The Sūtra on Perfectly Possessing Ethical Discipline (Śīlā Samyukta Sūtra)

The Sūtra on Perfectly Possesssing Ethical Discipline (Śīlā Samyukta Sūtra)
Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos


In the Indian Language [Sanskrit]: śīlā-samyukta-sūtra
In the Tibetan Language: tshul-khrims yang-dag-par ldan-pa’i mdo
In the English Language: The Sūtra on Perfect Endowment with Ethical Discipline


Thus have I heard at one time: The Bhagavān [the Buddha] was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s park in Jetavana Grove in Śrāvastī, in one company with a great monastic congregation of sixty-three monks. At that time, the Bhagavān gave teaching to the monks: “Monks, consciousness grows dim, life-force expires, the conditioned forces of life are definitively vanquished; why then would you not practice with steadfast diligence and resolve? As the human body is most difficult to acquire, having obtained it, and also having acquired ordination (or ‘going-forth’) into the Teaching of the Victorious One which is acquired through it [the human body], if you are led astray by that which is inconducive to the goal of Liberation, you will undoubtedly suffer.”

“Monks, to be separated from life-force and die is easy, but that is not the case for the degeneration of ethical discipline. Why is that so? Because being separated from life-force brings to exhaustion the birth of this very life, but the degeneration and destruction of ethical discipline brings about separation from good lineage for ten million births and eliminates happiness, thus causing one to experience utter downfall.”

[The Buddha then spoke in verse:]

(1) Therefore, the Teacher extols great recommendation for ethical discipline;
Having ethical discipline brings one to meet an arisen Buddha;
Having ethical discipline is the foremost of all ornaments;
Enrichment by ethical discipline is being anointed by perfume.

(2) Having ethical discipline is the source of all joys;
Having ethical discipline is the water that clears away distress;
Having ethical discipline is praised by all worlds;
By ethical disciplines, living beings receive the sublime.

(3) Since poisonous snakes, and even great black serpents,
Do not harm those with ethical discipline, what need to mention others?
The monk endowed with ethical discipline is imbued with light;
Having ethical discipline brings renown and gains happiness.

(4) Having ethical discipline is the cause of going to higher realms;
By guarding ethical discipline, Nirvāṇa is attained.

(5) Just as those without eyes are unable to see forms,
So too the Dharma is not seen without ethical discipline.
Just as it is impossible to embark on a road without legs,
So too Liberation will not come without ethical discipline.

(6) Just as a good vase is a vessel for precious things,
So too ethical discipline is the basis for cultivating the Dharmas.
Just as a broken vase is not suitable to be a vessel for precious things,
So too all Dharmas fall away when ethical discipline is torn asunder.

(7) Do you think that those who, in the first place, are without ethical discipline,
Will attain Nirvāṇa from outside?
For someone whose nose or ears are maimed and the like [for example],
Will not require mirrors [to know this to be the case].

(8) Even when not hearing them with the ears or seeing them before the eyes,
The person who guards the Teachings will go to higher realms;
Those who study them much, are studious and guard their study are higher realms themselves.

(9) Where could it be appropriate to attend women?
Where could there be joy in a royal palace?
Where could foam have essence?
Where could resources be permanent?

(10) There is no appropriateness in women;
There is no joy in royal dominion;
There is no essence in foam;
There is no permanence in resources.

(11) Resources are like a cascading waterfall;
As boats are, so are homes;
As flowers are, just so are forms;
Life is similar to bubbles of water.

The Bhagavān gave teaching thus with those words, and those monks rejoiced, and openly praised what had been spoken by the Bhagavān.


Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, May 2016.


“sixty-three monks” (brgya-phrag phyed dang bcu-gsum): Literally “half a hundred and thirteen”, thus presumably sixty-three, although the translation by Nalanda Monastery has “twelve hundred and fifty”, which may be from another edition of the text, and would also certainly qualify as being more of a “great monastic congregation” (dge-slong gi dge-’dun chen-po).

“resolve” (brtul-pa): The precise meaning of this word are somewhat obscure, but it is apparently related to the more common ‘brtul-zhugs‘, commonly “resolute discipline” and the like, and thus in this case “resolve” seems appropriate here. The translation by Nalanda Monastery has “energy”.

“(4) Endowment with ethical discipline is the cause of going to higher realms;/ By guarding ethical discipline, Nirvāṇa is attained” (tshul-khrims ldan-pa mtho-ris ’gro-ba’i rgyu/ tshul-khrims bsrungs-pas mya-ngan-’da’ thob ‘gyur): These entire two lines are missing from the translation by Nalanda Monastery. Notably, it also does not match the previous and later sequence of four-line stanza structures which is held throughout, with the exception of the three-line stanza number 8 (number 7 in the translation by Nalanda Monastery). It has been separated as a distinct stanza here (number 4) for clarity.

“For someone whose nose or ears are maimed and the like [for example],/ Will not require mirrors [to know this to be the case]” (sna dang rna rdum la-sogs gang-yin-pa/ de la me-long dag ni dgos mi ’gyur): Despite the remarkably enigmatic terseness of these two lines, the point here would seem to be that: As predicated in the first two lines, because those who in the first place do not have ethical discipline cannot attain Nirvāṇa from ‘outside’ external sources, the implication being that it is through the ‘inner’ cultivation of ethical discipline that Nirvāṇa is attained, it is therefore similar, for example, to how someone who has a mutilated nose or ear would not require a mirror, specifically (and here presumably) to know the condition of his or her face, just as one who does not have ethical discipline should know his moral faults, and not expect to attain Nirvāṇa without ethical discipline. Other interpretations may be possible.

“Even when not hearing them with the ears or seeing them before the eyes” (rnas-bas ma thos mig sngar ma-mthong bzhin): This is a bit obscure. The translation by Nalanda Monastery has “Though it [the Doctrine] is not heard by the ears or seen with the eyes”. It would seem to mean that one is reborn in higher realms by virtue of protecting the Teachings, whether or not one sees the Teachings or hears the Teachings, and this is how Nalanda Monastery translated it. The structure, especially the ‘bzhin‘, is not terribly clear.

“There is no appropriateness in women” (bud-med dag la rung-ba med): This teaching was given specifically for the male monks who composed the audience. Monks must keep interactions with women to a minimum in order to maintain their monastic ethical discipline. If the same advice were given for nuns, it would be “there is no appropriateness in men”.


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