By Daniel Scharpenburg
“Do not commit any non-virtuous actions.
Perform only virtuous actions.
Subdue the mind thoroughly.”
This is chanted in a lot of Buddhist temples.
To me it’s the shortest possible explanation of Buddhism.
People sometimes ask me about Buddhism, mainly because I write about Buddhism on the internet and I have cool Buddhist tattoos (I think). When they do, I like to start by talking about that quote. Some people would start by talking about The Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path, or even the story of the Buddha’s life.
That quote written above, is direct and to the point.
The first two are pretty simple, in fact. Well, they sound simple. That last one sounds a little bit harder, which it is.
Do not commit any non-virtuous actions.
I’d like to explain this in terms of Sila, morality. In Buddhism we often talk about morality in terms of the Five Precepts (there are lots of lists in Buddhism. Get used to it).
The Five Precepts are:
1. Abstain from killing any living beings.
2. Abstain from taking what is not given.
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. Abstain from lying and false speech.
5. Abstain from the abusive consumption of intoxicants and drugs.
These Precepts are not commandments. They’re rules that we observe only because we realize that such actions cause harm to others and to ourselves.
We can think of them in a positive way instead of a negative one:
1. The practice of Harmlessness and Compassion.
2. The practice of Kindness and Generosity.
3. The practice of Faithfulness and Responsibility.
4. The practice of Truthfulness and Pleasant Speech.
5. The practice of Self-control and Mindfulness.
Perform only virtuous actions.
I’d like to explain this in terms of Dana, generosity. This means giving or helping others. This can be done in many ways. We can give kind and encouraging words, we can give someone our time and we can listen to someone who needs it.
Of course we can also volunteer our work to good causes and give material charity as well. There are so many ways we can help others.
Subdue the mind thoroughly.
I’d like to explain this in terms of Bhavana, mind cultivation/meditation. Meditation is said to purify the mind and make it easier to develop generosity, compassion and wisdom. Through deep meditation we can come to fully know ourselves. Through it we are able to really see things as they truly are.
Meditation is the form of spiritual practice that led the Buddha to Enlightenment. Even a short meditation, 20 minutes per day, can change your life.
All of Buddhist teachings can be summed up, I think, in these three things. Sometimes they’re written even more succinctly:
“To avoid all evil. To do good. To purify one’s mind.”
~ the Buddha.
This is it—the cultivation of morality, wisdom, and concentration.
It seems simple, but of course we can spend all of our lives cultivating these things. This is the simplest and most direct way to explain what Buddhism is all about.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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