Right Action in Buddhism
Right Action in Buddhism is the second component of ethical conduct and can be better translated from the Pali term Samma-kammanta as “right conduct”. This branch of the Eight-fold Path is concerned with morally upright actions that are not harmful to the oneself and others.
I think we can find evidence of similar kinds of commandments in other religions as well. The most obvious example of this is Christianity with its Ten Commandments. In the world of monastic Buddhism they follow the guidelines discussed below as if they were commandments. While for lay people it isn’t necessary to go that far, but rather to become a vegetarian or vegan.
What is Meant by Right Action?
The Buddha taught that Right Action is defined as:
- Refraining from killing or destroying living beings
Don’t kill anything, not even a fly. Every living being is part of the interdependence of all things, and some Buddhist monks do go to great lengths to not hurt any living being. For lay people this guideline is less strict since this is part of the teaching of dukkha. With every breath that we breathe micro-organisms inside of us are dying and others are being born. So if you need to swat a fly, then at least do it mindfully.
- Refraining from stealing
I think this one is self-explanatory.
- Refraining from sexual misconduct
This would include adultery, rape, and sexual abuse of any kind
The Pali canon scripture “Cunda Kummaraputta Sutta” goes into a little more detail when asked about purification shortly before his death the Buddha explains:
“And how is one made pure in three ways by bodily action?
- There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.
- Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He does not take, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them.
- Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma (or Dharma in Sanskrit); those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man.This is how one is made pure in three ways by bodily action.”
The following video from Buddha Bits explains it in under three minutes:
So how do we practice this in daily life. I find it helpful to reword the definition of Right Action in a positive way.
Putting all of this together : Overall we aspire to act kindly and compassionately, be honest, respect other people’s belongings, and keep sexual relationships in a way that is not harmful to others.
I think we can look to a quote by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh on Right Action:
“The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness.”
I hope you enjoyed this article on Right Action in Buddhism.
May we attain perfect Buddhahood for the sake of all living beings.