The gradual path begins with Sila, or Virtue, which is the intention to free oneself from unwholesome bodily and verbal actions that lead to coarse afflictions and remorse. Sila involves practicing self-discipline to let go of clinging, aversion, and delusion in oneself and towards others.

In simple terms, it means renouncing or letting go of desires or expectations from interactions with others and letting go any hateful, aversive, or harmful thoughts, speech or actions. The practice of virtue and goodwill helps protect us and others from the most detrimental forms of stress and unhappiness that our actions, speech, and intentions might cause when interacting with the world.

By strict self-discipline, one ensures that no unskillful behavior will cause us to become entangled in the problems of the external world. Success in self-discipline brings confidence and peace of mind that one has never known before.

Virtue and goodwill comes from the understanding that everyone, including ourselves, is afflicted by clinging of the Five Aggregates and that everyone who is not liberated acts based on clinging, aversion, and delusion. It comes from understanding that our perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and views can't be relied upon, and that it's common for people to come to false conclusions from the delusions that arise from not correctly seeing reality as it is.

Since everyone is afflicted by the fires of Nibbana, instead of taking anything personally, one should understand that people's actions in the present, including our own, are based on past causes and conditions. We cannot know what others have been through in life that might cause them to act in the present; therefore, any judgment about others is ignorance. Also, taking things personally is another form of ignorance, as no one can "do" anything to another. Even if there is intent to cause harm, this intention is rooted in past greed, aversion, and ignorance, and the result of their suffering. For example, one might have been abused or molested as a child and developed unwholesome behaviours or ways to interact with the world. This is why compassion and goodwill are required towards oneself and others.

Judgments Towards Others

It's important to remember that when we judge others, we are really just looking at our own Five Aggregates. In other words, when we have negative feelings, perceptions, thoughts, speech, and actions towards others, they are just a reflection of the preconceived notions stored in memory, re-cognized through the Five Aggregates.

So when you see greed, hatred, aversion, you are really looking at yourself.

As we approach any situation, we first establish the right view that all interactions with others are fraught with possible dangers and that we must not cling to, not get entangled with any judgments or expectations, as doing so will cause distress and dissatisfaction.

This is why it is important to constantly be mindful of our thoughts, speech, and actions and reflect on them.

When interacting with others, it's important to also maintain mindfulness to notice any tension or tightness in the mind or body, which may indicate clinging to the interaction, either expecting something or being adverse to the situation.

Any unskillful interaction will be easy to identify and reflect upon because of the lingering thoughts, distress and dissatisfaction that they create.

Good conduct leads to non-regret, to joy, and so on all the way to liberation:

The Tathagata describes how the whole path starts with virtue and gives advice on how to practice virtue: (some practices only apply to disciples)

Precepts are not Rules

It's important to look at virtue and the precepts not as rules, which is a form of clinging, but as a practice.

History is filled with people blindly believing they are a "a good person" yet justify wars and untold suffering in the name of "good". For this reason, we should not look at lying, stealing, killing, drinking, and sexual misconduct as simple concepts or attributes. But understand how their application needs to be skillfully adapted based on the unlimited circumstances one might encounter.

Practicing virtue is protection from getting tangled in wordly matters. It allows us to renounce the world, without hating the world. Its also one of the best ways to train the mind, as one must constantly be mindful if their own and others actions are tainted by greed, aversion, and delusion.

Practicing virtue is also the best way to judge our progress on the path, as we can evaluate the amount of clinging, aversion, and delusion that manifests in difficult situations, when we interact with difficult people.

For example, without encountering annoying individuals, how can we develop patience? It's through others triggering our "buttons" or testing our tolerance that we uncover the greed, aversion and clinging to expectations that still exist within us.


And what, are the qualities that make one a contemplative, that make one liberated?

We will be endowed with shame (at the idea of wrong-doing) & compunction (for the consequences of wrong-doing): That’s how you should train yourselves.


The Tathagata encourages the desciples to live up to their name, by actually practicing in a way that meets or exceeds the expectations people have for renunciants:

Right Action


And what is right action?

Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, & from sexual misconduct: This is called right action.

“And how is one made impure in three ways by bodily action? There is the case where a certain person takes life, is brutal, bloody-handed, devoted to killing & slaying, showing no mercy to living beings. He takes what is not given. He takes, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. He engages in sexual misconduct. He gets sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. This is how one is made impure in three ways by bodily action."

Right Speech


And what is right speech?

Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

“And how is one made impure in four ways by verbal action? There is the case where a certain person tells lies. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty [i.e., a royal court proceeding], if he is asked as a witness, ‘Come & tell, good man, what you know’: If he doesn’t know, he says, ‘I know.’ If he does know, he says, ‘I don’t know.’ If he hasn’t seen, he says, ‘I have seen.’ If he has seen, he says, ’I haven’t seen.’ Thus he consciously tells lies for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of a certain reward. He engages in divisive speech. What he has heard here he tells there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he tells here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus breaking apart those who are united and stirring up strife between those who have broken apart, he loves factionalism, delights in factionalism, enjoys factionalism, speaks things that create factionalism. He engages in harsh speech. He speaks words that are insolent, cutting, mean to others, reviling others, provoking anger and destroying concentration. He engages in idle chatter. He speaks out of season, speaks what isn’t factual, what isn’t in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya, words that are not worth treasuring. This is how one is made impure in four ways by verbal action.


If his mind inclines to speaking, he thinks: I will not engage in talk that is low, vulgar, common, ignoble, unconnected to the goal, not leading to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana, such as talk of kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars, food, drink, clothing, beds, garlands, scents, relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, countries, women, heroes, street talk, well talk, talk of the dead, miscellaneous talk, talk of being, talk of the sea, and various kinds of talk like this.

Thus he is fully aware there. And if his mind inclines to speaking, he thinks: I will engage in talk that is connected to the goal, leading to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana, such as talk of few desires, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglement, arousing energy, virtue, concentration, wisdom, liberation, knowledge and vision of liberation.

Thus he is fully aware there. If his mind inclines to thoughts, he thinks: I will not think thoughts that are low, vulgar, common, ignoble, unconnected to the goal, not leading to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, direct knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana, such as thoughts of sensuality, ill-will, and harm.

Thus he is fully aware there. And he thinks: I will think thoughts that are noble and lead outwards, leading to the complete destruction of suffering, such as thoughts of renunciation, non-ill-will, and non-harm.




So, there's a good acronym that you can use to understand right speech, and that is THINK. THINK before you speak.

"T" is for timeliness; is it the right time to say what you want to say? Sometimes it's not the right time.

"H is for honesty; do you know what you're going to say is true? If you don't know, you could say, "I'm not sure." I'm not sure if this is true or not, but this is what has been told to me.

"I" is for intention. What is the intention behind what you want to say? Is it a wholesome intention or an unwholesome intention? Is it to bring people up or to bring people down? What is the intention?

"N" is for necessity. Is it necessary for you to say what you have to say? Is it for their benefit, your benefit, or the benefit of both?

"K" is kindness. Can you infuse whatever you're going to say with kindness? I had a question about this. Someone said, "What if we have to reprimand someone? What if we have to scold our children? What if we have to give a talking to our employees?" They said you can shout at them, you can be stern with them, but can you do it with loving kindness? Because the speech can be harsh, but it can also be beneficial. The speech could sound harsh, ironic, or sarcastic, but it's getting through to the person. The intention behind it is not to harm the person, but to motivate them to come out of their procrastination or bad behavior.

Unskillful Mental Action

“And how is one made impure in three ways by mental action? There is the case where a certain person is covetous. He covets the belongings of others, thinking, ‘O, that what belongs to others would be mine!’ He bears ill will, corrupt in the resolves of his heart: ‘May these beings be killed or cut apart or crushed or destroyed, or may they not exist at all!’ He has wrong view, is warped in the way he sees things: ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is how one is made impure in three ways by mental action.

Right Livelihood


And what is right livelihood?

There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.

“And what more is to be done? Our livelihood will be pure, clear & open, unbroken & restrained. We will not exalt ourselves nor disparage others on account of that pure livelihood: That’s how you should train yourselves. Now the thought may occur to you, We are endowed with shame & compunction. Our bodily conduct is pure. Our verbal conduct… our mental conduct is pure. Our livelihood is pure. That much is enough, that much means we’re done, so that the goal of our contemplative state has been reached. There’s nothing further to be done, and you may rest content with just that. So I tell you. I exhort you. Don’t let those of you who seek the contemplative state fall away from the goal of the contemplative state when there is more to be done."

Appropriate Attention

The practice of Sila is also the development of Right Intention. This requires appropriate attention, paying attention to the suffering that we may cause ourselves or others.

One does this by paying attention and being aware of past, present, and future intentions in our dealings with others.

As we approach any interaction with others, we must ensure that our intentions are imbued with renunciation, goodwill, and non-harm.

