Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What about more specific directives?

One of the earliest scriptures in the Pali Canon is the Vinaya Pitaka, the Basket of Discipline. Buddhist law generally emphasizes the “Thou shalt nots” over the “Thou shalts.” On the negative side, the Vinaya lists several hundred actions considered offensive and unacceptable behavior for monks and nuns. Of those, some 250 apply to monks and 348 to nuns. Topping the list for all monks and nuns is a group of ten precepts that forbid lying, intoxicating substances, adultery, theft, killing, eating after noon, elegant beds, cosmetics, frivolous entertainment, and possession of luxuries. The first five also apply to laypeople, who might also choose to observe the next three on the four monthly “duty days” or sabbaths. Monks and nuns are automatically expelled from the monastic community for killing a human being or an animal, grand larceny, or sexual misconduct. Other important categories in monastic law include offenses that require a community consultation, those that call for restitution of some kind (return of goods improperly received), and issues of due process in resolving problems. Apart from these specific regulations, Buddhist teaching offers a number of more general guidelines for laypeople. It recommends, for example, seeking adequate income, acquiring a professional skill, frugality, freedom from debt, and giving generously to good causes. So what “happens” in Buddhist mysticism? Some sources talk of realizing the “emptiness” of all things. Profound experience of the meaning of the Four Noble Truths transcends all ordinary levels of awareness. It is possible to attain nirvana in this life— “nirvana with a remainder,” they call it—and that means full insight into the way things are. One who arrives at such a state of “objectless contemplation” might justifiably be called a Buddhist mystic.


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