I. The Essential Meaning of Sila
The Pali word for moral discipline, //sila//, has three levels of meaning: (1) inner virtue, i.e. endowment with such qualities as kindness, contentment, simplicity, truthfulness, patience, etc.; (2) virtuous actions of body and speech which express those inner virtues outwardly; and (3) rules of conduct governing actions of body and speech designed to bring them into accord with the ethical ideals. These three levels are closely intertwined and not always distinguishable in individual cases. But if we isolate them, sila as inner virtue can be called the aim of the training in moral discipline, sila as purified actions of body and speech the manifestation of that aim, and sila as rules of conduct the systematic means of actualizing the aim. Thus sila as inner virtue is established by bringing our bodily and verbal actions into accord with the ethical ideals, and this is done by following the rules of conduct intended to give these ideals concrete form.
The Buddhist texts explain that sila has the characteristic of harmonizing our actions of body and speech. Sila harmonizes our actions by bringing them into accord with our own true interests, with the well-being of others, and with universal laws. Actions contrary to sila lead to a state of self-division marked by guilt, anxiety, and remorse. But the observance of the principles of sila heals this division, bringing our inner faculties together into a balanced and centered state of unity. Sila also brings us into harmony with other men. While actions undertaken in disregard of ethical principles lead to relations scarred by competitiveness, exploitation, and aggression, actions intended to embody such principles promote concord between man and man -- peace, cooperation, and mutual respect. The harmony achieved by maintaining sila does not stop at the social level, but leads our actions into harmony with a higher law -- the law of kamma, of action and its fruit, which reigns invisibly behind the entire world of sentient existence.
Only consider helping others and forget yourself. Master Hsuan Hua