The Essential Place of Ethical Training in Buddhism
In transmitting Buddhism from one society to another, one needs to be able to identify the essential teachings so as to differentiate them from their cultural envelope. On his deathbed, Buddha indicated the criterion for so doing, as recorded in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra (mDo mya-ngan-las ’das chen-po). He told his assembled disciples to let his teachings (the Dharma) and the rules of discipline (the Vinaya) be their guide after his passing from this world. When asked how to know which of his teachings conveyed the most important points, Shakyamuni warned not to let this be decided in the future by the opinion of teachers or the consensus of the monastic community. Rather, this should be determined, he said, by gaining confidence about what is most essential by noting what appears repeatedly in the teachings and texts. The four noble truths, two true phenomena, love, compassion, the eightfold path, and three higher trainings are prominent points stressed throughout the teachings. By Buddha’s own guideline, there can be no doubt that these are fundamental features. It would therefore be inappropriate to eliminate or modify their central role, regardless of culture. Nevertheless, Buddha also said not to believe anything he said just out of faith, but to analyze and test it like when testing gold. In other words, we need to base our acceptance of what Buddha repeatedly taught based on analysis and logic, not on mere faith.
Since the observance of ethical self-discipline (tshul-khrims, Skt. śīla), as one of the three higher trainings in discipline, concentration, and discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajñā, wisdom), is an indispensable aspect of Buddhism, it is important to understand what exactly ethical self-discipline means, what role it plays on the spiritual path and why it is important. Ethical self-discipline is explained as being a mental factor, or state of mind, with which we safeguard our bodies, speech, and minds, keeping them in check, usually through the medium of observing vows and following precepts (guidelines for behavior). All forms of Buddhism repeatedly stress safeguarding our body, speech, and mind by refraining from destructive physical, verbal, and mental actions. With the aim of liberation, we seek to avoid any act that will create problems and suffering for ourselves.
The Mahayana schools of Buddhism emphasize, in addition, refraining from actions that are destructive in the sense of either being directly harmful to others or indirectly harmful to ourselves, preventing us from helping others fully. Actions that hurt others have negative consequences on us as well. Thus, non-Mahayana forms of Buddhism also teach avoiding causing harm to others. Although part of the motivation for so doing is love and compassion, the emphasis is on the wish to avoid the negative repercussions on ourselves. Other aspects of ethical self-discipline in Mahayana are guarding our activities to ensure that they are constructive – constructive in the sense of either being directly helpful to others or indirectly helpful to ourselves in that they contribute to our own ability to be of full benefit. Let us focus our discussion on the first type of ethical self-discipline, however, the one that is common to all traditions of Buddhism, refraining from destructive behavior.
Exercising self-control so as not to act destructively is, in a general Buddhist context, based on the frame of mind with which we reject not only causing harm by our actions but, on a deeper level, causing harm by our lack of awareness (ma-rigs-pa, Skt. avidyā, ignorance) and disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. kleśa, afflictions), which are what cause us to act in a harmful manner. At the beginning, we strive with will-power and self-control to minimize being under the influence of these debilitating mental states. Then, the further we progress in our training in higher ethical self-discipline, the stronger the foundation becomes for the other two higher trainings in concentration and discriminating awareness that can eliminate completely the causes of the problem. This foundation is cemented with mindfulness (dran-pa, Skt. smṛti) and alertness (shes-bzhin, Skt. saṃprajanya), two mental factors that we develop by remaining ever conscious of what we are doing, saying, and thinking, always differentiating between what is helpful and harmful.
On a deeper level, by identifying and refraining from destructive features in our gross behavior, we gain the training and strength that enable us to notice and restrain our minds from giving way to flightiness, dullness, and other subtle deviations detrimental for attaining absorbed concentration (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samādhi). With perfect concentration and a correct understanding of the four noble truths and the two true phenomena – appearances, which are like an illusion, and voidness (stong-pa-nyid, Skt. śūnyatā; emptiness) – we can remain focused on the lack of true identities or of impossible “souls” (bdag-med, Skt. nairātmya; identitylessness, selflessness) and thereby eliminate the deepest cause of our suffering and bring liberation. Thus, from several points of view, ethical training plays a central role in the Buddhist path.
