Buddhist ethics was originated in ancient south Asia as a part of Indian Brahman tradition. There are 3 major branches of Buddhist ethics which are Theravada (the oldest branch), Mahayana and Vajrayana. Well, some says there are 2 branches and the third one is the aspect of the 2nd one. Now, Buddhism's emphasis on ethical behavior can be generalized in two ways. First one is volitional (voluntary) actions and the second one is ethics as “parent” of wisdom. Our voluntary actions are supremely important because, our voluntary actions lead us to the discipline of mind, it is the path towards insight and enlightenment. The centrality of volitional action is karma according to the moral law of causation. They determine our destiny. We will be what we have been and what we do will determine what we become. Classical Buddhism has discussed this in terms of the doctrine of successive rebirths according which “what you are in this life is determined by what you did in your past lives and also what we do will affect the following life.” Although, some contemporary Buddhists have interpreted the doctrine of karma in terms of a single human life and they say what you are today is determined by the choices you made earlier in your present life. In both cases, volitional actions give rise to certain reflection that further help defining who you are. So according to the teachings of the Buddha, human beings are caught in a cycle of suffering or sorrow from birth to death and rebirth. Most Buddhist traditions are centered on this idea of 4 noble truths-Dukkha and its ending. These 4 noble truths are:
The noble truth of sorrow: Birth is suffering, age is suffering, disease is suffering, contact with unpleasant gives suffering and sorrow, every unfulfilled wish is sorrow. All components of individuality can be thought in terms of sorrows and sufferings.
The noble truth of arising sorrow: It is related to the origin of sorrow. We are never satisfied. We always desire or crave things. These cravings continue and even past our death, they lead to rebirth which once again brings the same cravings for power and material success and results in suffering. It creates a never-ending cycle.
The noble truth of stopping sorrow: It is all about how to break out of this never-ending cycle. It is a matter of complete suppression of desires. If cravings are gone, no passion is remained and we become emancipated from vices, if we convince ourselves that cravings have no place within us then only, we will be able to lead towards the fourth noble truth.
The noble truth of the way to the stopping of sorrow: Buddhist standards of morality always had been conducive to the attainment of Nirvana or enlightened wisdom. It can be done by the realization of 4 noble truths. To end up suffering, we need to follow and understand these 4-noble truths, recognize the sufferings, reason and ending process of it through noble eightfold path.
In general, we can put it in this way,” I suffer, I want to know why, and want to know how to make it stop which is by noble eightfold paths”. The Noble Eightfold Path is an early summary of the path of Buddhist practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth. These paths include cultivation, contemplation and meditation of right form of wisdom. Noble eightfold paths are pointed below:
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
These 8 paths are divided into 3 dimensions (wisdom, ethics, enlightenment).
Division of wisdom: Right understanding and thoughts fall under this dimension. These are important to cease to do evil which basically sums up the first aspect of Buddhist morality code. There are 5 precepts for cultivation of wisdom and discernment that will restrict us from doing evil. These are like clearing away the weeds from soil before we plant a tree so that flowers can bloom finally. Besides, these are not rule that would ban us or forbid us from certain things. Buddhist ethics cannot be considered as a divine command theory because Buddhism does not believe in a God that issues commands. So, these are like encouragement not to do wrongful acts. Also, blind obedience of these is not encouraged. These 5 precepts are:
- Refrain from harming living beings (murdering, slaughtering).
- Refrain from taking what is not given to me (stealing).
- Refrain from misuse of sense (sexual misconduct).
- Refrain from wrong speech (lying, slander, gossip).
- Refrain from clouding in mind (use of drinks or drug).
2. Ethical conduct: From this we learn how to do good. We conduct certain ethics that develop our virtues. This constructive work begins after one has cleared the ground. That is why, right speech, right action, right livelihood; these paths fall under this. Buddhist ethics are full of various list of wholesome states, things that are needed to be encouraged and also of those unwholesome or vice things that are needed to be discouraged. It includes:
Dana (giving): It is not just about encouraging charity or making charitable contributions, rather in this case, one gives whenever need arises.
Metta (loving kindness): It is concerned about both outward and inner manifestation of concern and support for the welfare of others. Here, we try to break the barrier between oneself and the others. As a saying goes, “a follower of the buddha should endeavor to feel towards all humans, relations, friends, acquittance and even enemies; just as a mother feels towards her child “.
Transference of merit: Even if one begins to tract down the benefits of enlightenment for own self through meditation, right conduct, refraining from evil thoughts or acts, Buddhism encourages us towards the transference of merit. “Each act of generosity, each movement of love, is no longer to be toted up in my personal account book but is to rebound to the benefit of all. Rather like a stream which feeds the ocean and which is replenished, not by means of the same water flowing back to it, but in the course of time with the falling of rains”. In this way, Buddhism teaches us individual and relational enlightenment and also, Buddhism and Confucianism have been standing side by side over years.
3.Division of mental disciple: it is important to purify our own mind. Right efforts, right mindfulness, right concentration; these paths fall under it. This emphasis on mental development is not surprising if we remember the importance of the role of the mind in Buddhism. But first, we obviously need to keep our outer life in order before we can enter into our inner life (development and liberation of mind). It is referred to “samadhi” however, it is not only monks and nuns who need to practice moral discipline; everyone needs to practice moral discipline because it is the root of all future happiness. Mind is defined in Buddhism as a non-physical phenomenon which perceives, thinks, recognizes, experiences and reacts to the environment.
Finally, in present time, a very discussed issue is social media. It is bringing negativities in life. Today everyone is racing to show off how much happier, how much perfect, better a person he or she is, even though in real life it’s not the case. So, we get into dilemma, into comparison, get jealous and finally suffer from inferiority complex after seeing these.
- Our cravings even make us get into evil way.
- Also, these platforms are used for wrong speech, wrong deeds, for spreading false news.
- Different crimes are rising through this.
In this context, noble eightfold paths are needed to be practiced as soon as possible because these paths help to gain insight into the true nature of reality and to remove oneself from hatred and greed. people not only need to sense about right understanding, livelihood, speech, thoughts and actions but also should apply them in right direction. Only then today’s people will get to know that it is not the ultimate lifestyle, that comparison and jealousy are the reasons of their sorrow and to limit these feelings will put an end to their sufferings.
To conclude, Buddhist ethics are founded on a metaphysical outlook and encourages to be open about the universe and humanity. According to him “Morality and wisdom together reveal the height of the world. It is just as if one should wash one hand with the other or one foot with the other; exactly so is morality washed round with wisdom and wisdom with morality”. His noble eightfold paths help to make us better people. And that is why today about 7% of the world's population is following this religion.