In Asoka’s Footsteps

by Nina Van Gorkom | 1999 | 27,079 words

Ashoka (or Aśoka, asoka) was an Indian emporeor reigning the Maurya dynasty from 268 to 232 BCE. In Asoka’s Footsteps; Dhamma in India; October 1999; by Nina Van Gorkom...

Chapter 5 - Purity Of Sila

The Pali term sila can mean: nature, character, habit or behaviour. Sila can be kusala or akusala. In the scriptures sila which is kusala, virtue or morality, has been classified in different ways. Sila is expressed by deeds through body and speech. We may like to listen to the Dhamma and develop satipatthana, but our behaviour through body and speech is not always in conformity with the Dhamma. Therefore, it is important to learn more about the different aspects of sila. During our journey Khun Sujin stressed that for the understanding of the different subjects of the Dhamma we should always return to the paramattha dhammas which arise in our life: citta, cetasika and rupa. In reference to sila we should consider whether it is nama or rupa. Sila is nama, it is citta and cetasika. Sila is not only abstention from evil, it is also the performance of wholesomeness through body and speech, such as helping others or paying respect to those who deserve respect. Also those who do not know the Dhamma can abstain from evil and perform wholesome deeds, they can have kusala sila. However, if one has never heard the Dhamma one does not know in detail what akusala and what kusala is. The Buddha taught in detail about the citta which motivates speech and deeds, about the development of kusala and the way to eradicate even the most subtle kinds of akusala. If one does not develop satipatthana there is still an idea of self who observes sila, and then sila cannot become purified. Because of knowledge of the Dhamma we have the means to know the different cittas which arise and which can motivate deeds through body and speech, and to develop the way leading to the eradication of the clinging to the self and all defilements. We read in the “Path of Discrimination” (Treatise on Knowledge, Ch II, Virtue, 44, 45) :

What is virtue? There is virtue as volition (cetana), virtue as cetasika, virtue as restraint, virtue as non-transgression. How many kinds of virtue are there? There are three kinds of virtue (habit), profitable (kusala) sila, unprofitable (akusala) sila, indeterminate sila (avyakata, neither kusala nor akusala).

From what does virtue originate? Kusala sila originates from kusala citta, akusala sila originates from akusala citta, indeterminate sila originates from indeterminate citta.

With how many dhammas does sila combine? Sila combines with restraint, sila combines with non-transgression, sila combines with the volition arising with restraint or non-transgression. In the case of killing living beings... of taking what is not given... of sexual misconduct... of false speech... of malicious speech... of harsh speech... of gossip... of covetousness... of ill will... in the case of wrong view, virtue is in the sense of restraint, virtue is in the sense of its non-transgression....

Abstention from akusala kamma is sila. The term kamma is generally used for good deeds or bad deeds, but kamma is actually cetana cetasika, volition or intention, which arises with each citta. Akusala cetana and kusala cetana can motivate deeds which are capable to produce their appropriate results in the form of rebirth-consciousness or vipakacittas which experience pleasant or unpleasant objects through the senses. During our discussions someone was wondering whether each akusala cetana accompanying akusala citta produces result. When we like delicious food or enjoy ourselves watching a play there is lobha-mula-citta, citta rooted in attachment. He was wondering whether the akusala cetana accompanying the akusala citta could bring a result in the form of experiencing unpleasant sense objects. Khun Sujin explained that there are different degrees of akusala. Akusala cetana can produce result when it has the intensity of a completed course of action, akusala kamma patha. If every akusala cetana would be akusala kamma patha, then a baby lying on its back would already commit bad deeds which produce unpleasant results. Why would the Buddha teach about akusala kamma patha if there were no difference of intensity between akusala citta and akusala kamma? When we merely enjoy ourselves and do not harm someone else there is lobha-mula-citta but not akusala kamma which can produce a result. However, the lobha-mula-citta is  accumulated and conditions the arising of lobha again, later on.

