World Scripture

Andrew Wilson

The Decalogue

The moral outlooks of most religions are basically quite similar. Just as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, is the basis of Jewish and Christian ethical values, similar lists of ethical principles may be found in one form or another in the scriptures of most religions. The Qur'an contains several passages summarizing proper ethical behavior which have been called Islamic Decalogues. In Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism we find lists of ten charges or ten precepts for monks and lay people, and there are further condensations into five universal dharmas called samanya dharma. Another comparable list is found in the Buddhist Eightfold Path.

The first table of the Decalogue contains positive injunctions for right worship to establish a proper vertical relationship with God, and the second table contains negative injunctions prohibiting criminal behavior in order to foster horizontal relationships of community. These two ethical dimensions, the vertical towards the Absolute and the horizontal towards one's neighbor, are characteristic of such lists in every religi on. We may regard the injunctions to renunciation and meditation in the Buddhist Eightfold Path and in other Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain lists of dharmas as non-theistic expressions of the vertical dimension. In the horizontal dimension of law, prohibitions against social crimes such as murder, adultery, and stealing are universal. The specific offenses will be taken up again individually in Chapter 9.

And God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

You shall not kill.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Exodus 20.1-17: The Ten Commandements

The second five commandments were intended to be paired off with the first five commandments.

"You shall not murder" corresponds to "I the Lord am your God." The Holy One said, "If you did murder, I hold it against you as though you have diminished the image of God."

"You shall not commit adultery" is paired with "You shall have no other gods." God said, "If you committed adultery, I hold it against you as though you bowed down to another god."

"You shall not steal" is paired with "You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God.".... If you steal, you will go on to swear falsely, go on to lie, and end up swearing by My name falsely.

"You shall not bear false witness" is paired with "Remember the Sabbath day." God said, "If you bear false witness against your neighbor, I hold it against you as though you bore witness against Me to the effect that I did not create My world in six days and did not rest on the seventh."

"You shall not covet" is paired with "Honor your father and your mother." Clans like Gaius of Gadara and Lucius of Susitha would sneak into each other's homes and cohabit with the wives of the others, the others with the wives of these. In time a quarrel fell out between them, and a man killed his father, unware that it was his father.

Judaism. Midrash, Pesikta Rabbati

Exodus 20.1-17: These are the Ten Commandments. There is some variation as to how they should be divided. In the Jewish tradition the verse 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage' is regarded as the first commandment, but Christians regard it as a prologue. Most Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians reckon 'You shall have no other gods before me' as the first commandment and the prohibition of images as the second commandment. For Jews the second commandment includes both 'You shall have no other gods' and the prohibition of graven images. Lutherans and Roman Catholics likewise regard 'You shall have no other gods' and the prohibition of graven images as together constituting a single commandment, but reckon it the first commandment; they then divide the verse against covetousness into two commandments to make up the ten. See the short enumerations of the Commandments in Psalm 2 4.3-6, p. 229; Hosea 4.1-3, p. 318; Jeremiah 7.1-15, p. 1088.

Say, Come, I will recite what God has made a sacred duty for you:

Ascribe nothing as equal with Him;

Be good to your parents;

Kill not your children on a plea of want--We provide sustenance for you and for them;

Approach not lewd behavior whether open or in secret,

Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, that you may learn wisdom.

And approach not the property of the orphan, except to improve it, until he attains the age of maturity.

Give full measure and weight, in justice--No burden do We place on any soul but that which it can bear.

And if you give your word, do it justice, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfill your obligations before God. Thus does He command you, that you may remember.

Verily, this is My straight Path: follow it, and do not follow other paths which will separate you from His Path. Thus does He command you, that you may be righteous.

Islam. Qur'an 6.151-53

The charge to avoid the taking of life. The charge to avoid taking what is not given. The charge to avoid unchastity. The charge to avoid falsehood. The charge to avoid fermented liquor, distilled liquor, intoxicants giving rise to sloth. The charge to avoid unseasonable meals. The charge to avoid dancing, song, playing music, and seeing shows. The charge to avoid the use of flowers, scents, and unguents, wearing ornaments and decorations. The charge to avoid the use of raised beds, of wide beds. The charge to avoid the accepting of gold and silver.

Buddhism. Khuddaka Patha: The Ten Charges

Pesikta Rabbati: Cf. Tosefta Shebu`ot 3.6, p. 397. Qur'an 6.151-153: See Qur'an 2.177, p. 861; Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim, p. 491; also Qur'an 17.23-38.

Contentment, forgiveness, self-control, not appropriating anything unrighteously, purification, coercion of the organs, wisdom, knowledge of the Supreme, truthfulness, and abstention from anger: these constitute the tenfold law [for ascetics].

