by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes What Is Morality? contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).
Various factors, which may be defined as Morality, are mental volition (cetanā) which arises in the person who abstains from wrong physical actions, such as killing, etc., or which arises when performing duties towards one’s elders, teachers, etc.; the three mental factors of abstention (virati), i.e. right speech, right action, and right livelihood; greedlessness (alobha or anabhijjhā), absence of ill-will (adosa or abyāpāda), right view (sammā-diṭṭhi or amoha); the five restraints (to be described in full later) and the mental factor of avitikkama.
Thus morality may be conveniently studied as follows:
(1) Volition that accompanies one when abstaining from wrong physical or verbal action or when performing duties towards one’s elders or teachers, etc.;
(2) the three mental factors of abstention from wrong action, wrong speech and wrong livelihood;
(3) the three right mental actions of anabhijjhā, abyāpāda and sammā-diṭṭhi;
(4) the five restraints (samvara); and
(5) the mental factor which arises when avoiding transgressions.
(a) Morality of Volition (Cetanā-sīla)
(b) Morality of Abstinence (Virati-sīla)
The three wrong physical actions are taking the life of other beings, taking what is not given and sexual misconduct. The four wrong verbal actions are telling lies, gossiping or backbiting, using harsh, abusive words and indulgence in vain, frivolous talks. These two categories of wrong actions may be committed in association with earning a livelihood (like that of a fisherman or a hunter), or may not be associated with earning livelihood (like game hunting for sport).
Likewise, abstaining from these two categories of wrong actions may or may not be associated with earning a livelihood. Abstaining from three wrong physical actions, when not associated with earning a livelihood, is known as abstention through right action (sammā kammanta virati); abstaining from the four wrong verbal actions, when not associated with earning a livelihood, is known as abstention through right speech (sammā vaca virati); abstaining from these two categories of wrong actions, when associated with earning a livelihood, and from various kinds of wrong livelihood (especially those kinds which bhikkhus are enjoined against), is known as abstention through right livelihood (sammā ajiva virati).
The three mental factors of abstention mentioned above are known as morality of abstention (viratī-sīla) and the mental factor of volition that accompanies them is known as morality of volition (cetanā-sīla). The volition that arises when performing acts of great merit of attending upon one’s teacher is also known as morality of volition (cetanā-sīla).
(c) Morality of Non-covetousness, etc. (Anabhijjhādi-sīla)
The greed that prompts one to covet others' property, harbouring the thought: “It would be good if these were mine”, is known as the wrong mental action of covetousness (abhijjhā manoduccarita). When one dispels such thoughts, there arise in one the mental factors of dispelling volition (cetanā) and greedlessness (alobha) or non-covetousness (anabhijjhā). These mental factors are called Morality.
Wishing harm to someone, there arises in a person the mental factor of hatred which is known as wrong mental action of ill will (byāpāda manoduccarita). When one dispels such thoughts of ill-will, there arise in him the mental factors of dispelling volition and hatelessness (adosa or abyāpāda). These mental factors are called Morality.
When someone holds that there is no such thing as generosity and that there are no beneficial results accruing from it, he holds a wrong view which is called wrong mental action of wrong view (micchā diṭṭhi manoduccarita). When he dispels such beliefs, there arise in him the dispelling volition and non-delusion (amoha) or right view (sammā-diṭṭhi). These mental factors are called Morality.
When three wrong mental actions (abhijjhā, byāpāda, and micchā-diṭṭhi) are present, a person is liable to commit such demeritorious deeds as killing, etc. which ruin one’s sīla. When volition and the three right mental actions arise in one, it is impossible for one to commit deeds, such as killing, etc. which are ruinous to one’s sīla. Therefore, the three right mental actions of anabhijjhā, abyāpāda and sammā-diṭṭhi are called Morality.
When consciousness arises, it is always accompanied by volition. That volition is responsible for prompting the mind to take notice of an object; it serves as a link between the mind and an object. Without its prompting, there would be no mind-object linkage; the mind will not rest on the object; it will not be aware of the object. It is only through the services of volition that a mind-object linkage is possible at all. Thus, every volition accompanying consciousness that arises for each moral act is called Morality.
(d) Morality of Restraints (Saṃvara-sīla)
(e) Morality of Avoiding Transgression (Avitikkama-sīla)
The kinds of morality, as described, apply to laymen and bhikkhus equally. But there are other forms of morality which are concerned with bhikkhus only, viz.: morality of restraints (saṃvara-sīla) and morality of avoiding transgressions (avitikkama-sīla).
(d) Morality of Restraints (Saṃvara-sīla):
(i) Pātimokkha Saṃvara: Restraint through the Fundamental Precepts for bhikkhus, observance of which liberates the observer from the dangers of rebirths in the realms of miseries and continuous suffering.
(ii) Sati Saṃvara: Restraint through Mindfulness, which means keeping close guard over the doors of the five senses, viz. eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind, so that no ‘thief of demeritoriousness’ can gain entry into one.
(iii) Ñāṇa Saṃvara: Restraint through Wisdom, which means control of the mind with Insight, so that the current of mental defilements of craving, wrong view and ignorance which normally flows incessantly, stops flowing. Under this type is also included Paccayasanissita Sīla, exercise of proper care over the use of requisites.
(v) Vīriya Saṃvara: Restraint through Development of Energy, which means strenuous mental exertion, to prevent the arising of demeritorious thoughts, such as sensuous thought (kāma-vitakka), thought of ill-will (byāpāda-vitakka), thought of cruelty (vihimsā-vitakka). Purification of livelihood (ājivapārisuddhi-sīla) is also included under this type.
(e) Morality of Avoiding Transgression (Avitikkama-sīla)
This is the morality cultivated through avoidance of physical and verbal transgression of precepts which one has undertaken to observe.
From the above descriptions of five kinds of Saṃvara Sīla and Avitikkama Sīla, it could be inferred that, in essence, Patimokkha Saṃvara Sīla means a group of mental factors (cetasikas) including volition and the three abstentions of non-greed (alobha), non-hate (adosa) and non-delusion (amoha): Sati Saṃvara means the mental factor of Sati, mindfulness (which is also accompanied by volition); Ñāṇa Saṃvara means the mental factor of wisdom (which is also accompanied by volition); Khanti Saṃvara means a group of moral consciousness and mental factors headed by non-hate which has the characteristic of not losing temper, in other words, the mental factor of non-hate; Vīriya Saṃvara means mental factor of energy (which is also accompanied by volition).
As for avitikkama-sīla, in ultimate sense, it is a group of moral consciousness and mental factors which lead one to avoid transgression of precepts which one is observing. In the case of generosity (dāna), volition forms its basis. For morality too, volition serves as a main factor, but in addition to it, the group of moral consciousness and mental factors led by the three abstentions, the three mental factors of non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion and the three mental factors of mindfulness, wisdom, energy also play their respective roles.