The Benefits of Avoiding these 10 Non-Virtuous Actions

Category: Buddhist Path

The benefits of avoiding negative behavior are numerous

Every authentic spiritual tradition offers us some form of guidance for ethical living. The ten non-virtues of Buddhism teach us which activities to avoid if we want to live a life of greater peace, happiness and ease.

Why Ethical Behavior Matters

At the foundation of any spiritual path you’ll find some type of mandated ethical behavior. If we’re to get anywhere along the road to greater freedom and wellbeing, it helps to start with kindness. In Buddhism, ethics is a non-negotiable part of the three-fold path of morality, meditation and wisdom. None is beneficial without the others.

If we behave badly, for example, it is difficult for us to focus during meditation. We become distracted by the fear, guilt or shame we feel for having harmed others. Without meditation, it becomes impossible for us to develop wisdom. And with wisdom, we come to understand why our moral behavior matters. This is encapsulated in the Buddhist teaching of karma, cause and effect.

The chief goal of any spiritual practice is to find freedom from our pain. With wisdom, we realize we are the cause of our pain. Each and every one of our actions has a consequence. Negative actions lead to negative consequences. By mindfully behaving with positive intentions, we reap positive benefits. This news is freeing, because it means the cessation of suffering is within our power.

With this understanding, we don’t abstain from the ten non-virtues because we were told to do, but because these actions only lead to greater suffering. Freedom from suffering isn’t something we’re gifted as a reward for good behavior, it’s the direct result of our behavior. So, what then are the guidelines for how we should act?

The 10 Non-Virtuous Actions

The following list includes examples of the ten non-virtuous acts, plus additional examples of their consequences. As you read through this list, consider the expansive meaning of each and the ways in which you take part in these ten misdeeds.

As you read through the consequences, you might contemplate the relationship between the cause and its effect. Understanding cause and effect, otherwise known as karma, motivates us to change our behavior.

1. No Killing.
This applies to all living creatures, including the spider in your shower and the meat on your plate. Our own sickness and death arise as a consequence of failing to protect the life of others.
2. No Stealing.
Never take anything of value that has not been freely offered. Until we refrain from stealing, we’ll never feel as though we have enough.
3. No Sexual Misconduct.
Refrain from harming others with your sexual behavior. Avoid inappropriate sexual relationships. By behaving respectfully in this manner, we have more energy and all our relationships improve.
4. No Lying.
Leave no one with a mistaken impression about what you know to be true. Until we communicate clearly in this manner, no one will believe what we say, even if it’s true.
5. No Divisive Speech.
Never speak in a way that contributes to separateness between individuals or groups, including on social media. Until we put an end to this behavior, it will seem like everyone around us is always in conflict.
6. No Harsh Speech.
Avoid swearing, being crass or using sarcasm. Until we refrain from speaking in this way, our environments will be disturbed by unpleasant noise.
7. No Idle Speech.
Don’t engage in gossip or useless, idle chatter. Until we learn to speak only when meaningful and necessary, no one will hear us, even when we say things of value.
8. No Craving.
Avoid coveting the possessions, qualities and characteristics of others. Until we cease wishing for what we do not have, we will never be content.
9. No Ill-Will.
Never wish bad upon another. This includes never celebrating the suffering of those you don’t like. As long as we participate in ill-will, we will experience the harm that arises out of having harmed others.
10. No Wrong Views.
Wrong view in this case refers to the misunderstanding of karma. As long as we’re incapable of seeing the connection between our actions and their consequences, we’ll keep acting in ways that perpetuate our own pain and suffering.

You may have noticed the first 3 non-virtues are actions of the body, the next 4 are actions of speech, and the final 3 are actions of the mind. So, we aim to behave ethically in body, speech and mind. By doing so, we become capable of carrying the peace and ease we achieve in our meditation practice into the rest of our day. Many Buddhists practice taking the five precepts as a way of committing to do no harm as a distillation of avoiding these 10 non-virtues.

Creating Ten Virtues from the Non-Virtues

Another way of understanding the non-virtues is by reframing them as their positive opposites. By doing so, we don’t merely avoid the negative consequences of bad behavior, but begin accumulating the merit associated with intentional good behavior.

The 10 virtues of Buddhism thus describe the non-virtues in the following manner:

  1. Protect life.
  2. Practice generosity.
  3. Support the relationships of others.
  4. Speak clearly and honestly.
  5. Speak in ways that bring people together.
  6. Speak gently.
  7. Speak meaningfully.
  8. Reduce desires and practice contentment.
  9. Practice lovingkindness.
  10. View all things with wisdom.

What is the main difference between virtuous and non-virtuous acts? One leads to more suffering, while the other moves us away from suffering. What we do, say and think, we become.

About the Author: Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai Conway writes articles about Buddhist meditation based on her practice and experience
Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Her writing and teachings are informed by her personal practice and Buddhist studies. When not at her desk, she can be found teaching donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific Coast. Learn more about Sara-Mai Conway here.

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