Creative Education, 2010, 1, 18-24
doi:10.4236/ce.2010.11004 Published Online June 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories:
A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition
Mehrdad Massoudi
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.
Received December 11th, 2009; revised February 18th, 2010; accepted April 2nd, 2010.
The art of storytelling, similar to poetry, takes us to a different realm, yet always bringing us back to where we are. In
many traditional societies, ethical concerns were taught through stories. A few stories from the Buddhist tradition have
been selected to convey some basic teachings of the Buddha on ethical issues. This does not mean that these few stories
capture the whole of Buddhist ethics. Furthermore, it is understood that similar stories can be found in other traditions,
and therefore the same technique can be used in other religions as well. The universalities of these stories provide a
means to teach ethics in a multi-cultural context.
Keywords: Ethics, Buddhism, Story Telling, Teaching
1. Introduction
You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to
come down again, so why bother in the first place? Just
this: What is above knows what is below, but what is be-
low does not know what is above. One climbs and one
sees; one descends and one sees no longer, but one has
seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower
region by the memory of what one saw higher up. When
one no longer sees, one can at least know.”
Rene Daumel. Mount Analogue [1].
Living a spiritual life is very much similar to a journey
taken by a traveler, especially that of a mountain climber.
A journey starts from one point and ends at another; in a
spiritual journey one goes from the “lower” self to the
“higher” self, although there is only the Self. To ascend
the mountain and reach the peak is one of the main ob-
jectives of living a spiritual life. There is no highway to
enlightenment. The journey takes time; it requires tre-
mendous sacrifices and hardship; sometimes a guide is
necessary; it demands discipline, faith, and dedication.
To live ethically is the “art of conducting oneself in the
lower region.” Occasional stopping and enjoying of the
scenery is possible; but the goal is clear: To reach the
mountaintop, to taste and experience the Truth. The
teachers are the guides and the maps are the scriptures
and the wisdom teachings; the task is to study the map
and begin the climb. The teachers only point the way [2].
In his book, Dimensions of the Sacred, the scholar of
world religions, Ninian Smart [3] lists seven important
dimensions of religions as: 1) the ritual or the practical
dimension; 2) the doctrinal or philosophical; 3) the
mythic or narrative; 4) the experiential or emotional; 5)
the ethical or legal; 6) the organizational or social; and 7)
the material or artistic. In this essay the focus will be on
the mythic or the narrative aspect and an attempt is made
to show that stories have been used in most spiritual tra-
ditions to teach not only about myths but also about eth-
There are many ways to characterize different relig-
ions; any given religion has different elements. Two
points need to be emphasized. First: any religion pro-
vides (or should provide) a guideline, a map, for what
one needs to do, what one needs to avoid, etc. Second:
any religion provides (or should provide) guidelines for
how one needs to react to external and internal variations.
In other words, the test of suitability of a religion for an
individual, in addition to the first point, where certain
social guidelines are updated, is the second point, namely,
how well the individual is capable of using this religion
to react, to respond, and to interact with the external (and
internal) circumstances. Religion in its wholeness con-
nects the individual to the Source-that which one has
been separated from, whether it is called God, the Truth,
the Unnamable… According to many scholars, religion
is what makes the person whole. Lama Govinda [4] says:
As long as a religion (re-ligio, from re-ligare, to join
again) is able to link its followers to that universal
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition19
depth-zone of their consciousness, the nontransient, all-
embracing divine ground of all being that is not limited
by time and space, it has fulfilled its function. For a re-
ligion must be capable of giving some meaning to exis-
tence. It must also point the way beyond the data of the
senses and individual limitation toward a higher reality
which can be attained by personal effort. Such a religion
has value.”
Religious ethics, unlike secular or humanistic ethics, is
part of a bigger system; it is part of the religion which it
originates from. Granting that certain aspects of all re-
ligions are historical, i.e., time and culture-bound, each
religion contains a general code of ethics [5]. Though
philosophers have different ways of classifying various
types of ethics, such as deontologist, consequentialist
ethics, or virtue ethics [6-13]. In this brief essay the posi-
tion is taken that associated with each religion, there is a
body of teaching which can be called the ethics of that
religion; it is not to be extracted or separated from that
religion. To the question “What is ethics?” Singer [12]
gives a general and comprehensive answer that can also
be used here:
The word itself is sometimes used to refer to the set of
rules, principles, or ways of thinking that guide, or claim
authority to guide, the actions of a particular group; and
sometimes it stands for the systematic study of reasoning
about how we ought to act… But ethics and morality
have their roots in a word for customs”, the former be-
ing a derivative of the Greek term from which we get
ethos”, and the latter from the Latin root that gives us
mores”, a word still used sometimes to describe the cus-
toms of a people.”
