top of page

Buddhist Morality


The Buddha’s realization experience empowered him with insight into four basic human truths about human unsatisfactoriness known as the Four Ennobling Realities. (Four Noble Truths) They are:


The Four Enobling Realities


  1. Unsatisfactoriness exists for human beings

  2. The cause of unsatisfactoriness is craving

  3. There is a path that leads to the cessation of craving and unnatural attachments of the mind, and thus there is a way to positively transform unsatisfactoriness

  4. This path is Eightfold


The Eightfold Path


  1. Right View

  2. Right Intention

  3. Right Speech

  4. Right Action

  5. Right Livelihood

  6. Right Effort

  7. Right Mindfulness

  8. Right Concentration


Peter Hershock has pointed out that the Four Noble Truths are not to be considered absolute, but rather act as markers that help to guide us to a meaningful resolution to our central human problems. Moreover, they are meaningful for us only when we apply them to our unique circumstances.


A breakdown of the Eightfold Path, found in David Kalupahana’s text Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis, groups (1) Right View and (2) Right Intention as “Intellectual Understanding,” and (3) Right Speech, (4) Right, Action, (5) Right Livelihood, and (6) Right Effort as “Moral Understanding.” The final two parts of the Eightfold Path, 7) Right Mindfulness and 8) Right Concentration, are considered “Meditative Understanding,” and are the result of regular and wholehearted Buddhist practice. All of the components of the Eightfold Path are intended to aid the Buddhist practitioner by implementing the conclusions of Buddhist thought as described in the above sections, so that his or her thoughts, words, and actions eventually emerge as unmediated reflections of a deep understanding. Following the Eightfold Path simultaneously places the Buddhist practitioner on the path of realization; observing the Eightfold Path is living out the fruits of realization.



The Bodhisattva Ideal


Buddhism seeks to posit a viable alternative to the view that we human beings are separate from our experiences, thereby helping to alleviate the unsatisfactoriness--in all its various forms--that plaque humanity. The Buddhist worldview, with its emphasis on cultivating an awareness of dependent origination, avoids eschatological perspectives, where a linear progression is charted by its practitioners, or where an “end times” is awaited. Buddhism asserts a circular cosmology, where unique and contingent conditions arise from and pass back into a continuous, connected transformation. Buddhists see that what is here has always been here and will always be here, though it will continually manifest dynamic transformation. There is no cosmological beginning, a time when our universe did not exist, nor is there an “Armageddon” in Buddhism. There is only the here and now--the locus where we can effect meaningful change in light of our unique situations.


It is in the here and now where the Buddhist practitioners effect positive transformation in their world. During this change and transformation—during the betweeness of everyday life—authentic, realizing persons act as guides for other human beings in how they live out their lives, serving others by example. This altruism is a natural result of realization. One who sees our experiences as unified, acts in ways that cherish this holistic view.


The natural emergence of altruism in the person who sees our condition as connected allows for a unique concept to arise in Buddhism. The Bodhisattva ideal is the conclusion to realization. Though there are various cultural and sectarian differences in the understanding of the Bodhisattva, Buddhism as a whole acknowledges the living role of the realizing person as one of a guide for others, by being an example of the possibility of living life as an outstanding human being.


Perhaps the most important point is that average, everyday human beings are those who achieve realization. Authenticating themselves, freeing themselves from the cycle of unsatisfactoriness, these average, everyday persons share their positive and transformative approach with others through skillful means. Freedom from unsatisfactoriness does not require divine abilities or magic, nor material wealth, intellectual intensity or physical prowess. Anyone who accepts the personal responsibility of simple and modest, daily practice can work to discover the personal issues that prevent their own realization of dependent origination. The Buddhist practice of awareness cultivation aims to do just this. Meditation is the central Buddhist tool for this positive self-transformation.


bottom of page