After seeing or hearing lobha-mula-citta arises very often, all day long, but we may not notice this. When we have no intention to harm someone else it is not akusala kamma patha. As we read in the quotation above from the “Path of Discrimination”, abstaining from the ten akusala kamma patha such as killing and the other akusala kamma patha, is sila. For each kind of akusala kamma specific constituent factors make it into a completed course of  action, kamma patha. For example, in the case of killing there has to be a living being, one has to be conscious of the fact that it is a living being, there must be the akusala citta which intends to kill, the act of killing and the death which follows (See the commentary to the “Discourse on Right Understanding” (Middle Length Sayings, no 9) the “Papancasudani”.) A completed course of action can produce result by way of an unhappy rebirth or the experience of unpleasant objects through the senses.

Sila is abstention from evil as well as observing of what is wholesome. With regard to abstention from evil, three cetasikas, which are called virati cetasikas, perform the function of abstention: abstinence from wrong speech (vaci-duccarita virati), abstinence from wrong action (kaya-duccarita virati) and abstinence from wrong livelihood (ajiva-duccarita virati). Wrong livelihood is wrong speech or wrong action pertaining to our livelihood. It is impossible to abstain from akusala when virati cetasika does not arise. The three factors of the eightfold Path which are the sila of the eightfold Path are these three virati cetasikas, which are the right speech, right action and right livelihood of the eightfold Path. They arise one at a time, because when there is opportunity for abstinence from wrong speech there is not at the same time abstinence from wrong action. When enlightenment is attained all three abstinences accompany the lokuttara cittas which experience nibbana. They fulfill their functions as path-factors in cutting off the base of misconduct, according to the stage of enlightenment which is attained (Defilements are eradicated subsequently at the four stages of enlightenment. They are eradicated by the path-consciousness, maggacitta. The three virati cetasikas accompany the magga-citta and also the result of the magga-citta, the fruition-consciousness, phala-citta, which immediately succeeds the magga-citta. See for the abstinences which are lokuttara, Atthasalini II, Part VIII, Ch 1, 219, 220). The classification about the origination of sila reminds us that the citta is the source of restraint from evil and of the performing of what is wholesome. There is no self who observes sila. As to indeterminate (avyakata) sila, this is the sila of the arahat, who has, instead of kusala citta, kiriyacitta (inoperative citta). He does not perform kamma which can produce rebirth, because he has reached the end of the cycle of birth and death. 

The “Visuddhimagga” has classified wholesome sila, virtue or moral
conduct, in many ways. There is sila for bhikkhus, for bhikkhunis (nuns), for novices and for laypeople. Laypeople can observe five precepts: they can train themselves to abstain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and the taking of intoxicants. Only those who have attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotapanna (streamwinner) have no conditions to transgress these precepts. Laypeople can also observe eight precepts. In addition to the five precepts there are three more including abstaining from eating after midday, from using high and soft beds, from using perfumes or adornments. Novices have to observe ten precepts. 

The “Visuddhimagga”, in the Chapter on Virtue, Sila, gives the following fourfold classification of purity of sila (parisuddhi sila):

the restraint of “Patimokkha” including 227 rules of discipline for
the monk,
the restraint of the sense faculties (indriya samvara sila),
the purity of livelihood (ajiva parisuddhi sila),
the use of the four requisites of robe, dwelling, food and
medicines, that is purified by reflection (paccaya sannissita sila).

With regard to the restraint of the Patimokkha, we read in the “Book of Analysis” (Ch 12, 244):

Herein a bhikkhu dwells restrained and controlled by the Patimokkha restraint, endowed with (proper) behaviour and a suitable) alms resort, seeing peril in (his) slightest faults, observing (the precepts) he trains himself in the precepts.... 

As regards restraint of the sense faculties, there are different levels of restraint. We read in the “Middle Length Sayings” (no. 27, Lesser Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint) that the Buddha spoke to the Brahman Janussoni about the monk who has restraint as to the sense-faculties:

... Having seen visible object with the eye he is not entranced by the general appearance, he is not entranced by the detail. If he dwells with this organ of sight uncontrolled, covetousness and dejection, evil unskilled states of mind, might predominate. So he fares along controlling it; he guards the organ of sight, he comes to control over the organ of sight....

