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Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics – Issue 02

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Chapter on Ethics1

by Asaṅga2

(posted in 12 issues): Issue 2


What is the bodhisattva‘s ethics of benefiting sentient beings?

Briefly, it should be understood to have eleven modes. What are the eleven modes? He ministers to the needs of sentient beings in various useful ways. He renders assistance, for example, by nursing any suffer­ings, such as illness, that may have occurred to sentient beings. Like­wise, he shows what is relevant to worldly and transcendent goals, back­ed by the teaching of doctrine and backed by the teaching of means. He remains grateful to sentient beings who have helped him and furnishes proportionate assistance in return. He protects sentient beings from sundry fearful things such as lions and tigers, kings and robbers, water and fire. He dispels the sorrow in calamities to property and kinfolk. He provides all appropriate requisites to sentient beings destitute of requisites. He attracts a Dharma-following by correctly giving himself as a resource; he approaches from time to time accosting, addressing, and greeting them; he acquires food, drink, and the like for them from others. He complies with worldly convention; he comes and goes when called; briefly, he complies with the thought [of everyone] excepting those who are useless and disagreeable. He applauds the genuine good qualities of others, or reveals those that are hidden. This too: In order to move them from an unwholesome to a wholesome situation he hum­bles them, making them stop, he makes them perform an act of punish­ment or he banishes them, his inner attitude gentle and with beneficial intention. With wonder-working power he makes manifest hell and other places, by which he alarms them in their unwholesomeness, bending them to his will, pleasing them, surprising them in order to introduce them to the Buddhist teaching.

The bodhisattva who is established in the ethics of the vow, who is established in the ethics of collecting wholesomeness, and who is established in the ethics of accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings, how does he come to be possessed of ethics that is well re­strained, of ethics in which wholesomeness is well collected, and of ethics in which the welfare of sentient beings is accomplished in all modes?

The bodhisattva established in the prātimokṣa3 vow renounces even the sovereignty of a universal monarch in order to go forth to the monastic life. He disregards the sovereignty of a universal monarch as though it were grass or impurity. The bodhisattva, relying upon his purified in­tention, as a monastic disregards the highest of all human desires, the desires of a universal monarch. Lesser people, by contrast, do not dis­regard even the baser desires of a monastic; they “put aside their de­sires” thinking of the monastic livelihood. The bodhisattva sees those sensory desires as they really are, as though entering a dense jungle of sundry terrors. He does not anticipate future sense-pleasures either, including the realm of Māra. He does not sow aspirations and keep celi­bacy for the sake of those desires: What need to mention divine things other than that? In regard to the present time, the monastic bodhisattva sees, with wise understanding, that exalted gain and the respect of exalted sentient beings is like eating vomit, and will not taste of it: What need to mention the base gain and respect of base sentient beings? Alone, he delights in solitude, and even when living in the midst of the community, his thought dwells always apart. He is not satisfied with the vow of ethics, but based upon and established within morality, he achieves the measureless meditative concentrations of the bodhisattva, and strives to obtain the sovereignties. Even while dwelling in society he will not allow himself to engage in any demeaning conversation or de­meaning talk. When dwelling in isolation, on the other hand, he allows not a bit of demeaning discursive preoccupation. He strongly regrets such behavior when, from time to time, it occurs out of absentminded­ness, and considers the disadvantages. Dependent upon that continued regret and consideration of the disadvantages, as soon as demeaning con­versation or demeaning preoccupation occurs, he quickly establishes mindfulness and arrives at the idea of not doing it, by which he with­draws from it. By familiarity with withdrawal from it, his former enjoy­ment of such behavior becomes enjoyment of not behaving so and the behavior becomes repugnant. His thought does not tremble, nor become depressed or bemused to hear that all the sublime, immeasurable bases of training of high-stage bodhisattvas are inconceivable, are far in the future, and are difficult to attain; rather, he thinks thus: “Being human, they have come to possess measureless, inconceivable restraints of body and speech by training themselves gradually in the bodhisattva training. We are also human and if we train gradually, we will undoubtedly come to attain the good fortune of restrained body and speech.”

The bodhisattva established in the ethics of the vow worries about his own faults and errors, not those of others. He has no thoughts of enmity or resentment for sentient beings who are violent and immoral; based upon great compassion according to the doctrine, the bodhisattva furnishes for them a predominance of mercy and desire-to-do.

(Issue 3)



  1. Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics with the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa, The basic path to awakening, The complete Bodhisattva. Published by Edwin Mellen, USA, Canada © Mark Tatz 1986. ISBN 0 -88946-054-X. The Commentaries by Tsong-kha-pa and not included in the www.dailytheosophy.net online version. []
  2. More information about Asaṅga or Aryāsaṅga, the true one who lived some centuries BCE according to H.P. Blavatsky, see EDITORIAL 15c: Confusions about Buddhism and Theosophy []
  3. list of rules. []
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