Buddhist Ethics

Buddhist Ethics

by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, Jamgon Lodro Taye, Jamqon Londra Taye

Spiritual growth in a Buddhist context is a process of discovering a perfect quality that is already within us.See more details below


Spiritual growth in a Buddhist context is a process of discovering a perfect quality that is already within us.

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
1370L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Qualities of the Spiritual Teacher and Student


  1. The Search for a Spiritual Guide
  2. The Necessity of Working with a Spiritual Guide
    1. Scriptures
    2. Logic
    3. Similes
  3. Spiritual Guides and Their Qualifications
    1. Overview
      1. Types
      2. Qualifications
    2. Explanation
      1. Particular Types
      2. Individual Qualifications
        1. The Monastic Preceptor
        2. The Bodhisattva's Instructor
        3. The Tantric Master
  4. The Teacher to Ignore and the One to Favor
  5. The Requirements of the Disciple
    1. The Disciple to Favor
      1. The Suitable Candidate for Monastic Life
      2. The Suitable Candidate for the Bodhisattva's Training
      3. The Suitable Candidate for Secret Mantra
    2. The Disciple to Ignore
  6. Examining and Working with a Spiritual Teacher
    1. Mutual Examination
    2. The Ways to Work with a Spiritual Teacher
      1. Motive
      2. Application
        1. Making Offerings and Showing Reverence
        2. Serving
        3. Establishing the Validity of the Instructions
  7. The Benefits of Working with a Spiritual Teacher 
    1. Reasonings
    2. The Benefits as Taught in the Scriptures
  8. Clearing Away Impediments to Spiritual Growth 
    1. Shunning Bad Friends
    2. Overcoming Demonic Forces
  9. Awakeningthe Faith Conducive to Spiritual Growth
  10. The Methods of Teaching and Listening to the Doctrine
    1. Preliminary Steps
      1. The Responsibilities of the Spiritual Teacher
        1. Creating a Congenial Setting
        2. Driving Away Malevolent Influences
        3. Maintaining Dignity
      2. The Responsibilities of the Disciple
        1. Making Suitable Offerings
        2. Behaving Respectfully
        3. Valuing the Opportunity
    2. The Main Activities
      1. The Master's Discourse
        1. The Experienced Speaker
          1. Expertise
            1. Expertise in the Subjects
            2. Expertise in Presentation
            3. Skillful Conduct
          2. Benevolence
          3. Patience
        2. Teaching Methods
          1. Overview
          2. Detailed Presentation
        3. Styles of Teaching
      2. Listening with Respect
      3. The Speaker's and Listener's Fulfillment of the Six Perfections
    3. Concluding Duties
      1. The Responsibilities of the Speaker
      2. The Responsibilities of the Listener
    4. The Usefulness of Teaching and Listening

The Qualities of the Spiritual Teacher and Student

This subject is presented in ten parts: (1) the search for a spiritual guide; (2) the necessity of working with a spiritual guide; (3) spiritual guides and their qualifications; (4) the teacher to ignore and the one to favor; (5) the requirements of the disciple; (6) examining and working with a spiritual teacher; (7) the benefits of working with a spiritual teacher; (8) clearing away impediments to spiritual growth; (9) awakening the faith conducive to spiritual growth; and (10) the methods of teaching and listening to the doctrine.


To take advantage of life's leisure and endowments
Upon approaching the Buddha's teaching, the source of all
happiness and well-being,
First find and then follow a spiritual guide.

    The source of our present and lasting happiness and well-being is the precious teaching of the Buddha. Just to hear its name is rare, how much more so to encounter it. Now that the Buddha's teaching is known in this world and you are a human being whose life is replete with leisure and endowments, do not waste this opportunity, for such a life is a wish-fulfilling jewel. In order to make your life fruitful, as you wisely approach [the teaching,] first search for a qualified spiritual guide and then follow his or her guidance impeccably.

