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Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics – Issue 06

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Chapter on Ethics1

by Asaṅga2

(posted in 12 issues): Issue 6

Having completed that act of undertaking the bodhisattva vow of ethics, both those bodhisattvas should do worship to buddhas and bodhisattvas of the boundless, infinite realms of the universe in all direc­tions, fall at their feet, and then rise.

The bodhisattva vow-of-ethics undertaking is the most distin­guished of all vow-of-ethics undertakings; it is supreme, it is endowed with a measureless aggregate of merit, it is generated by the most wholesome attitude of mind, and it functions as the antidote to all types of misconduct on the part of all sentient beings. No prātimokṣa vow undertaking can approach even a hundredth part of this vow-of-ethics undertaking, nor a thousandth, nor any number, fraction, calculation, example, or comparison, in regard to the acquisition of merit.

The bodhisattva who has been established in the bodhisattva vow-of-ethics obligation should on the one hand deduce again and again for himself, “This is the fitting thing for the bodhisattva to do; this is not the fitting thing for the bodhisattva to do,” and he should thence­forth perform his actions and train himself in accord with just that. Listening conscientiously, on the other hand, to the collection of bodhisattva scriptures, or to this contraction that is the code of the bodhisattva collection, he should train in accord with just that, in order to accomplish the many thousand fold bases of training promulgated by the Lord for bodhisattvas in those various scriptures.

The bodhisattva should not take on the vow-of-ethics obliga­tion from just any bodhisattva, although he may be learned. Do not receive it from someone who is without faith, who has no devotion to this vow-of-ethics undertaking, nor participation in it, nor preparedness for it. Do not take it from someone possessed of greed, nor someone overwhelmed by attachment, nor someone insatiable or discontented. Do not take it from someone whose morality has failed or who has no res­pect for the training, who is slack. Do not take it from someone angry or rancorous, generally impatient or intolerant of others’ faults. Do not take it from someone lazy or indolent, who generally makes a practice of the pleasures of sleeping day and night, lying on his side and staying in bed, or who passes the time with socializing. Do not take it from someone whose thought is wandering, who cannot develop a one-pointed thought of the virtuous even for the space of time it takes to milk a cow. Finally, do not take it from someone dull-witted or stupid by na­ture, who is exceedingly disheartened and repudiates the collection of bodhisattva scriptures or the code of the collection of bodhisattva scriptures.

Although the bodhisattva has grasped and mastered this cere­mony for undertaking the vow, he should not rashly announce it and make it known to sentient beings who are hostile to, and without faith in the bodhisattva collection. Why so? Having so heard, those who are disinclined, who are obscured with the great obscuration of unawareness, will repudiate him. And, as to that repudiation: To the extent that the bodhisattva established in the vow has become endowed with a measure­less aggregate of merit, so long as he has not entirely eliminated all of those evil words, evil views, and evil representations, to the same extent he will become possessed of nothing more than a measureless aggregate of demerit.

The bases of bodhisattva training and the grounds for offense that are set forth in this code for the collections of bodhisattva scrip­tures should be proclaimed before the aspirant to the bodhisattva vow-­of-ethics obligation. If he has the fortitude, based upon sincere exami­nation and analysis by wisdom, and neither based upon instigation by someone else nor competition with someone else, then he may be known as a steadfast bodhisattva. The vow-of-ethics obligation should then be received by him, and imparted to him, in accord with this ceremony.

Accordingly, there are four events that function in likeness to [prātimokṣa] grounds for defeat for a bodhisattva established in the vow. What are the four? With a longing for gain and respect, to praise him­self and deprecate another is the first event that is “grounds for defeat” for the bodhisattva. While the goods exist in his possession, to coldhear­tedly fail to donate material things, because he has a nature of attach­ment to them, to those who are suffering and indigent, who have no protector and no recourse, who have approached in a properly suppliant manner; and, out of stinginess in doctrine, not to teach doctrine to those who have approached in a proper manner eager for doctrine, is the second event that is “grounds for defeat” for the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva develops such involvement in anger that he cannot resolve it with the mere utterance of harsh words, but overwhelmed with anger he strikes, hurts, damages sentient beings with hand, clump of earth, or club; while focusing on just that aggravated angry attitude he does not heed, he does not accept even the others’ apology; he will not let loose that attitude. This is the third event that is “grounds for defeat” for the bodhisattva. To repudiate the bodhisattva collection and, on his own or echoing someone else, to devote himself to counterfeits of the good doctrine, and then to enjoy, to show, and to establish those coun­terfeits of the good doctrine, is the fourth event that is “grounds for defeat” for the bodhisattva.

These are the four events that are “grounds for defeat.” Should the bodhisattva commit anyone of them – not to mention committing them all – his opportunity to gather and grasp the vast resources that he needs for awakening will disappear for the moment. for the present, there is no opportunity for a purified intention. He is a counterfeit, not a genuine bodhisattva. On the other hand, the bodhisattva will not relinquish the vow­-of-ethics undertaking with medium or lesser involvement in these four events that are “grounds for defeat.” Relinquishment is the result of a greater degree of involvement – by which the bodhisattva makes a regular practice of these four events that are “grounds for defeat,” generates not the slightest sense of shame and embarrassment, is pleased with and glad of it, and has a view for its good qualities. This should be under­stood as greater involvement.

The bodhisattva does not relinquish the bodhisattva vow-of­-ethics undertaking by only once committing an act that has the quality of being “grounds for defeat,” as the monk does [relinquish] his prātimokṣa vow with his events of defeat. And even when the undertaking has been relinquished, the bodhisattva still has an opportunity to receive the bodhisattva vow-of-ethics undertaking in the same lifetime. The monk established in the prātimokṣa vow for whom a defeat has developed has no such opportunity.

To summarize, relinquishment of the bodhisattva vow-of-ethics undertaking comes from only two causes: complete relinquishment of the aspiration for supreme, right and full awakening, and action with greater involvement in an event that is “grounds for defeat.”

If the bodhisattva has neither relinquished the aspiration nor acted with greater involvement in events that are “grounds for defeat,” then even when he has changed lives, the bodhisattva born anywhere-­up, down, or on a level – does not abandon the bodhisattva vow-of-ethics undertaking. Even if he is robbed of his memory upon changing lives, the bodhisattva coming into contact with a spiritual adviser may make the reception again and again in order to rouse his memory, but it is not a fresh undertaking.

(Issue 7)


  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 []
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