A friend of mine recently asked me if Buddhists follow any kind of commandments or laws, and if so, what are they?
If you think about it, all religions and philosophies follow the same basic principles/rules/theories; things like non-harming, compassion, tolerance, and non-stealing. In Buddhism, the basic principles, or road rules for leading a good life, were formulated around the Four Noble Truths.
These are the truths that the Buddha unearthed after his enlightenment. In order to fully understand and rise above a place of suffering, you would ideally follow the Nobel Eightfold Path, which is also called the Middle Way. Additionally, all Buddhist carry five basic precepts through life. These are what would be most similar to the Ten Commandments or any other “law” to follow. Got it?
I’ll break it down for you:
The Four Noble Truths
1. There is Suffering – Suffering is common to all.
2. Cause of Suffering – We are the cause of our own suffering.
3. End of Suffering – Stop doing what causes suffering.
4. Path to end Suffering – Everyone can be enlightened.
1. Suffering: The Buddha said that everyone suffers from these things:
- Birth – When we are born, we cry
- Sickness – When we are sick, we are miserable
- Old age – When old, we will have aches and pains and find it hard to get around
- Death – None of us wants to die. We feel deep sorrow when someone dies
Other things we suffer from are: Being with those we dislike, being apart from those we love, and not getting what we want. The Buddha did not deny that there is happiness in life, but he pointed out it does not last forever. Eventually everyone meets with some kind of suffering. He said: “There is happiness in life, happiness in friendship, happiness of a family, happiness in a healthy body and mind, but when one loses them, there is suffering.” Dhammapada
2. The cause of suffering: The Buddha explained that people live in a sea of suffering because of ignorance and greed. They are ignorant of the law of karma and are greedy for the wrong kind of pleasures. They do things that are harmful to their bodies and peace of mind, so they cannot be satisfied or enjoy life.
For example, once children have had a taste of candy, they want more. They may even get a stomachache from eating too much candy, but they still want more. When they can’t have it, they get upset. And when children get all the candy they want, they soon get tired of it and want something else. The things people want most cause them the most suffering.
Of course, there are basic things that all people should have, like adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Everyone deserves a good home, loving parents, and good friends. They should enjoy life and cherish their possessions without becoming greedy.
3. The end of suffering: To end suffering, one must cut off greed and ignorance. This means changing one’s views and living in a more natural and peaceful way. It is like blowing out a candle. The flame of suffering is put out for good.
Buddhists call the state in which all suffering is ended Nirvana. Nirvana is an everlasting state of great joy and peace. The Buddha said, “The extinction of desire is Nirvana.” This is the ultimate goal in Buddhism. Everyone can realize it with the help of the Buddha’s teachings. It can be experienced in this very life.
4. The path to the end of suffering: The path to end suffering is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. It is also known as the Middle Way.
THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
When the Buddha gave his first sermon in the Deer Park, he began the ‘Turning of the Dharma Wheel’. He chose the beautiful symbol of the wheel with its eight spokes to represent the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha’s teaching goes round and round like a great wheel that never stops, leading to the central point of the wheel, the only point which is fixed, Nirvana. The eight spokes on the wheel represent the eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path. Just as every spoke is needed for the wheel to keep turning, we need to follow each step of the path.
1. Right View. The right way to think about life is to see the world through the eyes of the Buddha–with wisdom and compassion.
2. Right Thought. We are what we think. Clear and kind thoughts build good, strong characters.
3. Right Speech. By speaking kind and helpful words, we are respected and trusted by everyone.
4. Right Conduct. No matter what we say, others know us from the way we behave. Before we criticize others, we should first see what we do ourselves.
5. Right Livelihood. This means choosing a job that does not hurt others. The Buddha said, “Do not earn your living by harming others. Do not seek happiness by making others unhappy.”
6. Right Effort. A worthwhile life means doing our best at all times and having good will toward others. This also means not wasting effort on things that harm others and ourselves.
7. Right Mindfulness. This means being aware of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
8. Right Concentration. Focus on one thought or object at a time. By doing this, we can be quiet and attain true peace of mind.
Following the Noble Eightfold Path can be compared to cultivating a garden, but in Buddhism one cultivates one’s wisdom. The mind is the ground and thoughts are seeds. Deeds are ways one cares for the garden. Our faults are the weeds. Pulling them out is like weeding a garden. The harvest is real and lasting happiness.
THE FIVE PRECEPTS
All religions have some basic rules that define what is good conduct and what kind of conduct should be avoided. In Buddhism, the most important rules are the Five Precepts. These have been passed down from the Buddha himself.
1. No killing (Respect for life)
2. No stealing (Respect for others’ property)
3. No sexual misconduct (Respect for our pure nature)
4. No lying (Respect for honesty)
5. No intoxicants (Respect for a clear mind)