There are those who say that one can be spiritual with-
out being ethical, and there are those who say that unless
one is able to lead an ethical life, no genuine spirituality
is possible. Buddhism, similar to other religions has to
respond to the issues of “conveniency”, “efficiency”, and
“expediency” in the contemporary world. Buddhism,
similar to other religions, has certain aspects of its teach-
ing that can be categorized or named as “Buddhist Eth-
ics,” though perhaps it is more appropriate to talk of a
Buddhist living a virtuous (ethical) life. Buddhist ethics
can be called the “Ethics of Intention”, the “Ethics of
Consequences,” the “Raft Ethics,” a “Non-violent Eth-
ics,” the “Ethics of Interconnectedness,” or…. Among
certain groups the “Raft Ethics” is very popular. In this
approach, the simile given by the Buddha (in the collec-
tion of discourses named the Majjhima Nikaya), where
he uses the analogy that SILA (virtues, ethics) is similar
to a raft for crossing the river, where the other shore is
Nirvana. Accordingly, the person who has reached the
other shore, i.e., an enlightened being, will not carry the
raft on his or her back. Of course it goes without saying
that the Buddha was referring to those who were already
enlightened and had reached the other shore; for one who
is still crossing the river of life, getting rid of the raft will
only result in one’s drowning.
Spirituality plays different roles at different times.
Sometimes, one needs to comfort oneself and others
about an unwanted situation. Sometimes one needs to be
quiet and hope or pray. Sometimes one needs to address
and challenge the injustices. While religion may conform
to the laws of a society, spirituality can question those
laws and the institutions enforcing those laws. In most
spiritual traditions, frequent periods of retreat from the
worldly activities are recommended, and in fact have
become necessary. The two ultimate questions, namely 1)
who we are, and 2) what we ought to do, are existential
questions which one needs to struggle with and delve
into, and while one is busy doing the same things and
repeating the same activities, it would be very difficult to
think of these two questions with any sense of continuity
and depth.
In this essay, a few stories from the Buddhist tradition
are selected to convey a sense of Buddhist ethics. This is
not to say that these few stories capture the whole of
Buddhist ethics; for comprehensive analysis of this issue
see [14-17]. Furthermore, it is assumed that similar sto-
ries can be found in most other traditions, and therefore
the same technique, i.e., using stories to teach ethics, can
be used in other religions as well. The universalities of
these stories provide a means to teach ethics in a multi-
cultural context. In the next section, a brief overview of
the teachings of the Buddha is provided, followed by a
few stories pointing to certain aspects of the Buddhist
ethics. The final section attempts to relate ethics to
2. The Basic Teachings of the Buddha
If one looks at Buddhism as a school of philosophy
rather than a way of living, then it is possible to look at
its various elements such as epistemology, ontology,
metaphysics, ethics, etc. [18-28]. To translate some of
these into everyday discourse entails studying questions
such as How do we know?, What do we know?, What
should we do? etc. In this essay the concern is with the
last of these questions.
The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which leads to
the extinction of DUKKHA (the unsatisfactory nature of
existence), consists of the following steps:
1) Right Understanding
2) Right Thought
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
Perhaps a better way of representing these steps,
avoiding a possible misunderstanding implying a hierar-
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition
chical or sequential structure, is to represent them in a
circular manner. These eight steps are often represented
or organized into three groups. In the first group, SILA
(ethics, virtues) the three elements of Right Speech,
Right Action, and Right Livelihood are put together. In
the second group, SAMADHI (concentration, medita-
tion), the three elements of Right Effort, Right Mindful-
ness, and Right Concentration are contained. In the third
group, PRAJNA, the two elements of Right Understand-
ing and Right Thought are grouped together. With a cir-
cular representation, one can see that each group affects
the other two groups and is also affected by them.
The concern in this essay is with SILA (Right Speech,
Right Action, and Right Livelihood). The word “Right”
needs to be explained. While, the Pali word SAMMA is
translated into English as “Right,” it should be recog-
nized that it is not the opposite of “Wrong,” or “Bad.”
