Sunday, August 18, 2013

Strive to lead a virtuous life

“Thereupon the Blessed One addressed the devotees of Pataligama thus: “Five blessings, householders, accrue to the virtuous man through his practice of virtue: great increase of wealth through his diligence; a favourable reputation; a confident deportment, without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, Brahmans, householders, or ascetics; a serene death; and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world.”
- Maha-Parinibbana Sutta

What really is “virtue”? In essence, virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.

The Buddhist lifestyle may be described as the daily living in virtue, simplicity, peace, gratitude, wisdom and compassion. However, we do not just decide one day to live in this special way, it is the natural result of a process of devotion, practice and then more practice. That is to say, effort and dedication to our practice is the only way to live an authentic virtuous Buddhist lifestyle.

The entire Buddha Dhamma rests on three foundations, Sila (purity of conduct) Samadhi (Tranquillity) and Panna (Insightful wisdom). These are cyclically related and rises spirally upwards towards a perfect goal. Silais at the base of the Buddha Dhamma edifice, and is constituted at its elementary level of Five Precepts (Pancha Sila).

The essence of the Pancha Sila is the firm commitment to the exercise of boundless compassion (Metta) to all beings from the lowliest to the highest. These take the form of the five assertions.

· Abstaining from taking life: I am mindful that all beings, large or small, intelligent or dull, wish to enjoy the precious life they have obtained and to avoid suffering. Therefore, I resolve to avoid taking the life of sentient beings and to compassionately share the world with them.

· Refraining from stealing: I am mindful that I should not take property that belongs to others, but I am also mindful not to exploit others in material, economic, and anti-social ways. The opposite of stealing is giving, so I see that sharing what i have is compassionate as well as liberating.

· Avoiding sexual misconduct: I am mindful that my body should be used to further happiness instead of creating suffering caused by sexual misconduct. I understand that intimate sexual relations belong in the context of love and a devoted long-term commitment, and I honor that commitment of everyone.

· Being truthful: I am mindful that lies and distortions can cause suffering to others as well as to myself. I will speak truthfully, and refrain from speech that can cause division or break in the family or community. In order to bring joy, hope and happiness to others, I will cultivate loving speech and deep listening.

· Avoid intoxicating substances: I am mindful that what I put in my body has consequences and that alcohol or drugs can impair my judgment to the extent that I violate the other vows given. Because being sober keeps my mind clear, and helps to protect the other four guidelines, I observe this assertion mindfully.

Foundation for moral life

The five Precepts are cohesive and bound together, to ensure a good wording enabling us to humanise our emotions and passions, helping us to rise above the animal level, to help us to constitute a stable and free society devoid of fear, falsehood, hostility, and so on, to develop on intense concern for the well-being of others and to thin down our ego concept, which often tends to isolate and individualise us to seek our own personal ends.

The Five Precepts to virtuous living together provide a foundation for living mindfully - always being aware of what we are doing, thinking, and saying, so that any harm we do will be minimal. These five Precepts help us maintain a clear mind and nurture a loving and caring heart. As we observe them in daily life, they become the keys to happiness for ourselves, our families, and for society.

The Five Precepts to virtuous living can be followed by almost anyone to great benefit. Observing them can help purify our thoughts, speech and actions, and stabilise our minds, which is very conducive to mindfulness practice. When our minds are clear and aware, observing the guidelines becomes easier. We contribute mutually to each other.

Modern life

Living a virtuous life, a life of high moral and ethical standards, seems to be a rarity in today’s fast paced, and often disconnected world. More often than not, we tend to commend people on their conquests, rather than on their morals and ethics. In many ways virtue goes against the flow of modern life, because it requires one to focus on the means, rather than just on the ends. Virtue requires one to take into account the feelings and needs of others, rather than focus solely on one’s own desires. Virtue also requires one to keep their word, and live in a manner that garners and deserves the trust of others.

Virtue is an essential element for anyone on the spiritual path, because it embodies the concepts of unconditional love and charity that all religions teach.

Virtue is also essential for anyone wanting to live a happy and fulfilled life, because one who lives a virtuous life will enjoy less internal conflict, and garner closer and more meaningful relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.

To practise virtue, we must first learn to control our minds, because the mind is the root of all thoughts and actions. While it would be nice to simply say that we only need to suppress wicked thoughts, it can be more complicated than that. In order to cultivate virtue, we must undertake a good bit of introspection, and when wicked thoughts come to the surface, we must be able to discover and deal with the root cause of those thoughts.

At times it is also helpful to simply reflect on a situation before acting, so that we can undertake the most virtuous action possible.


Our society assumes that values are the key to morality. Values-based moral education programs exemplify the modern conviction that morality is nothing other than the art of making good choices, which are guided entirely by one’s values. One could critique this approach to morality on philosophic grounds, but Buddhist view is simple and to the point. The bottom line is that values do not make us moral.

For example, I can value flying, spend countless hours as a passenger, and be the most avid aviation fan around, but that does not enable me to fly a plane. In order to fly, I must have the skills of a pilot. If our moral life is to get off the ground, we must acquire the skills necessary to fly.

Most of us want to be good citizens, but if this wanting is not supplemented by the virtues - the skills for successful moral living - then a successful life will be unlikely. To guide the ship of our virtuous life to port we must be men and women who are seasoned in the virtues, and so possess the habits that will enable us to live the values we profess.

By Lionel Wijesiri -