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date: 23 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

In early Indian Buddhism the moral development of the individual is conceived of as taking place over many lives and through a number of distinct phases. The aim of this chapter is to provide an overview of moral development as described in three categories of early Buddhist scripture: jātakas, avadānas, and the Pāli Nikāyas. Two related understandings of morality are distinguished in the texts, with the deeper of the two senses based on considerations of the agent’s inner constitution rather than outer behaviour. The argument proceeds in relation to two consecutive paths: one a path of worldly practice, the other a supramundane path that leads directly to the highest good, liberation. These paths are analysed in terms of a hierarchy of three kinds of spiritual actor: the ordinary person, the disciple in higher training, and the liberated being. The chapter concludes by contrasting these agents’ respective experiences of morality.

Keywords: jātaka, avadāna, early Buddhist path theory, sīla, moral agency, kusala, puñña, Buddhist narratives, literature

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