Understanding Virtues & Non-Virtues
by Khenchen Konchok Gyaltsen Rinpoche


We often hear that it is difficult to find a human body. Not just any human body, but a “precious” one that has contact with the Dharma teachings – that’s what is difficult to obtain. Basically, the cause for attaining a human body is moral ethics, such as the ten virtues. Briefly these are:

• Three virtues of the body – not taking life, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct

• Four virtues of speech – not telling lies, not using divisive speech, not using harsh words and not engaging in idle talk; and

• Three virtues of the mind – not coveting, not engaging in harmful thought, and not holding wrong views

Conversely, the ten non-virtues refer to the opposites of the ten virtues.

Ethical discipline refers to avoiding the ten non-virtues and practising the ten virtues.

If we don’t keep moral ethics, there is a strong possibility that we will be born in the lower realms where there is no chance to study or practise the precious Dharma teachings. Since without ethical conduct it will not be easy to find a precious human life, bodhisattvas keep pure moral ethics so that in their next life they can again be born as humans where there are Dharma teachings.

The worst result of engaging in the ten non-virtues is to be reborn in the hell realms. The middling result leads to rebirth as a hungry ghost. The least severe consequence of doing the ten nonvirtues will cause you to be reborn as an animal. Practising the ten virtues causes you to be reborn in the three higher realms. That is why avoiding the ten non-virtues and protecting the ten virtues are so important for our Dharma practice. There is no possibility of encountering the precious Dharma in the lower realms, let alone studying or practising it. So cherish this opportunity of a precious human rebirth and protect the ten virtues.


When we do something good for another, how good we feel! The benefit of doing virtuous things for others is clear. Apply this knowledge in your daily life – avoid all negative actions, especially the ten non-virtues, and engage in positive actions, including the ten virtues. When you know how to do this, your peace, harmony, joy and happiness will increase without limit, especially if these noble acts are performed with the support of bodhicitta. These practices are also grounds for achieving enlightenment or Buddhahood.

Virtue and non-virtue, positive karma and negative karma are not just theories. They are the laws of the universe. Whatever we do becomes a cause that manifests a result. So reflect on the ten virtues and be inspired to live your life based on these and be free of the ten non-virtues.

Do virtuous things for others. This means not causing harm and bringing peace. Peace is the absence of obscurations, negative thoughts, delusion and distraction in the mind.

The ten virtues, six perfections, the good qualities of the relative state, and the qualities of Buddhahood are based on moral ethics. Love, compassion and bodhicitta are planted in and depend on the ground of moral ethics. Meditative concentration and critical insight are also based on personal discipline. The noble Nagarjuna wrote in the Letter to a Friend:

Morality was declared to be the foundation for all virtues,
Just as the earth is for all things moving and still.

When we hold and observe the five lay precepts, or monks’ and nuns’ precepts, we can say that we are real Dharma practitioners. Without at least the five precepts, we are not counted among the Sangha members.

Only one who is disciplined will be able to keep moral ethics. This is clear even in ordinary life. Generally, those who are cautious about respecting others’ lives and feelings, who abstain from stealing from others, who always use gentle words and speak the truth, and who use skilful words to bring others into harmony are well respected throughout the world. One who keeps moral ethics well gains great dignity and glory. Such a person has the ability to bring about peace and benefit to others. All the bodhisattvas are pleased with such an individual, and he or she is praised by distinguished and wise people.

Even when such individuals grow old and weak, they are still respected by gods and humans and are an object of praise. Like a precious shrine, such people are honoured with prostrations and devotion because their behaviour is a source of serenity, integrity and peace. Therefore, keeping the moral precepts is our best form of protection.

As the wish-granting tree bears great fruit, pure moral ethics brings great fruits for oneself and others. Moral discipline will bring about all the temporary peace and happiness of gods and humans. One who keeps pure moral ethics possesses the foundation to increase and perfect the peerless qualities of a Buddha. Ultimately, it will lead to complete Buddhahood.

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