The same is said with regard to the other senses and the mind-door. When awareness arises of visible object, sound or the other sense objects, there is no opportunity for the arising of akusala citta. At such a moment one does not harm anybody else through body or speech. When we understand which paramattha dhamma sila is, namely, citta and cetasika, it will be clear that there can be sila, even when one does not act or speak. Satipatthana is the Buddha’s teaching, and thus, satipatthana should not be separated from the other ways of sila the monk should observe: the restraint of the “Patimokkha”, the purity of livelihood and the use of the requisites which is purified by reflection. As to the monk’s livelihood, he should not try to obtain the requisites by hinting, by scheming or hypocrisy. As to purification of the use of the requisites by wise reflection, he should not have attachment to them but see them as a means to protect his body and to continue his life as a monk, developing panna which leads to arahatship. We read in the “Visuddhimagga” (I, 124) about the “reviewing” of the requisites by the monk: 

Herein, reviewing is of two kinds: at the time of receiving requisites and at the time of using them. For use is blameless in one who at the time of receiving robes, etc., reviews them either as (mere) elements or as repulsive, and puts them aside for later use, and in one who reviews them thus at the time of using them. Both the monk and the layfollower should train themselves in purity of sila, but the monk’s sila is higher than the sila of the layfollower, they cannot be compared with each other. 

Khun Sujin remarked that they are as different from each other as heaven and earth. The monk has left the household life with all its amenities in order to train himself to become an arahat, a perfected one. His lifestyle is like the arahat’s. Thus, the monk must have purity of sila, and if he commits a transgression he should make amends for it. If the transgression is very serious, such as killing, he is no longer a monk and he will be expelled from the order. However, also layfollowers can, in their own situation, apply what is laid down as the fourfold purification of sila. The restraint of the senses is achieved by satipatthana, and this can be developed by both monks and layfollowers. As regards purity of livelihood, also layfollowers should not be engaged in wrong livelihood, for example by bribery or deceit. As regards using the “requisites” wisely, this can also be applied by layfollowers. When one considers food as a medicine for the body it will help one not to indulge in overeating. It is natural that we are attached to clothing, food and home, but sometimes there can be conditions for kusala citta with wise reflection. We read in the “Gradual Sayings” (”Book of the Tens”, Ch V, § 8, Conditions) that the Buddha said:

Monks, these ten conditions must again and again be contemplated by one who has gone forth (from the home). What ten? He must again and again contemplate this fact: I am now come to a state of being an outcast. And this: My very life is dependent on others. And this: I must now behave myself differently. And this: Does the self (the citta.) upbraid me for (lapse from) virtue, or does it not? And this: Do my discerning fellows in the Brahma-life, after testing me, upbraid me for (lapse from) virtue, or do they not? And this: In all things dear and delightful to me there is change and separation. And this: I myself am responsible for my deed, I am the heir to my deed, the womb of my deed, the kinsman of my deed, I am he to whom my deed comes home. Whatever deed I shall do, be it good or bad, of that shall I be the heir. The nights and days flit by for me- who have grown to what? And this: In my void dwelling do I take delight or not? And this: Have I come by any superhuman experience, any excellence of truly ariyan knowledge and insight, whereon when questioned in my latter days (At the time of dying, according to the Commentary.) by my fellows in the Brahma-life I shall not be confounded? 

These, monks, are the ten conditions to be again and again contemplated by one who has gone forth (from the home). 

We read in the Commentary, the “Manorathapurani”, as to the monk’s life being dependent on others, that this is because of his receiving of the four requisites. His livelihood should be pure and his conduct should be composed, different from laypeople. We read: 

“The monk who applies himself to the fourfold purity has developed vipassana. He can reach arahatship”. 

Vipassana is the condition for the fourfold purity, satipatthana should not be separated from the Vinaya. The purpose of sila should not be pleasant results, such as rebirth in heaven, or honour, it should be the eradication of defilements.

