Right action is the path factor that is most visible to others. Along with words, our actions broadcast our mind states to the world, for better or worse. Because of this, it’s worth spending a little more time on this topic; also because I’m reading a book that bears directly on how and when we often practice wrong action.
The book is “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding human nature better. Among the many useful chapters is one called “The influence of arousal”, which details an experiment that demonstrates how dramatically our decision-making process is influenced by our mental and physical state. The same questions get very different answers depending on whether we are at ease in a “rational” mental state or in a state of extreme excitement. The experiment had to do with sexual arousal, but the principle is the same for states of anger, anxiety, intoxication, depression, fear, hunger, frustration, or hormonal imbalance. All of these states shift our framework for making decisions out of the calm, rational, big-picture field and into a narrow, distorted, unbalanced frame.
I recently read about a participant in a “reality” TV show who told of being deprived of privacy and sleep for weeks on end, to stimulate an excitable, hyper-emotional state in the contestants. In my mind this is a form of torture, but it is very much a part of our culture.
The point is that we need to be aware of our present mental and physical state. When we know we are angry, better to keep quiet than to say something we’ll regret; if we’re intoxicated, best to find a safe place and return to normal without making any decisions or bold statements; if we are hungry or sleep-deprived, let addressing those realities take priority over whatever else is going on.
We can also use this principle to moderate our responses to others. If someone is behaving oddly or in a way we find disturbing, rather than rush to judgment, we can consider whether they are under some form of duress, possibly self-generated, but nonetheless real. With this thought we may be better able to not take their actions or words personally, but to look with compassion on their distress.
The factors of the eight-fold path are:
1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration