Moral Purity through right conduct, Søla
Practice of Søla forms a most fundamental aspect of Buddhism. It consists of practice of Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood to purge oneself of impure deeds, words and thoughts. Together with the commitment to the Threefold Refuge (as described above) a Buddhist lay disciple observes the Five Precepts by making a formal undertaking:
(i) I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from killing.
(ii) I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from stealing.
(iii) I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
(iv) I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from telling lies.
(v) I undertake to observe the precept of abstaining from alcoholic drinks, drugs or intoxicants that becloud the mind.
In addition to the negative aspect of the above formula which emphasizes abstinence, there is also the positive aspect of Søla. For instance, we find in many discourses the statement: ‘He refrains from killing, puts aside the cudgel and the sword; full of kindness and compassion he lives for the welfare and happiness of all living things.’ Every precept laid down in the formula has these two aspects.
Depending upon the individual and the stage of one’s progress, other forms of precepts, namely, Eight Precepts, Ten Precepts etc. may be observed. For the bhikkhus of the Order, higher and advanced types of practices of morality are laid down. The Five Precepts are to be always observed by lay disciples who may occasionally enhance their self-discipline by observing the Eight or Ten Precepts. For those who have already embarked on the path of a holy life, the Ten Precepts are essential preliminaries to further progress.
Søla of perfect purity serves as a foundation for the next stage of progress, namely, Samædhi purity of mind through concentration-meditation.