When someone applies himself to sila without the development of satipatthana there is an idea of self who does so, his sila is not pure. Moreover, his sila will not be steadfast; when he is in difficult circumstances he may not be able to observe sila. The sotapanna who has eradicated through satipatthana the wrong view of self is steadfast in sila, he cannot transgress the five precepts, he cannot commit akusala kamma which produces an unhappy rebirth.

When we understand which paramattha dhamma sila is, citta and cetasika, it will be clear that the citta with metta, loving kindness, is sila. For the practice of metta there should be awareness of the citta. When we develop metta in daily life, we have goodwill towards our fellowmen, we do not harm them, and that is kusala sila. Once, when someone behaved in an unpleasant way and I said to Khun Sujin, “She does not like us”, Khun Sujin answered, “It does not matter, we like her,” and that is the practice of metta. We can apply this in any situation when people dislike us. What about our own citta? We are often too slow in our reactions to help others, but when satipatthana arises there are conditions to move quickly in helping. During our journey one of the buses broke down and there was no seat left for us except in front near the driver. We had to sit near the foodboxes which broke so that bananas went all over the place and were crushed. Khun Sujin thought that we were uncomfortable in the midst of all the commotion and she offered her seat; this was an example of helping without hesitation. This was an example reminding us that when there is an opportunity for kusala we should not wait, but perform it immediately.

It is difficult to practice sila in every situation. When we have to endure unpleasant behaviour from others it is a test for our patience and endurance. We cannot choose the objects which appear through the six doors, sometimes they are pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. We may be disturbed by someone else, but a “person” is only an object of thinking. In reality there are only nama and rupa appearing one at a time. If there can be awareness when we are in difficult situations we can gradually learn that there is not this or that situation which seems to last, but only seeing which experiences visible object, hearing which experiences sound or thinking which thinks of concepts which are not real. 

Realities arise because of their own conditions, they are beyond control and do not belong to a self. When there is awareness of one object at a time we attach less importance to certain situations. Only one object at a time through one doorway is experienced and it falls away immediately, it does not last. The six doors can be separated, not by “self”, but by panna. 

Some people believe that one should first develop sila, then samatha and after that vipassana. When we read in the scriptures or the “Visuddhimagga” about the tripartite division of sila, samadhi (one-pointedness or concentration) and wisdom, misunderstandings may arise. However, when we read about this subject we should carefully consider all the different degrees of sila, samadhi and panna which are implied. This division is not a rigid classification, but it is a systematic description of all levels of sila, samadhi and panna. We read, for example, in the beginning of the “Visuddhimagga” (Ch I, 1), the following quotation from the “Kindred Sayings” (I, the Tangle):

When a wise man, established well in Virtue,
Develops Consciousness
and Understanding,
Then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious
He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.

“Tangle” is used here in the sense of the “network” of craving. Craving is like a network of branches which are entangled. The “Visuddhimagga” describes first sila, then the development of concentration and after that the development of right understanding. However, we should note that under sila he describes not only sila through bodily action and speech, but also sila which is purity of citta, sila which includes samatha and vipassana. In Ch I, 19, the “Visuddhimagga” quotes the “Path of Discrimination”, where we read about all the different levels of sila. Included in sila are the subduing of the defilements which are the “hindrances”, the development of concentration and the different stages of jhana, and also the stages of insight. We read, for example, about the stages of vipassana:

Through contemplation of impermanence in the case of perception of permanence... Through contemplation of dukkha in the case of perception of pleasure... through contemplation of not-self in the case of perception of self... through contemplation of dispassion in the case of delighting...virtue is in the sense of its restraint, virtue is in the sense of its non-transgression.

Dispassion is the result of vipassana nana. We read further on that (Citta, which stands for concentration) included in sila are also the four stages of enlightenment up to arahatship when all defilements are eradicated and there are no conditions for their arising again.

