Virtue

Virtue is perhaps one of the most important concepts and training within the Dhamma. Shravasti Dhammika has asked thus, “Why does the virtue being described mainly focus on ‘doing no wrong’?” Rather than being proactive to help the others? The Blessed One explicitly told his disciples to be compassionate about the welfare of all beings; it is true that it is due to Theravadin Orthodoxy’s interpretation, hence the development of virtue focuses on ‘doing no wrong’?

In reading Dhammika’s “Broken Buddha”, I have to agree with him in a number of points; but with regards to virtue, I have to say that at least the Orthodoxy’s position is halfway true; the helping others part is indeed very tricky.

More broadly speaking, virtue can be seen as the bright kamma that leads to pleasure and happiness in this very life and future existence; that is not exactly always true, however. The kamma, whether it is bright, dark, or neither bright nor dark, is always to be understood as volitional formation. In many cases, people are focusing on what kinds of “actions” could bring forth good “results”, rather than focusing on the “volitions” part, which do not seem to directly correlate to the “results”. As such, by chopping off the head of a bandit, because of the demise of such “bad person”, he can no longer pose threat to the “good people”; that is in many occasions regarded as “justice to be done”. Within the Dhamma, the Blessed One clearly denounces “intentional destruction of life” regardless of purpose. That is one clear example of the “virtue” is having much deeper meaning than conventional sense; clearly not as simple as “doing no wrong”; but not refer to “doing good for seemingly good results”.

Is the active involvement of social welfare actually advocated by the Blessed One? Such that the Mahayanist Charity Groups are actually following the right practice? Or the other charity groups of other religions are doing well?

The happiness within the Dhamma could occur in many levels. Five chord of sensual pleasures are one; the practice of four jhanas is one; the practice of four formless attainments is one; the realization of Nibbana is one. For an uninstructed worldling, the happiness is his eye could be any one but the Nibbana. When one does not know and see the origin and passing away of suffering, he could not bring the ultimate happiness to himself or the others. The path that he is on is fundamentally mundane, which may consist of both virtuous and non-virtuous actions.

We saw that a virtuous “wheel-turning” monarch is committed to the welfare of his people; always gives the necessities to those who need them. Of course, we also have to understand that he is not practicing for the fruit of Nibbana either in this very life or the future. Ultimately, what constitutes “right action” and what constitutes “wrong action” could only be fully understood without ignorance. It’s said that the five hundreds arahants participating in the first Buddhist council could not agree on what minor rules are; that might be a fact.

This fact may not be due to the fundamental disagreements between arahants of what constitutes “right action” and “wrong action”. Training rules are ultimately meant for those who have yet to be trainee or the trainees. The arahants do not need training rules; they observe the rules mainly to maintain the unity of assembly and to show good examples. How one needs to be trained according to Dhamma is highly unique due to variety of backgrounds of the disciples. As arahants recollect their own experience, some of them have faith as their starting points; some of them have wisdom as their starting points; some of them have serenity as their starting points … In fact, Ananda rightly pointed out such variety existed during Buddha’s time.

It’s a misguided idea that there exists a single, unified sequence of steps being taken for training before the first Buddhist Council.

The starting point of developing “virtue” is to avoid ten courses of wrong actions. That is the basics. However, that does not make the virtue complete by any means. Even though such disciples are often being described as “accomplished in virtue” and can reap good benefits.

The pleasant feeling, or the pleasant experience, in general, relies on the contact. Which is to say, agreeable form, sound, odor, taste, tactile object, and mental phenomena, when one has contacted even one of them, not to mention all of them, the pleasant feeling would arise dependently. Likewise, painful feeling arises in dependence on six external sense bases.

On the very basic level, when a person is lack of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothes, etc., he would suffer accordingly. Such a common sense seems to be not requiring second thought. For one who is compassionate towards all other beings, he should make an effort to provide these necessities towards the needy to reduce, if not eliminate suffering. Why does human need those basic necessities in the first place?

This body, which is composed of form, deriving from four great elements: earth, air, water, and fire, is dependently arisen. In Modern Physics, form is perhaps commonly understood as matter/energy, which is practically indistinguishable in the fundamental level. Form as being proclaimed by the Blessed One actually has even broader meaning; as it does include those who are not cognizable by human naked eye, or another plane of existence. All chemical elements are fundamentally impermanent, deriving from elementary particles, which could convert from one and another, depending on conditions. In day-to-day life, if we pay attention carefully, the impermanence of form is noticeable.

