goals of Theravada, when compared to the mystical beliefs of Mahayana, become the
subject for the writing of another research paper. Theravada’s nirvana of ‘the here and now’, versus the
non-dualistic mystical experience of Mahayana, are fascinating subjects for further discussion. Attempting to argue the validity
of a dualistic, or non-dualistic, mystical experience in an illusionary world, is a metaphysical enigma that challenges the
far reaches of the intellect.