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Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics – Issue 12

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Chapter on Ethics1

by Asaṅga2


(posted in 12 issues): Issue 12 (last)

What is the bodhisattva‘s difficult ethics? This should be view­ed as threefold. While the bodhisattva has great possessions and wields the great sovereignty of the Ruler, he renounces the possessions and he renounces the great sovereignty of the Ruler to take on the vow of ethics. This is called the bodhisattva‘s difficult ethics. The bodhisattva is troubled at having taken on ethics. He would not allow the vow-of ethics obligation to weaken even at the cost of his life. How much less would he let it disappear? This is called the second difficult ethics of the bodhisattva. So long as his life may last, not even the subt­lest fault may arise, nor may he be in error regarding ethics. How much less so the grave! Thus the bodhisattva is established in mindfulness and careful in the attention he pays to all his actions and stations. This is the third aspect of what is called the bodhisattva‘s difficult ethics.

What is the bodhisattva‘s universal gateway ethics? This should be understood as fourfold: adopted, natural morality, habituated, and conjoined with means. Adopted is that by which the threefold bodhisattva ethics – the ethics of the vow, the ethics of collecting wholesome factors, and the ethics of accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings has been taken on. Natural morality is undertaking physical and verbal activity that is perfectly pure because of the natural goodness of a mental continuum that is established in the bodhisattva family. Habitua­ted ethics is that by which the bodhisattva has grown accustomed to the above-described threefold ethics in his previous lives. Impregnated with the power of that previous cause, he does not like sinful behavior in any way whatsoever – his mind recoils from sin – whereas he likes virtuous behavior; he welcomes only virtuous behavior. Ethics conjoined with means is this: the bodhisattva‘s reliance upon the four means of attrac­tion to introduce sentient beings to wholesome physical and verbal acti­vity.

What is the bodhisattva‘s ethics of a holy person? This should be understood as fivefold. The bodhisattva is himself endowed with ethics. He induces others to undertake ethics. He sings praise of ethics. He is glad to see a fellow in the doctrine. He treats any fault that arises according to doctrine.

What is the bodhisattva‘s ethics as all modes? This should be understood as six-fold and sevenfold – and, to total them, as thirteen fold. Extensive, because it acquires extensive bases of training, and because it acquires extensive bases of training, and because it is dedicated to the great awakening. An irreprehensible basis for delight, in order to avoid the two extremes of indulgence in sense-desire and self-exhaustion. Per­manent, so as not to abjure the training so long as one lives. Steadfast, never to be overcome and robbed by gain and respect, disputants, defile­ment and the subsidiary defilements. Adorned with ethics, which may be known according to the Auditor Stage. Ethics as disengagement, to avoid murder and the rest. Ethics as engagement, to collect wholesome­ness and accomplish the welfare of sentient beings. Guardian ethics, to protect the ethics of engagement and disengagement. Ethics that matures in the characteristics of a great personage, that matures in higher thinking, that matures in pleasant destinies, that matures in the welfare of sentient beings.

What is the bodhisattva‘s distressed and wishing ethics? This should be understood as eightfold. The bodhisattva thinks to himself in this way: “I would not wish myself to be deprived of life by anyone, nor stolen from, nor behaved wrongly towards in matters of sexuality, nor spoken to falsely, slanderously, harshly, or idly, nor behaved towards with the unwanted contacts of being beaten and hurt by hand, clump of earth, and whip. According to my own wishes, if someone else should misbehave so, that would distress me; that would be disagreeable to me. Furthermore, just as I wish not to be murdered by someone else … ” etc., up through “the contact of being hurt … so it is also the wish of others. According to the wish of others, should I behave wrongly, they would be distressed; it would be disagreeable to them. So why should Ibehave toward others in a way that is disagreeable both to myself and to them?” The bodhisattva investigates the matter in this way, and for the sake of his life does not behave in the eight ways that are disagreeable to others. This is the bodhisattva‘s distressed and wishing ethics.

What is the bodhisattva‘s ethics of well-being here and there?

This should be seen as nine-fold. The bodhisattva forbids sentient beings situations that should be forbidden. He permits situations that should be permitted. He attracts sentient beings who should be attracted. He stops sentient beings who should be stopped. The bodhisattva undertakes physi­cal and verbal deeds in this regard that are perfectly pure. This much constitutes four modes of ethics. Beyond this are the five modes of ethics endowed with giving, with patience, with vigor, with meditation, and with wisdom. Totaling up these two sets, we have nine modes of ethics. Inasmuch as they result in well-being for the bodhisattva and for others in present and future lives, they are called “well-being here and there.”

What is the bodhisattva‘s purified ethics? This should be under­stood as tenfold. [Ethics] is correctly undertaken in the first place, out of a desire for the religious way of life and for full awakening, not seeking a livelihood. There is no excessive discouragement, because one is free of sluggish regret at an infraction. There is no overdoing it, be­cause one is free of groundless regret. One is free of indolence, not making a practice of the pleasure of sleeping, the pleasure of lying on one’s side, and the pleasure of staying in bed, but persevering in wholesome directions day and night. One is sustained by carefulness, be­cause of reliance upon five-limbed vigilance as described above. One is correctly aspiring, being free of yearnings for gain and respect, and not consenting to live celibate out of aspirations to divinity. One is sustained by a blessed lifestyle, with physical and verbal conduct that is very blessed and exemplary in deportment, incidental duties, and wholesome practices. One is sustained by blessed livelihood, avoiding all the faults of wrong livelihood such as hypocrisy. One avoids the two extremes, avoiding indulgence in sense-desires as well as self-exhaustion. It is conducive to deliverance, avoiding the views of all tīrthikas. One is unfailing in the obligation of bodhisattva ethics, not allowing it to wea­ken and disappear. This tenfold ethics of the bodhisattvas is called “purified.”

This great aggregate of bodhisattva ethics bears the fruition of great awakening. Based upon it, the bodhisattva fulfills the perfection of morality and completely awakens to supreme, right and full awaken­ing. And so long as he has not yet become a buddha he will, in training himself in this measureless aggregate of bodhisattva ethics, obtain five sorts of advantage. He comes to the notice of the buddhas. He dies in a state of great elation. After his physical dissolution, wherever he is reborn those with the same higher ethics are found, bodhisattva col­leagues with the same doctrine who function as spiritual advisers. He is endowed with a measureless aggregate of merit that fulfills the perfection of morality in this life. And there is a natural morality of which, in future lives, he inherits the very essence.

All of the ethics thus described, the nine modes beginning with the essence of ethics, should be understood to be included by the three sorts of ethics: the ethics of the vow, the ethics of collecting wholesome factors, and the ethics of accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings. And these three sorts of ethics, to put it briefly, accomplish three sorts of bodhisattva work. The ethics of the vow brings about mental stability. The collection of wholesome factors beings about the maturation of the factors of buddhahood for oneself. The ethics of accomplishing the wel­fare of sentient beings brings about the maturation of sentient beings. These constitute all the work of a bodhisattva that is to be done: to stabilize the mind in order to establish well-being in the present, to ripen the factors of buddhahood without physical or mental fatigue, and to bring sentient beings to full maturity. This is bodhisattva ethics. These are the advantages of bodhisattva ethics. And this is the work of bodhisattva ethics. There is nothing beyond and there is nothing more. Past bodhisattvas desiring the great awakening have trained in it. Those of the future will train in it. And those presently abiding in the bound­less, infinite realms of the universe are training in it.


The tenth chapter, on ethics, of the Foundations section of the

bodhisattva Stage



  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 []