Śīla (Sanskrit) or sīla (Pāli) is an important concept in Buddhism that is usually rendered into English as "virtue"; other translations include "good conduct," "morality," "moral discipline" and "precept." It is an action that is an intentional effort. It is one of the three practices (sīla, samādhi, and paññā) and the second pāramitā. It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed.
Sīla refers to overall (principles of) ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, which correspond to "basic morality" (five precepts), "basic morality with asceticism" (eight precepts), "novice monkhood" (ten precepts) and "monkhood" (Vinaya or Patimokkha). Laypeople generally undertake to live by the five precepts which are common to all Buddhist schools. If they wish, they can choose to undertake the eight precepts, which have some additional precepts of basic asceticism.
- To refrain from taking life
- To refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing)
- To refrain from sexual misconduct (improper sexual behavior)
- To refrain from lying and deceiving
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower heavens is likely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice. There is nothing improper or un-Buddhist about limiting one's aims to this level of attainment, although by itself it does not gain one nirvana or end suffering.
In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict, and becomes a precept of celibacy.
The three additional rules of the eight precepts are:
- To refrain from eating at the wrong time (by only eating from sunrise to noon, one ensures that all food eaten in a day is digested before nightfall)
- To refrain from all entertainments and decorations (e.g., dancing, wearing jewelry, watching movies, going to shows, etc. This especially includes entertainments that bring the viewer's mind to sexual imagery)
- To refrain from using a high, luxurious bed, or beds that provide extraneous softness or comfort
Vinaya is the specific moral code for nuns and monks . It includes the Patimokkha, a set of rules (227 for monks in the Theravadin recension). The precise content of the vinayapitaka (scriptures on Vinaya) differ slightly according to different schools, and different schools or subschools set different standards for the degree of adherence to Vinaya.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is also a distinctive Vinaya and ethics contained within the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (not to be confused with the Pali text of that name) for Bodhisattvas, where, for example, the eating of meat is frowned upon and vegetarianism is actively encouraged (see vegetarianism in Buddhism). These precepts are, however, not present in the strictest moral code of the Theravadin Patimokkha, and are generally understood to have come in existence at least 500 years after the Buddha.
- Gethin (1998), p. 170; Harvey (2007), p. 199; Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 3 passim; Nyanatiloka (1988), entry for "sīla"; Thanissaro (1999); and, Warder (2004), p. 100.
- Gethin (1998), p. 170.
- Gombrich (2002), p. 89; Nyanatiloka (1988), entry for "sīla"; and, Saddhatissa (1987), pp. 54, 56.
- Bodhi (2005), p. 153.
- Sīla is particularly translated into "precept" in the context of pañca-sīlā, the so-called "Five Precepts," although even here Harvey (2007) uses the more literal translation of "five virtues."
- Stewart McFarlane in Peter Harvey, ed., Buddhism. Continuum, 2001, pages 195-196.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2005). In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-491-1.
- Gethin, Rupert (1998). The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-289223-1.
- Gombrich, Richard (2002). Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07585-8.
- Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University. ISBN 0-521-31333-3.
- Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2.
- Nyanatiloka Mahathera (1988). Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0019-8. Retrieved 2008-02-17 from "BuddhaSasana" at http://www.budsas.org/ebud/bud-dict/dic_idx.htm.
- Saddhatissa, Hammalawa (1987). Buddhist Ethics: The Path to Nirvāna. London: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-53-3.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1999). The Ten Perfections: A Study Guide. Retrieved 2008-02-17 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/perfections.html.
- Warder, A.K. (2004). Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1741-9.
- Sila as explained in the Buddhist Encyclopedia.