Sila - Abstention from all Words and Deeds that Harm Other Beings

"Burning now, burning hereafter, the wrong-doer suffers doubly…Happy now, happy hereafter, the virtuous person doubly rejoices"  -  Buddha

Sila, pertaining to moral conduct, is the foundation of the vipassana meditation practice. 

It is said that if one wants to progress on the path of meditation, then one must begin with sila.

Without this foundation of moral conduct, the building of Dharma or righteousness can't be built.

But what is Dharma or righteousness? How does one differentiate between right and wrong? What is an unwholesome action and what is a wholesome action?

Each religion, sect or group in the world has its own definition of the above, but Buddha offered a universal definition of piety and sin, of wholesome and unwholesome.

Any action that helps others, that contributes to their peace and harmony, is a pious action, a wholesome action.

Any action that harms others, that disturbs their peace and harmony, is a sinful action, an unwholesome action.

Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path and three parts out of the eight fall within sila. These are:

  • Right speech

Speech must be pure and wholesome so as to exclude all lies, all slander, harsh words that hurt other people, idle gossip, backbiting and meaningless chatter.

One who practices right speech speaks the truth and is steadfast in truthfulness, trustworthy, dependable and straightforward with others. 

He reconciles the quarreling and encourages the united. He delights in harmony, seeks after harmony, rejoices in harmony, and creates harmony by his words. 

His speech is gentle, pleasing to the ear, kindly, heartwarming, courteous, agreeable, and enjoyable to many.

His words are worth remembering, timely, well-reasoned, well-chosen and constructive.  

  • Right action

Similar to speech, action must also be pure.

Impure action includes, killing a creature, stealing, sexual misconduct in the form of rape or adultery, and intoxication where one loses one's senses and does not know what one says or does. 

  • Right livelihood

There are two criteria to ascertain right livelihood.

One, it should not lead to breaking of any of the precepts of right speech and right action.

Second, it should not lead to other people breaking the precepts either, since this also causes harm.

Neither directly nor indirectly should the means of livelihood involve injury to other beings; even though a type of work may not actually harm others, if it is performed with the intention that others should be harmed, it is not right livelihood (for example, a doctor waiting for an epidemic, or an arms dealer selling guns).

As a grahastha or householder, one should also give something back to society from the excess leftover after taking care of your own and your dependents' needs.   

During the 10 day vipassana meditation course, all the aspects of sila are naturally adhered to - one is expected to maintain noble silence at all times, which ensures right speech.

The confined environment, with majority of time spent in meditation, leaves little opportunity to indulge in killing or stealing of any kind, thus taking care of right action.

Moreover, one lives like a monk by humbly accepting and eating only the food that is served, in return for performing the work of introspection.

This work is for his own good and for the benefit of all, hence right livelihood also happens. 

Through observance of moral conduct, we are able to control our speech and physical actions. However, the cause of suffering lies in our mental actions.

Sila by itself can't liberate us from suffering, but it lays an essential foundation for the work ahead in the form of Samadhi

Return from Sila to Vipassana Meditation    

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