Right action and speech

The linkage between the path elements of right speech and right action is intimate; they are the verbal and physical manifestations of the same wholesome set of mental qualities. Both incline towards non-harming, generosity, and goodwill; in other words, towards creating peace both internally and externally.

In our efforts to develop wise speech and action, we try to stay aware of our external actions (of body and speech) and our internal mind states. This awareness forms the basis for our work.

It’s worth reviewing exactly what we mean by unwholesome states manifested in body, speech and mind.

from AN10.176, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
[The Buddha said] “Impurity by body, Cunda, is threefold. Impurity by speech is fourfold. Impurity by mind is threefold.
“And how, Cunda, is impurity by body threefold?
(1) “Here, someone destroys life. He is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings.
(2) “He takes what is not given. He steals the wealth and property of others in the village or forest.
(3) “He engages in sexual misconduct…
“It is in this way that impurity by body is threefold.

“And how, Cunda, is impurity by speech fourfold?
(1) “Here, someone speaks falsehood…
(2) “He speaks divisively. Having heard something here, he repeats it elsewhere in order to divide [those people] from these…
(3) “He speaks harshly. He utters such words as are rough, hard, hurtful to others, offensive to others, bordering on anger, unconducive to concentration.
(4) “He indulges in idle chatter…at an improper time he speaks such words as are worthless, unreasonable, rambling, and unbeneficial.
“It is in this way that impurity by speech is fourfold.

“And how, Cunda, is impurity by mind threefold?
(1) “Here, someone is full of longing. He longs for the wealth and property of others…
(2) “He has a mind of ill will and intentions of hate…
(3) “He holds wrong view and has an incorrect perspective thus:…there is no fruit or result of good and bad actions…
“It is in this way that impurity by mind is threefold.”

This sutta goes on to describe the inverse of each state as purity of body, speech and mind. It’s a clear enumeration of things we can check for in our actions, our words, and our thoughts.

Even if our mind is not entirely pure, we can restrain our actions and words as an exercise. Each time we don’t act on (or verbalize) an unwholesome impulse, our minds are slightly altered; an unbeneficial mental habit is disrupted. Every time we catch our thoughts going down a dark tunnel, we can see where it leads, interrupt ourselves, and re-direct our thoughts onto a better path.

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 (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)

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Filed under Precepts, Speech, The 8-fold path

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