Right Action

Right Action (samyak karmanta) means Right Action of the body. It is the practice of touching love and preventing harm, the practice of nonviolence toward ourselves and others. The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness.

Right Action is closely linked with four (the first, second, third, and fifth) of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The First Training is about reverence for life: "Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life." We may be killing every day by the way we eat, drink, and use the land, air, and water. We think that we don't kill, but we do. Mindfulness of action helps us be aware so we can stop the killing and begin saving and helping.

The Second Mindfulness Training is about generosity: "Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the wellbeing of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth." This training tells us not just to refrain from taking what is not ours or exploiting others. It also exhorts us to live in a way that brings about justice and well-being in society. We have to learn how to live simply so that we do not take more than our share. When we do something to promote social justice, that is Right Action.

The Third Mindfulness Training is about sexual responsibility: "Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a longterm commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct." Loneliness cannot be alleviated just by the coming together of two bodies, unless there is also good communication, understanding, and loving kindness. Right Mindfulness helps us protect ourselves and others, including children, from further suffering. Sexual misbehavior creates so much suffering. To protect the integrity of families and individuals, we do our best to behave responsibly and encourage others to do the same. Practicing this training, we not only protect ourselves and those dear to us, but we protect the whole human species, including children. When Right Mindfulness shines its light on our daily life, we are able to keep this training steadily. Sexual misbehavior has broken so many families. There has been so much suffering because people do not practice sexual responsibility. A child who is sexually abused will suffer his or her whole life. Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas, helping many children. Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain, and you can share your insight with others. This is Right Action, and it frees you and those around you. When you practice to help others around you, at the same time, you are helping yourself.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training encourages mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. This is linked to the Four Noble Truths and all of the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, but especially Right Action: "Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my
ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self  transformation and for the transformation of society." Right Action means bringing into our body and mind only the kinds of food that are safe and healthy. We practice mindful eating, mindful drinking, not eating things that create toxins in our body, not using alcohol or drugs, for ourselves, our family, and our society. We consume mindfully so that life will be possible for all of us. We practice mindful consumption to protect our body and our consciousness from ingesting toxins. Certain television programs, books, magazines, and conversations can bring into our consciousness violence, fear, and despair. We have to practice mindful consumption to protect our body and consciousness and the collective body and consciousness of our family and our society. When we practice not drinking alcohol, we protect ourselves, and we also protect our family and our society. A woman in London told me, "I have been drinking two glasses of wine every week for the last twenty years, and it has done me no harm at all. Why should I give it up?" I said, "It's true that two glasses of wine do not harm you. But are you sure they do not harm your children? You may not have the seed of alcoholism in you, but who knows whether the seed of alcoholism is in your children. If you give up wine, you'll be doing it not only for yourself but also for your children and for your society." She understood, and the next morning she formally received the Five Mindfulness Trainings. That is the work of a bodhisattva, doing it not for herself alone but for everyone.

The Ministry of Health in France advises people not to drink too much. They advertise on television, "One glass is okay, but three glasses invite destruction." They want you to be moderate in drinking. But if the first glass were not there, how could there be a third glass? Not having the first glass of wine is the highest form of protection.
If you refrain from having a first glass, you are protecting not only yourself, but all of us at the same time. When we consume mindfully, we protect our body, our consciousness, and the body and consciousness of our family and society. Without the Fifth Training, how can we transform the difficult situation of our society? The more we consume, the more we suffer, and the more we make our society suffer. Mindful consumption seems to be the only way out of this current situation, the only way to stop the course of destruction for our body, our consciousness, and the collective body and consciousness of our society.

Looking deeply, we can see the interbeing nature of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Eightfold Path. We apply Right Mindfulness to see whether our eating, drinking, and consuming is Right Action. Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Speech are all present when we put the Fifth Mindfulness Training into practice. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are interpenetrated by the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, especially Right Action.

Right Action is based on Right View, Right Thinking, and Right Speech, and is very much linked to Right Livelihood. Those who earn their living by manufacturing weapons, depriving others of their chance to live, destroying the environment, exploiting nature and people, or producing items that bring us toxins may earn a lot of money, but they are practicing wrong livelihood. We have to be mindful to protect ourselves from their wrong
action. If we don't have Right View and Right Thought and are not practicing Right Speech and Right Livelihood, even if we feel we are trying to go in the direction of peace and enlightenment, our effort may be wrong action.

A good teacher only needs to observe a student walking or inviting the bell to sound to know how long he has been in the practice. You look at his Right Action and see all the things that are contained in it. Looking this way into any of the elements of the path, you can measure the realization of that person as far as the whole path is concerned.

There are so many things we can do to practice Right Action. We can protect life, practice generosity, behave responsibly, and consume mindfully. The basis of Right Action is Right Mindfulness.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh