[copyright] The Theosophical Publishing House, 1887; 1967, The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras 20, India; Wheaton, Ill., U.S.A. and London, England

The Golden Rules of Buddhism

Compiled by H.S. Olcott

[This online edition has been slightly edited. The notes have been moved so that they come straight after the quote they belong to instead of at the bottom of the page, as there are no pages in HTML-documents. The many details about the publication have been moved to the back, whereas they were listed in the beginning in the original edition. Numbers between brackets signify the page the information directly above was on in the printed edition of 1967. For clarity's sake I've added horizontal lines after each quote and source. - Editor Buddha's World]


THE too prevalent ignorance among even adult Sinhalese Buddhists of the ethical code of their religion heads me to issue this little compilation. Similar moral precepts exist by hundreds in the Buddhist Scriptures; where, also, all the present quotations will be found in the places indicated. They should be committed to memory and practised by parents and taught to their children, especially when the latter are being educated under anti-Buddhistic influences.
Orientalists and other impartial persons admit that no religion in the world contains a more sublime system of moral rules than Buddhism, but if we wish this to become known to Buddhist children, we adult Buddhists must take the task upon ourselves. Many a Buddhist boy has beet "converted " to Christianity, or otherwise brought to despise his ancestral religion, from ignorance of its merits.
- H. S. O.

17th November, 1887

Vinaya Texts..........DAVIDS AND OLDENBERG
Buddhist Literature in China........BEAL
Catena of Buddhist Scriptures.........BEAL
Buddhaghosha's Parables........ROGERS
Buddhist Birth Stories.........FAUSBOLL AND DAVIDS
Legend of Gaudama.........BIGANDET
Chinese Buddhism ..........EDKINS
Kalpa Sutra and Nava Tattva.....STEVENSON
Buddha and Early Buddhism.............LILLIE
Sutta Nipata..........SIR COOMARA SWAMY
Kusa Jataka..........STEELE
Romantic History of Buddha.............BEAL
Twelve Japanese Buddhist Sects.........B. NANJIO

My Buddhist Catechism was compiled from the same excellent translations.

The Golden Rules of Buddhism

Merits and Demerits

LET him [the householder] not destroy, or cause to be destroyed, any life at all, or sanction the acts of those who do so.* Let him refrain from even hurting any creature,** both those that are strong, and those that tremble in the world.
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 19)

* One who buys butcher's meat or poultry violates this gatha. For, by paying the butcher for meat he has killed, the buyer shares his sin by "sanctioning" his act.
** An inaccurate expression, adopted from Christian writers. A "creature" is something created (by God), but Buddhists regard all living organisms as evolved by the process of natural law.

A disciple then knowing [the law] should refrain from stealing anything at any place; should not cause another to steal anything, [2] should not consent to the acts of those who steal anything, should avoid every kind of theft.
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 20)

A wise man should avoid unchastity as if it were a burning pit of live coals. One who is not able to live in a state of celibacy should not commit adultery.*
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 21)

* The history of all monastic establishments shows that there are persons temperamentally unfit for celibate life, and whose lapses bring great scandal upon their orders. The Sangha has not escaped this misery, offenders having been noted even in our Lord's own time. Yet the general blamelessness of Buddhist monks has been acknowledged even by clerical opponents. A true regard to the honour of the Sangha should prompt senior priests to insist upon the relinquishment of the robe by such as are not sexually self-masterful. "It is better to marry than burn", says St. Paul.

Four things does a reckless man obtain who covets his neighbour's wife - a bad reputation; an uncomfortable bed; thirdly, punishment; lastly, future torment.
(Dhammapada, v. 309)

Of all the lusts and desires, there is none so powerful as sexual inclination. This is so strong that there is no other worth speaking of beyond it. . . . Lust and desire, in respect of a man, are like a person who takes a lighted torch and runs with it against the wind.
(Sutra of the 42 Sections, Beal's Catena, p. 198)

When one is come to a royal assembly [i.e., any official inquiry], he should not tell lies to anyone, or cause any to tell lies, or consent to the acts of those who tell lies; he should avoid every kind of untruth.
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 22)

The householder who delights in the Law should not indulge in intoxicating drinks [or stupefying drugs], should not cause others to drink, should not sanction the acts of those who drink,* knowing that it results in insanity.
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 23)

* Then no Buddhist can without grievous sin become an arrack renter, or seller, or drinker.
[ 4]

He who destroys life, who speaks untruth, who takes in this world what is not given him, who takes another man's wife, and the man who gives himself up to drinking intoxicating liquors: he, even in this world, digs up his own root.
(Dhammapada, vv. 246, 247)

The ignorant commit sins in consequence of drunkenness, and also make others drink. You should avoid this: it is the cause of demerit, insanity and ignorance - though it be pleasing to the ignorant.
(Dhammika Sutta, v. 24)

The fields are damaged by weeds, mankind by passion; therefore a gift bestowed on the passionless brings great reward.
(Dhammapada, v. 356)

The virtuous man is happy in this world, and he is happy in the next; he is happy in both.

[5] He is happy when he thinks of the good he has done; he is still more happy when going in the good path.
(Dhammapada, v. 18)

What ought to be done is neglected, what ought not to be done is done; the sins of unruly, thoughtless people are always increasing.
(Dhammapada, v. 292)

Let each man make himself as he teaches others to be; he who is well subdued may subdue [others]; one's own self is difficult to subdue.
(Dhammapada, v. 159)

Whoever, being asked for what is good, teaches what is not good, [and] advises [another] concealing something from him, know him to be a Vasala.*
(Vasala Sutta, v. 11)
* A slave.


Hatred is never quenched by hatred: hatred ceases by [showing] love; this is an old rule.
(Dhammapada, v. 5)

Let a man overcome anger by love, evil by good, the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth.
(Dhammapada, v. 223)

Do not speak harshly to anybody; those who are spoken to, will answer thee in the same way.
(Dhammapada, v. 133)

Cut down the whole forest of lust, not one tree. When thou hast cut down every tree and every shrub, then thou wilt be free.
(Dhammapada, v. 283)

Not nakedness, not matted hair, not dirt, not fasting, not lying on the earth, not rubbing with dust, not sitting motionless, can purify a mortal who has not overcome desires.
(Dhammapada, v. 141)


If a man becomes fat and a great eater, if he is sleepy and rolls himself about, that fool, like a hog fed on slops, is born again and again.
(Dhammapada, v. 325)

The avaricious go not to the world of the gods [devas], for the fool commends not charity.
(Udanavarga, x. v. 2)

He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; other people are but holders of the reins.
(Dhammapada, v. 222)

A wicked man who reproaches a virtuous one, is like one who looks up and spits at the sky; the spittle soils not the sky, but comes back and defiles his own person. So again, he is like one who flings dirt at another when wind is contrary; the dirt does but return on him who threw it. The virtuous man cannot be hurt, the [8] misery that the other would inflict comes back on himself.
(Sutra of the 42 Sections, Beal's Catena, p. 193)

The fool who is angered and who thinks to triumph by using abusive language, is always vanquished by him whose words are patient.
(Udanavarga, xx, v. 14)

The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; the faults of others one lays open as much as possible, but one's own fault one hides, as a cheat hides the bad die from the gambler.
If a man looks after the faults of others, and is always inclined to detract, his own weakness will grow.
(Dhammapada, vv. 252, 253)

What is called "Name" or "Tribe", in the world, arises from usage only. It is adopted here and there by common consent. [9] It comes from long and uninterrupted usage, and from the false belief of the ignorant.
(Vasettha Sutta, vv. 55, 56)

Whatever man is proud of his caste, is proud of his wealth, is proud of his family [and] despises his relations, that [man] is a cause of suffering loss.
(Parabhava Sutta, v. 14)

Anger, drunkenness, obstinacy, bigotry, deception, envy, self-praise, disparaging others, highmindedness [conceit?], evil communications, these constitute uncleanness; not verily the eating of flesh.
Neither abstinence from fish or flesh, nor going naked, nor the shaving of the head, nor matted hair, nor dirt, etc., etc., etc., will cleanse a man not free from delusions.*
(Amagandha Sutta, vv. 7,11)

* The meaning of the Teacher is here so obvious that I cannot understand how this Sutta could have ever been cited as authority for buying and eating butcher's meat. Nothing herein lessens the force of the positive instruction in the Dhammika Sutta (v. ante) to abstain both from destroying, causing to be destroyed, or sanctioning the acts of those who destroy the life of any being. I know a large and increasing number of Sinhalese indulge in meat-eating, and quiet their consciences by quoting the above gathas; and I have listened with amusement to the sophistical argument that the sin of the killing is with the butcher and not with his sanctioning and abetting customer. Still, I must hold to my opinion until the problematical future time when black shall be proved white.

Associates and Friends

He who walks in the company of fools, suffers a long way; company with fools, as with an enemy, is always painful; company with the wise is pleasure, like meeting with kinsfolk. (Dhammapada, v. 207)

Therefore one ought to follow the wise, the intelligent, the learned, the much-enduring, the dutiful; one ought to follow a good and wise man as the moon follows the path of the stars. (Dhammapada, v. 208) .


Good people shine from afar like the snowy mountains [the Himalayas]; bad people are not seen, like arrows shot at night.
(Dhammapada, v. 304)

If a traveler does not meet with one who is his better, or equal, let him firmly keep his solitary journey; there is no companionship with a fool.
(Dhammapada, v. 61)

If any intelligent person be associated for even one moment with a wise man, he will soon perceive the fact.
(Dhammapada, v. 65)

Part II