If someone believes that he, as a layman, should first keep the five precepts and that he then can develop samatha and after that vipassana, he overlooks the fact that there is no self who can regulate this. The Buddha taught satipatthana so that the wrong view of self can be eradicated. Through satipatthana right understanding is developed and without satipatthana sila cannot become “well established”. For the sotapanna who has developed vipassana, sila is “well established”. Through satipatthana there can be training in “higher sila” (adhi-sila sikkha), “higher citta” (adhi-citta sikkha) and “higher wisdom” (adhi-panna sikkha). As to higher citta or concentration, this includes all levels of concentration, not merely jhana. Concentration, samadhi, is the cetasika which is one-pointedness, ekaggata cetasika. It arises with each citta and has the function of focussing the citta on one object. When satipatthana arises, ekkagata cetasika “concentrates” for that short moment on the nama or rupa which appears so that understanding of that reality can develop. In the development of samatha concentration is developed to a high degree so that jhana can be attained, but this cannot be achieved without panna which has right understanding of the citta and cetasikas which develop calm. In the “Visuddhimagga” all levels of concentration, jhana included, are described, but this does not mean that everybody must develop jhana in order to attain enlightenment (This will be further explained in chapter 6.). 

Instead of thinking of classifications and names or thinking of a specific order as to the development of sila, concentration and panna, we can gradually develop understanding of the nama and rupa which appear and then there is training in higher sila, higher citta and higher panna. Even when attachment arises there can be mindfulness of it and at that moment one does not harm anyone; that is sila. Or we may be inclined to engage in wrong speech, such as slandering or useless speech, but if sati arises and it is aware of nama or rupa, there are conditions to abstain from akusala. We speak many times in a day, but do we know whether our speech is kusala or akusala? We need to know the nature of citta so that  there can be training in higher sila.

We are inclined to observe sila with an idea of self who has sila. When satipatthana is being developed sila can become free from the wrong view of self. Then there will be purity of sila, “sila visuddhi” (Suddhi means brightness, excellence, and the prefix vi has here an intensifying meaning.). We read in Khun Santi’s lexicon about sila visuddhi:

“Purity of sila is sila which has reached a high degree of purity. When satipatthana arises and there is awareness and understanding of the true nature of a characteristic of nama or rupa which is appearing, the doorways of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind are guarded. At that moment there is no committing of evil through body or speech, because the six faculties are guarded by sati, {indriya samvara sila (The five senses are classified as rupas which are “indriyas”, leaders, they are leaders each in their own field. Citta is manindriya, mind-faculty, the leader in its own field: it cognizes an object.)}, there is restraint
through the six doors. This is called purity of sila, sila visuddhi. It is purified and free from the wrong view of self because there is the understanding that there are only nama or rupa which are appearing.”

Here we see again that for the development of sila satipatthana is essential. So long as one is full of the idea of self one may try to force oneself to restrain from akusala and observe sila, but this is impossible when there are no conditions for citta and cetasika which observe sila. Nama, not self, observes sila and satipatthana is the right condition for purity of sila.

Someone who does not develop right understanding may have wholesome speech or help others, but there is still the idea of self who does so and there cannot be purity of sila. Sila is one of the perfections the Bodhisatta fulfilled in order to attain Buddhahood. Sila is a perfection when its purpose is the eradication of defilements. Then it is a way of kusala leading out of the cycle of birth and death. So long as defilements have not been eradicated we have to continue in the cycle of birth and death, and this means dukkha. We read in Khun Santi’s lexicon about kusala which leads out of the cycle (vivatta gamini (vatta is cycle and vivatta means out of the cycle. Gamini means going, leading.) kusala):

“Kusala which leads out of the cycle means each kind of kusala which has the purpose of eradication of defilements. No matter one offers one ladle of rice gruel or one helping of boiled rice, if one sees the disadvantage of akusala and one will apply oneself to the development of kusala with right understanding in order to eradicate defilements, it is a perfection, it is right practice, namely, kusala which leads out of the cycle of birth and death. “We may want to observe sila because we cling to the idea of being a “good person”, of being esteemed by others, or because of other selfish motives, and in that case it is not the perfection of sila. The perfection of sila has detachment as its goal.

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