Right Action, Right Result

November 11, 1958

The Dhamma is something constant and true. The reason we don’t see the truth is because we’re always spinning around. If we’re riding in a car, we can’t clearly see the things that pass near by us on the road, such as how big the stones on the ground are, what color they are. We look at trees, mountains, and fields, and they all seem to be on the move. If we’ve been in a car since birth, without stopping to get out and walk around on our own, we’re sure to think that cars run, trees run, and mountains run. The fact is, though, that the truth and our spinning around aren’t in line with each other. The running lies in us, in the car, not in the trees or mountains.

Everything that’s Dhamma stays firm and constant. That’s why it’s called the truth. Whatever isn’t true, isn’t Dhamma. In the area of the Dhamma, one of the Buddha’s highest aims was discernment. He wasn’t just out after a sense of peace and ease, for simple peace of mind isn’t really peaceful, isn’t really easeful, isn’t really restful. It still has some unrest mixed in with it. The highest happiness lies above not only peace of mind, but also above discernment as well.

Most of us, when we feel at peace and at ease, tend to get heedless and careless. As a result we don’t develop any discernment. We can take a lesson from the people of Japan: Their land is poor, their crops grow slowly, and the landscape is full of volcanoes. As a result, the people have to exert themselves to make a living and always be on the alert, ready to evacuate whenever there’s danger. This is why they’re so active and intelligent, solving all their difficulties so that they can bring progress to their country. People who have it easy, though, tend to be stupid because they have no sense of how to exert themselves to get rid of suffering.

People nowadays have studied a lot, but they’re still stupid. Stupid in what way? Stupid in that they don’t know how to fix their own rice, sew their own clothes, or wash their own clothes. They don’t have any skills. The time will have to come when this causes them to suffer and fall into difficulties. Most of us Thai people complain that foreigners are taking over our economy, but actually the fault lies with our own stupidity. We can’t even make one big toe’s worth of happiness for ourselves, and instead sit staring off into the distance. Other people run and jump and do everything necessary for the sake of their happiness, but we just sit around and create difficulties for our families. Then, when we suffer, that opens the way for corruption. We get up from a meal and don’t wash our own dishes or put them away. If all our discernment is in knowing how to eat, how will we ever get anywhere? This is why the Buddha taught the Dhamma both in terms of causes and results, skills and their rewards. He taught first about things that lie immediately around us. Once we put ourselves into good shape, it will spread to help everyone who comes after us. Whatever causes, whatever skills, will give rise to peace, ease, and convenience for ourselves, we have to do. The results are sure to follow.

On the good side, virtue is a cause for concentration. Concentration is a cause for discernment. On the bad side, suffering comes from craving. And what does craving come from? From our own stupidity. It’s because we’re stupid in so many ways that we suffer so much. When craving arises, it damages people all around us. This is why we should develop the causes for happiness and ease, so as to prevent these kinds of dangers—for when difficulties arise, the mind will start spinning in all sorts ways that will cause us to suffer.

For this reason you should examine yourself whenever you get the chance, at all times. If you start feeling ill at ease, you should trace back to the causes. Ask yourself, “What have I been doing since I got up this morning? What have I been thinking about?” When you try to cut down a tree but can’t cut all the way through, you have to look at your machete to see if it’s nicked or dull. If you try to cut the tree down with your teeth, you won’t get anywhere. You have to trace back to the causes of your problems if you want to figure out how to solve them. When you do that, all your difficulties will vanish.

Knowledge has to come from the discernment we give rise to within ourselves. The lowest or weakest level of discernment knows neither causes nor results. The middle level knows results without knowing their causes, or causes without knowing their results. The highest level of discernment knows causes before they give rise to their results. In other words, you know what kind of results you’ll get from your actions. But most of us don’t even know what causes we’re creating, which is why the results we get aren’t good at all. When we want to progress in life, we have to give rise to the causes for peace and ease. In other words, we have to practice meditation in line with the factors of the noble path.

Sammā-kammanta, right action, is the cause for peace and ease. Our actions come in all sorts of forms. The way we stand is an action. The movement of the body is an action. The actions, the various kinds of work in the world, require us to run, to pick things up with our body. But in the area of the Dhamma, simply sitting still with the right intention is a form of work or action. Lying down with the right intention is a form of work or action. Sitting, standing, walking, lying down: All of our movements and postures, if done with the right intention, are a form of work or action. When our actions are right, we’ll experience peace and ease. And then how will suffering come our way? The reason we suffer is because our actions are wrong. We sit, stand, walk, and lie down in ways contrary to the Dhamma. And then when we take on other work in addition to our basic actions, that work is bound to turn into wrong action as well. This was why the Buddha improved his manners in how he sat, stood, walked, and lay down, so that they were all pure in terms of the intentions of his mind. What this means is that he kept practicing tranquility meditation in all his activities. His mind had to stay with what the body was doing. If the mind told the body to do something, but didn’t do it along with the body, then he didn’t succeed in what he wanted to do. He couldn’t let the body work on its own. The mind had to work along with the body. Otherwise, his old manners would come back and take charge of the mind.

Wrong action means thoughts of sensuality: thinking in terms of sensual objects that give rise to sensual defilements. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas come from the body and mind acting together. If the mind then wants any of these things, that’s called greed. You want them to be good, but when they aren’t good in line with your thoughts, that gives rise to aversion. If you get carried away by your aversion, that’s delusion.

But if you direct your thinking to the breath, that will kill off sensual desires. Evaluate your breath, and that will kill off ill will. There are two kinds of evaluation: (1) evaluating the in-and-out breath, and (2) evaluating the inner breath sensations of the body until they interact with the other properties of the body. When you reach this point, you forget any feelings of ill will. Once the mind and body are full, you feel a sense of ease. Rapture and pleasure are thus the results of directed thought and evaluation. Directed thought and evaluation thus count as right action. The principle of cause and effect applies to all your activities, both inside and out.

The reason we suffer is because we eat. How is eating suffering? Because we never can get full. The body isn’t full; the mind isn’t full. It never has a sense of enough with its preoccupations. This gives rise to hunger.

But when the mind stops worrying about eating, and instead stays with its right actions, then you can be at your ease. Sometimes, while you meditate, you focus on the cause, the sense of seclusion, without any thought for the results. Sometimes you stay with the results, vihāra-dhamma, the ease of staying in the home of the mind. Even though the work this requires may be difficult, you aren’t worried or concerned. The mind keeps staying with its sense of ease. When you get skilled, you gain a sense of when to focus on the causes and when to focus on the results. This is called acting with a sense of causes and results. You’re not stuck on any of the baits of the world. You stay exclusively with the ease of the Dhamma. Even though the work may require effort, you’re not worked up about it. You do it with a sense of wellbeing.

When there’s a sense of wellbeing, the mind doesn’t get stirred up. When it’s still in this way, liberating insight can arise. Our work turns into the work of insight. You watch the properties of sensation: When sights strike the eye, there arise feelings of liking and disliking. You watch while these things stay for an instant, disintegrate, and disappear. You see sights as properties that move. The eye is a property that moves. Consciousness—the awareness of these things—is a property that moves. This applies to all the sense media: They all lie under the characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. Discernment is what stays still enough to see what moves and what doesn’t. And then there’s a letting-go of both. That’s when you see that ease on the conventional level, from the point of view of the Dhamma, is a falsehood—for there’s an ease on the ultimate level that’s true.