Being Good: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life. By
Master Hsing Yun; translated by Tom Graham. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1999, 176
pages, ISBN 0-8348-0458-1, US $14.95.
Department of Historical & Cultural Studies
Goldsmiths College, University of London
The author of this book is a Chinese Buddhist monk and forty-eighth patriarch in the
Linji school of Ch'an Buddhism. He is the founder of the Fo Kuang Shan monastery in
Taiwan, and of the Buddha's Light International Association, which according to the cover
of the book has nearly a million members worldwide. It is good, therefore, to see this
respected Buddhist teacher turning his attention to the subject of ethics.
The aim of the book is "to invite readers to consider what it means to lead a good
life, and to offer practical advice, based on the Buddha's teachings" (back cover).
The volume consists of thirty-three short essays ranging between two to six pages in
length. The topics of the essays include overcoming greed, ending anger, how to manage
wealth, generosity, not killing, not lying, friendship, gratitude, the way to help others,
These are largely inspirational writings designed to encourage those on the path in
their efforts to put the Buddha's teachings into practice. Each chapter is preceded by a
quotation from scripture and there are frequent citations from a wide variety of texts.
Although Mahaayaana sources predominate, the author has also included extracts from the Dharmapaada
The book is basically a practical manual that offers guidance on how to control the
senses, cultivate virtue, and generate compassion and wisdom. The advice is
straightforward and unequivocal. The chapter on killing (pp. 82ff), for example, asserts
clearly and categorically that all killing is wrong, and goes on to describe the benefits
of refraining from it. The same is said of lying which is dealt with in the following
chapter. Earlier generations of writers in the Zen tradition have given the impression
that moral values are provisional and that there are no secure foundations for ethics in
the Buddhist world-view. Master Hsing Yu, on the contrary, does not seem to feel that
ethics is ultimately undermined by metaphysical doctrines such as emptiness. Although he
does not discuss any situations or dilemmas in which values or principles may come into
conflict, the tone of his writings suggest a confidence that most issues will admit of a
relatively clear resolution.
Who is the book suitable for? It is not really intended for an academic audience and
its main appeal will therefore be to practitioners who require straightforward guidance on
personal moral development in the practice of their faith.