Buddhist Ethics - Preface



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Preface to the Third Edition

The passing of all things is one of Buddhism’s central tenets. But with correct understanding and insight, the passing of people and things no longer produces anguish or suffering. Instead, through meditation on the impermanence of all mental and physical phenomena, one learns to cultivate a state of dispassion and equanimity with regard to such worldly fluctuations as birth and death, gain and loss. From this state of dispassion one sees with increased clarity how the world, through its ignorance, continues to grasp at that which is impermanent and attempts to construct a fortress of immutability against the relentless tides of change. For one who has recognized the inevitability of impermanence, the suffering that the world encounters in its futile attempts to outwit change evokes a deep sense of compassion and universal responsibility. While still maintaining a personal sense of equilibrium, such a person will speak forcefully, convincingly, and lovingly of the need to reexamine our basic assumptions about the nature of reality. And such a person will act as a guide, teaching us not only how to overcome the poisons of attachment, anger, and ignorance, but showing us as well how to live life in the most beneficial, peaceful, and noble manner possible.

The Venerable Hammalawa Saddhatissa was such a person. His passing in 1990, therefore, should in no way be taken as an occasion for lamentation and grief, but rather as a fresh opportunity to review his message for humanity. Among the many invaluable contributions that Saddhatissa made to the elucidation of the Buddhist path, Buddhist Ethics stands out for its depth, its clarity, and its obvious compassionate intent. Seeing the world around him suffer as a result of its ignorance, attachment, and hatred, Saddhatissa here shares his vision of reality as a highly educated, socially engaged, and concerned Buddhist practitioner and monk. The result is this classic volume of ethical teachings that seeks to explain traditional Buddhist ethical theory through terms comprehensible to the Westerners to whom it was addressed.

Although he was born and raised in Sri Lanka, Saddhatissa spent much of his adult life in foreign lands—true to the ideals of renunciation and homelessness espoused by the Buddha in ancient India. His sojourn in India, where the Buddhist path had long since elapsed, brought him into contact with the prominent social reformer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, whose conversion to Buddhism in 1956 led to a whole new community of ex-untouchable Indian Buddhists. There, too, he mastered Pali, Sanskrit, and other Indian languages, enabling him to increase his understanding of the full range of Buddhist philosophical and ethical materials, as well as to serve as the religious advisor for the new Indian Buddhist community. In 1957, he moved to London, where he became the Head of the London Buddhist Vihāra of the British Mahābodhi Society. In Europe, he furthered his pioneering work for the transmission of Buddhism outside Sri Lanka through the foundation of a number of Buddhist centers for the study and cultivation of the Buddhist path.

Saddhatissa’s scholarly achievements are also remarkable. His concern for the lay practitioner of Buddhism is evinced by his critical edition and study of the Upāsakajanālaṅkāra, a 12th century Pali manual on the Buddha’s teachings for the laity. As the former Vice President of the Pali Text Society, he has contributed to the field of Buddhist studies through his work on the Pali Tripitika Concordance and his various translations and editions of Pali texts. Among his numerous articles and books, works such as The Buddha’s Way (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971) have had widespread influence and are now considered as classics of his time. The present volume, Buddhist Ethics, is now in its third edition. It stands as a tribute to a life well lived and as an impetus to our own self-examination and growth. As one of the first works by a Buddhist author to specifically present Buddhism in terms that Europeans and Americans could understand, it is a seminal work in the transmission of Buddhism to the West. It is, therefore, with great happiness and high admiration that we commemorate the life of Venerable Hammalawa Saddhatissa through this new edition of Buddhist Ethics. May it bring benefit to all suffering sentient beings.

Wisdom Publications
Boston, 1997


Preface to the Second Edition

The last half century has seen a steady decline in the teaching, understanding, and observance of religious, ethical, and moral principles and ideas. The greed for money and material possessions, the overriding desire for personal advancement in day-to-day life, the wish to control other human beings, living things, and the environment, both politically and economically, have been the characteristics of the path along which modern civilization has developed in recent years.

This development is contrary to the ordinary, just, and reasonable nature of man. As a result, mankind is today confronted with enormous destructive forces. These forces are so powerful and compelling that the minds of most people, especially the young and the mentally weak, cannot grapple with them nor cope with them. Instead, they succumb to these forces. They take refuge in apathy, anarchy, drugs, alcohol, and other forms of conduct which lead to superficial feelings of well-being, but do not contribute to any long-lasting or substantial happiness. This decline in the religious, ethical, and moral standards has caused a breakdown in the social fabric of mankind.

The only way one can retrieve the situation, the only sensible way forward, is to live according to the religious, ethical, and moral standards accepted by one’s own traditions and in understanding and compatibility with those of others.

This book analyses, examines, and explains the ethical concepts from a Buddhist point of view. The emphasis is on the ethical concepts accepted by all the schools of Buddhism and, indeed, there is no difference between these concepts among the different schools, either Theravāda or Mahāyāna. Furthermore, today there is a tendency to study not just one religion, but different religions side by side, sometimes separately and sometimes on a comparative basis. This method of study brings about an appreciation and understanding of the similarities in the tenets and ideas of all the different religions. This is not a surprising factor, as these concepts have been formulated for the well-being of mankind, to enable men to live a life of peace, harmony, and happiness.

In this context the second edition of Buddhist Ethics being published at this juncture is an event of prime importance. I have the honor to be able to offer the world the fruits of a lifetime of study of Buddhism and other religions, and of teaching Buddhism and comparative religions as a contribution to the further elevation of humanity.

Whilst writing this book (in 1969), I was deeply appreciative of the help provided by my friends and colleagues, amongst whom I would like especially to thank Miss I. B. Horner (President of the Pali Text Society), and Mr. M. O’C. Walshe. And for the republication of this work, my grateful thanks are due to Dr. Nicholas Ribush, Director, Wisdom Communications.

H. Saddhatissa
London, 1987


How to cite this document:
© Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Buddhist Ethics (Wisdom Publications, 2003)

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