The Dhammapada and Virtue Ethics

Author: Christopher Ives (Stonehill College)

The most widely read Buddhist text is, in all likelihood, the Dhammapada, a collection of verses attributed to the historical Buddha, which includes a widely quoted statement:

Refraining from all that is detrimental,
attaining what is wholesome,
purifying one’s mind:
this is the instruction of Awakened Ones.[i]

By “detrimental” Buddha is referring to mental states that cause suffering, whereas the “wholesome” are the opposite mental states, the cultivation of which conduce to liberation from suffering. The Dhammapada is replete with lists of these mental states, the most prominent of which are the “three poisons,” ignorance, greed, and ill will, and their opposites, wisdom, generosity and loving-kindness. The Dhammapada also treats the “five hindrances” and the “ten fetters,” as well as the “five faculties” and the “seven factors of enlightenment.” In effect, these mental states are vices and virtues.

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The Bhagavad Gītā

Author: Amod Lele (Boston University)

The Bhagavad Gītā is an episode from the Mahābhārata (the long Indian epic poem) in which the god Krishna offers advice to the hero Arjuna, in response to Arjuna’s despair at the need to kill his cousins in battle. It is one of the most loved texts in Indian tradition – enough that some modern thinkers, including Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi have taken it to be the central text of Hindu tradition. When one wants to identify the ethical teachings of the great philosophers in the Vedānta tradition (such as Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja), those philosophers’ commentaries on the Gītā, while difficult for a novice reader, are often the clearest guide to their ideas.

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