Lama Govinda [29] explains: “Samma (Skt. Samyak)
means what is perfect or entire, that is, neither split nor
one-sided; something, in fact, that is fully adequate to
every level of consciousness.” A Zen teacher, Albert
Low [23] says: “The word ‘right’ does not mean right
according to some perfect model or set of rules. Rather, it
means without distortion brought about by the craving to
be separate. Right mindfulness and right concentration,
for example, establish a steady and clear mind, which is
the foundation for an ethical and spiritual life.” The tra-
ditional teachings of the Buddhist ethics are given in
various SUTRAS (discourses) and books. For example,
with regard to Right Speech, the Buddha said: [30]:
“1) Herein someone avoids lying and abstains from it.
He speaks the truth, is devoted to the truth, reliable,
worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of men. Being at a
meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his rela-
tives, or in a society, or in the kings court, and called
upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he an-
swers, if he knows nothing: I know nothing”, and if he
knows, he answers: “I know”; if he has seen nothing, he
answers: “I have seen nothing”, and if he has seen, he
answers: “I have seen.” Thus he never knowingly speaks
a lie, either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the
sake of another persons advantage, or for the sake of
any advantage.
2) He avoids tale-bearing, and abstains from it. What
he has heard here, he does not repeat there, so as to
cause dissention there; and what he has heard there, he
does not repeat here, so as to cause dissention here. Thus
he unites those that are divided; and those that are united,
he encourages. Concord gladdens him, he delights and
rejoices in concord; and it is concord that he spreads by
his words.
3) He avoids harsh language, and abstains from it. He
speaks such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear,
loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous,
friendly, and agreeable to many.
4) He avoids vain talk, and abstains from it. He speaks
at the right time, in accordance with facts, speaks what is
useful, speaks of the law and the discipline; his speech is
like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied
by arguments, moderate and full of sense.”
The Right Action is described in [30]
“1) Herein someone avoids the killing of living beings,
and abstains from it. Without stick or sword, conscien-
tious, full of sympathy, he is desirous of the welfare of all
living beings.
2) He avoids stealing, and abstains from it; what an-
other person possesses of goods and chattels in the vil-
lage or in the wood, that he does not take away with
thievish intent.
3) He avoids unlawful sexual intercourse, and abstains
from it. He has no intercourse with such persons as are
still under the protection of father, mother, brother, sister,
or relatives, nor with married women, nor female con-
victs, nor lastly, with betrothed girls.
And Right Livelihood is elaborated upon in different
books and SUTRAS, for example [31]: “When the noble
disciple, avoiding a wrong way of living, gets his liveli-
hood by a right way of living, this is called Right Liveli-
hood.” In the Majjhima Nikaya [32] discourse No. 117, it
is said: “To practice deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trick-
ery, usury: this is wrong livelihood.” And in the Anguttara
Nikaya [30], it is said: “Five trades should be avoided by
a disciple: trading in arms, in living beings, in flesh, in
intoxicating drinks, and in poison.” Included are the pro-
fessions of a soldier, a fisherman, a hunter, etc.
What has been presented here in this section is really a
very brief overview of the Buddha’s teaching on ethics.
More details can be found in [14,15,17]. In the next sec-
tion, a few stories are taken mostly from the Zen Bud-
dhist tradition to convey some of the essential ethical
issues as presented in the Buddhist tradition.
3. The Stories
Stories have been used in many cultures throughout the
ages not only to tell the story of a people, but also to
point out to subtleties of life, to the intricacies of every-
day dealings, often too dangerous or too sensitive to be
mentioned in personal prose writings. Stories sometimes
bring tears and sometimes laughter. Sometimes they pre-
sent a sense of wonder and mystery. What may not be
told in a logical and rational way, can be put in the form
of a story. Stories are both means and ends. If they pro-
duce only tears and laughter, they are only a means for
entertainment. On the other hand, if they point to a truth,
then the stories themselves can become the ends. They
are powerful tools for teaching, if used properly. Stories
are at the heart of many spiritual traditions [33-35]. Sto-
ries need no introduction. They are in themselves the
introduction, the content, and the conclusion. Stories
have been used to teach, to point to a point, to emphasize
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition21
e next story:
something ... They have been passed down from genera-
tion to generation. Most of the stories dealing with spiri-
tuality and wisdom do not belong to a particular class or
group of people. They have come to us from emanations
of that Ultimate Wisdom. Just as paintings of Nature are
at best reflections of the Nature in the mind of the artist,
stories of Wisdom are reflections of that Ultimate Wis-
dom in the mind of the person, the teacher who is telling
that story. While in many traditions, story-telling is an
essential element, it is observed that the same idea ap-
pears in similar form in different traditions.