Calls for a Modernization of Buddhist Ethics
Many people nowadays are calling for a modernization of Buddhist ethics that would entail eliminating certain vows and precepts as irrelevant or interpreting others in such a manner as to completely change their objective and, ultimately, render them meaningless. Some even question the necessity for ethics at all in a spiritual training that is basically oriented toward meditation and psychology or that is nondualistic. In seeking liberation without really knowing what freedom truly means, people want to be free in all respects, even regarding moral issues.
Their protest is understandable. If their native religion placed heavy restrictions on their behavior, especially on their sexual behavior, and they reject that religion and turn to Buddhism, they often carry with them their spirit of rebellion against authority and establishment and transfer it onto their adopted creed. They do not want more rules. Especially if they need to pay for teachings, they want a “good deal” by only getting permissive guidelines that they like. They are unconsciously approaching Buddhist ethics with a Western consumer mentality.
Such objectors to the need for ethical self-discipline sometimes point to the conduct of great tantric masters as an example of how they themselves should act. The comparison, however, may not be apt. Ethical self-control is an aid for lessening being under the control of disturbing emotions and destructive compulsive behavior and for developing discriminating awareness of the nondual state of reality. Once practitioners have reached the level of realization and self-development at which they are no longer under the control of disturbing emotions and compulsive behavior, and have bare, non-conceptual discriminating awareness of the way things are (de-nyid, Skt. tathatā, thusness), their training in ethical self-discipline will have achieved its purpose. Whatever they do at this point is motivated purely by compassion and bodhichitta, the wish to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible so as to help others fully, accompanied by wisdom. Therefore, even if the behavior of a person of such high realization may seem unconventional, it is by no means irresponsible or unethical. It never causes long-term harm, only benefit, especially to others. Tantra, after all, is a Mahayana practice, motivated by great compassion.
To try to imitate the conduct of great masters before we have reached their levels of realization, then, is not only presumptuous but also dangerous. Those still driven by greed, attachment, anger, and pride may seriously hurt themselves and others if they belittle the need for self-control and shirk the responsibility of training themselves in ethical self-discipline. Such cases have, recently, caused much harm to Buddhist communities in the West, only to make more obvious the importance of ethical training for all Buddhists, teachers and students alike.
When we analyze on a deeper level, we can see that the quest for personal freedom at all costs is based on grasping for a self (bdag-‘dzin, Skt. ātmagrāha), “me,” that exists as an independent, self-established, substantially knowable entity that is entitled to always having its own way and always doing whatever it likes. There is no such self that exists in a vacuum, totally independent of being responsible for and experiencing the consequences of its actions.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t exist; we do exist, and we do experience the consequences of our actions. But we need to understand what the pursuit of freedom means in the Buddhist context. It means working to gain liberation from all the problems and sufferings that we create for ourselves, which we understand come from our compulsive behavior, driven by our disturbing emotions and lack of understanding of cause and effect and how we, others and everything exist. It does not mean the pursuit of freedom to do whatever we want, including acting out our disturbing emotions, as if our behavior had no effect on ourselves or others.
Differences between Western and Buddhist Approaches to Ethics
Although the central role of ethical self-discipline in Buddhism is indisputable, the question remains whether or not to modify Buddhist ethics in the process of its transmission to modern societies, and if one were to modify them, how best to do this. There are two possible focal points for targeting cultural adaptation: the approach to ethics and the form of the discipline. Let us examine the first of these points, the approach to ethics, in terms of societies grounded in Abrahamic and ancient Greek values and try to determine whether cultural adaptation with respect to it would be beneficial. Although only some members of such societies may consciously ascribe to the views explained below, most people will at least be subliminally influenced by them.
In cultures affected by Old Testament thought, the model for ethical codes is the ten commandments. Ethics are based on a set of laws given by higher authority. Certain actions are deemed “right” and others “wrong.” The orientation is judgmental. Those who act wrongly and disobey the laws are “bad” people and condemned to punishment, while those who uphold God’s laws are righteous and “good,” and will be justly rewarded.
In ancient Greek thought based on principles of democracy, ethics are grounded in a set of man-made laws promulgated for the orderly governing of a society. Checks and balances are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the state and the well-being of the populace. In abiding by these laws, we define ourselves as “good citizens.” In disobeying them, we earn for ourselves punishment deemed rightful and necessary in order to uphold the greater good of society.
