Four Kinds of Actions

Venue: Cantonese Cemetery Pavilion

During the time of the Buddha, people in the country of Jambudīpa (now India) were mostly followers of Brahmanism. The teachings were mainly about caste system, sacrificial rites and the universe. Some people found no satisfaction in this teaching and started to think about the higher meaning in life. Some went further to renounce the world and became “samaņa” or recluse, seeking spiritual knowledge and enlightenment. But not all samaņa shared the same view or practice. Some samaņa engaged themselves in spiritual debates, some practised meditation, while some purposely tormented themselves, thinking that it could dissolve their bad kamma.

In the Koliyan country, there were two ascetics named Punna and Seniya. Punna was an ox-duty ascetic while Seniya was a dog-duty ascetic. (They must have thought that through their current sufferings, they should have better future lives.) One day, they met the Buddha. After saluting the Buddha, each of them took turns to tell the Buddha how the other party was practising something which was so hard to do and went on to ask the Buddha what the other party would be in the next life. The Buddha told them to let it be and not to ask him those questions again. For the second time, they each asked the same question and for the second time the Buddha responded with the same reply.

However, after repeatedly being asked three times, (seeing that the time was right) then only the Buddha answered. According to the Buddha, when one perfected the dog-duty or ox-duty well, he will be reborn in the company of those animals concerned; if not, it will lead him to hell. There are two destinations for one who holds wrong view: hell or the animal realm.

On hearing that, the two ascetics burst into tears, for they had been practising something so useless for so long. They further pleaded to the Buddha to guide them. The Buddha told them to pay attention and He taught them the four kinds of actions and their results. Briefly they are as follows:-
1. Dark action with dark result
2. Bright action with bright result,
3. Dark-and-bright action with dark-and-bright result
4. Neither-dark-nor-bright action with neither-dark-nor-bright result. (MN. 57)

Dark action means any harmful action that is done out of an unwholesome mind. As a result of dark action, one may go to hell and experience painful feelings exclusively. Bright action may lead one to be born in a place where one experiences only happiness, similar to the kind of a high class deva. Dark-and-bright action may lead one to be born a human, or some kind of devas or some beings in the lower world, who experience both painful and pleasant feelings. Neither-dark-nor-bright action is the developing of the Noble Eight Fold Path and it leads to the exhaustion of actions and arahantship, thus producing neither-dark-nor-bright result.

When we cultivate wholesome thoughts, speech and bodily actions, we are doing bright action. In cultivating wholesome bodily actions, we just have to train in three things. They are: refraining from taking life, from taking what is not given and from sexual misconduct. In speech, we just observe four things –abstaining from false speech, divisive speech, abusive speech (words that hurt others) and from idle chatter. In thoughts, we just remember three things -do not covet the belongings of others, do not harbor ill-will and lastly, to uphold right views. [1] Just by this simple way of cultivating these wholesome thoughts, speech and actions, our life will be easier and easier each day. Our reputation will keep on growing, our self confidence shines, and when death comes, we will stay tranquil and the next destination will not be a bad one.

[1] There are two kinds of right view; one is worldly and the other is transcendental. Worldly right view is belief in the law of kamma and it moves one towards the acquisitions of merit while still going on in ‘samsàra'(chain of becoming). Transcendental right view is the view of one who understands the Four Noble Truth clearly and it brings one out of samsàra. Ref. MN117.

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