Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths V

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.159-166)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 287-323) 

“Again, monks, in regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths. And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths? “Here he knows as it really is, ‘this is dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the arising of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the cessation of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha.’ 

The Morality Steps

The morality steps of the Eightfold Path are Skillful Speech, Skillful Action and Skillful Livelihood.  Buddhist morality teaches that acting in unskillful ways leads to unhappy results, and acting in skillful ways leads to happy results. Happy means long lasting happiness not the short-lived happiness obtained through desire, ill-will or delusion.

Skillful means actions and thoughts that do not cause harm to yourself and others.  Unskillful actions are those that cause harm.  The morality steps of the eightfold path emphasize that unskillful speech, action and livelihood cause harm.

Skillful Speech

“And what, bhikkhus, is right speech? Abstinence from false speech, abstinence from divisive speech, abstinence from harsh speech, abstinence from idle chatter: this is called right speech.  SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhante G: “Wrong speech causes us many problems.  We lie and then get caught in it; we say something nasty about a co-worker and get him into trouble; we speak inconsiderately and offend a client or friend; we spend a whole day in meaningless chatter and get nothing done.”  These are the consequences of false, divisive, harsh and idle speech.

Bhikkhu Bodhi: “Speech can break lives, create enemies, and start wars, or it can give wisdom, heal divisions, and create peace. This has always been so, yet in the modern age the positive and negative potentials of speech have been vastly multiplied by the tremendous increase in the means, speed, and range of communications.”

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “As my teacher once said: ‘if you can’t control your mouth, there’s no way you can hope to control your mind.’ This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.

To summarize, skillful Speech has four qualities:

It is always truthful

It is uplifting, not malicious or unkind

It is gentle not crude or harsh.

It is moderate, not useless or meaningless.

Listening is also an important part of communication.  Listening from a space of silence can be beneficial to the speaker as well as the listener.

Krishnamurti: “Can one listen without any conclusion, without any comparison or judgment?  I think there is an art to listening, which is to listen completely, without any motive, because a motive in listening is a distraction. If you can listen with complete attention, then there is no resistance, either to your own thoughts or to what is being said.  But it is only the very silent, quiet mind that finds out what is true, not a mind which is furiously active, thinking, resisting.”

The impediments to listening from a truly quiet space:

  • Judging what the other person is saying
  • Having ideas of how to “fix” the issue the person is presenting
  • Having ideas on how to “fix” the person being listened to
  • Reflecting on how the issues being presented are similar to the issues you are experiencing in your own life
  • Thinking about the past or future
  • Thinking of how you will respond to what the person is communicating

As each of these thought processes are recognized, allow them to immediately pass out of consciousness and go back to listening from the space of silence.

When we do listen from this clear and open space and wait until the other person has completed their thoughts, our reply comes from our awareness and it will be more relevant and meaningful.  The person to whom we are speaking will know that they were heard (truly listened to).

Insight Dialogue developed by Gregory Kramer is a powerful meditation technique to guide our speech.  The six steps are pause, relax, open, trust emergence, speak the truth and listen deeply.

Skillful Action

“And what, bhikkhus, is right action? Abstinence from the destruction of life, abstinence from taking what is not given, abstinence from sexual misconduct: this is called right action. SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Skillful Action refers to how we conduct ourselves.

  • Abstaining from killing
  • Abstaining from stealing
  • Abstaining from speaking falsely (from Right Speech
  • Abstaining from sexual misconduct
  • Abstaining from misusing intoxicants such as alcohol (because this can lead to unskillful behavior).

Skillful behavior is not following a set of rules.  Doing so leads to rigidity and attachment to a set of beliefs.  From Skillful Understanding, we know that there are consequences to everything that we do.  We shift our focus from behavior motivated by greed, hatred and delusion to the those that cause no harm.    Bhante G: “but by definition, mindfulness keeps us in control of what we think, how we act, and what we say.  It’s impossible to shout at someone mindfully, or to abuse alcohol mindfully.  If you are truly mindful, you cannot do these things!”

“The observance of the Five Precepts is a voluntary act which each individual must take up on his or her own initiative. The Buddha did not formulate the precepts as commandments, nor did he threaten anyone with punishment for violating them. However, this much has to be said: The Buddha perfectly understood the workings of the universe, and he proclaimed the inviolable moral law of cause and effect: good deeds beget pleasant fruits, evil deeds beget painful fruits. The Five Precepts are the guidelines the Buddha has bequeathed us to steer us away from evil conduct and towards the lines of conduct that will prove most beneficial for ourselves and others. When we mold our actions by the Five Precepts, we are acting in accordance with the Dhamma, avoiding future misery and building up protection and happiness for ourselves and others both here and in the hereafter. Thus the closer we live to the Five Precepts, the greater will be the blessing power of our lives.  (A Simple Guide to Life, Robert Bogota)

Skillful Livelihood

“And what, bhikkhus, is right livelihood? Here a noble disciple, having abandoned a wrong mode of livelihood, earns his living by a right livelihood: this is called right livelihood.  SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhante G. adds: “Our means of sustenance should not interfere with our spiritual development.”

Some questions to examine the skillfulness of your livelihood:

  • Is my job an inherently unskillful occupation? Does it cause harm by definition? For example, does it involve manufacturing, selling, or using weapons? Does it entail harming living beings? Does it support the formation of addictions such as gambling or drinking?
  • Does my job or daily occupation cause me to break any of the five core precepts? (killing, stealing. Lying, sexual misconduct, intoxication)?
  • Are there aspects of my job which disturb my sense of peace and spiritual development?

From Roar of the Heavens by Stefan Bechtel:  “But the threat of natural disaster, especially hurricanes, was never far away. Wade and Julia Guice had thrown themselves into the task of defending their community against any threat, manmade or natural, as unpaid and overworked volunteers for various agencies. Eventually, they realized they were devoting so much time to the job that they either had to get out of real estate or out of civil defense. So they sold the real estate business. Julia went to work for the city of Biloxi, as its director of civil defense, and Wade went to work for Harrison County, as its director.

“We had never worked harder, made less money, or enjoyed any- thing more in our lives,” Guice said later. “It was simply a matter of setting our priorities, of reassessing our values. It was a tremendous change from that attitude of ‘we will become millionaires’ to that of ‘we will become effective servants.’

To read more on the morality steps, please go to  this link.  In the next talk, we will explore the Concentration Steps.


  • Reread and reflect on this talk daily.  Do you have intention to follow the morality steps? What are the barriers for you?


  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind that arise

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths VI
Previous: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths IV