In the remainder of this section, five representative
stories from the (Zen) Buddhist tradition are discussed.
The first story is about a ROSHI [a Zen Master] called
the “Bird’s Nest Roshi who was doing zazen (sitting
meditation)” [36]:
He was a teacher who lived in the Tang period and
did zazen in a tree. The governor of his province, Po
Chu-i, heard about Birds Nest Roshi and went to see
him. This Po Chu-i was no ordinary politician. He was
one of Chinas greatest poets, well known for his expres-
sion of Zen Buddhism. Po Chu-i found Birds Nest Roshi
sitting in his tree, doing zazen. He called to him, saying,
Oh, Birds Nest, you look very insecure to me up there.
Bird’s Nest Roshi looked down at Po Chu-i and replied,
Oh Governor, you look very insecure to me down there.
All things are under the law of change and political posi-
tion is the most ephemeral of all. Po Chu-i knew very
well what Bird’s Nest Roshi was talking about. So he
took a different tact. Tell me,’ he said, What is it that
all the Buddhas taught?’ Birds Nest Roshi replied by
quoting from the Dhammapada:
Never do evil;
Always do good;
Keep your mind pure;
Thus all the Buddhas taught.
So Po Chu-i said, ‘Always do good; never do evil; keep
your mind pure—I knew that when I was three years old.
Yes,’ said Birds Nest Roshi, ‘A three-year-old child
may know it, but even an eighty-year-old man cannot put
it into practice.’”
This story which takes a few verses from the
DHAMMAPADA [31], one of the sacred scriptures in
Buddhism, can be considered to represent the essence of
the teachings of the Buddha. It can be seen that the first
statement (Never do evil) deals with the negative (or the
preventive) aspects of the teachings, where evil actions in
the context of Buddhist teachings become the unwhole-
some actions which are those actions related to un-
wholesome (improper) speech, conduct and thoughts.
The second statement (Always do good) addresses the
positive (or the prescriptive) aspects of the teaching. And
the third statement (To keep your mind pure) points to
the (inner) practices such as meditation, which are nec-
essary to keep a balance between observing the precepts
and developing compassion and wisdom. This balancing
act is brought out in th
Two Buddhist monks came to the bank of a river and
found it flooded and difficult to cross. A woman was
waiting on the banks and she begged them to help her
across, as her children were alone and hungry. One
monk refused, the other picked her up and crossed the
stream, holding her on his back. When they had crossed
and were on their way again, the first monk protested
vehemently. He was horrified that a monk should touch a
woman, let alone carry her on his back. The second
monk turned to him and said, “You mean you still carry
the woman in your mind? I left her behind on the river-
bank long ago.”
This story points to a general theme, namely the rela-
tionship between the Letter of the Law and the Spirit of
the Law. Developing the wisdom to know when the
Spirit supersedes the Law is a challenge to a spiritual
traveler. As a Zen Master said: “Zen is above morality,
but morality is not below Zen.” That is, Zen transcends
morality but does not exclude it. A person who tran-
scends morality is one who knows himself, one who has
realized his true self, i.e., one who is enlightened, the
subject matter of the third story [26]:
When a rebel army swept into a town in Korea, all
the monks of the Zen temple fled except the abbot. The
general came into the temple and was annoyed that the
abbot did not receive him with respect. ‘Dont you
know,’ he shouted, ‘that you are looking at a man who
can run you through without blinking?’
And you,’ replied the abbot strongly, are looking at
man who can be run through without blinking.
The general stared at him, then made a bow and re-
Only one who has realized his or her true nature can
stand up and allow to be run through without blinking an
eye. Only one who has tasted the Truth is capable of
standing for Truth, Justice, Peace, Equality… This does
not mean that one should wait until one is enlightened
before one does anything helpful. It is the inner attitude
of questioning and being humble that is of importance
here. An enlightened (awaked or realized) being, similar
to any other person, would encounter challenges and dif-
ficulties and it is the way in which he or she responds to
the problems which reflects the degree of realization.
