Day 182 - Fourth Fold - Right Action
Welcome to Day Four of the Eight Fold Path...
Today it is all about Right Action. And what is right action?
Abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct.
Let’s start with abstaining’s definition first. It is important to the whole concept here. Abstaining means to restrain oneself from doing or enjoying something. So this is not a “Thou Shall Not” coming from some higher authority. It kind of starts and ends with you. You are the one responsible for your actions. So you are responsible for the exercise (or not) of the restraint.
But why is restraint important?
Because action without restraint leads to harm. And if you will recall, we already decided that we were going to endeavor not to harm several precepts ago...
This includes taking life of any sentient being, which includes human beings, animals, birds, insects but excludes plants because they are not considered sentient beings. Sentient referring to the capacity to feel pain, to perceive and feel things.
I know seems like a tall order. But for me, the animal and bird part was easy. I just can’t look at them and not feel their pain. I can’t look at them and disassociate from the moment of their death. I can’t do it. Every hamburger or piece of fried chicken becomes the animal at the moment of its death for me and if that won’t stop you from eating it, then nothing will. There was a lot of restraint exercised by me here...I love the taste. I miss it. But I cannot eat it. It is a violation not only of my religion but also my entire belief system. Eating meat equals a direction violation of who I am. While it has not always been an easy practice, it was an easy decision for me.
I do not judge people who eat meat. I do not think that I am morally superior. This is a very personal decision. I would no more want to make it for you, than I would want you to make it for me. We all have to find our own way out here on this eight fold path.
Now the insect thing...
This one has been a lot harder for me. I do not like mosquitos, flies, gnats, ants, ticks, or fleas. I find they disturb my peace of mind and I do not want them in my living space. However, I do try not to kill them. I use repellant to keep them away when I am in their homes and make a simple request that they stay out of mine. However, sometimes they get lost and find their way into mine. I do my best to relocate them...I really do. I had a special tool that would help relocate spiders (who are not insects). Now I just use a paper towel and jar to reintroduce them to the great outdoors which is their primary home.
Right now the ants and I are battling. They really like being inside my house and I object to that. What I really resent is that they won’t leave, and keep coming despite my best attempts to keep them away. I am in a position where killing them is the only thing that is keeping my kitchen from becoming infested. I do not like it, feel badly about it and wish there was another solution. It makes me sad every single day. I know to some of you, this makes me crazy. It is just who I am, call it what you will.
This includes taking by stealth, by force, by fraud or by deceit. Both intention and the act matter, as this precept is grounded on the impact on one's karma.
So we aren’t supposed to creep into anyone’s yard and steal their bike, rob anyone, defraud them out of their life’s fortune or lie to them to get them to give you something that you are not really entitled to. We all kind of get the above.
But stealing takes some other forms and this is where intention matters a lot. What about the time we steal from our children by being distracted? What about the time we steal from our employers while working on something other than work during working hours? What about taking two pieces of candy on Halloween when the sign says just to take one?
What about stealing to feed ones family? What about stealing to help the greater good?
This is where intention comes in...it matters why you are doing what you are doing just as much as what you are doing. On a karmic level, stealing, or killing for that matter, has different karmic consequences based on intention. If you are stealing because you are a greedy jerk, way more payback on the karmic front than if you are stealing to feed your family.
It is an interesting exercise to really see how you steal in your life. Sometimes the results may shock you. For me, what is most interesting is my innate desire to get away with something. Like when you go to Target and they forget to charge you for the case of water under your cart and then you realize when you get to the parking lot that they didn’t charge you. This almost always happens when you are in a hurry. I used to be the person that said “fuck it” and moved on with my day. However, I realized that that action had a karmic payback coming for me that I realized I didn’t want to have. So I take the water back in and pay for it not because I am a good person, but because I am really concerned with Karma’s power to completely kick my ass.
For monastics, the abstention from sensual misconduct means strict celibacy, while for the rest of us this prohibits adultery as well as other forms of sensual misconduct.
With all of the news lately on this subject it is now more than ever easier to see what is sexual misconduct. It is all over the news. A great curtain that long held the secrets of women who were subjected to some pretty egregious conduct, has been opened thanks to the Me Too movement, and some light has been shown on some pretty bad actors. I am grateful for these women’s courage to speak out. To tell when I am sure the last thing they wanted to do was to insert themselves into the spotlight to relive possibly the worst part of their lives and have to talk about something that was painful, humiliating and changed their lives forever.
I was involved in a rape trial as a young lawyer in training. It was a pretty awful rape. The woman was riding her bike on a bike path afterwork. This guy was sitting on a bench on the path smoking crack. He just stood up, grabbed her off her bike, dragged her into the woods, raped her and beat her face in. Then left her for dead. She screamed and cried and some other man found her and took her to the hospital.
Right before she was going to testify, the rapist said that he would take a plea. She could avoid having to tell the whole horrible tale in front of everyone including her elderly parents. He would have gotten 15 years. He was 25. So we would have been eligible for parole at like 38. I watched this woman take it in, she sat there quietly processing while the lawyers were talking and posturing. She was very still and very quiet for a long time. Then she spoke...she asked “if I testify and he is convicted how long would he get?” The prosecutors said life with no chance of parole before he was 75. The woman grew quiet again. Her stillness took over the room and we all sat there in the uncomfortable stillness. She said, “I will testify so that I am sure that he will never get out and do this again to another woman.”
I was floored at her courage and her integrity and just her grit. She dug deep and found a place within her that was capable of sacrificing herself, her own sense of well being to prevent another woman from experiencing what she had just gone through. It was an amazing and dramatic day. Changed me forever.
So Rape is a NO!
But this also means, to me, a lot of other much less egregious conduct. It means not having an affair (emotional or physical), it means not looking to only satisfy yourself without regard for the other person, it means not using another to keep you from being lonely, it means not using sex in a selfish way.
There are so many ways we act out sexually from the relatively benign flirtations when you are not free to flirt (or the other person isn’t free to flirt) to the most severe, rape.
We can all do better here. I know I can. I have not been the most upstanding person in this category...doing harm more to myself than to others. Which is violative of this principle all the same.
Which brings me to my conclusion about Right Action...
“Believe in the integrity and value of the jagged path. We don’t always do the right thing on our way to rightness.” Cheryl Strayed.
We can all do better. We all know what Right Action is for us and we can all see that our actions interact with the actions of others...perhaps now more than ever. For me, one of the best uses of my conscientiousness is to use it to really examine how I act and then be willing to change the things I can. And it all starts with being willing to see my own actions as less than stellar...for me, what helps the most, is to recognize that hurt people, hurt people...even me.