Shila the Bangla word for 'exercise' or 'solution', generally means 'character' and is a religious practice of lay Buddhist as well as monks. The moral practices that build up character are known as xila. According to Buddhist doctrines, the three ways-samyak vak (Right speech), samyak karma (Right action) and samyak jivika (Right livelihood)-of the eight paths that lead to nirvana (salvation) are also known as Xila. In fact, killing of animals, refraining from telling lies and harbouring malevolence, and brahmacharya (a life characterised by the reading of scriptures and abstinence from worldly pleasure), speaking the truth, leading a holy life etc are called sila. Achieving discipline in physical, mental and oral functions and the development of human character are the objectives of such practice. Sila embodies all good works and makes the passage to salvation easier. Sila, or good moral, is considered a virtue not only in buddhism, but also in other religions.

Sila are of two kinds-pavcasila (five precepts) and astasila (eight precepts). Pancasila are the five moral tenets in Buddhism that the Buddha introduced to build up the moral character of people with families as well as ascetics. The five precepts prohibit the harming of animals, theft, adultery, telling lies and taking addictive drugs. It is an offence to commit these things or make other people commit them. But these practises are independent of one another; a fault in one does not affect the others; one rather influences the other. According to Buddhist regulations, if any one of these principles is violated, the practitioner of a sila will be judged on the basis of his sins and virtues.

Buddha first indoctrinated Shresthi of Benares, the father of Kumar Yasha, to the pancasila. He was the first to receive the sila directly from the Buddha. It is customary for Buddhists to practise pancasila in life. Although these are the basic principles of Buddhism, the Buddha did not make them mandatory and did not say that deviation from the pancasila would exclude people from Buddhism. But he said that the practice of pancasila would bring good for the practitioner and the inability to practice them would have bad consequences for the practitioner. In addition to building character, the practice of pancasila would also lead to future good.

Astasila are the eight practises to be observed by Buddhists on festivities associated with the full moon, the new moon etc. These involve staying away from harming animals, stealing, adultery, telling lies, consuming liquor and drugs, taking afternoon meals, visiting musical programmes, beautification with wreaths or perfumed objects, and lying on high beds. [Binayendra Chaudhury]