    The search for a master comprises three preliminary steps: the first [is reflecting upon the uniqueness of the Buddha's teaching] as described in Interwoven Praises:

[Your doctrine is] the sole path, easy to enter;
It grants supremacy and has no flaw.
Propitious in the beginning, middle, and end:
No one has taught a doctrine like yours!

The teaching of the Buddha provides the sole path to liberation. Easily entered, it grants none other than supreme attainment. [The Buddha's doctrine] is flawless [in being the antidote] to attachment and other [emotions]. It is propitious because all stages [of its practice]—first listening, then reflection, and finally making it a living experience—become the seed for the attainment of higher levels of existence and liberation. For these reasons, the Buddha's doctrine represents, in every respect, the source of all happiness and well-being. These features are not found in the doctrines of other teachers, such as that of the seer Kapila, but are exclusive to the teachings of the Buddha. Accordingly, the bodhisattva Shantideva composed this prayer:

May the doctrine, the only cure for suffering
And the source of all happiness,
Be supported and honored
And endure for long!

    The second [step is valuing the precious human life.] The Reunion of Father and Son Scripture states:

Having shunned all of the eight fetters of life
And found the marvelous endowments so rare to obtain
Wise ones who have come to have faith in the doctrine of the Joyful One
Engage in the right spiritual practice.

Only by having faith in and following the Buddha's teaching can we take full advantage of our human lives that are replete with leisure and endowments.

    The third step [is considering the need for a spiritual guide]. The Transcendent Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines states:

A bodhisattva, great being, who wishes to attain ultimate, authentic,
and perfect awakening, should first approach, work with,
and honor spiritual guides.

    What kind of spiritual guide should one look for? The Collection of Spontaneous Utterances states:

Since by relying on an inferior, one regresses,
On an equal, one stagnates,
And on a superior, one excels,
Keep in touch with a spiritual guide superior to yourself.

We will not develop any wholesome qualities by working with a spiritual guide who is inferior to ourselves in the areas of ethical, scholarly, and meditative abilities, etc. [On the contrary, the relationship] will prove detrimental in many ways, and we will regress. When the spiritual guide is an equal, of similar abilities to ours, we will stagnate, neither progressing nor regressing. When the spiritual guide has qualities superior to ours, we can excel and attain the desired supreme goal. Therefore, we should always remain close to an individual superior to ourselves, a spiritually advanced master. The same scripture states:

If you study with a master
Far superior to yourself in ethics,
Contemplative tranquility, and wisdom,
You can even excel him.


The need for a guide can be determined from scripture, logic, and similes.

The necessity of working with a spiritual guide can be determined from (1) scriptures, (2) logic, and (3) similes.

Scriptures [A]

There are countless scriptural references to the need for working with a spiritual guide. The Condensed Transcendent Wisdom Scripture states:

Worthy students who respect spiritual teachers
Should always remain close to learned masters
Because from them the virtues of the wise spring.

The Flower Array Scripture states:

O child of the universal family, all your virtuous qualities issue from your spiritual guide. You can encounter and receive instructions from one only if you have cultivated merit and wisdom for oceans of eons. Otherwise, to meet a spiritual guide may prove more difficult than coming upon the most rare of gems. Therefore, never tire of honoring your spiritual guide.

Logic [B]

Given that a student wishes to attain the state of an omniscient buddha, the basic premise is that it is necessary for him or her to work with a spiritual guide. The reason is that the individual does not know how to cultivate merit and wisdom or to clear away obscurations. Examples consistent with this proof are the enlightened ones of the three times. The converse can be illustrated by solitary sages and other examples.

Similes [C]

Many similes illustrate [the need for a spiritual guide]. For example, the Biography of Shri Sambhava states:

Spiritual teachers are like guides because they set us on the path of the perfections.

The Biography of the Lay Practitioner Achala states:

Spiritual guides are like escorts because they escort us to the state of omniscience.

The Flower Array states:

Spiritual guides are like ferrymen because they carry us across the river of cyclic life.


This section has two parts: (1) an overview, and (2) an explanation. The first of these has two parts: (1) types of spiritual guides, and (2) their qualifications.