Buddha told a parable [37]:
A man was traveling across a field when he encoun-
tered a tiger. He began to run, and the tiger chased after
him. Coming to a precipice, he slipped and was able to
catch hold of the root of a wild strawberry bush, hanging
in the air. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling,
the man looked down only to find that another tiger was
waiting to eat him. He thought the bush could sustain
him for a while, until he saw two mice gnawing away the
vine. A tiger above, a tiger below. The man saw a ripe
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition
strawberry near him. Grabbing the vine with one hand,
he plucked the strawberry with the other, and ate it. How
sweet and delicious.”
Buddhism stresses living in the present, here-and-now,
and thus faces the ethics of the inevitably. This can be
thought of as the receptive and accepting aspect of the
Buddha’s teaching: In certain situations in life, in the
middle of here-and-now, there is not much one can do,
except being mindfully present. To live fully, to suffer
fully, and to die fully. One’s life is an expression of who
one is and what one stands for. When one is fully awake
and present, one emits rays of clarity. The concepts of
ignorance (darkness) and inner light are mentioned in the
following story.
In early times in Japan, bamboo-and-paper lanterns
were used with candles inside. A blind man, visiting a
friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home
with him. ‘I do not need a lantern,’ he said. Darkness or
light is all the same to me.’
I know you do not need a lantern to find your way,’
his friend replied, ‘but if you dont have one, someone
else may run into you. So you must take it.’
The blind man started off with the lantern and before
he had walked very far someone ran squarely into him.
Look out where you are going!’ he exclaimed to the
stranger. ‘Cant you see this lantern?’
Your candle has burned out, brother,’ replied the
This story [38] represents what could be called the
“Lantern Ethics.” The principles that one holds dear and
the virtues that one aspires to have, give fuel to this lan-
tern of enlightenment. This intense desire for under-
standing and realization is the candle that never burns out.
For the candle to sustain the blows and the outside wind,
a transparent protective cover is necessary. That shield is
the ethics—the principles that one believes and holds
unto. It can be seen that in the Buddhist tradition, based
on these few stories, there is a relationship between eth-
ics and awakening: how much one can live a whole-
heartedly ethical life depends on how much one has be-
come enlightened.
4. The Importance of Ethics in (Self)
Realization and Concluding Remarks
In Buddhism, the two questions of “Who are we?” and
“What must we do?” are connected through the element
of Right Livelihood. In order to find out who we are, we
need to have a profession which is “right,” and in order
to know what a “right” livelihood is for us, we have to
know who we are. There is no universally accepted or
prescribed catalogue listing all possible right livelihoods.
The teachings of Buddha only provide the basic founda-
tion where one can build upon. It is for each individual to
constantly search and question one’s livelihood.
Unless and until one has had the experience of the
Unity of Existence (Oneness, Nirvana), i.e., the feeling
that “I” and “everything and everyone else” are tran-
scendentally the same and connected, the path of enquiry
will be full of perils and trials. As Socrates said [39, The
Republic]: “We are discussing no small matter, but how
we ought to live.” On a spiritual path, oftentimes it is not
possible to know with absolute certainty what is a right
or a wrong action. This does not, however, mean that
everything is relative. Every action will have many con-
sequences; while taking the action might be relative, the
consequences are real. As with most spiritual dilemmas
there are no easy choices1. It is one thing to talk about or
analyze various professions and categorize them accord-
ingly as being “right,” or “wrong,” and it is another to
judge people as “right” or “wrong” for having those pro-
fessions. It is possible that a “good” father would be in a
“bad” profession. The same act, depending on the cir-
cumstances and one’s perception, could lead to different
responses. What one may consider a right livelihood (for
oneself), under different circumstances or at a different
time and a different place may be considered a wrong
livelihood. Whilst in the middle of a war, or living in a
corrupt environment, one can still think and hope for
peace, purity and good. Although it is difficult to gener-
alize as to what constitutes “right livelihood,” there are
available guidelines. For example, Coomaraswamy [40]
says: “...if there are any occupations that are not consis-
tent with human dignity, or manufactures however prof-
itable that are not of real goods, such occupations and
manufactures must be abandoned by any society that has
in view the dignity of all its members. It is only when
measured in terms of dignity and not merely in terms of
comfort that a ‘standard of living’ can properly be called
‘high’”. One can say that even though virtues may not be
taught, virtues can be learned [41]. That is, as Aristotle
said: “One becomes virtuous by performing virtues.”