It's important to be aware of any past karma, past intentions that may affect any interactions in the present. In simple terms, this means being aware of any underlying grudges, ill feelings, or unwholesome tendencies and expectations that might affect present interactions.

A Basic Order in Life

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

The most important thing in the daily life of a person who practices the Dhamma is to keep to the precepts (sila) and to care for them more than you care for your life—to maintain them in a way that the Noble Ones would praise. If you don’t have this sort of regard for the precepts, then the vices that run counter to them will become your everyday habits.

Practitioners who see that the breaking of a precept is something trifling and insignificant spoil their entire practice. If you can’t practice even these basic, beginning levels of the Dhamma, it will ruin all the qualities you’ll be trying to develop in the later stages of the practice. This is why you have to stick to the precepts as your basic foundation and to keep a lookout for anything in your behavior that falls short of them. Only then will you be able to benefit from your practice for the sake of eliminating your sufferings with greater and greater precision.

If you simply act in line with the cravings and desires swelling out of the sense of self that has no fear of the fires of defilement, you’ll have to suffer both in this life and in lives to come. If you don’t have a sense of conscience—a sense of shame at the thought of doing shoddy actions, and a fear of their consequences—your practice can only deteriorate day by day.

When people live without any order to their lives—without even the basic order that comes with the precepts—there’s no way they can attain purity. We have to examine ourselves: In what ways at present are we breaking our precepts in thought, word, or deed? If we simply let things pass and aren’t intent on examining ourselves to see the harm that comes from breaking the precepts and following the defilements, our practice can only sink lower and lower. Instead of extinguishing defilements and suffering, it will simply succumb to the power of craving. If this is the case, what damage is done? How much freedom does the mind lose? These are things we have to learn for ourselves. When we do, our practice of self-inspection in higher matters will get solid results and won’t go straying off into nonsense. For this reason, whenever craving or defilement shows itself in any way in any of our actions, we have to catch hold of it and examine what’s going on inside the mind.

Once we’re aware with real mindfulness and discernment, we’ll see the poison and power of the defilements. We’ll feel disgust for them and want to extinguish them as much as we can. But if we use our defilements to examine things, they’ll say everything is fine. The same as when we’re predisposed to liking a certain person: Even if he acts badly, we say he’s good. If he acts wrongly, we say he’s right. This is the way the defilements are. They say that everything we do is right and throw all the blame on other people, other things. So we can’t trust it—this sense of “self” in which craving and defilement lord it over the heart. We can’t trust it at all.

The violence of defilement, or this sense of self, is like that of a fire burning a forest or burning a house. It won’t listen to anyone, but simply keeps burning away, burning away inside of you. And that’s not all. It’s always out to set fire to other people, too.

The fires of suffering, the fires of defilement consume all those who don’t contemplate themselves or who don’t have any means of practice for putting them out. People of this sort can’t withstand the power of the defilements, can’t help but follow along wherever their cravings lead them. The moment they’re provoked, they follow in line with these things. This is why the sensations in the mind when provoked by defilement are very important, for they can lead you to do things with no sense of shame, no fear for the consequences of doing evil at all—which means that you’re sure to break your precepts.

Once you’ve followed the defilements, they feel really satisfied—like arsonists who feel gleeful when they’ve set other people’s places on fire. As soon as you’ve called somebody something vile or spread some malicious gossip, the defilements really like it. Your sense of self really likes it, because acting in line with defilement like that gives it real satisfaction. As a consequence, it keeps filling itself with the vices that run counter to the precepts, falling into hell in this very lifetime without realizing it. So take a good look at the violence the defilements do to you, to see whether you should keep socializing with them, to see whether you should regard them as your friends or your enemies.

As soon as any wrong views or ideas come out of the mind, we have to analyze them and turn around so as to catch sight of the facts within us. No matter what issues the defilements raise, focusing on the faults of others, we have to turn around and look within. When we realize our own faults and can come to our senses: That’s where our study of the Dhamma, our practice of the Dhamma, shows its real rewards.

The Great Power in Keeping the Precepts


So, what is the power in keeping the precepts?

First and foremost, it starts to bring stability to your mind, tranquility to your mind, and a level of clarity to your mind, which is in preparation for practice. So, when we start to keep the precepts, the hindrances in our minds start to reduce because each precept or the breaking of each precept has a correspondence to one of the five hindrances.

When we kill or harm other living beings, we bring up the hindrance or cultivate the hindrance of ill will.

When we take what is not given, we cultivate the hindrance of restlessness.

When we indulge in sexual misconduct or sensual misconduct, we strengthen the hindrance of sensual desire.

When we use false speech, we cultivate the hindrance of doubt.

And then, when we indulge in intoxicants, we cultivate the hindrance of sloth and torpor.

So, when we start to refrain from breaking these precepts, those hindrances start to reduce. But as we start to keep these precepts over time, we start to notice in ourselves a certain kind of change and a certain kind of magnetism, charisma, and power that's there in our minds.

For example, when we keep the first precept, abstaining from killing and harming living beings, what happens? We start to attract the right kind of people in our lives in line for the purposes in our lives. People want to be around us, people want to know more about us, people want to engage with us, people want to do business or have relationships with us, or whatever it might be. We create that sort of aura when we have maintained keeping that first precept for a long period of time.

When we keep the second precept, when we don't steal, when we stop taking things that are not ours away from others, more is given to us. We notice that in our minds or in our lives, things that are required in that exact moment are given to us. Whatever it is, resources, money, a flight, books, shelter, it is given to us exactly when we require it. And you start to notice that the universe starts to take care of you in that sense. You don't have to worry about things, you don't have to worry about resources, and what am I going to do when I reach this place or that place.

Everything starts to fall into place for us when we keep the precept of abstaining from sensual or sexual misconduct. What happens is that our mind becomes much clearer. It is an art to notice that the things we might want start to manifest. This is very closely related to the second in the sense that not only are things provided for us or given to us whenever we need them, but if there is something that we want, it is also given to us. It may take a little time, but it manifests in its own way, and we don't have to worry about it.

There's a level of clarity in our minds when we keep the fourth precept. People have a lot of confidence in us, and we have a level of inner confidence, self-confidence, and the ability to influence others for wholesome purposes. What we say comes true; whatever we think and whatever we say comes to be.

This is known in the Indic religions or traditions of ancient India as Vak Siddhi. Vak means voice; you utter something, and it happens. This happens when you keep the fourth precept.

When you keep the fifth precept, it creates a level of stillness in your mind that is immediately approachable and accessible. You're never tired, bored, or looking for this or that. Your mind is steady all the time, and wherever you incline your mind, it goes there. Whatever you want your mind to do, it does it. There's no trying to reboot, thinking about this or that, or making an effort. You just incline your mind to something, and it goes there.

This is the power of virtue, the power of Sila. As a result, it leads to non-regret, which translates to what is known as Pamo, gladness in the Dharma. Having gladness because you have come to the true Dharma for yourself, you have seen that this practice is starting to have an uplifting quality to your mind, and you become more at ease.

You feel gladdened by words of the Dharma, happy when you hear a Dhamma talk or read a Sutta, or when you're sitting, meditating, and reflecting on the Dharma. From this Pamo, you have what is known as Piti or joy. This joy can be experienced as exuberant or excited, but it doesn't have to be.

Pure & Simple

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

The first requirement when you come to practice is that you need to be the sort of person who loves the truth—and you need to possess endurance to do what’s true. Only then will your practice get anywhere. Otherwise, it all turns into failure and you go back to being a slave to your defilements and cravings just as before.

When you don’t contemplate yourself, how much suffering do you cause for yourself? And how much do you cause for others? These are things we should contemplate as much as we can. If we don’t, we keep trying to get, get, get. We don’t try to let go, to put things aside, to make any sacrifices at all. We just keep trying to get, for the more we get, the more we want.

If you’re greedy and stingy, then even if you have loads of money the Buddha says you’re poor: poor in noble treasures, poor in the treasures of the mind. Even if you have lots of external wealth, when you die it all goes to other people, it turns into common property, but you yourself are left poor in virtue, poor in the Dhamma.

The mind without its own home—a mind without the Dhamma as its home—has to live with the defilements. This defilement arises and the mind goes running after it. As soon as it disappears, that one arises over there, and the mind goes running after that. Because the mind has no dwelling of its own, it has to keep running wild all over the place.

Practicing to put an end to defilement and suffering is a high level of practice, so you first have to clear the ground and put it in good order. Don’t think that you can practice without any preparation…. If you live for your appetites, all you can think of is getting things for the sake of your appetites. If you don’t develop a sense of contentment or a sense of shame on the beginning level, it’ll be hard to practice the higher levels.

The important part of the practice lies in contemplating. If you don’t contemplate, discernment won’t arise. The Buddha taught us to contemplate and test things to the point where we can clearly know for ourselves. Only then will we have a proper refuge. He never taught us to take refuge in things we ourselves can’t see or do.