Overview [A]

Types [1]

A spiritual guide may be an ordinary human being, a bodhisattva, a buddha in manifest or enjoyment dimension Suited to the four phases of the disciple's growth.

There are four types of spiritual guide: ordinary human beings, bodhisattvas, the manifest dimension of a buddha, and the enjoyment dimension of a buddha. These four are suited to the four phases [of our spiritual growth]. At the beginning of our quest, it is impossible for us to come in touch with buddhas or bodhisattvas who have reached the higher stages of awakening. Therefore, we have to work with ordinary human beings as our spiritual guides.

    When the obscurations caused by our previous deeds have cleared, we can meet bodhisattvas on higher stages of awakening. As we reach the highest level of the path of accumulation, we can encounter the manifest dimension of a buddha. Then, as we attain the higher stages of awakening, we can come in contact with the enjoyment dimension of a buddha as our spiritual guide.

    At the beginning of our quest, when we are still trapped in the dungeon of our emotions and previous deeds, we cannot consider working with higher spiritual guides because we will not see as much as their faces! We first must seek a spiritual guide who is an ordinary human being. When our path has been illuminated by the light of his or her speech, we will come to meet higher spiritual guides. Therefore, the kindest of all is the spiritual guide who is an ordinary person.

Qualifications [2]

Eight, four, or two qualities characterize the teacher who is an ordinary person.

Since the [latter] three types of spiritual guide do not directly benefit the beginner, it is not necessary to describe their characteristics here.

    The spiritual guide who is an ordinary person must possess eight, four, or two specific qualities. The eight are listed in the following verse, which summarizes the treatment of this subject in the Stages of the Bodhisattva:

He or she is ethical and learned,
Spiritually accomplished, full of compassion and love,
Fearless, patient, dauntless,
And eloquent.

    The four [qualities] are referred to in the Scripture Ornament: being a great teacher by virtue of prodigious learning; having the capacity to clear away doubts by virtue of higher wisdom; speaking words worthy of taking to heart because this teacher's deeds are those of a virtuous person; having the ability to point out the exact nature of both thoroughly polluted and fully pure phenomena.

    The two [qualities of a spiritual guide] are erudition and the commitment [to awaken for the benefit of others]. [Shantideva's] Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life states:

Even at the cost of my life,
I will never forsake my spiritual friend
Who is knowledgeable in the meaning of the Universal Way
And who is a supreme follower of the bodhisattva's way of life?

Explanation [B]

This section has two parts: (1) the particular types of teacher, and (2) their respective qualifications.

Particular Types [1]

The teacher may be a monastic preceptor, a bodhisattva's instructor, or a tantric master.

[A disciple] may have three types of teacher—a monastic preceptor, a bodhisattva's instructor, or a tantric master—depending on which of the three sets of commitments he or she has assumed in the teacher's presence. The qualifications of each are explained below.

Individual Qualifications [2]

This three-part section describes the qualifications of (1) the monastic preceptor, (2) the bodhisattva's instructor, and (3) the tantric master.

The Monastic Preceptor [a]

The ordaining preceptor, ceremonial master, interviewer, tutor or instructor, and instructor of novices act as the five monastic teachers.

There are four types of monastic preceptors: the preceptor who presides over the novice and monk's ordination, the ceremonial master, the interviewer who inquires [whether the candidate has] the requisites [for taking monastic vows], and the [monk's] tutor and instructor. Five types [can be counted] if the instructor of male and female novices is added.

    The general requirements of the monastic preceptor are mentioned in [Shakhyaprabha's] Three Hundred Stanzas on the Novitiate:

A monk who is ethical, well-versed in monastic ceremonies,
Compassionate toward the sick, associated with upright monks,
Diligent in helping others spiritually and materially, and able to give timely counsel
Is qualified to be a monastic preceptor.