In Buddhism, the conception of the ideal, the ethical
ideal, is one of happiness, perfection, realization, and
liberation [42], where happiness is the desire for all be-
ings to be happy. But if one does not know what gives
rise to true happiness for oneself, how can one wish that
happiness for all beings? Buddha in Sutta 21 of Digha
Nikaya [43] discusses this:
“... I declare that there are two kinds of happiness: the
kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same
1For a father whose children are starving, is it “right” to steal money or
food? For a husband who wants to provide his wife with the necessary
medicine, or a shelter, is it “right” to participate in destructive activities
of any type? For a mother whose baby is dying, is it “right” to sell
herself so that she can buy food for her baby? And.... Of course, we are
not talking about greed, possessiveness, or aggressiveness here; we are
talking about very caring people whose responsibility or love cause
them to do something which someone else would judge as “wrong”
livelihood. As Singer [11] says: “Ethics does not demand that we
eliminate personal relationships and partial affections, but it does de-
mand that when we act we assess the moral claims of those affected by
our actions independently of our feelings for them.”
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition23
applies to unhappiness and equanimity. Why have I de-
clared this in regard to happiness? This is how I under-
stood happiness: When I observed that in the pursuit of
such happiness unwholesome factors increased and
wholesome factors decreased, then that happiness was to
be avoided. And when I observed that in the pursuit of
such happiness unwholesome factors decreased and
wholesome ones increased, then that happiness was to be
sought after. Now, of such happiness as is accompanied
by thinking and pondering, and of that which is not so
accompanied, the latter is more excellent. The same ap-
plies to unhappiness, and to equanimity.”
Therefore a skillful approach is to see what these un-
wholesome factors are; these are discussed in Sutta 9, of
Majjhima Nikaya [32]:
And what, friends, is the unwholesome, what is the
root of the unwholesome, what is the wholesome, what is
the root of the wholesome? Killing living beings is un-
wholesome; taking what is not given is unwholesome;
misconduct in sensual pleasures is unwholesome; false
speech is unwholesome; malicious speech is unwhole-
some; harsh speech is unwholesome; gossip is unwhole-
some; covetousness is unwholesome; ill will is unwhole-
some; wrong view is unwholesome. This is called the
unwholesome. And what is the root of the unwholesome?
Greed is a root of the unwholesome; hate is a root of the
unwholesome; delusion is a root of the unwholesome.
This is called the root of the unwholesome.”
That is, real happiness is a happiness founded on an
ethical life. One of the most distinctive aspects of Bud-
dhist ethics, and in fact Buddhist philosophy, is that of
“Interconnectedness” or the “Principle of Dependent
Origination”. This Principle implies that everything and
everybeing is connected and related to every other thing
and every other being; all beings inter-are or are inter-
connected throughout time and space, in a spiritual sense.
The Buddha said [44]:
When this is, that comes to be.
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this is not, that does not come to be.
With the cessation of this, that ceases.”
It is this sense of connectedness which makes Bud-
dhist approach to social issues such as peace, justice,
equality different from the current trends of violent pro-
tests, name-calling, and finger-pointing [45]. One can
infer from this Principle that for example, unless one has
truly become a peaceful person, one cannot seek peace
May we have the courage and the strength to become
like the abbot who could be run through without blinking
an eye.
May we acquire the mindfulness to remember and live
the simple truths that even a three-year-old knows.
May we develop the compassion necessary to help
others and relieve their suffering as the monk who car-
ried the woman to the other side of the river.
May our love reach those whom we have classified as
our enemies, starting with one’s self.
And may we learn that inner wisdom which shines like
the lantern that never goes out.
There are those who say that one can be spiritual
without being religious. There are those who say spiritu-
ality begins where religion ends. There are those who say
that only religious people, i.e., those who believe in a
religion, can be spiritual. An analogy might be helpful. If
one looks at a nut (walnut, almond, peanut, etc.), there is
the shell, the seed, and the oil. The oil can be considered
the essence: that which can be squeezed from the seed.
But first the shell must be broken. The shell is the rela-
tive and the particular (dogmatic) aspects of the religion.
The seed (spirituality) is that which will produce the oil:
the truth within that religion (shell). If one just wants the
oil without going through the process of breaking the
shell, squeezing the seed, then this process of spiritual
maturation is missed. There are no short cuts to the es-
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Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
Learning and Teaching Ethics through Stories: A Few Examples from the Buddhist Tradition
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. CE
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