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“Do not ignore the effect of Right Action”: Ethics, kamma, and the Eightfold Path

The Right Action limb of the path covers the first 3 precepts, starting with non-harming. We’ll look at this excerpt from a sutta called “Intentional” (AN 10.217) to start off, which describes how (and which) actions always have consequences.

“Mendicants, I don’t say that intentional deeds that have been performed and accumulated are eliminated without being experienced. And that may be in the present life, or in the next life, or in some subsequent period. And I don’t say that suffering is ended without experiencing intentional deeds that have been performed and accumulated.

Now, there are three kinds of corruption and failure of bodily action that have unskillful intention, with suffering as their outcome and result. There are four kinds of corruption and failure of verbal action that have unskillful intention, with suffering as their outcome and result. There are three kinds of corruption and failure of mental action that have unskillful intention, with suffering as their outcome and result.

And what are the three kinds of corruption and failure of bodily action? It’s when a certain person kills living creatures. They’re violent, bloody-handed, a hardened killer, merciless to living beings.

They steal. With the intention to commit theft, they take the wealth or belongings of others from village or wilderness.

They commit sexual misconduct. They have sex with women who have their mother, father, both mother and father, brother, sister, relatives, or clan as guardian. They have sex with a woman who is protected on principle, or who has a husband, or whose violation is punishable by law, or even one who has been garlanded as a token of betrothal.

These are the three kinds of corruption and failure of bodily action.”

“Intentional” (AN 10.217), tr. Sujato

Don’t be a hard-hearted killer. At least.

We open discussion of the limb of Right Action with an overview of the 3 aspects it covers (the first 3 precepts), and a bit about the relationship between intention, action, and results (or impact).

Meditation: stillness, settling, intention, doing, non-doing (11.19.19)

Talk: Opening into the limb of Right Action. I start with an exploration of the prefix “Right” (samma), and how right and wrong can be fruitfully understood in Buddhism, including a bit about religious tolerance. Then look at the basic role of ethics in the Noble Eightfold Path, and the relationship between intention, action, and results. (11.19.19)


Rabbits are eco meat! But…

Non-harming, part 2: some thoughts on the complex ancient Buddhist debate around eating meat. (In honor of Thanksgiving, partly tongue-in-cheek, partly not, but the talk was on the Tuesday before TG.)

Meditation: Embodied liberation (11.26.19)

Talk: The precept of non-harming (avihiṃsa), in relation to eating, especially eating meat. We look at cultural aspects of the Buddhist debate about vegetarianism, ancient and modern, and discuss different ways to work with the precept. (11.26.19)


Right Action, part 3

Talk: Somehow we made it from ethics to rebirth in this one. Not somehow, but kamma, of course. (12.03.19) [Didn’t get the meditation this evening.]


Any conversation about Right Action must touch into the idea of kamma/karma, which is the basis for Buddhist ethics (sīla). The opening sutta here speaks about the lawful necessity of experiencing the results of intentional actions. Here’s another way the Buddha says it, in the Dhammapada:

121. Do not ignore the effects of evil,
saying, “This will come to nothing.” Just as by the gradual fall of raindrops
the water jar is filled,
so in time fools are corrupted
by evil-doing.

122. Do not ignore the effect of right action,
saying, “This will come to nothing.” Just as by the gradual fall of raindrops
the water jar is filled,
so in time the wise
become replete with good.

Dhammapada, 121-22, in A Dhammapada for Contemplation, tr. Munindo

Not taking that which isn’t offered, part 1

Meditation: on sounds, in the rain (12.10.19)

Talk: We start here on the second aspect of Right Action, the second precept, against stealing, or “not taking that which isn’t offered.” We begin a discussion of consent, which continues the following week. (12.10.19)


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