To Do and Not To Do: Bodhisattva Virtue In Action
Continuing comments on Acariya Dhammapala’s “A Treatise on the Paramis” (5)
“Virtue,” Acariya Dhammapala tells us, “is twofold as avoidance (varitta) and performance (caritta)” (p. 41). If you keep the five precepts, you are avoiding certain actions. You are not killing, notstealing, not committing adultery, not lying and not using intoxicants. This is a type of virtue, certainly–we might even say a negative virtue. In this way, your goodness is measured by absence.
In the Pali Nikayas this is considered sufficient for the attainment of arhantship. A person not engaging in certain behaviors will remove him or herself from those situations and consequences that ruffle the mind and lead to unfortunate outcomes. For the establishment of a peaceful mind, a mind that is ready to meditate, this is enough.
But here, perhaps, we really do see a difference between the bodhisattva ideal and the ideal of someone who simply wants to meditate for his own well-being. The bodhisattva cannot stand on negative virtue alone, he must go further and act, positively, outwardly, to express compassion to the best of his ability. Virtue must not only be absence, but performance. The bodhisattva mustdo something.
The Dalai Lama’s quote above perfectly captures these two facets of virtue or goodness. At leastdon’t hurt others (or yourself); that is the lowest standard one should hold oneself to. Going beyond that, practice the opposites of those behaviors the precepts guard against. So, we might say:
- At least, do not kill. Better yet, protect and render assistance to others.
- At least, do not steal. Better yet, give to others (dana).
- At least, don’t misuse your sexual energy. Better yet, be chaste and educate people on the right uses of sexuality (when and as appropriate).
- At least, don’t lie. Better yet, disclose your faults and when you speak, be gentle and informative.
- At least, don’t take intoxicants. Better yet, nourish yourself with healthy, edifying food, what the Hindus call sattvic.
Dhammapala goes into considerable detail about the do’s and dont’s of bodhisattva virtue. Here is my boiled-down version of his virtue as avoidance:
- hold no resentment against anyone
- do not take what is not given
- never arouse a thought of lust for the wives/husbands of others (if a householder)
- abstain from all forms of sexuality (if a renunciate)
- do not say anything untrue, hurtful, unwise, or untimely
- abstain from harsh speech
- abstain from slander
- abstain from idle chatter
- abstain from covetousness, ill will and perverted views
- never injure another
- do no evil deed even if threatened with death
- do not indulge in omens and superstitious practices
- do not indulge in the “diversity of outside creeds”
- abstain from all wrong means of livelihood
- never arouse unwholesome states in others
- never place oneself in a higher position or rank than those who are of inferior conduct
- be neither too accessible nor inaccessible (i.e. associate with others at the proper time)
- do not criticize those who are dear to others in front of them nor praise those who are resented by them
- do not engage in persuasion
- do not accept excessive favors
- do not refuse a proper invitation
Now for virtue as performance:
- speak only truthful, beneficial, endearing, measured and timely talk, especially talk concerned with Dhamma
- possess knowledge of and faith in cause-and-effect
- have faith and respect for recluses who have gone forth and are practicing in the right way
- perfect the practice of loving-kindness
- eradicate hatred, ill-will and aversion
- be devoted to renunciation
- have faith in the enlightenment of the Tathagatas
- treat others with respect and courtesy
- wait upon the sick
- render service to those who ask
- give thanks to those who commend you
- praise the noble qualities of the virtuous
- patiently endure the abuse of antagonists
- always repay help and advice rendered to you
- diligently practice wholesome states of mind
- acknowledge all transgressions and reveal your faults
- do good deeds anonymously [per Dogen]
- dedicate your every goodness to supreme enlightenment
- be a companion to those who need companionship
- comfort and aid the sick and needy
- console the bereaved
- restrain with Dhamma those who need to be restrained
- inspire with Dhamma those who need inspiration
- determine to perform the “loftiest, most difficult, inconceivably powerful deeds of the great bodhisattvas of the past”
- conceal your virtues
- do not become complacent over minor achievements, but strive for successively higher achievements
- assist those who suffer from blindness, deafness and physical disability
- help the faithless gain faith, the lazy generate zeal, the confused develop mindfulness, the unconcentrated gain concentration
- dispel the five hindrances from those who suffer them
- establish beings in wholesome states
All of the above, every last bit of it, is dedicated to the “purpose of becoming an omniscient Buddha in order to enable all beings to acquire the incomparable adornment of virtue” (47). Furthermore:
Thus, esteeming virtue as the foundation for all achievements — as the soil for the origination of all the Buddha-qualities, the beginning, footing, head, and chief of all the qualities issuing in Buddhahood — and recognizing gain, honor, and fame as a foe in the guise of a friend, a bodhisattva should diligently and thoroughly perfect his virtue as a hen guards its eggs: through the power of mindfulness and clear comprehension in the control of bodily and vocal action, in the taming of the sense-faculties, in purification of livelihood, and in the use of the requisites (44).