Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

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Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Rakshasa » Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:15 am

Is moral discipline and keeping precepts the central teachings of the Buddha? I have read quite of a few Pali Suttas and Mahayana Sutras so far. And my general impression is that a great emphasis is laid on the keeping of moral precepts and the negative consequences of breaking the precepts. Sometimes these are explained in terms of the three poisons, the unwholesome wholesome actions etc.

Most of the things that we consider more "profound" explanation about the mind, body, consciousness etc actually comes from commentators like the composers of Abhidhamma with the detailed theories of the mind and dhammas or the 8 consciousnesses of Yogachara Sastra etc. And it is likely that these explanations come from their own experiences and not directly from the Buddha.

1. So the most essential teaching of the (historical) Buddha was morality as was the case with Jesus and Muhammad who had their own ideas about moral codes and discipline?

2. Are the Sutras/Suttas enough for a Buddhist (lay or monk) to practice Buddhism? Frankly, the Sutras are usually not understandable for most and I think they aren't meant to be intellectually understood either.

The only Buddhist scriptures attributed to Buddha that I found precise and clear for a meditation practitioner - like a meditation manual - are the Anapanasati Sutta and the Satipathhana Sutta, both of which deal with two forms of meditation (Shamatha and Mindfulness).


I know that maintaining precepts by itself is a herculean task for most people in this age, so it is a pretty tough practice by itself. But there should have been some Mahayana Sutra laying down the methods of practical meditation also.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby futerko » Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:38 am

I'm currently halfway through a book called "The Philosophy of Desire in the Buddhist Pali Canon" by David Webster. It's available as a .pdf file if you do a search.
As I'm only halfway through I can't say much about it other than it seems to paint quite a different picture to the one you suggest.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:51 am

The wisdom and compassion sides to things are so interconnected, I am not sure that it make sense to me to say one is central. While certainly the ethical conduct is a big deal, it becomes and infinitely bigger deal when informed by right view, how is it possible to say one is more central than the other to Buddhism?

Also, I know there are more in Mahayana..but how are the five precepts that difficult to practice?

Personally I always found most of the Pali stuff fairly easy to digest...the first thing I read was Turning The Wheel Of Dharma, and it hooked me, with no prior experience with Buddhism. The Dhammapada is not exactly hard to read either, beautiful, true, lucid - but also simple. It was not until years later that I think I am starting to "get" Diamond Sutra, Lankavatara, Heart Sutra a bit better. I remember getting really stuck on those, for those I have had to read outside commentaries or explanations, especially on emptiness. I did not have that problem to the same degree with some of the Tipitaka.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby chokyi lodro » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:54 am

Certainly moral discipline and precepts are very important. If we view them within the context of karma, then they will create a "better future" for us. Regardless of Theravada or Mahayana scope, there's a certain necessity, even merit there, but one could argue it's not enough. After all, I could live as "wholesome" a life as possible, filling my karmic pockets with only good deeds, but I would only be reborn in some kind of amazing angelic realm as a result. I would never actually be free from craving after something. So here enters meditation: firstly as an analytical tool to further understand things, but secondly to properly contemplate the nature of reality, to see its ultimate emptiness and to break out of this constant "craving". We need both merit, and wisdom (c.f. Rupakaya and Dharmakaya).

There's no harm, however, in taking on commentaries when they assist us in this. Like you, I have found more understandable texts coming from sources such as the Abhidharma, but I wouldn't be worried about that. At the same time, I would't necessarily say these things came from the commentators own experiences - after all, a lot of this - e.g. how does the mind/body/consciousness work - was simply taken as a 'given' during the time of the Buddha and later. So, one might ask well, why would one need a text instructing one how to meditate.

That said, I have heard of further texts: you mention a Mahayana Sutra; there is something called the Samantabhadra Meditation Sutra, I believe. But, at the same time, it is often the case - an not merely in Buddhism alone, but in many religions - that the commentaries shed light on, or show us how to read the primary texts, i.e. the Sutras. This is the case even in other disciplines, e.g. law.

To answer your questions, I would say no, not morality alone - though it is a major component, but also requires profound meditation on how we actually view everything - and no, the Sutras are not enough, because we either do not have enough training, or simply cannot understand them for various reasons, including the poor intellectual rigour of this age (no offense to anyone intended, but in an age of computers, our brainpower can be demonstrated to be significantly less than preceding generations).
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:01 am

Before getting to Mahayana teachings, I recommend you go through these summaries of the Buddha's teachings based on the suttas, then you will see how detailed they actually are.

Wings to Awakening: An Anthology from the Pali Canon by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Path to Freedom: A Self-guided Tour of the Buddha's Teachings
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:07 am

Rakshasa wrote:Is moral discipline and keeping precepts the central teachings of the Buddha?
According to most texts, schools, and teachers, it is the root of attainments. So if by "central", you mean "basis" then yes.

Rakshasa wrote:Most of the things that we consider more "profound" explanation about the mind, body, consciousness etc actually comes from commentators like the composers of Abhidhamma with the detailed theories of the mind and dhammas or the 8 consciousnesses of Yogachara Sastra etc. And it is likely that these explanations come from their own experiences and not directly from the Buddha.
All of their teachings are based on Buddha's teachings. Anatman and so forth. For example, Nagarjuna repeatedly praises the Buddha is his texts, and considered himself to be clarifying and explaining the Buddha's teachings. Not inventing anything new.

Furthermore, Nagarjuna considered love and compassion superior to wisdom. I can provide quotes and citations if you like.

Rakshasa wrote:1. So the most essential teaching of the (historical) Buddha was morality as was the case with Jesus and Muhammad who had their own ideas about moral codes and discipline?
No, see above.

Rakshasa wrote:2. Are the Sutras/Suttas enough for a Buddhist (lay or monk) to practice Buddhism? Frankly, the Sutras are usually not understandable for most and I think they aren't meant to be intellectually understood either.
In theory yes. In practice no. The Sutras are the basis, the commentaries and treatises are to explain their intent.

"The words of the Conqueror, the precious collections of Sutra and Tantra, are the supreme instructions. [students may need the commentaries and personal instructions to understand the intent of the classic texts] Therefore, for something to be a pure personal instruction, it must bestow certain knowledge of the classic texts. [...] Know also that you accumulate the karmic obstrution of abandoning the teaching when you see those classic texts as objects of contempt and say, "Those are merely for promoting one's superficial knowledge and eliminating others' misconceptions; they do not teach the deep meaning".""

-Lam Rim Chen Mo eng v01 pg 50-51 tib 16-17


Rakshasa wrote:The only Buddhist scriptures attributed to Buddha that I found precise and clear for a meditation practitioner - like a meditation manual - are the Anapanasati Sutta and the Satipathhana Sutta, both of which deal with two forms of meditation (Shamatha and Mindfulness).
Yet most Pali Sutras teach Anatman, the crown jewel of the Buddha's teachings. That's more important. You can learn meditation from people. Learning Anatman from other people doesn't always work so well.

Rakshasa wrote:I know that maintaining precepts by itself is a herculean task for most people in this age, so it is a pretty tough practice by itself. But there should have been some Mahayana Sutra laying down the methods of practical meditation also.
The precepts for not divine law. They are guidelines to help your practice. They're good for you. Once the reason behind them is found and the benefit understood, they become easier to follow.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Rakshasa » Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:12 am

Thanks for the replies!

Johnny,

It was not until years later that I think I am starting to "get" Diamond Sutra, Lankavatara, Heart Sutra a bit better. I remember getting really stuck on those, for those I have had to read outside commentaries or explanations, especially on emptiness.


By "get" do you mean the intellectual understanding? For example, even I admit I am convinced that I am just composed of various aggregates. I "understand" that I have no control over the thoughts arising in my mind and that they depend on causes and conditions. For example, I do eat non-veg food sometimes, and when I do, I can feel that I am more "lusty" than otherwise. When I see within my being (body and mind) I find that it is composed of "phenomena" like everything else and it is actually a composite. There is nothing within me, when I search, that I can call "Self". But is this understanding of any use? Is it the kind of intellectual understanding that Buddha wanted us to have regarding no-self? I think not. Because I really understood no-self - or rather realized it- I would be an Arhat. But I am not.