In Buddhist cultures, on the other hand, ethics are based on guidelines differentiating those actions that will result in happiness from those that result in suffering. These guidelines are not given by an omnipotent creator, of both society and its rules, who has the power to reward or punish. Nor are they legislated by elected lawmakers wishing to create a better state. They are taught by an omniscient Buddha who sees the full aspects of the natural laws of cause and effect. Buddhas are not the enforcers of these laws. These laws operate as part of the uncreated order of the universe.
If we wish to avoid problems and unhappiness, we restrain ourselves from committing the destructive actions that cause them to happen, and, more deeply, refrain from acting out the disturbing emotions prompting us to act destructively. Such restraint is purely a voluntary act based on discriminating awareness. It is not at all obligatory. We exercise self-control not because of feeling we should or we must refrain from certain actions because we were commanded to do so, nor because this is the law of the land and there must be rules for society to be orderly. Rather, we restrain our behavior because of understanding the natural order of the universe, which is based on cause and effect, and wishing to avoid unhappiness. Following Buddhist ethics, then, is similar to honoring the physical laws of the universe, such as not putting our hands in fire because we will get burned. No moral or civil judgments are involved.
In a Buddhist framework, those committing negative actions do so either (1) because of not knowing that these acts are destructive or (2) because of being under the influence of some disturbing emotion or attitude, such as anger, longing desire, attachment, greed, or naivety, plus having no sense of values or scruples. People do not act in a negative manner because of being disobedient to divine or civil laws and, therefore, being “bad,” but because of being unaware or disturbed. Their lack of awareness does not define them as heathens or infidels – or, at best, objects to look down upon with pity – whom perhaps we can convert and save. Their acting destructively does not trigger indignation and moral outrage, as if we ourselves were God, nor does it engender a feeling of moral duty to punish them in the name of an omnipotent creator. It does not even cause us to want to imprison and punish them as bad citizens and criminals in order to protect the welfare of society. Rather, their confusion renders them objects of compassion, whom we would wish to be free of suffering and the causes of grief.
Furthermore, Buddhist ethics do not involve guilt. According to Buddhist thinking, those who act destructively are behaving mistakenly and must certainly bear responsibility for the consequences of their actions, even in terms of civil law. They may regret their mistakes, but those raised with a traditional Buddhist approach to ethics would not feel guilty. Guilt, with its underlying conviction that we are bad persons and its morbid grasping to this sense of self as our permanent, true identities, is a culturally specific feeling arising due to Abrahamic influence on a society. It is not a universally experienced emotion. Not everyone feels, as formulated in the seventeenth-century CE New England Primer, “In Adam’s fall, we sinneth all.” It is just the opposite: the Buddhist teachings on Buddha-nature imply that the nature of our minds is pure, and we are all capable of removing all the fleeting clouds of delusion that cause us to act in destructive ways.
The reason for upholding ethics in a Judeo-Christian society is basically to be a good person and to please God. In countries additionally sharing an ancient Greek heritage of democracy, an auxiliary aim is to be a good citizen and to uphold “the good.” Holding either or both of these aims runs the risk of self-righteously grasping at having to be good as our solid identity. In Buddhist cultures, on the other hand, the reason for upholding ethics is primarily to gain liberation from suffering. The basic Buddhist ethical vows are called “pratimoksha” in Sanskrit, literally, “vows for attaining individual liberation” (so-sor thar-pa).
Dharma students raised in a Biblically influenced society often approach Buddhist ethics with an unconscious misplaced loyalty to an inappropriate aspect of their backgrounds, namely, an anxious wish to learn what is right and wrong. To adapt Buddhist ethics to Judeo-Christian cultures by providing practitioners with a Buddhist version of the ten commandments, however, may not be wise. To do so would not only contradict the Buddhist approach to ethical training, it may also undermine its aims.
As a basis for ethics, Buddhism does not teach a list of commandments and tell people to obey them. The traditional list of the ten destructive actions is not a list of “thou shalt not”s. Unlike in Christian orders, unquestioning obedience is never mentioned, even as a Buddhist monastic vow. Rather, Buddhism teaches the laws of behavioral cause and effect and then invites people to examine their experiences and their minds and to try to recognize the problems that have arisen from their compulsive actions and habits. They need to identify the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and their underlying unawareness and confusion about reality and about cause and effect, that drive their compulsive destructive behavior. They need also to analyze and gain conviction that these habitual causes can be removed forever with correct understanding and that that is the way to eliminate suffering so that it never recurs.
