Buddhist ethics

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Buddha shows the way ( Mandalay Hill).

The term Buddhist ethics summarizes the morality rules and moral guidelines of Buddhism . The "path of the Buddha" (Skt. Buddha-marga ) is understood as a practice-oriented guide to life. The highest value and the goal of salvation in Buddhism is salvation ( nirvana ). Buddhist ethics distinguishes behaviors that are beneficial ( kusala ) or obstructive ( akusala ) on the way to the goal of salvation .

Autonomous ethics

Buddhist ethics is a path to self-redemption. This concept differs fundamentally from the Christian concept of salvation through the grace of God (the exception is the so-called Amitabha Buddhism in Japan, according to which self- redemption through meditation is not possible and this can only happen through the grace of the transcendent Buddha). Buddhist ethics as autonomous ethics evaluates actions according to their usefulness for achieving the goal of salvation. Other religions justify their values heteronomously in divine commandments that are to be obeyed when threatened with punishment. Because of this difference, it is often discussed whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy .

In contrast to other religions, Buddhist ethics speaks less in absolute, sharply defined categories such as right or wrong, good or bad. Instead, Buddhist ethics follow the karma teachings, which indicate the natural consequences of actions. The term kusala means that behavior is wholesome, meritorious or beneficial to the goal of salvation. The opposite term akusala denotes unwholesome, damaging behavior which hinders the goal of salvation.

Buddhist ethics places great emphasis on training the mind. Buddha himself and later teachers developed exercises that should help the student on the way to the goal of salvation, including meditation in particular . But also striving for certain inner attitudes such as compassion ( Karuna ) belongs to the "exercises" in Buddhist usage.


The Dharma Wheel symbolizes the Noble Eightfold Path, the most important guide to Buddhist ethics.

Much of the Buddhist canonical scriptures contain discourses ( sutras ) of Buddhas and important Buddhist teachers for ethical training. They describe numerous exercises and ways of exercising, all of which lead to salvation. The different schools and systems of Buddhism differ in the selection and interpretation of the texts, as well as the selection and weighting of individual exercises.

The common basis of all Buddhist schools - and thus of Buddhist ethics - are the four noble truths with the noble eightfold path . They describe the goal of salvation (liberation from suffering) and the way to get there. In addition, there are various summaries of important elements of Buddhist teaching and ethics that are used by most Buddhist schools.

The term “ threefold exercise ” summarizes the three overarching areas of Buddhist ethics: morality ( sila ), concentration ( samadhi ) and wisdom ( panna ). Under the keyword “ Paramita ” other areas of practice are included, such as generosity ( Dāna ) and loving kindness ( Metta ).

Moral rules

Adherence to the Five Silas ( Pancasila ) is considered desirable by monks and lay followers of all Buddhist schools , but it is not mandatory to take refuge in the Three Jewels:

  1. Do not kill or injure living beings ( ahimsa ).
  2. Do not take what is not given.
  3. Do not cultivate unwholesome sexual relationships and practice using the senses correctly.
  4. Don't lie or talk unwholesome.
  5. Do not cloud your consciousness by intoxicating means.

The Noble Eightfold Path refers to further precepts that are also of interest to laypeople, especially about behavior in everyday life and at work.

Buddhist monks and nuns have to submit to the extensive Buddhist order rules .


The four exalted states of abode ( Brahmavihara ) are exercises for the virtues:

  1. Goodness ( metta )
  2. Compassion ( karuna )
  3. Compassionate joy ( mudita )
  4. Equanimity ( upekkhā )


A specialty of the ethics of Zen Buddhism is the situation ethics.

Mindfulness ( sati ) as “right mindfulness” ( samma siti ) is the 7th link of the noble eightfold path and thus one of the fundamental qualities to be striven for. Mindfulness is to be preserved as much as possible under all living conditions. The prohibition of intoxicating substances is derived from the great importance of an attentive and alert mind (5th Sila).

Goodness ( metta ) is an active, selfless, non-possessive form of love that strives for the well-being of all sentient beings (cf. altruism ). Goodness is an expression of compassion ( Karuna ), a cardinal virtue of Buddhist ethics (cf. Christian charity ).

Love of one's enemies , peacefulness and non-violence are generally considered to be worth striving for. In several places, such as the 1st Sila, Buddha urges his followers not to harm other sentient beings ( ahimsa ). The Engaged Buddhism is also working on a political level for these values.


  • Klaus-Josef Notz: Lexicon of Buddhism. Basic concepts, traditions, practice in 1200 keywords . DirectMedia Publ., Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-89853-448-0 (1 CD-ROM).

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