Materialien zur buddhistischen Ethik


"Güte (mettâ) und Mitgefühl (karu*nâ)"

0. Overview - Übersicht über die Lehrveranstaltung

von Alois Payer

Zitierweise / cite as:

Payer, Alois <1944 - >: Materialien zur buddhistischen Ethik.  --   0. Overview - Übersicht über die Lehrveranstaltung. -- Fassung vom 1. März 1996. -- URL: -- [Stichwort].

Letzte Überarbeitung: 1. März 1996

Anlaß: Lehrveranstaltung Ethik des Buddhismus, Univ. Tübingen, SS 1993

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0. Overview - Übersicht

Ethics of Buddhism
Seminar - Summer Semester 1993
University of Tübingen
Institute of Indology and Comparative Religious Studies
Lecturer: Alois Payer

The following topics are discussed:

1. Introduction:

1.1. Methodology and Overview. The Importance of Ethics in Buddhism:

Our study shall involve historical, social-anthropological, meta-ethical and "ethical" approaches in the examination of ethics in Buddhism.

Ethics is the foundation for the life of the Buddhist layman and for the way leading to liberation. Just as the ground floor of a house cannot carry a person to the second floor without a stairway, ethical behavior cannot lead one to liberation. However, it is necessary for the liberation process.

2. Logic of Buddhist Ethics:

2.1. Level 1 of Ethical Argumentation: Worldly Wisdom.

There are three levels of Buddhist argumentation. In addition, with each level there is a more and more limited degree of communicability. In the first level, there are no principle religious or cultural limitations. For example, an American, a Jew, a Catholic, a Hindu ... could all understand the drawbacks of feeling envious.

On this level, the Buddhist ethics are a form of wordly wisdom. The logic of argumentation is: if you do so, it has specific worldly consequences for yourself. By your actions, you choose the resulting consequences.

2.2. Level 2: Karma and Reincarnation

The second level of Buddhist argumentation is limited to people who believe in Karma and reincarnation: certain actions will result in specific forms of reincarnation. For example, if you are greedy, in your next birth you will be starving.

2.3. Level 3: Belief in the Authority of Buddha and Arhants

The third level of Buddhist ethical argumentation is only convincing to the Buddhists: certain actions are either good or bad because Lord Buddha or a Buddhist saint have said so.

3. An Introduction into Concepts of Buddhist Ethics:

3.1. Generosity

Generosity is a cardinal virtue in Buddhism. Even observance of the five exercises of morality is viewed as a specific form of generosity. By acting morally one gives the gifts of fearlessness and benevolence to all beings.

As an example social anthropological studies concerning "merit making" by donations in Sri Lanka, Birma, Laos and Thailand shall be discussed.

3.2. The Five Exercises of Morality

The five exercises of morality include the following training rules: abstainig from taking life, abstaining from taking what not is given, abstaining from sexual misconduct, abstaining from false speech and abstaining from intoxicants which are the basics for heedlesness.

3.3. The Criteria for Goodness and Evil: the Roots of Wholesomeness and Unwholesomeness

The criteria for goodness and evil are the so-called "roots". The roots of unwholesomeness are greed, hatred and delusion. They are the main causes of all suffering. The roots of wholesomeness are non-greed (unselfishness, generosity, renunciation), non-hatred (benevolence, compassion) and nondelusion (knowledge, wisdom). They are the roots from which everything beneficial sprouts.

3.4. Benevolence, Compassion, Muditâ (Sharing in Someone's Joy) and Serenity as Cardinal Virtues

The cardinal virtues, including the whole of Buddhist morality, are benevolence, compassion, sharing someone's joy and serenity. These virtues are the focus of specific kinds of tranquillity meditation.

3.5. Ethics in the Schools of Mahâyâna: the Vow of a Bodhisattva, Skillfullness with regard to the Choice of the Path toward a Goal

The schools of Mahâyâna criticize the older schools of Buddhism for being selfish. Therefore, they propagate the ideal of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva vows to work for the welfare and liberation of all beings and not to enter final liberation as long as there are suffering beings. Consequences of this attitude for Mahayana Buddhist countries (Tibet, China, Korea, Japan) are discussed.

An important concept in Mahayana is upâyakau`salya, the skillfulness with regard to the choice of the path toward a goal. "Do the ends justify the means?"

3.6. A Buddhist's Approach toward Specific Ethical Problems

Specific ethical problems, suggested by the students will be discussed on the basis of Buddhist ethical principles. The impact of Buddhist ethics on the social and political life of Buddhist countries are considered.

3.7. Ethics of Monks; Liberation and Ethics

The theory and practice of the ethics for monks and nuns will be studied. For someone seeking liberation the motivation

for ethical behaviour will be different than the motivation of someone wandering from birth to rebirth. The relation between the karmic and the nirvanic aspects of Buddhism is essential for the understanding of present Buddhism.

For some Buddhist schools the liberated is "beyond good and evil". Most Buddhists reject this anomistic view.

Required Readings

Narada <Maha Thera>: The Buddha and his teachings. - Colombo, 1975

Nyanatiloka <Thera> <1878 - 1957>: Buddhistisches Wörterbuch : kurzgefasstes Handbuch der buddhistischen Lehren und Begriffe in alphabetischer Anordnung. -- 5. Aufl., (Unveränd. Nachdr. der 2., rev. Aufl.). -- Stammbach : Beyerlein und Steinschulte, 1999. -- 277 S. ; 18 cm. -- Originaltitel: Buddhist dictionary. -- ISBN: 3-931095-09-6. -- Hier können Sie dieses Werk bestellen: 

Die Welt des Buddhismus / hrsg. von Heinz Bechert und Richard Gombrich. - München : Beck, 1984. - ch. 5 (Sri Lanka), ch. 6 (Birma), ch. 7 (Thailand), ch. 8 (China, Korea, Vietnam)

Gerlitz, Peter: Die Ethik des Buddha. - In: Ethik des Religionen / hrsg. von Carl Heinz Ratschow. - Stuttgart : Kohlhammer, 1980

Skrobanek, Walter: Buddhistische Politik in Thailand. - Wiesbaden : Steiner, 1976

Texts Discussed in the Classroom

Sigâlovâdasutta (D)


Sâleyyakasutta (M)

Cûlakammavibha°nngasutta (M)

Mahâkammavibha°ngasutta (M)

The roots of good and evil : Buddhist texts / Transl. by Nyanaponika. - Kandy : BPS, 1978

Visuddhimagga ch. 1

Silva, Lily de: Giving in the Pali canon. - In: Dâna / ed. by Bodhi. - Kandy : BPS, 1990

Bodhi <Bhikkhu>: Going for refuge, taking the precepts. - Kandy : BPS, 1981

Rosenkranz, Gerhard: Upâyakau`salya : geschickte Anwendung der Mittel. - In: ThLZ 85 (1960), Sp. 815-22

Lehrveranstaltung Ethik des Buddhismus: Aufbau

  1. Einleitung
  2. Logik buddhistischer Ethik
  3. Materielle Ethik
    1. Freigebigkeit
    2. Die fünf Trainingspunkte der Sittlichkeit
    3. Wohlwollen, Mitgefühl, Mitfreude und Geklassenheit als Kardinaltugenden
  4. Kriterien für Gut und Böse: die Wurzeln
  5. Ethik im Mahâyâna:
  6. Anwendung auf ausgewählte ethische Probleme
  7. Mönchsethik. Erlösung und Ethik.
  8. Vergleich mit anderen Ethiken

Zu Kapitel 1: Einleitung