    A monastic preceptor is known by the following qualities: [steadfastness, learning, and helpfulness]. Steadfastness refers to living by ethical discipline; [specifically,] having kept the monastic vows for [at least] ten years. Learning refers to flawless recollection of the monastic ceremonies set forth in the collection of scriptures on discipline. Helpfulness comprises several aspects: caring with benevolence and compassion for students who are sick; keeping company with monks who are upright in that they maintain ethics; being diligent in helping others by giving both instructions and material things; and offering [disciples] timely and pertinent counsel.

    In particular, the preceptor [who presides over ordination ceremonies] must possess the four virtues of steadfastness, learning, respectability, and helpfulness. Steadfastness and learning may be considered as a single quality or may be further divided into twenty-one groups of five characteristics each. These characteristics are explained in [Mikyö Dorjé's] Great Commentary on the Summary of Discipline and in the works of the eminent Pema Karpo. Helpfulness is said to be of twelve kinds:

Compassionate and patient, maintaining close ties with upright persons,
Persevering in the two forms of helpful activity, being of the same gender and view [as the candidate],
Able to speak, comprehend, and being of sound mind,
Having a natural human body, and [holding] his usual rank
[within the monastic community].

    The primary qualifications of the ceremonial master are six: (1) observing monastic vows, (2) being of the same gender as the candidate [for ordination], (3) sharing with the candidate the same view on the discipline, (4) fulfillment of the three basic requisites [knowing how to speak, comprehending what is said, and being of sound mind], (5) having a natural human body [i.e., not being an emanation], and (6) holding his usual rank [i.e., not having been demoted]. In addition to those six qualities, he must be skilled in conducting the ordination procedure.

    The interviewer must meet the above six requirements and be proficient in conducting an inquiry to determine potential impediments for a candidate [wishing to receive ordination].

    The tutor, in addition to the six requirements, must be able to instill the sense of pure ethics in his students by explaining the prohibitions and duties [of a monk].

    The instructor, in addition to the six requirements, must be qualified to teach by virtue of his clear understanding of the three collections of scriptures.

The Bodhisattva's Instructor [b]

The Scripture Ornament states:

An aspirant bodhisattva should work with a spiritual guide who is self-controlled, tranquil, and has pacified deception,
Is eminent, diligent, and displays a wealth of transmissions,
Has realized the nature of all phenomena, is articulate,
Embodies loving-kindness, and shows no weariness or discouragement.

    The instructor of the bodhisattva should meet the following ten requirements: (1) self-control, i.e., having tamed the "wild horse" of the mind by the "fine bridle" of training in ethics; (2) mental tranquility, achieved through training in contemplation, using [the tools of] mindfulness and inspection; (3) pacification of deception, achieved through the wisdom of discerning reality and grounded in the tranquility of a pliant mind; (4) eminence, i.e., possessed of greatly superior qualities, being neither inferior nor equal to students; (5) diligence, i.e., a constant delight in helping others; (6) a wealth of transmissions gained from extensive study of the three collections of scriptures; (7) supreme realization of the nature of all phenomena gained through the strength of listening, pondering, and meditating; (8) skillful articulation, i.e., the ability to present the stages of the path in a way that suits the mental aptitude of the disciple; (9) genuine loving-kindness, in having the pure motivation to teach out of compassion, without regard for personal gain or honor; (10) freedom from weariness and discouragement, in never tiring of repeating lessons and showing patience [in the face] of anger.

    [Four of these qualifications]—self-control, tranquility, pacification of deception, and realization of the nature of phenomena—are aspects of spiritual accomplishment. Possessing a wealth of transmissions is an aspect of [mastery of] the transmission. Those five, together with eminence, are the six qualities of personal growth. The remaining four are qualities related to caring for others. A teacher who meets these ten requirements is known as an exemplary human being.

The bodhisattva's instructor who exhibits twelve qualities such as erudition is an exceptional teacher.

