Chapter 6

Main topics covered
• Introduction
• Bases for Buddhist ethics
• Alternative moral dimensions in Tibetan Buddhist society
• Historical dimensions
Key points 1
• Tibetan Buddhism has a strong ethical orientation that
manifests in a number of different ways. Lay Buddhist ethics,
as in other Buddhist societies, are based around the principles
of karma, of the inevitable results of positive and negative
actions, and summarized in ten kinds of virtuous and nonvirtuous actions. Beyond this lies the ethics of the path to
Buddhahood, which is based on bodhicitta, the drive to relieve
the sufferings of all beings, but can lead elite practitioners to
undertake actions that transcend and may in some cases
contradict ordinary morality.
Key points 2
• For ordinary lay Tibetans, Buddhist morality is widely
known, but can exist in some tension with the implicit or
explicit moral sense of everyday life. Buddhist morality is
about taming and control, but Tibetans also value strength,
self-assertiveness and personal success. Various Tibetans
myths, legends and rituals illustrate these themes.
Laptse (altar to local gods)
Central Tibetan village near Tsurpu Gompa , 1987
Chorten (Stūpa)
Junbesi village, Nepal , photo 1971
Key points 3
• The path to Buddhahood is structured through three sets of
vows, each of which has a strong ethical dimension. These are
the pratimokṣa vows (which are similar to the vows taken by
Buddhist lay and monastic practitioners in almost all Buddhist
societies), the bodhicitta vows, and the vows taken as part of
Tantric initiation.
Pass in Sherpa country west of Junbesi, photo 1971
Key points 4
• Lamas, monks and lay people are bound together by an
implicit contract, in which the support of the laity is
exchanged both for the merit that can lead to a better rebirth,
and also for practical aid of Tantric ritual in achieving thisworldly success.
Lungta (‘prayer-flag’)
Reproduction from blockprint
Atsara (ritual clowns)
At a cham performance at Changsa Gompa, Kalimpong, 2009