Ten Wholesome and Ten Unwholesome Actions

I am now translating Deshung Rinpoche’s oral commentary — The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception, which is published by Wisdom Books into Thai. The process has taken quite a long time because I am so busy with other commitments, so I can spend only a few minutes each day for the task. Nonetheless I plan to do it everyday (as far as possible) so that the completion is not too distant in the far future. This is my usual working plan — when you do a big task, try to pare it down into manageable chunks and do it one by one. Sooner or later the big task will be completed.

This is what I have been doing. The book is a long one, more than 500 pages, consisting of more than fifty chapters. I have now completed around 25 chapters. So this is almost half way, so at this rate the whole book should be finished not many months from now.

What I would like to write about here is Deshung Rnpoche’s teaching on the ten wholesome and unwholesome actions. This is a very important set of teachings by Lord Buddha which many in Thailand do not seem to pay much attention to. In Sanskrit it is kusalakarmapatha (minus the diacritical marks), or the path of wholesome action. This consists of ten items that those who practice the Dharma need to do in order to achieve the goal of Enlightenment.

For those who did not this already, here are the ten unwholesome actions (the wholesome ones are just opposites of these):

  1. Killing
  2. Stealing
  3. Committing Sexual Misconduct
  4. False Speech
  5. Divisive Speech
  6. Harsh Speech
  7. Idle Speech
  8. Covetousness or Envy
  9. Ill Will
  10. Wrong View

The ten unwholesome and wholesome actions are often taught in the context of karma. That is, those who vow to achieve Buddhahood in order to be able to help furry sentient beings across need to perform all the wholesome actions and avoid the unwholesome ones. This is absolutely necessary. Also, Theravadins also need to do the same, for without the wholesome karmas incurred by performing these wholesome actions, achieving nirvana is absolutely impossible.

Deshung Rinpoche taught that the results of performing the unwholesome actions are of three kinds, namely the fully ripened result, the result that is similar to its causes, and the prevailing, or dominant result. The first one is easy to understand. Doing the unwholesome actions can be a contributing cause to being reborn in one of the lower realms, i.e., as a tenant in hell, as a hungry ghost, or a non-human animal. The second type of result is quite interesting. By committing the unwholesome actions, one is likely to experience the same type of action over and over again. Suppose you steal something from somebody, a result of your action will be that the likeliness will increase that you will be in an environment that is conducive to your performing the same type of unwholesome action again, such as an environment where you will be encouraged to steal. Furthermore, you will also experience the inclination to perform the same type of action again. Suppose you stole something rather frequently in your past lives, chances are that in this life you will find yourself in a situation that makes it likely that you will steal again. This will only perpetuate the unwholesome karmic pattern, so that it will become more and more difficult for you to get out of this.

The third type of result is rather scary. By committing the unwholesome actions, you will find yourself in a situation where the physical environment itself is a cause of suffering. By committing the unwholesome acts, it is likely that you will be reborn in a desolate place where there is little food or drink, where the land is very harsh, and so on.

To underscore the importance of performing the wholesome actions and its role in achieving Liberation, Deshung Rinpoche has the following to say:

If the practice of these ten wholesome deeds is conjoined with the special Mahayana practices of bodhicitta (the bodhisattva’s vow to win enlightenment for the benefit of all beings), it will become not only a cause of higher rebirth but a cause of attaining perfect enlightenment as well. Similarly, if the practice of these virtuous deeds is conjoined with meditation on emptiness, which sees the true nature of phenomena, so that you perform such deeds with insight into the empty nature of everything, then you will accumulate transcendent merit, which becomes a cause not merely of rebirth in the higher realms but of buddhahoold itself.

This shows clearly that the ten wholesome/unwholesome deeds are very important indeed, and as such they function as a necessary stepping stone toward Nirvana and Enlightenment, as eventual Buddhahood. Deshung Rinpoche also recommends that you dedicate the merit obtained through performing the ten wholesome deeds to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. This will much expedite the journey.

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