Eightfold Path: Right Action

January 29, 2011 Comments Off on Eightfold Path: Right Action

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood can help one lead a happier existence.

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood can help one lead a happier existence.

So, on to right action. This, as well as right speech and right livelihood are grouped together into the category of ‘Ethical Conduct.’ They actually all very much go hand in hand, and when you take a look at it (I recommend The Big View), you can easily see how they all tie in to one another.

right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. (From The Big View.com)

When looked at really quickly, my first, gut reaction was “Wow, this sounds like a bunch of rules.” Particularly, on the surface-level, I found a lot of similarities between the above and the Ten Commandments. Being a Skeptical Buddhist — generally we aren’t fans of rules with consequences being spelled out for us — that immediately made me itch. I think most of us are very used to having laws, rules or commandments (i.e. external sources) dictate our actions for us. These same rules, laws and commandments were created as a way for society to provide external pressure for individuals in a society to abide by cultural and societal norms. That sounded really brainy, so let me just say that the way I would normally say it — these laws and commandments were made to make people feel like they HAD to act a certain way in order to fit in and be accepted by others in their community.

The big difference between Right Action (or anything else found in Buddhism that might be interpreted as ‘rules’) and any laws or commandments is that in Buddhism, largely, the consequence of not following parts of the paths and all the little bits that goes with them, are found within yourself. There’s no jail, no hell, no heaven (for rewards), none of that stuff. If you live according to the path, you get to look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about yourself. You get to go about your day weighed down with less stress, angst, or ‘dukkha (suffering)’. Really, the price you pay in deciding to kill, take part in sexual misconduct, or steal,  is in the here and now — not after you die, not in some abstract future, but NOW. Right away. Who’s to blame? YOU. Who’s responsible? YOU. Period. How scary is THAT??? But it’s true, and it sure makes one sit up a little straighter, doesn’t it?

Another important difference is — if you’ll notice — the lack of a list of consequences for not following them. There is also a lack of real detailed breakdown of the ‘whens’ and ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of following Right Action. You can find more detailed explanations of Right Action. If you want or feel that you need it (I did), you can take a look at Access to Insight’s essay on Right Action. At least, what I see is that there’s a lack of this breaking out in detail in early suttas … (my more scholarly friends — please correct me here if I’m wrong!). I bet later monks and followers decided to add to the original teachings with their own two-cents’ worth of details and consequences — as often happens.

My personal preference is to stick to the early stuff — mainly because Siddharta Gautama (Buddha) seemed to feel that we all have within us a moral compass that when listened to, ultimately tells us what is right and what is wrong. It is the decision to follow the right while not having our jugment clouded by the things that cause ‘dukkha (suffering)’ — like ambition, greed, attachment etc. — that allows us to be happy.

I personally don’t think there’s a whole lot I can add about Right Action — it’s pretty straightforward, and the details of this is better explained by the links I provided here.

I’m off to watch Toy Story 3 again … because in all honesty, there’s a lot of Buddhist lessons in that movie. Think I’m kidding? Stay tuned 😉


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