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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
Blight 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
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