As samanas we seek to imbue our actions with a reverence for life, a spirit of kindheartedness, benevolence and altruism. And we learn to make that reverence for life unqualified. The sanctity of life, and the potential of all beings for awakening forms the basis for the 227 precepts of the Buddhist monastic code.
When Ajahn Chah asked Ajahn Mun about the discipline and voiced his fears that there were just too many rules to make it a practical guide for conduct, Ajahn Mun pointed to hiri (a sense of shame regarding unwholesome actions) and ottappa (an intelligent fear of the consequences of unwholesome actions) as the heart of monastic discipline. Develop these two things he said and your practice of the Vinaya (the monks rules and discipline) will be impeccable.
The commentaries state that these two dhammas are based respectively on respect for self and respect for others. Respect for life, our own and others, is the foundation of noble conduct. So we train to strengthen our devotion to harmlessness — harmlessness to others, harmlessness of oneself — to bear the welfare of self and others always in mind. The more you open up to the pervasive nature of suffering the more compassion arises, the more care you take about the quality of your actions. You realize that whenever you are not part of the solution, then you’re bound to be part of the problem.
In fact the welfare of self and others is complementary. If we truly understand what our own welfare is, then we don’t neglect the welfare of others, because in helping others we grow in virtue. If we really understand what the welfare of others is, we don’t neglect our own welfare, because the more peaceful and wise we are, the more we are able to truly benefit others.
When there seems to be a conflict between our welfare and that of others, it is usually a sign of confusion about the nature of welfare.
This reflection by Ajahn Jayasaro is from the talk, The Beauty of Sila.