Name is contact, attention, volition, feeling, and perception. Name and form conditions consciousness; consciousness also conditions name and form. The arising, growth, and maintenance of the body requires its conditions, which edible food (including water) is one of nutriments required to sustain it. Without food, the body is on its way to decay. The sense faculties, which are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, arise in dependence of name and form. The sense faculties are known as internal sense bases; likewise there are six external sense bases. In dependence of eye and form, eye-consciousness arise; ear and sound … nose and odor … tongue and taste … body and tactile object … mind and mental phenomena, mind-consciousness arises. Such that there are six classes of consciousness. Eye-contact arises in dependence of eye, form, and eye-consciousness … mind-contact arises in dependence of mind, mental phenomena, and mind-consciousness.

When the body is on its way to decay because of lack of food, one would cognize the decaying body with his eye, painful feeling arises. Due to the decaying of body, the sense faculties are decaying. One could get increasingly harder to cognize pleasing form … mental phenomena, painful feeling arises. Due to the unpleasant smell coming from the body being cognized by the nose, painful feeling arises. Due to the bodily pain that arises on a decaying body being cognized by the body, painful feeling arises. The displeasing mental phenomena, such as the thought of death and sickness, restlessness and remorse due to cessation of contact from pleasing form … mental phenomena, etc., being cognized by the mind, the painful feeling arises. Such is the diversity of suffering that happens due to lack of food.

A wise disciple knows and sees how suffering could arise in dependence on nutriments; whether it is himself or the others, nobody is an exception from being fell subject to suffering that would arise. He thus arouses energy to abandon suffering; whether it is for himself and or the others. He thus is committed to guard his body, speech, and mind, knowing that suffering could arise in dependence on volitional formations. This is how compassion could arise in his mind.

Again, a wise disciple does not see how two wrong ways would lead to happiness. The first wrong way: he indulges himself in five chords of sensual pleasure. Knowing and seeing that five chords of sensual pleasure are impermanent, suffering, and non-self, he realizes that pleasant feeling in dependence on those is conditioned, impermanent, and suffering. The second wrong way: he tormented himself or the others by inflicting pains; whether it’s physical or mental. As the suffering arises in dependence of contact, it would only end with the cessation of nutriments; self-mortification or harming others would not bring suffering to end.

As he sees suffering arises dependently, he could not perceive any difference from the suffering which arises where he himself feels or the other feels.

A wise disciple sees correctly origination and cessation of suffering that arises; that is his right view. Based upon right view, he is compassionate towards all beings that are subject to suffering. As such, he is reluctant to bring harms to himself or the others, thus following five basic percepts: abstained from killing life, abstained from taken what is not given, abstained from sexual misconduct, abstained from telling a deliberate lie, and abstained from consuming intoxicant or any drugs that inducing sloth.

What is the difference between a compassionate person who is following mundane path and a compassionate person who is following supramundane path?

As one may perceive suffering that arises dependently, but he does not arrive at trainee’s right view. A trainee’s right view is knowing and seeing the dependent origination, he completely destroys three lower fetters: identity view, doubt, and distorted grasp of rules and vows. A virtuous trainee is thus no longer subject to destination of woes. Mundane-path follower still regards dependently arising sensual pleasure is the escape for the dependently arising suffering. As such, doing meritorious deeds, such as donating food, money, speaking comforting words, etc., is the way of showing compassion towards other beings.

Again, there are those who practices jhanas and formless attainments. In their views, the attainment of those levels of concentration is the way to happiness, which is much better than five chords of sensual pleasure. Their way of showing compassions is to praise, teach, and proclaim the attainment of jhanas and formless attainments.

A trainee, who may be a stream-enterer, once-returner, and non-returner, wishes for complete destruction of suffering. While a lay disciple may still do meritorious deeds, he makes effort to attain to higher training in mind. A Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni should reflect thus: “he lives on the compassion of others; he is worthy of offering while he strives to make an end to suffering. Upon realizing Nibbana, he should teach the Dhamma out of compassions towards all other beings.” A trainee, whether he is a lay disciple or has gone forth, knowing that his own liberation is ultimately beneficial towards all other beings. He speaks the Dhamma he practices and learns to the others due to his compassion towards all other beings.

A trainee has complete faith in Dhamma, such that he is certain to attain in Nibbana. While there are times when hindrances could arise in trainee’s minds, no hindrances could ever arise to make an arahant, whose taints are completely destroyed, to have any wrong view. With the complete cessation of conceit, he could not perceive any difference in the suffering that arises dependently. Compassion is merely a result of non-conceit.

Such is the diversity of compassion on different levels.

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