Skillful Action: Introduction/Ethics in Action

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 109-113)

“And what is Right Action?  Abstaining from killing beings, abstaining from taking what is not given, abstaining from sexual misconduct.  This is called Right Action.”  –The Buddha

Skillful Action: The Five Precepts

Skillful Action refers to how we conduct ourselves.  In the Eightfold Path, The Buddha stated a code of conduct with three behaviors:  to abstain from:  killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.  The expanded code for lay people is called the Five Precepts:

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

The precepts are a beginning as a moral code.  Right Action combined with Mindfulness goes much farther to guide our ethical behavior.

As noted previously, Bhante G makes a key statement about the role of mindfulness in the chapter on  Skillful Speech:

“… 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!” –(p. 106)

Ethics in Action

Putting ethics into action starting with the Five Precepts leads to more skillful behavior.  With more skillful behavior we encounter fewer obstacles to full realization (enduring enlightenment).  The sooner you can start, the more fulfilling your life will be. Otherwise, it can be “like winning the lottery on your deathbed.” (p. 111).

Skillful behavior is not following a set a rules.  Doing so leads to rigidity and attachment to a set of beliefs.  From Right Understanding, we know that there are consequences to everything that we do.

“The basis of Buddhist morality is that acting in unskillful ways leads to unhappy results, and acting in skillful ways leads to happy results.”  (p. 27)

What also comes about is a shift in focus “to what we personally want to what will most benefit ourselves and others.”  This is also known as a shift from behavior motivated by greed, hatred and delusion to Skillful Action. 


  • As you go through the week, observe how the Five Precepts relate to your life.  Do so in a mindful, non-judgmental way.
  • What do you find?

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