For more than 3 decades, I focused almost solely on my actions. My thoughts could be as impure as anything you could imagine but I believed as long as I didn’t act, as long as my actions conformed to some kind of standard “code” society dictates, then I’d be all good. I did what I thought people wanted me to do, or what would garner positive attention.
For the most part, this yielded insane blessings and overwhelming tangible benefits and a life I really love. The phrase “fake it till you make it” is the God’s truth— I faked a lot of things, jumped in, got into action …the result; the vast majority of time everything worked out and I, and the world, was left way better off.
The parts that it didn’t work out were a double dose of pain. Action that lacks authenticity, action without alignment to my own personal truth might appear awesome to the world for a while, but the price is debilitating. I found that all at once, when I least expected it, I could no longer even look myself in the mirror let alone march thru the world with incongruences of this magnitude.
Slogging thru the mud of life long enough, I finally recognized that my motivations behind my actions were as or more important than the action itself. Not always, let’s be clear about that—but mostly what prompted action was what would keep me sick or keep me awesome and so aligning my intention with my action became critical in my spiritual growth and essential in my daily navigation of this existence.
As my understanding with the second of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Intention, deepened, I began to realize that Right Action and all that it stands for is dangerous and significantly unhealthy for me if my intentions behind the actions aren’t authentic, aren’t noble not only to society but to my own inner guidance system. An example; Recently I observed myself donating some money to a cause not because I believed in the cause but because I wanted to be noticed and recognized. I’ve observed myself being generous and kind and assisting others when I didn’t have the space to offer anything and I was helping them at the expense of my own health and world and the motivation wasn’t noble, it was a result of struggling to say no and unable to balance my priorities and a desire to be liked and appreciated… the true motivation behind the action lacked nobility for sure.
I’ve discovered that with the wrong motivation the world can still benefit from my action.. however the price is steep and when my intention is in alignment with my actions the impact to myself and the world is multiplied beyond measure.
I’ve already covered the first two as well as an overview of the Noble Eightfold Path below:
- The Eightfold Path: Following the ancient road to liberation and awakening
- Cultivating Right View: Step 1 on the Eightfold Path to Happiness
- Right Intention: Step 2 of the Noble Eightfold Path to happiness
In a very basic sense, Right Action refers to adhering and honoring the Buddhist Precepts, which generally consist of not killing, not stealing, not misusing sex, not lying and not abusing intoxicants.
This isn’t rocket science—when we’re all acting as our best selves a basic understanding could easily be that our actions adhere to these principles. It’s not much different from the 10 commandments or any other philosophy that keeps us essentially on the straight and narrow, acting with nobility and kindness.
As with most things however, the simpleness of the practice is not easy and I really want my actions to be in alignment with intentions. I want my actions to be sincere and motivated by integrity so I’m prepared to work hard at simple.
“When we act “rightly,” we act without selfish attachment to our work. We act mindfully, without causing discord with our speech. Our “right” actions spring from compassion and from understanding of the dharma.”
The precepts, not killing, stealing, misusing sex, lying and not abusing intoxicants describe how people who are rigorously working a spiritual practice respond to life’s challenges.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches “Five Mindfulness Trainings” that I believe deepen our understanding of what Right Action looks like and for me guides me on a journey of rigorous practice.
The first training involves respecting life. In awareness of the suffering caused by destruction of life, we work to protect all living things and this planet that sustains life.
The second training involves generosity. We give freely of our time and resources where they are needed, without hoarding things we don’t need. We do not exploit other people or resources for our own gain. We act to promote social justice and well-being for everyone.
The third training involves sexuality and avoiding sexual misconduct. In awareness of the pain caused by sexual misconduct, we honor commitments and also act when we can to protect others from sexual exploitation.
The fourth training involves loving speech and deep listening. This means avoiding language that causes enmity and discord. Through deep listening to others, we tear down the barriers that separate us.
The fifth training involves what we consume. This includes nourishing ourselves and others with healthful food and avoiding intoxicants. It also involves what books we read or what television programs we watch. Entertainments that are addictive or cause agitation might best be avoided.
The Buddha often referred to “ The 10 unwholesome ways to act”:
2. Refrain from taking what is not freely given
3. Refrain from inappropriate sexual conduct
4. Refrain from lying
5. Refrain from divisive speech
6. Refrain from using harsh words
7. Refrain from idle talk (gossip)
8. Refrain from coveting other’s possessions and positions
9. Refrain from resenting the good fortune of others
10. Refrain from holding a closed mind about things one doesn’t fully understand
My awesome monk friend, Bhante Sujatha, makes it all much simpler. He wakes up everyday and commits to having his actions focused on achieving a single goal: adding more love in the world.
Simple is never easy.
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