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Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics – Issue 11

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Chapter on Ethics1

by Asaṅga2


(posted in 12 issues): Issue 11


If the bodhisattva endowed with various sorts of wonder­working power, miraculous transformation, and might does not employ wonder-working power to frighten sentient beings who deserve to be frightened, to bend to his will sentient beings who should be bent to his will, and to make them relinquish gifts of faith, then he is posses­sed of fault, possessed of contradiction; there is fault that is not defiled. There is no fault in not showing [his power] to sentient beings when they are strongly prejudiced tīrthikas who would be possessed of wrong views repudiating the noble one.

And for all of these, it is understood that one is quite without fault in cases of a distraught mind, being hard-pressed by a feeling of suffering, and not having undertaken the vow.

These diverse bases of training of the bodhisattvas that appear separately, as promulgated by the Lord, in scattered passages of this and that scripture dealing with the ethics of the vow, the ethics of collecting wholesome factors, and the ethics of accomplishing the wel­fare of sentient beings, are presented here, in the code to the bodhisattva collection, comprehensively. The bodhisattva should generate respect for, and train himself in them. He should take the vow, from someone else, with a quite purified intention of training himself in them, with an attitude desirous of awakening, with the intention of accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings, and he should make it the most important thing.

He should generate respect from the very outset, so that of­fense will not occur. And if an offense should occur, he should heal the fault by treating it according to the doctrine.

“Fault” for the bodhisattva is understood to be everything included in this set of misdeeds. These may be confessed to anyone of the auditors’ vehicle or the bodhisattva vehicle who is capable of cognizing and com­prehending the verbal communication of them.

If an event that is “grounds for defeat” has occurred with greater in­volvement, the vow is relinquished by this and should be received a second time. If it has occurred with medium involvement it is a mis­deed, and should be confessed to three or more persons. Seated before them, he should first describe the matter. Then he should say: “Please take notice, Long-lived ones. I, named so-and-so, have developed, from the matter that has been described, a ‘misdeed’ type of offense that constitutes an infraction of the bodhisattva disciplinary code.” The re­mainder should be spoken just as in the monk’s confession of misdeed. Should an event that is “grounds for defeat” have occurred with lesser involvement, it, and the other faults as well, are understood to be con­fessable before one person. There being no congenial person before whom to confess, the bodhisattva should generate the thought, from the bottom of his heart, that he will not commit it again, and restrain himself for the future. Having done so, he may be said to have disposed of that offense.

This is also the way to undertake the bodhisattva vow. If no person endowed with those qualifications is to be found, then the bodhisattva, before an image of the Tathāgata, should take the bodhisattva vow of ethics by himself. This is how [“it should be taken again” – Skt.]:

Before it, throwing his upper robe over one shoulder and either kneeling on his right knee or in a squatting position, he should speak thus:

“I, given the name so-and-so, appeal to all tathāgatas and high-stage bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Before them I undertake all the bases of training of the bodhisattva and all bodhisattva ethics – whatever ethics of the vow, ethics of collecting wholesome factors, and ethics of accom­plishing the welfare of sentient beings have been trained in by all bodhisattvas of the past, will be trained in by all bodhisattvas of the future, and are being trained in by all bodhisattvas presently abiding in the ten directions.”

Having repeated this a second and a third time, he should rise. All the rest should be understood as above.

On the bodhisattva‘s path of fault there is nothing that is ca­tegorically a fault. In what the Lord has declared – “Know that the faults of a bodhisattva develop, for the most part, from aversion, rather than from desire-attachment” – the intention should be viewed thus: When the bodhisattva is ruled by love and affection for sentient beings, whatever he may do is the deed of a bodhisattva; there is nothing he can do that is not. Nor is it possible that there be any fault in doing what he should do. When the bodhisattva bears hatred toward sentient beings, he can do no good for himself or others, and this being what is not the duty of a bodhisattva, thus doing what he should not becomes, by exten­sion, a fault.

Bodhisattva offenses should be known as minor, medium, and major. For this, refer to the Topical Summary.

Accordingly, the bodhisattva who applies himself to training in his own disciplinary code is blessed with a threefold good fortune – the blessing of practice, the blessing of attitude, and the blessing of pre­vious causes- and so maintains contact with well-being. What is the bles­sing of practice? The bodhisattva does not violate ethics; his behavior with body, speech, and mind is perfectly pure, he never commits an of­fense and evil deeds are disclosed. This is called the blessing of prac­tice. What is the blessing of attitude? He is ordained a monastic while thinking of doctrine, not thinking of livelihood. He is eager for the great awakening, nor uneager. He is eager for the religious life and for nir­vana, not uneager. With such eagerness he cannot remain indolent; his vigor is not feeble and he is not contaminated by unwholesome factors-­evil, unwholesome deeds that are defiled, that will result in a future rebirth, old age, and death that is a suffering fruition and is compounded of fever. This is called the blessing of attitude. What is the blessing of previous causes? The bodhisattva, in other lives of the past, has perfor­med acts of merit and acts of virtue. Because of this he never lacks requisite clothing, food, bed and bedding, and medicinal drugs for him­self. In addition, he is able to share them with others. This is called the bodhisattva‘s blessing of previous causes. The bodhisattva who applies himself to training in his disciplinary code is blessed with a threefold good fortune: he dwells in contact with well-being. Cursed with three misfortunes that are the reverse of these, one maintains contact with suffering.

This is, briefly and in detail, what is called the complete ethics of the bodhisattva, comprising the lay side and the monastic side. The other sorts of ethics, the ethics of difficulty and the rest, should be understood as sections of this “complete ethics.”

(Issue 12)

  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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