Sila, or a righteous life, is the second stage of spiritual disciplines according to Buddha. We discussed Right Speech in our last editorial. In this editorial we will be discussing Right Action and Right Livelihood.
All of us seek happiness and avoid suffering. Both these ends can be achieved only through the practice of Dharma. Part of this Dharma is Right Action and Right Living. Without Right Action and Right Living we are bound to suffer.
Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, knows the irony of human nature. He laments at the end of the book: “With uplifted arms I am shouting: it is from Dharma that wealth and enjoyments of life arise, and so why not follow it first? But alas, nobody listens to me!"
The natural tendency of the human mind is to tread the path of ease and avoid hardship and responsibilities.
A popular sanskrit verse puts it thus: “People are eager to get the fruit of virtuous actions but do not do virtuous actions. Nobody wants the fruit of sinful actions, but people go on committing sin with much effort."
Happiness is the very nature of every being. Buddha said that each soul is a potential Buddha, everything has a 'Buddha Nature.' Buddha's teachings are meant to help us manifest our Buddha Nature. Every action we do must help us unfold our real nature. It is in this light alone we must study, understand, and practise Buddha's teachings.
The Buddhist texts explain that sila has the characteristic of unifying our actions, speech and thought. Actions contrary to sila lead to a state of ignorance marked by guilt, anxiety, and unhappiness. The practice of sila involves Right Action and Right Living.
What is Right Action?
Any action that purifies the mind and leads to the unfoldment of our real nature, and which is beneficial for all beings is Right Action. Actions could be thoughts, words or deeds. Wrong actions lead to impure and unhappy states of mind, while right actions lead to pure and happy states of mind.Even Right Actions must be done with mindfulness, compassion, skill and good-will.Mindfulness is to keep in mind the goal we are striving for and to do every action with awareness.
For those nurtured in the tradition of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda the word compassion may appear strange. In this context compassion is to identify oneself with others. Right Action is closely related to compassion. The importance of karuna or compassion in Buddhism cannot be overstated. The Sanskrit word for compassion is karuna. It means 'active sympathy' or the willingness to feel the pain of others and help them to the best of one's capacity. Closely related to karuna is metta (Maitri), 'loving kindness.' We must remember that genuine compassion is rooted in prajna, or 'wisdom.' Wisdom is the realization that all are potential Buddhas.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, writes: “According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving kindness.”
Skill implies one-pointedness of mind and non-attachment.
And goodwill is to help others manifest their Buddha nature. According to Buddha there are five wrong and sinful actions from which we must abstain.
1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life and doing harm intentionally.
2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty.
3. to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. to abstain from speaking falsehood, from finding faults with others, from speaking harshly, and from spreading slanders, etc.
5. to abstain from intoxicating liquors, drugs etc.
“When a lay follower possesses five things, he lives with confidence in his house, and he will find himself in heaven as sure as if he had been carried off and put there. What are the five? He abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sensual desires, from speaking falsehood, and from indulging in liquor, wine, and fermented brews.”
Right livelihood means that one should live according to dharma. Part of this practice is to earn one's living in an honest, righteous way and that wealth should be earned legally and honestly, in accordance with dharma.
The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should strictly avoid. These are: 1. dealing in destructive weapons; 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter, slave trade and prostitution, etc.,); 3. working in jobs involving the production of meat and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs.
These precepts are not a list of commandments forced upon us. They merely describe how an enlightened being naturally lives and responds to life's challenges in this world. The Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness." He teaches Five Mindfulness Training Practices that help one and that correlate to the five precepts listed above. These training practices involve respecting life, being generous, avoiding sexual misconduct, speaking and listening lovingly, and eating foods conducive to both physical and mental health.
Every sincere Buddhist must take a vow to uphold the Three Pure Precepts, which help us discover our True nature. These are: To do no evil, To do good, and To help all beings in every possible way.
It is not easy in the present situation to put into practice the teachings of Buddha or for that matter the teachings of any religion. When we open our eyes and observe, we see people madly running after what Sri Ramakrishna calls ‘lust and greed;’ we see wars, conflicts, killings, cruelty and greed. When we look around, we see violation of almost every teaching of Buddha. We live in an environment where men and women do what they like, deliberately trouncing all the norms of ethics and morality, all in the name of freedom and human rights. In an environment polluted by impure thoughts and immoral actions it takes superhuman heroism to follow the path of dharma. And yet we must strive to the best of our ability to follow the path shown by Buddha. If we do so, the grace of the Divine is sure to help us go forward and help us manifest our Buddha Nature.