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śīla (Pali: sīla; T. tshul khrims ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་). Literally, ‘acting appropriately’. Sila is translated as "skillful conduct," "ethical conduct," "discipline," "virtue," etc.

Śīla is said to be a way of being that is conducive to positive and happy states of mind.

With the Buddhist teachings, śīla is identified as:

Pali tradition

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

Sila (virtue, moral conduct) is the cornerstone upon which the entire Noble Eightfold Path is built. The practice of sila is defined by the middle three factors of the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

Practicing Buddhists voluntarily undertake a particular set of training rules appropriate to their life-situation:

  • Lay men and women observe the Five Precepts (pañca-sila)
  • Lay men and women doing intensive meditation practice (as on Uposatha days) observe the Eight Precepts (attha-sila)
  • Novice monks (samanera) and nuns (samaneri) observe the Ten Precepts (dasa-sila)
  • A fully-ordained monk (bhikkhu) follows the 227 rules of the Bhikkhu Patimokkha; a nun (bhikkhuni) would follow the 311 rules of the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha.[1]

Sanskrit tradition

Methods of guarding śīla

Patrul Rinpoche states:

The methods of guarding śīla are:
  • conscientiousness (apramāda), which is a meticulous concern for what is to be engaged in and what is to be avoided;
  • mindfulness] (smṛti), which means not forgetting what should be adopted and abandoned; and
  • vigilance (sampajañña), which involves [continually] checking the status of your body, speech and mind.
Firstly, through mindfulness, you do not lose sight of what should be adopted or abandoned. Then secondly, because you are checking the status of the body, speech and mind with vigilance, you recognize any occasions when you are tempted to avoid something virtuous or to engage in something negative. At that time, because of your conscientiousness, you recall the benefits of virtuous actions and undertake them, or remember the faults of negative conduct and unwholesome actions and avoid them.[2]


Chökyi Drakpa says:

"Śīla is divided into: the śīla of avoiding negative actions, the śīla of undertaking positive actions, and the śīla of bringing benefit to beings:

  • The first kind of śīla means that you give up even the slightest unwholesome deed of body, speech or mind.
  • The second means that you strive to practise virtue as much as you possibly can, beginning with the tiniest of positive acts. Be sure to embrace these acts with the proper preparation, main part and conclusion.
  • Thirdly, bringing benefit to beings means working for the welfare of others through the four ways of attracting disciples, once the time has come for you to do so, and when you are free from any selfish motivation. For beginners, it is most important to train the mind in the first two types of śīla with the bodhichitta motivation of wishing to benefit others."[3]

Śīla paramita

The "perfection of ethical conduct" (śīla-pāramitā) is identified as:

Alternative translations

  • discipline (Dzogchen Ponlop)
  • eithical conduct (Geshe Tashi Tsering, Thubten Chodron)
  • ethics
  • moral conduct (Bhikku Bodhi)
  • moral discipline
  • morality (Dharma Publishing)
  • virtue (Bhikku Bodhi)
  • skillful conduct (EOB)


Further reading

  • Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), pages 73-78.
  • Book icoline.svg Geshe Tashi Tsering (2005), The Four Noble Truths, The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume 1, Wisdom Publications 

External links