Buddhism - On Right Action

Buddha, the Founder of Buddhism

Compiled by Jayaram V

"And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from unchastity. This is called right action." - Sutta Nipata XLV 8

What is Right Action?

Right Action is to abstain from killing, stealing and unlawful sexual intercourse.

The practitioner of Right Action abstains from the killing of living beings. He does not carry a stick or a sword. He is conscientious and full of sympathy. He has concern for the welfare of all living beings.

He does not steal. He does not take what belongs to another person, either in the village or in the woods with an intention to steal.

He abstains from unlawful sexual intercourse. He does not indulge in sexual intercourse with persons who are still under the protection of father, mother, brother, sister or relatives, nor with married women, nor female convicts, nor, with girls who are betrothed.

The two kinds of Right Action

1. The Mundane Right Action: which is to refrain from killing, stealing, and unlawful sexual intercourse. This leads to worldly gains and good results.

2. The Ultra Mundane Right Action: which is to refrain from the three fold wrong actions at the mental level, keeping the mind holy, to remain other worldly and pursue the holy path in conjunction with the eight fold path. This path is not of this world but of the ultramundane.

Relationship with other aspects of the Eightfold Path

"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong action as wrong action, and right action as right action. And what is wrong action? Killing, taking what is not given, illicit sex. This is wrong action...

"One tries to abandon wrong action & to enter into right action: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong action & to enter & remain in right action: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right action." — Majjhima Nikaya 117

Taking responsibility for one's actions

"'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'...

"[This is a fact that] one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained...

"Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I am the owner of my actions (kamma), heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'? There are beings who conduct themselves in a bad way in body... in speech... and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that bad conduct in body, speech, and mind will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker...

"A disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator; who — whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are the owner of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and live dependent on their actions. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.' When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed."

Anguttara Nikaya 5.57

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