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If I want to read through the origins of western (really, Greek) thought about the virtue we generally call courage, I know exactly where to go: Laches, Republic, Nicomachean Ethics, etc. Meanwhile, while courage has played a central role in many of the dharma talks I've listened to, if someone asked me where to look for a Buddhist theory of courage I wouldn't know any particular place to start.

Within the most widely accepted Buddhist scriptures (especially but not limited to the Pali Canon) are there are any "go-to" sutras on the subject of courage? (Especially from a philosophical, psychological, or theoretical standpoint - whether or not that theory is grounded in narrative or discourse.)

This question gives several interesting references for modern writings about courage, but said I'm particularly interested in the older premodern stuff.

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    Jataka Tales are all heroic stories – brother eric Apr 4 at 4:12
  • @brothereric Do you feel confident in recommending any particular tales, re: a Buddhist view of courage? There are quite a few. – Flux Apr 4 at 11:05
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"Courage" isn't listed as one of the 37 factors.

So, wondering how "courage" is defined, I found this (non-Buddhist) definition on Wikipedia:

Courage (also called bravery or valour) is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, death or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.

I guess two suttas I admire are (according to the above definitions):

And the Dhammapada is interesting too, some verses for example:

  1. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

and

  1. He who is friendly amidst the hostile, peaceful amidst the violent, and unattached amidst the attached — him do I call a holy man.

The essay Freedom From Fear suggests that "fear" is a mixture of other emotions:

Think of a deer at night suddenly caught in a hunter's headlights. It's confused. Angry. It senses danger, and that it's weak in the face of the danger. It wants to escape. These five elements — confusion, aversion, a sense of danger, a sense of weakness, and a desire to escape — are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in every fear. The confusion and aversion are the unskillful elements. Even if the deer has many openings to escape from the hunter, its confusion and aversion might cause it to miss them.

Later it says ...

The Canon lists these mental strengths at five: conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment.

... and tries to explains the role of each of these.

I think that "courage" isn't defined as a primary strength -- perhaps courageous acts are understood as being a consequence of other mental "strengths".


Do you feel confident in recommending any particular Jataka tales, re: a Buddhist view of courage? There are quite a few

  • There's one about the tigress and her cubs: the prince throws his body off a cliff to feed a hungry tigress, who would otherwise have eaten her own cubs. A moral aspect of that tale is that her eating her cubs would have been a grave "sin", a moral transgression -- it was that which he was saving the tigress from, I guess the moral being that ethics and compassion are more important than life.

  • Another is about the Bodhisattva as the captain of a ship. There's a pirate on board who's about to kill the other passengers, so the captain kills him. The moral aspect is that the other passengers were themselves Bodhisattva, killing them would have been a great sin, so the captain compassionately guarded the pirate from the terrible consequences which the pirate would have suffered as a result of killing Bodhisattvas.

    That story is kind of famous because I think it's the only bit of Buddhist (or some might say pseudo-Buddhist) literature which appears to condone killing for some reason -- conversely for example see Getting the Message which includes ...

    When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone.

    Anyway I think that the name of the captain in that story is "Captain Compassionate".

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Each and every Talk by the Sublime Buddha.

To get the "point", sorted a little to confused ways of thinging, and be able to understand real courage, and not pseudo or modern, the essay Wisdom over Justice will help to overcome confusion and understand Dhamma. Do you have the courage to step down for your stand to give it a view?

And to challenge: "Whom who cares only for himself, is praised by the Devas and wise" Courage meaning to totally abound corruption caused by self-identification?

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Who told you that the courage is a virtue? How do you know that the courage is a virtue?

When somebody follows the dhamma, it is more about energy and diligence, being steadfast on the dhamma which counts. Courage is a word which means being faithful to one's principles, to owns heart, but of course, for the dhamma it means faithful to the dhamma, not some moronic wrong view invented by some puthujjanas... so it is a good word in a text like this:

Now I said:

"It is in time of distress that a man's courage[8] is to be understood, and that too after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not by inattention; by a wise man, not by one weak in wisdom."

Owing to what did I say this?

[198] In this case, monks, a certain one, afflicted by the loss of relatives or loss of wealth or by the misfortune of sickness, thus reflects:

Verily thus-come-to-be is this living in the world.

Thus-come-to-be is the getting of a personality.

According to this coming-to-be of living in the world and getting a personality eight world-conditions keep the world a-rolling and the world keeps a-rolling eight world-conditions, to wit: - gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, happiness and unhappiness.

So he, afflicted by loss of relatives, loss of wealth or the misfortune of sickness, sorrows, laments, is distressed and knocks the breast, wails and falls into utter bewilderment.

But in this case, monks, a certain one, afflicted by the loss of relatives or loss of wealth or by the misfortune of sickness, thus reflects:

Verily thus-come-to-be is this living in the world.

Thus-come-to-be is the getting of a personality.

According to this coming-to-be of living in the world and getting a personality eight world-conditions keep the world a-rolling and the world keeps a-rolling eight world-conditions, to wit: - gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, happiness and unhappiness.

He, afflicted by the loss of relatives, loss of wealth or the misfortune of sickness, does not sorrow, does not falter,[ed1] . . . nor falls into utter bewilderment.

Owing to that did I say this.

http://obo.genaud.net/dhamma-vinaya/pts/an/04_fours/an04.192.wood.pts.htm

People love the idea that courage is more about a physical ability, but that's because their mind is weak.

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Although the Buddha is associated with many heroic deeds throughout the Pali canon, one of the simplest instructions deals with prejudice (see AN4.17-19). In particular, it takes courage to overcome the prejudice of identity view. Lacking courage, we act and suffer the kamma of our actions. Lacking courage, we act out of prejudice of cowardice.

If you act against the teaching out of favoritism, hostility, cowardice, or stupidity, your fame shrinks, like the moon in the waning fortnight.

The Buddha's instruction on this is clear, simple and direct. Per AN4.18, one should focus on:

Making decisions unprejudiced by favoritism, hostility, stupidity, and cowardice.

Following this instruction requires courage. I was surprised when I first read this, but have found this instruction quite helpful every day.

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