Right action

Moving along in our exploration of the Buddha’s 8-fold path, we come to right action.

Right action means refraining from unwholesome deeds that occur with the body as their natural means of expression…The Buddha mentions three components of right action: abstaining from taking life, abstaining from taking what is not given, and abstaining from sexual misconduct. – Bhikkhu Bodhi (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch4)

The actions we perform with our bodies provide the most visible and powerful expression of our views and intentions, to ourselves and to others. They carry the most karmic weight; more than words. The more we can keep our actions aligned with our good or wholesome intentions, the happier we and those around us will be. Acts of gross selfishness or cruelty cannot be apologized away; they create a weight in our hearts and sadness or worse for other people.

It’s easy to think that it doesn’t much matter what we do, but if we see clearly how inextricably our mind state is bound up with our actions, our idea of what’s important can be turned on its head.

Ajahn Sumedho, in a talk published as “The Science of Goodness”, says:

It has become apparent to me that it is better to die than to do something evil, because we are all going to die anyway. Death is going to meet every one of us, so it doesn’t really make that much difference when it happens. But evil actions are going to haunt us all our remaining life, even if we live to be one hundred years old. If we commit heedless and selfish actions, those memories will haunt us through the rest of our life, making our life miserable.

When it became apparent to me that it was better to die than to do evil, I could see that death is nothing to fear. It’s the natural process, something all of us will experience, anyway. But evil action is what is truly dangerous to us; this is what we should be most wary of.

Once we realize that the most important thing is the moral quality of our speech or action, it becomes easier to find the courage to do what is good.

As animals, we instinctively feel that staying alive is the most important thing. Ajahn Sumedho calls this into question. The Buddha’s teachings are designed to interfere with some of our most basic instincts, which is one way of saying that we are invited to examine all the things we cling to – consciously or unconsciously – to look into them and see if they are creating dukkha or not.

The Buddha’s 8-fold Path

1. Pañña (Right View and Right Intention)
2. Sīla (Right Speech, Action, and Livelihood)
3. Samādhi (Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration)

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Harmlessness, Precepts, The 8-fold path. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Right action

  1. lynnjkelly says:

    Dear friend,
    Thank you for your question. I feel sure that Ajahn Sumedho would consider suicide an act of violence and an example of evil action. (The Buddha forbade his monks to assist in a suicide for any reason.)

    Your question looks for a particular situation in which to apply the stated principle. When Ajahn says “It is better to die than to do evil” he’s saying that it’s more important to attend to our actions than it is to worry about death. Almost all humans have very little to say about how and when we will die, we just have to accept that it will happen one day and not spend too much energy fretting about it. The consequences of our actions, however, WILL influence all of our days and maybe even extend into a next lifetime. Therefore, let’s worry about what we’re doing NOW in the world and not so much about how and when we’ll die.

    I hope this helps.


  2. kristijr says:

    By “die”, is Ajahn implying suicide…or simply not defending oneself against imminent danger?

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