If you truly want to gain release from suffering, you have to practice truly, you have to make a true effort. You have to let go, starting with outward things and working inward. You have to free yourself from the delusion that falls for delicious allures of every kind.

The important point in letting go is to see the drawbacks of what you’re letting go. Only then can you let it go once and for all. If you don’t see its drawbacks, you’ll still be attached and will miss having it around.

If you’re going to let go of anything, you first have to see its drawbacks. If you just tell yourself to let go, let go, the mind won’t easily obey. You really have to see the drawbacks of the thing you’re holding onto, and then the mind will let go, of its own accord. It’s like grabbing hold of fire: When you feel the heat, you let go of your own accord and will never dare grasp it again.

It’s hard to see the drawbacks of sensual passion, but even harder to see the drawbacks of more subtle things, like your sense of self.

On the beginning level of the practice you have to learn how to control yourself in the area of your words and deeds—in other words, on the level of virtue—so that you can keep your words and deeds stable, calm and restrained. In this way, the mind won’t follow the power of the crude defilements. When violent urges arise, you stop them first with your powers of endurance. After you’ve been able to endure for a while, your insight will gain the strength it needs to develop a sense of right and wrong, and in this way you’ll see the worth of endurance, that it really is a good thing.

When you do good, let it be good in line with nature. Don’t latch onto the thought that you’re good. If you get attached to the idea that you’re good, it will give rise to lots of other attachments.

When a mind without pride or conceit gets a scolding, it shrinks back like a cow hit by a stick. Your sense of self will disappear right before your eyes. A good cow, even it sees only the shadow of the whip or the stick, stays still and composed, ready to do quickly what it’s told. A meditator who can reduce her pride and conceit is sure to make progress and will have nothing heavy to weigh down her mind. The mind will be still and empty—free from any attachment to me or mine. This is how the mind grows empty.

If you’re the sort of person who’s open and honest, you’ll find your window for disbanding suffering and defilement right where you’re honest with yourself, right where you come to your senses. You don’t have to go explaining high level Dhamma to anyone. All you need is the ordinary level of being honest with yourself about the sufferings and drawbacks of your actions, so that you can put a stop to them, so that you develop a sense of wariness, a sense of shame. That’s much better than talking about high-level Dhamma but then being heedless, complacent, and shameless.

When you look back to the past, you see that it’s all an affair of your own heedlessness. Even though you knew the Buddha’s teachings and were able to explain them correctly, still the heart and mind were in a state of heedlessness. Actually, when people know a lot of Dhamma and can show off a lot of their knowledge, they can be more heedless than people who know only a little. Those who’ve never read Dhamma books tend to be more heedful, for they’re more modest and know that they need to read their own minds all the time. Those who’ve read a lot of books or heard a lot of talks tend to get complacent. And in this way they become heedless and disrespectful of the Dhamma.

We have to figure out how to use our own mindfulness and discernment to look inwardly at all times, for no one else can know these things or see these things for us. We have to know for ourselves.

When things are weak and watery, they flow away. When they’re solid they don’t flow. When the mind is weak and devoid of strength, it’s always ready to flow away like water. But when the mind is endowed with mindfulness and discernment, when it’s solid and true in its effort, it can withstand the flow of the defilements.

Contemplation of Sila

To improve interactions with others, one should regularly contemplate how to engage in a way that lessens attachment, greed, and aversion, while promoting kindness and goodwill.

This means letting go of any judgments towards others and continually improving one's skill in interacting with people so that no 'fires of Nibbana' are created, which would lead to lingering thoughts and feelings of regret or negativity afterwards.

Sutta Study

A wealthy man dies childless, having not enjoyed his riches. The Tathagata says that wealth should be properly enjoyed and shared:

There are four qualities are desirable, agreeable, and pleasing but hard to obtain in the world. Accomplishment in faith, accomplishment in virtue, accomplishment in generosity, and accomplishment in wisdom:

While others may praise or criticize the Tathagata, they tend to focus on trivial details. The Tathagata presents an analysis of 62 kinds of wrong view, seeing through which one becomes detached from meaningless speculations:

The Tathagata encounters a young man who honors his dead parents by performing rituals. The Tathagata recasts the meaningless rites in terms of virtuous conduct. This is the most detailed discourse on ethics for lay people:

A virtuous person need not make a wish; it is natural for the path to flow on:

Topics that are worthy regularly reflecting on, whether as a lay person or a disciple:

Four areas where the Realized One has nothing to hide, and three ways he is irreproachable: