Ethics and the Purification of Karma in Buddhsim

No presentation of Buddhist teachings would be complete without the mention of ethics as integral to this Path. And the practice of ethics in Buddhism necessarily includes both karma, or causality, and the purification of the effects of past mistakes.


Actions have some results that are obvious, others that are more subtle, and some that are harder to recognize. Among the subtle results of an action or way of thinking, speaking, and action is the conditioning of our mind. Generally, negative states such as anger, or greed, or fear, or arrogance veil the mind, and make it harder to see our true nature.

Another karmic result is that an action produces a seed, or a tendency in the mind to repeat the same action, or a similar one. This is described in various ways in Buddhist teachings, since it is what we need to understand, change and transcend to become a liberated person.

These seeds are variously called karmic tendencies, propensities, vasanas, habit energies, or latent tendencies.

Whatever words we use to describe this refer to the dynamic nature of the results of our actions on the deeper level of our consciousness.

In Buddhism we attend to this because it is the very ground we transform in practice, letting go of unskillful habits, and cultivating more skillful ways of living and responding to conditions, all the way to freedom of mind and heart.

To make the study and practice of ethics immediate and accessible, in Buddhism it’s taught that positive actions lead to well being and peace, and negative thoughts, words, and actions lead to suffering, both in the short and long term.

Of course, we have to live a while and see this deeply for ourselves, but there it is. Ideally, we are guided by the wisdom of our caring elders and holy, enlightened beings. They recognize, surely, that we all have made mistakes, fallen into delusion, negative, destructive habits, and suffering, and so, out of their great love, our teachers encourage us to have compassion for ourselves, to be patient, and diligent, and to cultivate the unified path of ethics, meditation, and wisdom.

With a range of skillful means, they encourage us to change the negative to positive, to counter our delusions and suffering at every turn. Depending on our own unique conditioning, we’ll find different remedies more effective, but they are all available.

We say something is purified first by ethics, which can have the feeling of restraint in the beginning, especially;

Included in teachings on purifying ethical conduct then is

the reading of sacred texts, particularly on wisdom, liturgies and prayers of confession, as well as the recitation of mantras all with that intention;

and then extensive deep and clear meditation, which calms and quiets the energy of the difficult emotions even more,

and finally discerning wisdom which transforms the tendencies altogether.

This is just a brief introduction on how we free ourselves from suffering, and attain the peace and health we all seek.

From The Beautiful Path – Readings on Ethics, to Soothe and Brighten the Mind

For more on this subject, see also: Essays on Purification, by Various Authors