Values & Ethics

Sīla: The Path of Ethics

Spirit Rock’s approach to ethical practice is rooted in the guidelines of the Buddha known as sīla, the cultivation of non-harming and mutual care throughout our relationships, communities, and world. Sīla is traditionally divided into three aspects within the Buddha’s framework of practice known as the Noble Eightfold Path: wise speech, wise action, and wise livelihood. These practices are fundamental to the path, bringing together our intentions for inner and outer well-being and freedom from suffering.

At the heart of Buddhist ethical practice is the insight that our lives are deeply interdependent, unfolding in constantly changing relationships with other living beings. Through practice, we grow in compassion for the suffering of all beings, wish for all forms of life to be safe and at ease, and understand that our actions always have an impact on both ourselves and others.

The more attuned we are to our hearts, the clearer our ethical behavior becomes. So the more we actually become embodied, start to feel our body fully, to feel our heart, the clearer ethical conduct becomes. It’s like we become attuned to our own system in such a way that we begin to see that doing good feels good. And the kind of karmic loop, when we act out of alignment with our own deepest integrity, that feedback loop gets shorter and shorter, so we really feel it. And this clarity breeds more careful, non-harming behavior.

Matthew Brensilver, Sīla, Samādhi, Pañña

The Five Precepts

The Buddha’s guidelines for wise action are summarized as the “five precepts.” These training guidelines are not commandments, and Buddhism has no deity or divine force judging human actions. Instead, the precepts serve as broad frameworks for mindfulness and inquiry based in a fundamental orientation toward non-harming (Pāli: avihiṁsa, Sanskrit: Ahiṃsā) and compassion for all of life.

We chant versions of these precepts at many of our programs and encourage practitioners to bring them into daily practice as sources of inspiration and deepening in mindfulness and lovingkindness.

  1. We undertake the training precept to refrain from killing.

  2. We undertake the training precept to refrain from taking that which is not offered.

  3. We undertake the training precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

  4. We undertake the training precept to refrain from false speech.

  5. We undertake the training precept to refrain from intoxicants that lead to heedlessness.

Read different versions of the five precepts used by Spirit Rock teachers (Link pending)

Explore sīla, the practice of wise action

The Buddha's guidelines for wise action include three aspects of the Eightfold Path: wise speech, wise action, and wise livelihood. Together, these provide a framework for bringing the practices of mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom to our relationships, work, and all aspects of life. Explore the practice of sīla with these talks from our Dharma Library.

Ethical conduct is the starting point and foundation; the mother at the head of all good things: that’s why you should purify your ethics.

Ethics provide a boundary and a restraint, an enjoyment for the mind; the ford where all the Buddhas cross over: that’s why you should purify your ethics.

Verses of the Elder Monks, Theragāthā 12.1

Statement of Values

Amidst the political and social challenges of our times and in light of our commitment to liberation, Spirit Rock declares itself to be a spiritual sanctuary and a refuge for all. We will honor and protect those who come here seeking the teachings of liberation. A climate of divisiveness and fear cannot alter our innate human goodness, and it will never change our values as an organization.

Spirit Rock proclaims our continued commitment to the Buddha’s teachings of wisdom, compassion in action, interdependence, and lovingkindness, excluding none.

"As long as a society holds regular and frequent assemblies, meeting in harmony and mutual respect, they can be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society follows the long-held traditions of wisdom, and honors its elders, they can be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline. As long as a society cares for the shrines and sacred places of the natural world, they can be expected to prosper and not decline."

— Jack Kornfield, based on the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16)

We reaffirm these 2,600 year-old Buddhist values in the face of cultures of violence and harm that threaten life on this planet and that differentially impact oppressed, exploited, and marginalized people, people of color, immigrants and refugees, poor people, women, disabled and differently abled people, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ peoples.

We denounce racism, misogyny, xenophobia, trans- and homophobia, and all forms of oppression and the valuation of certain lives over others. We value and celebrate diversity, inclusivity, and respect for all beings and the inherent dignity of all peoples.

The Buddhist path teaches that meditation and inner freedom must develop together with a foundation of generosity, ethical behavior, and lovingkindness. We affirm that human happiness requires intentions that are free from greed, hatred and cruelty; speech that is true and helpful, not harsh, not vain, slanderous nor abusive; and actions that are free from causing harm, killing, stealing, and sexual exploitation.

"Hatred never ends through hatred,
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth"

— Dhammapada 5, tr. Fronsdal

We affirm the interdependent nature of reality. When one being suffers, we all suffer. Thus, our own well-being and liberation is bound in the well-being and liberation of others. The only basis for Dharma life is virtue, respect, and mutual care. Knowing this truth, we will resist the destructive forces of hatred, discrimination, and recklessness and offer the powerful alternatives of fierce love and compassion.

With the Earth as a witness, the Buddha proclaimed his right to liberation and taught that all beings have the right to liberation, to be free from the oppressive forces of greed, hate, and ignorance. With the Earth as our witness, we offer a sanctuary for all to awaken together.

Spirit Rock will continue to be a light in our society, to respond to constantly changing conditions, and to offer practices, teachings, and refuge that nurture the internal life in support of external service. We practice not for ourselves but for the welfare, happiness, and safety of all life everywhere.

May all beings be free, and may our actions contribute wholeheartedly to that freedom.

2016, edited 2022