Human society is built on the foundation of morality. To the extent that foundation is trim and secure the society that is structured on it will remain stable and prosperous. If the foundation is not strong nor well-placed, or if it deteriorates, the society will totter and collapse. For the practice of a pure life too, in accordance with the Buddha's Teaching, a firm foundation of morality otherwise known as Sila is just as necessary. Thus material progress in the world as well as spiritual growth requires a strong moral base.
The Buddha has prescribed different types of Sila for different classes of people. The Catuparisuddhi Sila is to be observed by the bhikkhus of his Order; the Ten Precepts by the Samaneras; the Nine Precepts by Universal Monarchs; the Eight Precepts by ordinary lay people on special days and occasions; the Ajivattha maka Sila and the Five Precepts by all people at all times; some lay people also observe the Ten Precepts.
(See 'Concepts' for more details on types of Sila.)
The conditioning factors for development of Sila are: association with good and wise persons; listening to discourse on Dhamma; belief in the results of good deeds and evil deeds; and the habitual practice of Sila in former existences. The proximate causes are Hiri and Ottappa. Hiri is being ashamed of doing evil in deed, word and thought; Ottappa is fear of doing evil.
A person with Hiri recoils from evil just as a feather shrinks from the heat of fire. He is repulsed by evil, is disgusted with it; he shuns evil out of self-respect and consideration for his birth, age, learning and status. The fear of a person with Ottappa is not personal tear of another individual, nor fear of danger which threatens him, but dread of the Consequences of doing evil. Such consequences are: dread of self-reproach, the censure of others, penal punishment that may follow the deed and the prospect of a bad destination after death. Thus Hiri arises because of internal causes and Ottappa arises from external causes. These two Dhammas, Hiri and Ottappa, are always found in conjunction and they are regarded as Lokappala Dhamma, two moral forces that govern human behaviour.
The advantages to be gained by steadfast observance of moral precepts are described in the Cakkavatti Sutta as increase in length of life, improvement in physical appearance, increase in happiness, growth in wealth, and gain in strength and power.
When an anointed king practises Dhamma and observes Sila, making it his own support, esteeming it, and at the same time fulfils his obligations and duties of a ruler by providing protection, shelter and security for his own folk and family, for the fighting forces, for kings and vassals dependent upon him and for the people of his kingdom, the meritorious results that accrue and develop from his deeds will include even a Mighty Wheel Treasure the possession of which establishes him as a Cakkavatti, a Universal Monarch who is so mighty and powerful.
But when an anointed king fails to practise Dhamma and to observe the precepts in the prescribed manner, fails to fulfil his kingly obligations and to provide in a righteous manner the needs of the people of his kingdom, poverty becomes widespread in the land.
And when the people themselves neglect the practice of Dhamma and fail to observe the Five Precepts of refraining from killing, stealing, indulging in sexual misconduct, telling lies and taking intoxicating liquor and drugs, poverty increases in the land. Then there is a rise in thefts. With the rise in thefts, lethal weapons grow in number. As lethal weapons grow in number, killing and murder becomes widespread and the life span of the people declines.
The Cakkavatti Sutta gives a graphic description of how happiness, wealth and prosperity as well as the life span of people increase and grow when they observe Sila, and how rulers gain in strength and power when they live and reign righteously, keeping the precepts, revering and honouring them; and how happiness, wealth and prosperity as well as the life span of the people decline when they do not observe Sila, and how the rulers lose in strength and power when they live and reign in an unrighteous manner, not keeping the precepts nor revering and honouring them.
It is only by appreciating the profound truth embodied in this sutta and taking heed of the lessons provided by it that the peoples of the world can save themselves from the dire disaster they are facing now because of a breakdown of morality in relationship between individual members of a family, between people of a county and between nations of the world.