In the same sense, when I read Mahayana Sutras about emptiness, eight consciousnesses, dependent origination etc, it does make intellectual sense to my mind (and to some extent intuitive also). But I do not have any attainments. This is why I feel that the Sutras were merely roadmaps to confirm realization - there are practices that take us there. And such practices are not as articulately preserved in textual form as the theory is preserved in the Sutras.

In the past few months, I read the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, some chapters of Shurangama Sutra, Lankavatara Sutra etc and browsed through many other Sutras that I could lay my hands on; but all I have accumulated are more complex thoughts and ideas in my mind. Is it the intended purpose of the Buddhist Sutras? I think there should have been more precise manuals for practice.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Rakshasa » Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:29 am

Chokyi Lordron

Certainly moral discipline and precepts are very important. If we view them within the context of karma, then they will create a "better future" for us. Regardless of Theravada or Mahayana scope, there's a certain necessity, even merit there, but one could argue it's not enough. After all, I could live as "wholesome" a life as possible, filling my karmic pockets with only good deeds, but I would only be reborn in some kind of amazing angelic realm as a result. I would never actually be free from craving after something. So here enters meditation:


So you are basically saying is that if I,

(a) Maintain precepts
(b) Practice Anapanasati
(c) Read Sutra

I will move closer towards enlightenment? Also, as far as I can see it, the monks and nuns of most sects like Theravada, Mahayana, Tantra etc practice the first two above in the same (or similar) manner, but because their reading of the Sutras is different it leads one to the Bodhisattva path and the other to the Sravaka path?

I can read a theory but cannot expect to have "realizations" on the basis of that. For example, I could read the General Theory of relativity for better understanding of the universe, but I will have no attainments. In the same manner, reading the Sutras is just theory, why will I have some special realizations and attainments on the basis of that? I think you are from Tibetan Buddhism, so you may have your own practice methods but my question is to Buddhists in general.

Konchog1

Furthermore, Nagarjuna considered love and compassion superior to wisdom. I can provide quotes and citations if you like.


I agree with you say about Nagarjuna, and his work which I have accessed till now. But will my agreement and acceptance of his words on love and compassion lead to enlightenment? If there are two people in this world and both of them maintain Sila and do Anapanasati every day - but one reads the Sutras and the other not. WIll their final attainments be different? Is the intellectual understanding of theory so significant and important in our path towards enlightenment?
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:43 am

There's a difference between 'moral discipline' and 'moralizing'. (I am often reminded of this.) Actually the word 'sila' which is generally translated as 'morality' is etymologically linked to the word for 'a seal'. 'Morality' is that which helps you stop dissipating energy. It's a seal, it stops energy leaking out. If you're really not into anything which undermines morality, you will save a lot of energy, and that energy can be directed towards more wholesome ends.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:02 pm

chokyi lodro wrote:After all, I could live as "wholesome" a life as possible, filling my karmic pockets with only good deeds, but I would only be reborn in some kind of amazing angelic realm as a result.
Not necessarily. It depends on the intention behind the actions. It may actually be a cause and condition for you to be born in a Dharma family, in a peaceful country, with all your faculties intact, with easy access to teachers, etc...
Rakshasa wrote:So you are basically saying is that if I,

(a) Maintain precepts
(b) Practice Anapanasati
(c) Read Sutra
Without a doubt!
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby seeker242 » Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:27 pm

The noble eightfold path consists of right views and right thought (Prajna or Wisdom); right speech, right action, right livelihood (Sila); and right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness (Samadhi).

