A Collection of Mahayana Silas


Compiled by Yogi C. M. Chen

I. The Foundation of Mahayana Bodhisattva Silas

A. Silas of Refuge

  1. One who has taken refuge in the Buddha should not go to another God for refuge.
  2. One who has taken refuge in the Dharma should not hurt other beings.
  3. One who has taken refuge in the Sangha should not rely on non-Buddhists.

The compiler says: It should be added to (1) above "and should not believe in the false views of non-Buddhism." This addition is more important than what goes before it. In reference to (2) above, to hurt other beings is against the Dharma of compassion, but to hurt the Dharma teaching is against the whole Dharmadhatu.

B. Panca Sila--The Five Fundamental Precepts

  1. I promise to abstain from killing.
  2. I promise to abstain from stealing.
  3. I promise to abstain from committing adultery.
  4. I promise to abstain from speaking falsehood.
  5. I promise to abstain from taking intoxicating liquor and drugs.

C. Asthanga Sila--The Eight Precepts

  1. I promise to abstain from killing.
  2. I promise to abstain from stealing.
  3. I promise to abstain from associating with the opposite sex.
  4. I promise to abstain from speaking falsehood.
  5. I promise to abstain from taking intoxicating liquor and drugs.
  6. I promise to abstain from taking food after midday.
  7. I promise to abstain from dancing, singing, playing music, seeing unseemly shows, using garlands, perfumes and other toiletries.
  8. I promise to abstain from using high, grand, and luxurious seats, beds, and beddings.

D. Dasabhadra Karmamarga--The Way of the Meritorious Deeds

Abstinence forever from:

  1. Killing
  2. Stealing
  3. Unchaste conduct
  4. Lying
  5. Slandering
  6. Harsh language
  7. Frivolous talk
  8. Covetousness
  9. Anger
  10. Heretical views.

The compiler says: These four kinds of silas mentioned above are for laymen. However, all the Vinaya rules of the seven Hinayana orders of Bhiksu, Bhiksuni, Siksamana, Sramanera, Sramanerika, Upasaka, and Upasika are foundations of the Mahayana Bodhisattva-silas. There are no contradictions between the seven sets of rules of the Hinayana and those silas of the Mahayana. Although many Tibetan and Chinese works concerning the silas mention something about "breaking such a rule for the sake of performing such a good conduct", the word "break" is wrongly used. In fact, there is no rule which one is allowed to break. One should seriously say: Once our lord ordained a rule, it must always be kept well, without any breaking of it, at any time, or on any occasion. Nevertheless, not breaking it does not mean holding to without transcendency. And transcendency for a higher purpose does not mean breaking it. Let me continue a little further on this problem. To really break a sila and hence causing one to fall into hell, the following four conditions must be completely met:

First of all, the sinner purposely, from his own free will, wants to kill a person. This is his main subjective condition of purpose. Such a bad purpose issues without ceasing from his great sorrow of anger until the action is performed.

Secondly, the instrument of killing such as a knife, sword, gun, or poison, is purposely prepared with efficiency until the action is performed.

Thirdly, the person who is the object of the killing is a live being or even still living in the mother's womb.

Fourthly, the time at which the killing takes place is a normal integrated time for the killer, without mental disease as madness or drunkenness.

We have been told the well-known story that once Buddha in his past lifetime killed a robber to save 500 merchants. Such an action not only receives no punishment, but also increases many merits. The Sila of non-killing has not been broken, but rather this sila of Hinayana has been transcended for a better purpose, the great meritorious sila of Mahayana. Firstly, Buddha did not purposely kill the robber through anger. On the contrary, he had only compassion for that robber who would have committed a great sin if his life had not been ended. Secondly, the killing instrument was used to cease the bad actions of the robber and to save the 500 merchants. Thirdly, the person who was killed was not Buddha's enemy but the enemy of himself and the 500 merchants. Fourthly, the time of killing was a time of compassion and justice, similar to the time a parent strikes a bad son to stop his bad action. How then can many works describe this holy event as the breaking of the sila of non-killing?

Hence, in the preparation stage, every sila should be kept by the Bodhisattva. This is an important point which should be recognized by the person who wants to keep the Silas of Mahayana. Under the principle of the three-yanas-in-one which I emphasize, the contradictions perceived by the common person between the silas of the three yanas should be swept away clearly without a dust of doubt. He who is proud of the silas of Mahayana and giddily breaks the silas of Hinayana, is just breaking the silas of Mahayana.