When, as a result of this introspection and self-examination, people develop the strong wish definitely to emerge from their uncontrollably recurring problems, they develop what is usually translated as “renunciation,” the determination to be free from suffering (nges-byung, Skt. niḥsaraṇa). They will then be motivated to start the process of gaining liberation by modifying their behavioral patterns by refraining from acting out the disturbing emotions that are the causes of their compulsive behavior and subsequent problems. In other words, renouncing not only their suffering but also its causes, they will work to give up their negative ways.
The Indo-Tibetan tradition of the “lam-rim” (graduated path) discusses how people may decide to rid themselves of three levels of suffering because of three corresponding levels of spiritual motivation. They may wish to avoid the gross sufferings entailed with being reborn in a worse situation as the result of their destructive behavior; this is the aim of the initial level of determination to be free. Further, they may wish to be free not only from gross suffering but from all forms of suffering in all rebirths, including those brought about by their compulsive constructive behavior, such as obsessively cleaning their house. This is the aim of the intermediate level of determination to be free. In addition, they may wish to eliminate all levels of suffering of others, by overcoming any obstacles that might prevent them from being of fullest help. This is the advanced level.
However, from the common point of view shared by practitioners of not only these three scopes of motivation but all Buddhist traditions, the main reason for restraint is to be free from suffering and problems that come from compulsive destructive behavior.
The Buddhist approach to ethics, then, engenders a renunciation of the suffering that arises from destructive, unaware behavior, rather than a renunciation of actions that scriptural authority deems sinful or that civil codes and courts rule unlawful. The Buddhist approach leads to examination of the four noble truths: true problems, their true causes, their true ending, and the true pathways of mind and practices that truly bring that ending about. Therefore, to alter this approach in a cultural adaptation of Buddhist ethics in the West risks the possible abandonment of essential features of Buddhism. Let us examine this issue further.
The Role of Spiritual Teachers in Giving Ethical Advice
People with a Judeo-Christian upbringing who are facing a moral dilemma in their lives may turn to their priest, minister, or rabbi for pastoral advice. In order to make a decision, such as how to respond to their child wishing to marry outside their faith, they want to know what is right or wrong. When faced with a purely civil ethical issue, such as whether or not to declare certain income as part of their tax return, they may turn to a lawyer to learn the legalities and what loopholes there may be to avoid heavy payment.
Traditional Buddhists of Asia would not go to their spiritual teacher, or a monk or nun, for similar guidance. In the Tibetan tradition, they may go to a lama for a divination in order to help make a difficult decision that cannot easily be decided by logic. But such decisions would not commonly concern moral issues. They would more likely be about business or medical matters, such as where to sell sweaters or on which doctor to rely. Similarly, Chinese Buddhists seek divinations at temples to help them decide a wide variety of purely mundane affairs, while Thai Buddhists faced with worldly problems ask monks for charms to wear to ward off evil. Although many Westerners now seek red “protection strings” from Tibetan lamas to wear around their neck, most Occidentals do not believe in such things.
Furthermore, many Westerners feel dejected at the fundamentalist attitudes of the conservative factions of their native religions toward, for instance, their homosexual activity or having an abortion. Sometimes they come to a Buddhist teacher seeking moral approval and justification for their decisions concerning such matters. They want to be told that what they have chosen to do is right and not wrong. They want reassurance that they are not bad people.
Faced with such persons, Buddhist teachers, especially Western ones, who perhaps can more easily empathize with them, want to be compassionate. They know that if they echo the firm, conservative response of some Western religions by quoting Buddhist scripture, these people may never come again to a Dharma course or lecture. Therefore, in order to be able comfortably to answer moral questions about right and wrong in a more liberal, tolerant manner for new Buddhists coming from a Biblically influenced society, they make cultural adaptations of Buddhist ethics.