Moral discipline is one of the 3 central practices, with the others being Samadhi and Prajna. All of which are considered "central". Sila allows for the arising of Samadhi and this Samadhi/Sila combination allows for the arising of Prajna. If you had to pick only one as the "central" teaching, I would pick Prajna as Prajna, not Sila, is what puts an end to suffering. But you really just can't pick one IMO as they are all necessary.
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Namgyal » Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:13 pm

'The being who breaks the leg of moral ethics will fall to the lower realms.' [Madyamakavatara]
'First of all both higher states of rebirth and certain happiness are what is to be accomplished, then the stages of the path are accomplished through the practices of faith and wisdom.' [Nagarjuna]
'How can the collection of causes and conditions being empty give rise to any result? ? But until you possess an enlightened mind you must exert effort.' [Dharmapa]
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby udawa » Tue Dec 18, 2012 4:20 pm

As seeker242 suggests, Sila is never practiced in isolation. It's one of the 3 trainings, along with meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (prajna). While the details and emphasis will vary according to the Buddhist tradition you are following, the practice always involves some kind of play between the three trainings.

D
Edwards: You are a philosopher. Dr Johnson: I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Tue Dec 18, 2012 4:49 pm

Can't feed a tree without water from the roots.

:sage:

Can't grow the tree without sunlight from the leaves.

:sage:

How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Fish.

:buddha2:
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby deepbluehum » Tue Dec 18, 2012 4:49 pm

Yep. Keeping moral ethics is the hardest part.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby songhill » Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:12 pm

Rakshasa wrote:Is moral discipline and keeping precepts the central teachings of the Buddha? I have read quite of a few Pali Suttas and Mahayana Sutras so far. And my general impression is that a great emphasis is laid on the keeping of moral precepts and the negative consequences of breaking the precepts. Sometimes these are explained in terms of the three poisons, the unwholesome wholesome actions etc.



Purity of moral habit is not central to Buddhism. Buddhism is, foremost, a religion of redemption, that is, deliverance from the bondage of samsara through realizing nirvana. According to The Relays of Chariots Sutta (Rathavinitasutta) (M.i.149-50) "purity of moral habit is of purpose as far as purity of mind; purity of mind is of purpose as far as purity of view; purity of view is of purpose as far as purity through crossing over doubt" (trans. I.B. Horner) and so on to nirvana without attachment.
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:15 pm

How can it not be central (or maybe essential) if it is the first link in the chain? It would be like saying that standing is not essential for/central to running.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:35 pm

Yes by "get" I mean intellectually understand.

I always hear people talk about "intellectual understanding" as if it's something to avoid.

Intellectual understanding is what you start with if you are actually investigating something, it may not be realization, but it is better to have the seed of it by understanding the concept than to try forever to "realize" something which is completely opaque to you - at least that's been my experience. Further, analytic thought is needed in Buddhism forstuff like Vipassana, and plenty of other meditation techniques.

It does seem like Sutras are light on meditative technique, but that's how many traditions are, so much of what's effective can only be given from teacher to student. The Sutras are certainly the "base' of the worldview though, and it seems like having that as a background is more beneficial than not, even if one isn't good a mediation yet, etc.

Stuff that works in practice is always passed down more orally anyway, this is the same even outside Buddhism, meditation etc...usually what's written down is as you say a basic sort of map, the practice is mostly..well, practice.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby kirtu » Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:47 pm

Rakshasa wrote:Is moral discipline and keeping precepts the central teachings of the Buddha?


Buddha Shakyamuni's fundamental teaching is karma. So if a person performs virtuous actions then they will experience positive outcomes and if a person performs non-virtuous actions then they will experience negative outcomes. In order to guide beings to a better life and at least a higher rebirth Buddhism teaches moral discipline and keeping precepts in order to improve a being's karma.

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Re: Moral discipline is the central practical teaching..?

Postby songhill » Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:51 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:How can it not be central (or maybe essential) if it is the first link in the chain? It would be like saying that standing is not essential for/central to running.
:namaste:


The metaphor is a chariot relay. The charioteer uses the purity of moral habit chariot to get to the purity of mind chariot and so on until the goal of nirvana is reached. As one can see morality, purity of moral habit, etc. are means, not ends. Only nirvana is the end which is not a chariot/means.
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