Hinduism. Laws of Manu 6.92

Forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, purity, truthfulness, self-restraint, austerity, renunciation, non-attachment and chastity [with one's spouse] are the ten duties [of lay people].

Jainism. Tatthvarthasutra 9.6

Not killing, no longer stealing, forsaking the wives of others, refraining completely from false, divisive, harsh and senseless speech, forsaking covetousness, harmful intent and the views of Nihilists--these are the ten white paths of action, their opposites are black.

Buddhism. Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 8-9

The first great vow, Sir, runs thus, I renounce all killing of living beings, whether subtle or gross, whether movable or immovable. Nor shall I myself kill living beings [nor cause others to do it, nor consent to it]. As long as I live, I confess and blame, repent and exempt myself of these sins, in the thrice threefold way [i.e., acting, commanding, or consenting, either in the past, present, or future], in mind, speech, and body. There are five clauses...

The second great vow, Sir, runs thus, I renounce all vices of lying speech arising from anger or greed or fear or mirth. I shall neither myself speak lies, nor cause others to speak lies, nor consent to the speaking of lies by others. I confess... There are five clauses....

The third great vow, Sir, runs thus: I renounce all taking of anything not given, either in a village or a town or a wood, either of little or much, of small or great, of living or lifeless things. I shall neither take myself what is not given, nor cause others to take it, nor consent to their taking it. As long as I live, I confess... There are five clauses....

The fourth great vow, Sir, runs thus, I renounce all sexual pleasures, either with gods or men or animals. I shall not give way to sensuality, nor cause others to give way to it, nor consent to their giving way to it. As long as I live, I confess... There are five clauses....

The fifth great vow, Sir, runs thus, I renounce all attachments, whether little or much, small or great, living or lifeless; neither shall I myself form such attachments, nor cause others to do so, nor consent to their doing so. As long as I live, I confess... There are five clauses....

He who is well provided with these great vows and their twenty-five clauses is really homeless if he, according to the sacred teaching, the precepts and the way, correctly practices, follows, executes, explains, establishes and, according to the precept, effects them.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.15

Khuddaka Patha: These are the rules of training observed by the monks, with the third charge modified as a concession to lay people (a monk would of course take a vow of celibacy). Lay people ordinarily observe the first five charges. Cf. Dhammapada 246-47, p. 463. Khuddaka Patha, Laws of Manu 6.92, Tatthvarthasutra 9.6 and Precious Garland 8-9: The tradition of ten precepts runs through Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, though elements in the list may vary.

Nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, purity, control of the senses--this, in brief, says Manu, is the Dharma for all the four castes.

Hinduism. Laws of Manu 10.63

Laws of Manu 10.63: This list of universally applicable dharma for all castes and stages of life is called sadharan or samanya dharma. It is the universal foundation upon which are erected the specific dharmas which differentiate the castes. It is a least common denominator by which Hindu society, for all its variety of castes, roles, and traditions, maintains an ethical consensus. Cf. Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.9, p. 463.

The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of suffering is this Noble Eightfold Path, namely: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

What is right view? Knowledge of suffering, knowledge of the arising of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of suffering--this is called right view.

What is right aspiration? Aspiration for renunciation, aspiration for non-malevolence, aspiration for harmlessness--this is called right aspiration.

What is right speech? Refraining from lying speech, refraining from slanderous speech, refraining from harsh speech, refraining from gossip--this is called right speech.

What is right action? Refraining from violence against creatures, refraining from taking what has not been given, refraining from going wrongly among the sense-pleasures, this is called right action.

What is right livelihood? A disciple of the Noble Ones, getting rid of a wrong mode of livelihood, makes his living by a right mode of livelihood. This is called right livelihood.

What is right effort? A monk generates desire, effort, stirs up energy, exerts his mind and strives for the non-arising of evil unskilled states that have not arisen... for the getting rid of evil unskilled states that have arisen... for the arising of skilled states that have not arisen... for the maintenance and completion of skilled states that have arisen. This is called right effort.

What is right mindfulness? A monk fares along contemplating the body in the body... the feelings in the feelings... the mind in the mind... the mental states in the mental states... ardent, clearly conscious of them, mindful of them so as to control the covetousness and dejection in the world. This is called right mindfulness.

And what is right concentration? A monk, aloof from the pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, enters on and abides in the first meditation which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness, is rapturous and joyful. By allaying initial thought and discursive thought, with the mind subjectively tranquilized and fixed on one point, he enters on and abides in the second meditation which is devoid of initial thought and discursive thought, is born of concentration, and is rapturous and joyful. By the fading out of rapture... he enters on and abides in the third meditation... the fourth meditation. This is called right concentration.

Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya iii.251-52, Saccavibhangasutta

Majjhima Nikaya iii.251-52: This is a complete statement of the Noble Eightfold Path.

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