    Exceptional is the instructor of the bodhisattva who exhibits twelve qualities, erudition and so forth, as referred to by the exalted Nagarjuna:

Remain near an instructor who has these twelve [qualities]:
Erudition, profound wisdom,
Disinterest in material gain or possessions,
An awakening mind, great compassion,
Patience in enduring hardship, [strength to overcome] weariness or discouragement,
[A wealth of] oral instructions, freedom through [the practice of] the path,
And knowledge of the student's affinity and spiritual maturity.

The Tantric Master [c]

The tantric master must be steadfast, self-controlled, intelligent,
Patient, honest, and well-versed in the activities related to mantra and tantra.
He or she is compassionate, learned, expert in ten fields,
Proficient in the drawing of mandalas, and skilled in the ways
of explaining the Secret Mantra.

The types of tantric or vajra master will be explained below.

    The qualifications of the vajra master are discussed at length [in various works]. As a summary of these, the Fifty [Verses on Devotion to] the Master lists fifteen qualifications, six general and nine specific. The six are as follows: (1) steadfastness, by virtue of having an unperturbed body, speech, and mind; (2) self-control, by virtue of meditative training; (3) intelligence or capacity for accurate analysis; (4) patience or restraint from anger (when seeing students' poor conduct); and (5 and 6) honesty and sincerity, i.e., freedom from deceptive ways (hiding one's faults or shortcomings) and artifice (giving a false impression in order to mislead others).

    The nine specific qualifications [of the vajra master] are as follows: (1) knowledge of the use of mantras in performing the four charismatic activities, etc.; (2) knowledge of the practices related to tantra, for example, [being able to explain the tantras by means of the] six parameters; (3) loving compassion for others; (4) proficiency in the common treatises; (5, 6, and 7) mastery of the [three sets of] ten fields; (8) proficiency in the drawing of mandalas based on proper performance of familiarization, etc., and mastery of initiation procedures; and (9) knowledge of how to explain the Secret Mantra in the manner appropriate for [disciples] of superior, moderate, and lesser capabilities.

    The first set of ten fields of expertise comprises those areas indispensable to the vajra master. The Tantra of Consecration states:

Mandala, contemplation, seal,
Stance, mantra, seated position,
Recitation, fire offering,
Food offering (torma), and dissolution.

    The second set of ten fields of expertise which concern ritual is taught in the Indestructible Tent Tantra and enumerated accordingly in Dombipa's Ten Essential Points:

The victorious ones have specified ten fields of expertise:
Protection [wheel], conferral of initiation, food offerings,
    recitation, rite of tearing apart the union,
[Two] reversals, actualization of the mandala,
The threatening rite, and departure request.

    The third set of ten fields of expertise which are of ultimate significance are elucidated in the Tantra [of Hevajra] in Five Hundred Thousand [Lines] and summarized in the [Means of Accomplishment of the Glorious] Blazing Jewels:

Know these ten fields of expertise:
Vajra, bell, pristine awareness,
Deity, mandala, fire offering,
Mantra, colored sands, food offerings, and initiation.

The ten outer fields given in the Indestructible Nucleus' Ornament [Tantra] resemble the [first set] of fields of expertise given in the Tantra of Consecration. There is a similar enumeration in the Summation of Essential Points. These are presented from the viewpoint of the yoga tantra system.

    The father-son transmission from Mikyö Dorjé asserts that the ten secret [or inner] fields of expertise taught in the Indestructible Nucleus' Ornament

The rites of the two reversals,
The secret initiation and the initiation of pristine awareness through wisdom,
The ritual of tearing apart the union [of hostile forces],
Food offerings, vajra muttering,
The ritual of accomplishing the fierce act,
Consecration and actualization of the mandala
Are the ten secret fields of expertise.

—as well as those found in the Beholding the Qualities of the Spiritual Master Tantra, the Commentary on the Buddhasamayoga, and the Cluster of Secret Instructions are from the standpoint of the Highest Yoga Tantra.

From a different perspective, the vajra master owns three
    treasures, has received the entire course of initiations,
Is committed, learned in the tantras, skilled in performing
    rituals, and has produced signs of experience.


Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >