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The Perfection of Ethical Conduct

from

Courageous Compassion

Volume 6 of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and
Ven. Thubten Chodron

Wisdom Publications

Practicing ethical conduct is extremely important for ordinary beings as well as for aryas (realized beings). We may create much merit by practicing generosity, but if we neglect ethical conduct—which is the primary cause of fortunate rebirths—we will enjoy the wonderful fruits of generosity in an unfortunate realm.

For example, instead of having a precious human life with good resources and conducive conditions in which we can practice the Dharma easily, we will be reborn as a pampered dog in a wealthy family.

I hear that some people in the West take their dogs to spas, have their claws manicured, and give them the most delicious and expensive dog food available. While the dog may enjoy the food—I’m not sure about the spa and the manicure—the dog’s merit of generosity has been exhausted with no long-term benefit having accrued, because it was unable to create merit in a dog rebirth.

On the other hand, if someone practices ethical conduct as well as generosity, both will ripen as the conducive circumstances of a precious human life. On that basis they can continue practicing the Dharma, creating more and more causes for awakening.

In the process of doing this, they will also create the causes for good rebirths in the future in which they will have all excellent conditions necessary for Dharma practice. This is like accruing compounded interest. The Indian sage Chandrakirti, on the other hand, likens practicing generosity without ethical conduct to frittering away both principal and interest.