Sīla: The Foundation of Dhamma

Questions always arise in the mind of a new meditator: what exactly morality is? It’s such a subjective term! For one person the act which is harmful can be beneficial for the other. Morality is good for the society but how exactly it is helpful in purifying the mind of a person?
However it has to be understood first that the morality is practiced to develop Samadhi with which pure mind can be developed. One of the main aims of learning Vipassana is to develop a pure mind. When one talks of sīla (morality), it simply means:
a) one does not kill,
b) one does not does not steal,
c) one does not commit sexual misconduct,
d) one does not lie and
(e) one does not take any kind of intoxicant.
Morality is not subjective but the five basic foundations of morality is same for every human being irrespective of society, language, caste creed, country, continent, rich or poor.
The reason for living a life of morality does not have a limited purpose but when one practices morality with the purpose to develop pure mind, one understands that as whenever one breaks the sīla, one gets disturbed and agitated. One loses its peace of mind. Who does want to do that? Who does not want to be peaceful and happy? When one gets agitated, he not only gets disturbed but he also pollutes the environment, the surrounding. So one understands that with maintaining Sila, he is not only doing well to himself but to the society at large.
Another series of predicament also arises. If one cannot control the mind, how can one become virtuous? But one can learn this technique only while living a life of morality. So a great difficulty arises. To live a life of morality one has to gain control over the mind. The mind has to be purified. To master the mind, to purify the mind, one’s life has to be a life of morality. Should one keep the horse in front or the cart in front? Should morality come first or should concentration and purification of mind come first?
To solve this problem, the wise teachers of our country established the tradition of going to a meditation centre to learn Vipassana. One is able to practise all the five sīlas there. How? The atmosphere of the meditation centre, the discipline and heavy daily programme of a ten-day course is such that it is easy to maintain sīla. The student is so busy from four o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night that there is no opportunity to break sīla. In order to avoid lying and wrong speech, the meditation centre has one more rule: for the duration of the course one must maintain silence. There should be no communication with fellow students. Of course, one may talk to the teacher or guide to seek clarification about the technique, or speak to the management about any material problems. However, even while talking to them, one should remain very attentive not to break one’s sīla. One should not exaggerate or hide anything. In this way, even the sīla of not telling lies can be easily maintained during the course. So sīla is maintained perfectly. The work of learning the technique begins on this foundation of perfect sīla. If the student works as instructed, progress is certain. But if the foundation of sīla is missing, the student will not progress.
The foundation of morality is absolutely necessary. One should understand why it is so necessary. After all, one has to operate on the mind. To merely fill the surface part of the mind with bliss is not the goal of Vipassana. One has to reach and purify the depth, the deepest part of the mind, where the defilements arise, where they are accumulated. It is a very deep operation. If the surface part of the mind is very disturbed, very agitated, it results in gross impure vibrations. These vibrations act as a barrier and prevent one from going to the depth of the mind.
There are waves of defilements in the mind. But when one breaks any sīla whether one kills or steals or takes intoxicants or tells lies or commits sexual misconduct there are such high tidal waves of impurities created on the surface part of the mind that one cannot go to the depth. If one has to work at the depth of the mind, a situation has to be created where even though there are waves of defilements, they do not multiply and cause such high tidal waves of impurities in the mind.
Sīle patiṭṭhāya naro sapañño, ātāpī nipako bhikkhu,
so imaṃ vijaṭaye jaṭanti. cittaṃ paññañca bhāvayaṃ;
The wise, ardent, and discerning meditator,
well established in morality, who develops
samādhi (concentration) and wisdom,
unties the knots (of defilements).