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Wk 162 – Buddhism – The Eightfold Path – 4. Wise Action

In Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is a set of teachings that guide individuals towards the cessation of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. We have covered Wise Understanding, Wise Intention, Wise Speech and we are now to the fourth step which is Wise Action. This is also known as “Wise Conduct,” is one of the ethical components of the path and focuses on cultivating moral behaviour and harmonious relationships with others. Some of the key aspects of how Buddhism emphasises Wise Action is practicing. 

The Five Precepts: ethical guidelines that promote virtuous conduct. (Yamas)

  1. Refraining from taking life: Avoid causing harm to any living beings. (Ahimsa) Buddhism places a strong emphasis on non-violence and compassion towards all beings. Practitioners are encouraged to cultivate empathy, kindness, and a deep sense of respect for the well-being of others. This extends not only to humans but also to animals and the environment.
  2. Refraining from stealing: Avoid taking what is not freely given. Possessions, money, ideas, energy, time, achievements, successes, people’s rights and freedoms. (Asteya)
  3. Refraining from sexual misconduct: Engage in responsible and respectful boundaries with sexual behaviour. (Brahmacharya)
  4. Refraining from false, divisive or harsh speech: Abstain from lying, gossiping, or engaging in harmful speech. (Satya)
  5. Refraining from intoxicants: Avoid consuming substances thoughtlessly, that cloud the mind and lead to thoughtless behaviour. 

Buddhism encourages individuals to adhere to the Five Precepts as it informs one to act with mindfulness and skilfulness. Wise Action focuses the importance of engaging in a livelihood that does not harm or contribute to suffering. It encourages individuals to choose professions or occupations that promote well-being, honesty, and ethical conduct.

Buddhism also suggests the practice of generosity and selflessness as part of Wise Action. (Aparigraha). To give selflessly to others, whether it be through material resources, time, or emotional support. The brilliant thing is that generosity helps cultivate positive qualities such as compassion, empathy, and detachment from material attachments. According to the Bhagavad Gita and other Yogic texts, the Yogi is to be of service sharing the fruits attained by the effort in practice. Considering the Five Precepts, choosing a career that contributes to the well-being for all and to be of service to others are all good guidelines to make choices that adhere to your core values. 

Now to apply this to our asana practice, I ask you to notice what is motivating you to take action, to make choices. This means, being aware of one’s intentions, thoughts, words and actions before engaging and acting out. Is your actions coming from a place of fear or love? Criticism or curiosity? Resentment or empath? Distain or kindness? When you are in a situation where you need to make a choice, do you know the difference between reacting vs responding? Practitioners strive to act in ways that promote the welfare and happiness towards oneself and others, consciously choosing actions to minimise any further harm or suffering.

Action means Karma in both Buddhism and Yoga. Karma carries the notion the fruit of your actions, comes back to you, you can’t escape the consequence of your actions. It’s not that good people only get good karma and bad people only get bad karma. We know this is not true, however we being the Yogi, use every opportunity as a practice, delaying the gratification of reacting, checking in to the thoughts, emotions, body to align to one’s individual ethical code and respond accordingly. Every Cause has an Effect, Every action has a reaction, Every choice has a consequence. The cause behind your current situation is your past Karma, Your’e a sum total of all your choices and actions you have ever made. So recognising that your current life is a continuation of the past. And if you don’t like where you are, make choices that adhere to what matters to you most, your core values and instead of reacting in predictable ways, respond in virtuous ways that fulfil a deeper purpose. Start to see that life is not just happening to you, it is happening for you to refine the tools to make wise choices. It takes practice. 

The principles of Wise Action provide a general framework informed by the other steps Wise Understanding, Wise Intention, Wise Speech. All are interdependent and mutually reinforcing creating an environment that guides individuals towards the cessation of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment.