Joseph Goldstein – Insight Hour – Ep. 28 – Ten Unwholesome Actions


Joseph shows us how we can be happy in our lives by understanding the ten unwholesome actions which, according to the Buddha’s teachings, are the cause of suffering.

How can we manifest our intentions of goodwill and loving-kindness in our lives? The question is really about how to connect our meditation practice in everything that we do.

Causes of Suffering

What moved the Buddha to begin teaching was seeing so many beings seeking happiness, while at the same time doing the very things in their lives that cause suffering. In response, the Buddha laid out ten unwholesome actions that are the cause of suffering for ourselves and others. There are three actions of the body, four actions of speech, and three of the mind.

“Refrain from unwholesome actions, do good, purify the mind. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas” – Siddhartha Buddha, Dhammapada

Harm (5:40) – The first of these actions is harming other beings or ourselves. This principle works on many levels. From the obvious level of not killing to not doing harmful things to ourselves or animals.

“Sometimes I think it’s like the Buddha is teaching kindergarten. ‘Don’t kill?’ It’s so obvious and yet, we look around the world, and people are not understanding this.” – Joseph Goldstein

Theft (11:15) – Don’t steal, this is the next harmful action that the Buddha addresses. This applies to ethics in work and at home. It also extends to taking what is not necessary rather than offering.

Sexual Misconduct (15:20) – The third unwholesome action is sexual misconduct. For monks, nuns, or people on retreat, this means being celibate. For laypeople in the world, it means avoiding sexual activity that causes harm. Sexual misconduct traditionally is talked about regarding adultery or deception. It can spread to many areas where sexual activity is inappropriate, such as the doctor-patient relationship.

Lying (24:00) – There are four unwholesome actions of speech. We do not appreciate how powerful a force that speech is in our lives. So much suffering comes from a lack of attention to the way we speak. It is so important that conducting right speech is one aspect of the Eightfold Path to liberation.

“We know from our own experience how speech so often conditions the nature of our relationships. . . The way we speak reinforces patterns in our minds. It conditions karmic consequences for the future.” – Joseph Goldstein

Harsh Speech (32:10) – The second kind of speech the Buddha pointed to is harsh speech. Harsh speech refers to angry and malicious used to harm others. We must pay attention to the energy of our speech and the motivation behind it.

Gossip (35:00) – Gossip is the third form of speech. In practice, ceasing our tendency towards gossip, because gossip is a large part of how we communicate. Why is it that we take such delight in gossip?

Useless Talk (38:30) – The last of the unwholesome patterns of speech, the seventh of ten total unwholesome actions, is useless talk. Our words can become worthless, and sometimes we enjoy talking for the sake of talking. This speech may not be harmful or come from a negative place, but it is not mindful or necessary. Not giving voice to this useless chatter is brings our hearts and minds to a more peaceful place.

Covetousness (42:00) – The final three unwholesome actions are actions of the mind. First of these actions is covetousness, the hungry ghost mentality of wanting what others have.

“These things arise at different times in most of us. It is not about self-judgment, it’s about the interest in seeing. The interest in becoming aware and seeing that we can make choices.” – Joseph Goldstein

Ill-will (45:00) – Ninth of the unwholesome actions is ill-will. Ill-will means impatience, irritation, annoyance, fear, all kinds of aversion. It arises when we don’t get what we want.

Wrong View (49:10) – Wrong view is the final unwholesome action that the Buddha spoke of. One aspect of wrong view is not understanding the law of Karma, not understanding that all actions have consequences.

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