II. The Root of Bodhisattva Silas: Bodhicitta

The compiler says: Bodhisattva silas have been given more attention to by readers than that of their root--the silas of Bodhicitta, which have been neglected. Although there are only four passive and four active articles, they are easy to read but hard to keep. If these were well kept, then the Bodhisattva silas, even in large number, might be kept very well.

A. The four passive abstentions are:

  1. To cheat spiritual teachers and persons worthy of worship.
  2. To make others feel ashamed without cause.
  3. Say improper things out of spite to a Bodhisattva who has adopted the Bodhicitta.
  4. To behave meanly to sentient beings.

B. The four active ones are:

  1. Not to tell a lie willingly even to save one's life.
  2. To set all sentient beings on the path of the good and wholesome in general and of the Mahayana in particular.
  3. To consider a Bodhisattva who has formed the Bodhicitta as the Teacher, the Buddha, and to proclaim his virtues in the ten regions of the world.
  4. To love all sentient beings without ever behaving meanly to them.

III. The Four Articles of Those Won Over by Evils

  1. To glorify oneself and smear others for the sake of gain and honours.
  2. Not to give out of avarice the right means of subsistence and of Right Dharma to those who are destitute and unprotected and asking.
  3. Angrily to censure others without listening to apologies.
  4. Forsaking the Mahayana and developing false Dharma.

The compiler says: These four articles are in Tibetan works. Tsongkhapa compiled them within the Eighteen Mulapattis--the great sins which will be punished in hell. Gampopa compiled them outside of the Eighteen Mulapattis, although the punishment for them was the same as for the Eighteen.

IV. Five Mulapattis of the King

  1. To take by force what belongs to the Three Jewels.
  2. To disparage and renounce the right Dharma--Hinayana and Mahayana.
  3. To remove forcibly the robes of a bad monk or beat or imprison him.
  4. To commit one or more than one of the pancanantarya, the five heinous offenses of patricide, matricide, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and destroying the harmony of the Sangha.
  5. To adhere to false views (mithya drishti) and commit ten bad deeds.

V. Five Mulapattis of the Officials or Officers

  1. To rely on political power and take what belongs to the Three Jewels.
  2. To rely on political power and destroy towns, villages or any land of the nation.
  3. To disparage and renounce the right Dharma--Hinayana and Mahayana and force others to do the same.
  4. Forcibly remove the robes of a bad or a good monk or beat or imprison him.
  5. To commit one or more than one of the pancanantarya (or five heinous offenses).

The compiler says: The Tibetan tradition of Bodhisattva silas has Eighteen Mulapattis. The first four articles of the Eighteen are taken from the above "Four Articles of Those Won Over By Evils," the fifth to ninth are those from "Five Mulapattis of the King." As there is only one article among the mulapattis of the officials which is different from that of the King, the one concerning the destroying of land, this is taken by Tibetan tradition as the tenth of the Eighteen Mulapattis. The remainder, the eleventh through eighteenth, are taken from the section below, the "Eight Mulapattis of Entering into the Mahayana."

VI. Eight Mulapattis of Entering into the Mahayana

  1. To instruct in the profound doctrine of the Mahayana someone who has not sufficient wisdom to recognize it.
    The compiler says: In Tibetan works, the word "sunyata" is used in this article instead of the whole profound doctrine of Mahayana. In my opinion, the sunyata alone is certainly profound, but the most profound point is the identification of the Sunyata and Great Compassion. If we call a spade a spade, to discuss sila with sila, the Mahayanist may transcend the sila of Hinayana for the sake of saving others which may also seem profound to those persons whose intelligence cannot receive it. We should only faithfully translate the original text as "The profound doctrine of the Mahayana." It implies the totality of Mahayana silas, sunyata, and compassion; all are included.
  2. To discourage others from striving after Mahayana and encourage them to aim at Hinayana.
  3. To give up the pratimoksha and learn Mahayana only.
  4. To disparage the Hinayana and over-encourage others to learn Mahayana only.
  5. To preach Mahayana to one's disciples for the sake of getting many offerings, saying that one's preaching is better than others.
  6. To preach sutra and Dharani and say that such profound doctrines are gotten from oneself and not from others.
  7. To do things as candalas, give alms in a proud manner, and take things from the Three Jewels and give them to great officials.
  8. To impose troublesome regulations on the monks, and preach false Dharma as right Dharma, right Dharma as false Dharma, and give up compassion.