We must be very careful in formulating such adaptations. Many Westerners approach Buddhism in the hope that it might, or even with a conviction that it does reinforce their already decided “progressive” political, social, and sexual views, and simply ignore those aspects of Buddhism that do not accord with them. Or, like a lawyer, they regard Buddhist ethics as a code of laws and seek to find loopholes or negotiate amendments. Teachers must be careful. Pandering to such attitudes in themselves and others may mask a subtle form of abandoning the Dharma and fabricating imitation Dharma, two extremes that Buddha warned to avoid. But the question is how to find a middle path between fundamentalist conservatism and moral indulgence?
There are even more difficult questions that need first to be addressed when contemplating cultural adaptations of Buddhist ethics. For instance, is telling someone what is right or wrong the best way to help that person make spiritual progress? Are ethical issues ever black or white? Is it the role of a Dharma teacher to resolve all moral questions, especially in a world of moral relativism? Let us examine some of these points.
Buddha’s Method of Teaching
Once, a bereaved mother came to the Buddha carrying the corpse of her dead baby. Overwhelmed with grief, she pleaded with Buddha to restore her child’s life. Shakyamuni said to bring him a mustard seed from a home to which death had never visited, and then he would see what he could do. The mother went from house to house in the village. When she realized from her enquiries that no household had ever escaped death, she understood Buddha’s teaching on impermanence. Having become consoled, she was able to lay her child’s body to rest.
This episode clearly indicates Buddha’s method of teaching. He did not say to the woman in a professorial tone, “I’m sorry, but all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, and everybody must someday die.” He did not scold her with indignant outrage, “Your request is wrong! God, in his infinite wisdom, has taken your child and you must have faith in God.” He did not become emotional or try to comfort her with sweet words such as, “Don’t worry, dear mother, your child is now in heaven or has taken rebirth in a marvelous Buddha-field.” Rather, with a characteristic balance of compassion and dispassion, he arranged the circumstances for her to gain the realization that would allow her to resolve her grief for herself.
Buddha’s teaching method, then, is not to provide clear-cut answers for people but to help them see reality for themselves. Shakyamuni made disciples responsible for answering their own dilemmas. Rather than tell them what to do, he taught them often by life situations or parables and stories and made them think for themselves. He had them report back their insights in order to keep them from going astray, but never spoon-fed them the Dharma. Even when Buddha taught various principles and laws, for instance, those of behavioral cause and effect, he left it to each of his disciples to fit them together, work out all the implications, and apply them to their individual situation. In this way, he led people along a path of spiritual development, even through moments of moral crisis and doubt.
People from an Abrahamic background, however, want to know what to do. They want a “yes” or “no” answer – hardly has that become less relevant in our present time of digitalization, where “one” and “zero” are the primary code for all computational workings. Our modern approach to resolving doubts is to go to an authority, whether a book, a website, a professional expert, or a wise person, to find out the answer. Even our secular education trains us to do this. If in response to our ethical query about certain behavior – for instance, uncommitted, casual sex with many partners – our spiritual teacher says it is wrong and that we will go to hell if we continue, the question is decided. We may now either repress desire for casual sex and control ourselves, but perhaps still be left with this desire, or we may continue this activity but with a strong feeling of guilt. Or we may ignore the moral pronouncement we received and seek another authority. Modern Western behavior is almost like looking for a better spiritual lawyer until we find someone who will provide for a loophole in the moral law and give us the answer we want to hear. But spiritual teachers are not spiritual lawyers!
The Buddhist approach to resolving doubt, particularly concerning ethical questions, is quite different. Doubt, or indecisive wavering (the-tshom, Skt. vicikitsā), is considered a disturbing attitude. Its antidote is the decisiveness that comes from the discriminating awareness with which we can distinguish correctly ourselves between what is appropriate and what is not, and between what is helpful and what is harmful. Doubt is not the “work of the Devil,” something to be exorcized through the power of total faith in a moral authority whose injunctions we must accept. Nor is it an issue of public concern to be decided by a jury and trial. Rather, doubt is a disturbing state of mind that produces suffering and anxiety. It is to be rooted out and abandoned through introspective wisdom.
