The next part of the eightfold path is right action. This is talking about actions of the body. We have to ensure that our actions do not bring harm to ourselves and others. One way of doing this is by refraining from the ten unwholesome ways to act. They are as follows:
- Refrain from taking the life of any being
- Refrain from taking what is not freely given
- Refrain from inappropriate sexual conduct
- Refrain from lying
- Refrain from divisive speech
- Refrain from using harsh words
- Refrain from idle talk (gossip)
- Refrain from coveting other’s possessions and positions
- Refrain from resenting the good fortune of others
- Refrain from holding a closed mind about things one doesn’t fully understand
If we refrain from these ten we will not be harming others with our body, speech or mind.
Buddha divided right action into three parts; refrain from taking life, refrain from stealing and refrain from sexual misconduct.
Refraining from taking life, or causing others to take life, is not just talking about humans but all beings. It is no good us refraining from taking life if we encourage or pay for others to take life. Buddha taught that all life is precious and so it should not be ended by others.
It should be noted here that I am talking about intentionally taking life. It is of course a fact of life that we unintentionally take life every time we walk around. If we walk across a field to meet a friend, we take the lives of many insects. However, this is not our intention, we just wanted to meet someone. If we are present in the moment and conscious of every step, we can reduce the lives we take and the harm we cause.
We may feel that taking the lives of flies or mosquitoes don’t count, but of course they do. Every being is interconnected and so by killing something we are some how tipping the balance of nature. So to live in harmony with the world, we must refrain from killing.
When we take something that has not been given, we are hurting ourselves as well as others. Obviously, people will be upset and hurt if you steal from them, but you will also get yourself a bad reputation. People will not trust you or want you as a friend, which will upset and hurt you.
Buddha was not just talking about stealing here, but also fraud, deceit and cheating people out of money. All of these acts are carried out due to greed, jealousy, pride and sometimes even hatred.
The way to counter this is by having respect for other people’s belongings, being honest, generous and, above all, contented with what we have.
If we are honest, we would never steal or defraud anyone. If we act out of generosity, we would not want anybody else’s possessions, in fact we would want to share our own belongings and wealth.
If we are content, and this really is the heart of the matter, we would see no need to take what does not belong to us, or cheat another person in any way, because we would already have enough to keep us satisfied.
Inappropriate sexual conduct is when we cause harm to someone with the sexual act. This includes rape, forcing you partner to have sex when they do not want to and having sex with an under-age child. All of these will bring harm to them and so we must refrain from these acts.
If we do not kill, do not steal and do not use sex in an inappropriate way, we will not be causing harm to anyone and we will be following Buddha’s right action.