The compiler says: In the Tibetan tradition, the fifth and sixth articles have been made as one article, but the eighth has been divided into two separate articles, to give up compassion being the last one.

VII. Forty-Six Apattis

These are the small sins which will cause some punishment according to the degree of the action, but will not cause one to fall into hell.

  1. Not to worship or praise or believe in the Three Jewels, more or less daily. The compiler says: In Tibetan works, the above article mentions "three times," but the original text does not say "three times," only "more or less."
  2. To allow the mind to follow fame and money.
  3. Not to show respect for virtuous seniors.
  4. Not to accept the invitation of a believer.
  5. Not to accept a lawful precious offering if offered in faith.
  6. Not to expound the Dharma to someone desirous of hearing it (even if they desire with an evil motive).
  7. To abandon evil-doers or any one breaking his sila without benefitting them.
  8. Not to exert oneself to protect others and let them develop faith if they have any.
  9. To be slack with regard to the welfare of others, and to refuse to accept extra monastic requisites from them even when they are happy to give them.
  10. Not to be prepared to transcend, out of compassion for others, the seven kinds of vinaya rules. The compiler says: Here the word "transcend" is always mistaken as "break" by the common persons of Tibet and China.
  11. To gain anything by a wrong livelihood or false fatalism (drsti-jivitendriya).
  12. To be restless (auddhatya).
  13. To think that one should not like Hinayana Nirvana and dislike Samsara as Hinayanists do, but not actually practice the right Dharma to lead oneself to transcend the Nirvana of Hinayana into that of Mahayana.
  14. Not to take steps to put an end to slander about oneself either in fact or no-fact.
  15. Not to check evil doers out of fear of incurring their displeasure.
  16. To return abuse, strike or strife.
  17. Not to pacify those who doubt one and become angry.
  18. Not to excuse those who have offended one and asked for forgiveness.
  19. To continually indulge in angry thoughts about others.
  20. With lust to have disciples for personal aggrandizement.
  21. Not to dispel laziness and over-sleeping.
  22. To waste time in idle talk.
  23. Not to search after the method or technique of Samadhi.
  24. Not to destroy the five hindrances at the time of their appearance.
  25. To become attached to the experience of Samadhi.
  26. To disparage the Hinayana. The compiler says: This same injunction was seen in the sixth classification. Why is it considered a small sin here while before it was a great sin? This is because here the Bodhisattva has already learned Hinayana and at present is learning Mahayana. It may now seem to him that he need not learn any more about Hinayana and this is a small sin, while before the great sin was purposely to renounce the Hinayana even without learning any of it.
  27. To be capable of practicing the Bodhisattva idea, yet abandoning it to follow the Hinayana.
  28. To abandon the study of the Dharma and devote oneself to the study of the works of the Tirthikas.
  29. To take delight in studying the works of the Tirthikas, except for the purpose of debate.
  30. No faith in the profound truth and the supernatural power of the Mahayana.
  31. Not urging oneself to believe in the secret and profound Dharma which is difficult to believe in. The compiler says: This article is not found in the Tibetan Forty-six Apattis.
  32. To praise oneself and disparage others. The compiler says: The first article of the Eighteen Mulapattis appears outwardly the same as this one. Why is this here considered a small sin? The meaning of that first big sin was expecting respect and offerings without having any real virtue worthy of praise by others, whereas the meaning of this small sin is to have some pride, while possessing some real virtue but one should not praise oneself.
  33. Not to go to listen when there is a meeting of preaching.
  34. To abuse and disparage a preacher of the Dharma and to pay attention only to the letter and not to the spirit of what he says.
  35. Not to help those in need of money or of any kind of help.
  36. To neglect the sick.
  37. Not to exhort evil-doers, warning them that in both this and the next life they will have to experience the results of their action.
  38. Not to repay a good deed to the benefactors.
  39. Not to remove suffering and not to console those who are unhappy. The compiler says: This article contains two parts in the Tibetan works, the first part is the thirty-ninth article and the second part is the fortieth.
  40. Not to give to those who are desirous of livelihood.
  41. Not to work for one's circle of disciples.
  42. Not to adjust oneself to others in doing religious work, taking their feelings into consideration.
  43. Not to praise the good qualities of others.
  44. Not to take suitable action against those inimical to the Dharma.
  45. Not to terrify the enemies of the Dharma by means of supernatural powers.