Shakyamuni explained that he could not eliminate others’ suffering as if removing a splinter from their foot. All he could do is point out the methods for others to eradicate their suffering themselves. Thus, Buddha gave ethical guidelines and teachings, but it is the disciples’ responsibility to understand and apply them and to resolve their ethical dilemmas and doubts themselves. This is the traditional Asian approach to creativity; namely, to modify standard solutions to fit changing conditions. Creativity from a Western point of view usually means finding a unique, personal solution, such as a new loophole to escape some quandary. That type of approach, however, does not seem appropriate when considering how to adapt Buddhist ethics to modern Western cultures.
In short, encouraging disciples on a course of self-enquiry and investigation of the intentions behind and implications of Buddha’s ethical teachings might help them make far more progress toward liberation from suffering than giving them a “yes” or “no” answer about their conduct being right or wrong. A nonjudgmental approach to ethics gives Buddhists the mental and emotional room to bring to consciousness and develop their own discriminating wisdom. By delving for the root of their problems, people can gradually be led to progressively deeper methods for eliminating, and not just repressing, whatever is causing them grief.
Cultural Adaptation of Buddhist Ethical Standards
If it may not be appropriate to change the approach to Buddhist ethics as part of a cultural adaptation, let us consider alterations in the form of the discipline. How open is Buddhism to changes in ethical standards?
Although there are no “commandments,” Buddhist ethics are not completely relative either. It is not simply up to individuals to decide what is beneficial or harmful for them; their decision or preferences do not make it so. There are specific principles of karma, behavioral cause and effect, that cannot be ignored when analyzing the results of our moral choices. But, actions, in and of themselves, are not inherently destructive or constructive. In Western terms, they are not inherently bad or good, illegal or legal, with their status established from their own sides by their own power. What gives our actions their ethical status, and thus governs their results that we experience, is the motivation that drives us to commit them.
The Western Buddhists’ concern about culturally modifying what behavior is destructive and what is constructive, then, misses the point of Buddhist ethics if it just focuses on wanting Buddhism to legalize certain forms of behavior, especially sexual behavior. The approach to examining Buddhist ethics, if it is to be consistent with Buddhist principles, must not be a legalistic one. The noble truth of the true cause of suffering teaches us that any type of sexual behavior, when driven by a disturbing emotion, such as lust and attachment, is destructive and will result, in the long term, in causing us unhappiness and suffering, even if it brings us some short-term pleasure that never lasts.
It is true that if our sexual activity with a partner is motivated by our loving wish to bring them pleasure, and not by lust, that activity is constructive, but it is constructive only within the context of samsara. Even if our partner and we acknowledge that the pleasure it will give is only temporary, still such actions bring us suffering, the suffering of change. For example, if we are identifying ourselves with our sexual performance, we are plagued with worries that we will not be good enough. Such worries are indeed suffering.
If, as a non-monastic, we engage in sexual activity, no matter what form that activity might take, we need to have a realistic attitude about it. Although sex plays an important role in leading a healthy, worldly life, it is not the most important thing in life, and it certainly is not a pathway to everlasting happiness. As a follower of Buddhism, we must never lose sight of the four noble truths.
This does not mean that cultural values and social mores do not influence the results, we experience, of our behavior. They must be taken into account. This is because cause and effect are dependently arising phenomena: a very large number of causal factors, including civil laws, bring about a very large number of effects. Thus, the type of behavior considered unacceptable by ancient Indian secular society, such as premarital sex, might not be disapproved by modern Western society; and, vice versa, what was acceptable in ancient Indian society, such as child marriage, might even be illegal under modern Western civil law.
Buddhist masters did add certain types of sexual behavior, such as incest, to the list of inappropriate types of sexual conduct when Buddhism spread to cultural areas in which incest, for example, was prevalent. One could argue that this was a cultural modification. But, in adding it, these masters were merely helping practitioners to advance on their spiritual paths by pointing out more and more facets of personal conduct to analyze in terms of the noble truths of suffering and its causes. No matter in which society and times a certain type of behavior takes place, if it is motivated by a disturbing emotion and by unawareness of behavioral cause and effect, it will result in unhappiness and suffering. This point is not open to cultural modification.
The bottom line is that the main thing we need to rid ourselves of are the unawareness and disturbing emotions that drive any types of compulsive actions we might commit. If we lose sight of this main point and focus instead on which actions should be added or deleted from the Buddhist list of destructive actions, it is difficult to consider any such adaptation still a form of Buddhism based on taking safe direction (refuge) from Shakyamuni Buddha as a valid authority.