Sila is morality, good conduct or the observance of precepts. Sila is the foundation of all the meritorious deeds because good behaviour is the beginning of the life of purity.  Of all the schemes of Buddhist trainings, Sila is the most important preliminary step towards the progress of spiritual life.

It is compared to a golden ship by which one can cross the ocean of Samsara. Without Sila, there is no Samadhi - concentration or meditation. Through lack of Samadhi, Panna or spiritual advancement cannot be achieved. In other words, one must have a solid foundation of Sila, practising at least Five Precepts before starting meditation. Then only can one cultivate Samadhi - one pointedness of the mind which leads one to higher wisdom, the third stage, on the way to Nibbana. Sila can be divided into two categories namely : Caritta Sila and Varitta Sila.

CARITTA SILA is morality consisting of performances. All those moral instructions which the Blessed One introduced ‘should be done or followed’. In other words all the ethical rules which are in the positive form should be included in Caritta Sila. Fulfilling one’s duty towards one’s parents, wife and children, respecting the elders, ministering of patients, helping the poor and the needy and observing good manners, etiquette, etc., such form of ethical teachings given by
the Buddha can be regarded as Caritta Sila.

VARITTA SILA is morality in avoidance. The avoidance of those evils, killing, stealing etc. which the Buddha stated ‘should not be done’. All the precepts which are in negative forms can be included in Varitta Sila. In Buddhism, there are various precepts such as Five, Eight and Ten, out of which the Five Precepts should be practised in one’s daily life and the Eight Precepts on Uposatha days or Sabbath days. Although the Buddhist precepts are not commandments, they should be observed at one’s own free will for the peace, happiness and welfare of the individual and society at large.


Illustration from SAMKHAPALA JATAKA


The Bodhisatta was once born as a dragon - Samkhapala. He lived in the Realm of Dragons (Nagaloka). As he was not satisfied with his state of life, he used to come to this world to observe the Precepts. On New Moon and Full Moon days, he regularly observed the Eight Precepts and went back to his realm on the following day.

One Holy Day, transforming into a large snake he coiled round an ant-hill at the wayside with the thought: Let those who wish, make use of my skin, flesh, or bones.

On that day, sixteen hunters with stakes in hands were returning without any game. Seeing the serpent king, they went up to him to kill and eat his flesh. At first they weakened the snake by beating it with their stakes and weapons. The serpent did not get angry. He could have killed them all easily, but he did not want to break his precepts even at the risk of his life. He gladly bore all that suffering, without any ill-will towards them. Placing his head inside his coils he lay still, allowing them to do any harm they liked.

Having weakened the reptile, they tied it with ropes and carried it on their shoulders. As the head was dropping down, they pierced the nostril and passing a string through it, hung the head up and carried him, causing much pain. The suffering creature did not even look at them with an angry face.

A rich merchant named Alara, who was passing by with about 500 carts, saw the pitiful state of the poor reptile. Moved by compassion, he gave various presents and money to the hunters, and saved the good serpent-king.

After his Enlightenment the Buddha said: “Though I was pierced by stakes and hacked by weapons, I did not get angry with the hunters. This is my Perfection of Morality.”