The compiler says: There is an article about transcending the sin of adultery into the merit of saving others which has been omitted by the Chinese ancients. That is why there are only 45 articles.

VIII. Ethics Leading to Acquiring the Good Dharma

  1. Pondering over and making a living experience of the Dharma.
  2. To receive spiritual teachers respectfully and to serve them.
  3. To help and nurse the sick.
  4. To give liberally and to proclaim the virtues of others.
  5. To rejoice at other's merits and forbear their faults.
  6. To transmute the good and wholesome into enlightenment and to make the resolve to attain it.
  7. To worship the Three Jewels and strive strenuously.
  8. To be scrupulous.
  9. To be eager with one's training.
  10. To be watchful with circumspection.
  11. To guard the gates of the senses and to know moderation in eating.
  12. Not to sleep during the first and last parts of the night and strenuously to apply oneself to spiritual exercise.
  13. To meet saintly people and spiritual friends.
  14. To scrutinize one's own state of bewilderment and spiritual ignorance and to give up attachment to it.

IX. Ethics Leading to Work for the Benefit of Others

  1. To participate in meaningful activity.
  2. To remove the misery of all sentient beings.
  3. To instruct those who do not know how to do so.
  4. To be grateful and return favours.
  5. To protect those who are frightened.
  6. To remove the misery of suffering and provide for those who are in need.
  7. To grasp the Dharmacakra (Dharma-Wheel) and to fit it into one's attitude.
  8. To delight in proper virtues.
  9. To carry out spiritual training correctly.
  10. To refrain from making a display of magic powers.
  11. To aspire for the good.

X. Summary of the Compiler

The material sources of all those Bodhisattva silas are as follows:

  1. II. Silas of Bodhicitta--Kasyapaparivartasutra.
  2. III. Silas of Those Won Over by Evils--Bodhisattvabhumi.
  3. IV. Silas of the King--Akasagarbhasutra.
  4. V. Silas of the Great Official--Akasagarbhasutra.
  5. VI. Silas of Entering into the Mahayana--Akasagarbhasutra.
  6. VII. Silas of the forty-six Apattis--Bodhisattvabhumi.
  7. VIII. Ethics of Doing Good--Bodhisattvabhumi.

IX. Ethics of Benefitting Others--Bodhisattvabhumi.

In Chinese tradition there are Ten Mulapattis and Forty-Eight Apattis of the Bodhisattva Silas, translated from the Brahmajalasutra. They are quite similar to those from the Akasagarbhasutra and Bodhisattvabhumi and so I have not repeated them in this booklet. One thing noteworthy is that there are two special articles to forbid the believers to take meat and five kinds of pungent roots, including three kinds of onion and leek. This is because if these are eaten raw they will cause irritability of temper and if eaten cooked they will act as an aphrodisiac; moreover, the remaining smell after eating them, if one is reading the sutras, will drive away the good spirits, and will cause the bad ghosts to come.

The Rules were not laid down once for all ages, for in our Kali Age evil things as the golden apple, the red herring, and the song of the sirens, have increased along with man's desires. There would be many new rules laid down if Buddhas or Bodhisattvas were alive and living with us today. Is not opium harmful to us? It was not being used as a dangerous habit-forming drug in the days of our Lord Gautama and so he did not make a rule to forbid it. Yet if we have pity on ourselves we would forbid it as exemplified by the abstinence of liquor in the five silas. If one does not have pity on himself, he will dislike the silas as his fetters; but he who earnestly wants to save himself from failings will like the silas as his effective medicine. Thus, he will take Buddha Gautama who laid down all the rules as his personal father, and take the great Bodhisattva Maitreya as his adopted brother. He will create many good new rules from the examples of the old rules to help keep him in the Kali age clear, pure, holy, gentle, kind, and compassionate to benefit himself and others. Hence this booklet offering all the old rules may be quite useful to such a person, but to those who run mad after their desires and who have no pity on themselves, this booklet may be of no use.

Regarding the methods of confession, if any rule is not kept, please read Chenian Booklet New No. 70.

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