I have tried to translate some thoughts about it I wrote some times ago. Hard critic is like always wellcome.
Unwholesome done knowingly and unknowingly
The king asked: "Venerable Nagasena, for whom is the greater demerit, one who knowingly does evil, or one who does evil unknowingly?"
The elder replied: "Indeed, your majesty, for him who does evil not knowing is the greater demerit."
"In that case, venerable Nagasena, would we doubly punish one who is our prince or king's chief minister who not knowing does evil?"
"What do you think, your majesty, who would get burned more, one who knowing picks up a hot iron ball, ablaze and glowing, or one who not knowing picks it up?"
"Indeed, venerable sir, he who not knowing picks it up would get burned more."
"Indeed, your majesty, in the same way the greater demerit is for him who does evil not knowing."
"You are clever, venerable Nagasena."*
- Miln III.7.8
If we remember the lessons which we might have learned and heard, this display maybe seems to be strange. There are fewer teachers who would tell their students that a deed has also unwholesome results if done without intent. And here it is even pointed out and made to an issue.
At first it is important to understand the Buddhist ethic as clear and simply but as an over placed frame in regard of our normal and familiarly frame of rules in our society and in all our ordinary relations. Rules of a society serve the preservation and welfare of the society and therefore – in regard to the common understanding – only for the community and their accord subserve. If we know the flood of new laws and endless litigation, we also see that those rules constantly lead to controversies. The universal ethic precepts elate form such worldly frames and regard the welfare of all beings including the own as the measure of things. There are timeless and unchangeable ethic rules which point to the intention of actions rather then to the particular appearances as a result of a deed, results which might arises totally different in dependency of numerous other conditions.
In the measurement of changeable community rules, the attention is more directed on the supposable and common perceivable results. Mostly the deed is given something like finality and they are viewed as if they would not have immediate additional consequences after their setting. That makes deeds judge able without assuming deeper into the intention. Intentions are even for the own person only than visible, if one is very honest to one self and has been observed well (remembering). Although intentions flow a little into the evaluation of an action, they always have a grey area which is composed by the mindfulness of the actor as well as by the limited observability of the outward judge and forms its common appearance.
Buddhist mode of behavior measures therefore leadingly on intention, in contrary to society rules, which puts mostly eye sign on measuring the common and normal results (fact or “act”uality – a matter that is originated by an action) with all it’s common blurring and vagueness.
Now what is wholesome and unwholesome intention from a Buddhist view?
"And what is right resolve (intention)? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.
Those three intentions (right resolves) act counter wise to the three roots of all evil – the roots of suffering and are inseparable connected with each other to lead a successful practice. The resolve in renunciation, or maybe also called as resolve to modesty or to let go, counteracts greed. If it is spoken about freedom from ill will (hostility) it does not only regard beings, persons or groups but also for as real taken views and this resolve counteracts ignorance and opens the possibility to knowledge, to become acquaint. Harmlessness is the proximate protection against the suffering caused by hatred. All this three wholesome intentions are necessary to reduce suffering for other beings as well as for one self and demonstrate the Buddhist compassion. This compassionated attitude and the kind of acting resulting from it helps as basic work to clean the mind to an extend that one is able to view things as they really are and to gain with it the necessary insight about the nature of all phenomena.
Right intention (Resolve) is the second path factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, part of he Wisdom section and source from right view with it’s - for now – intellectual knowledge in regard of stress (suffering), the origin of stress, the possibility of cessation of stress and the necessary path to the cessation of stress. Out of this intention (mental action) the path factors of the virtue section origins, which describe the action in speech and deeds as well as the livelihood.
Mostly the practice bases on a vague understanding of ones mind and needs some orientation to get known with the processes between intention, its following action and the resulting effects. As the understanding of the Four Noble Truth and its kern, the Co-depending Origin is for the time being just an intellectual, we use the simple ethical rules are measurements and orientations which are from the beginning a protection and present for one self and all beings in this world.
A laypracticer takes with the refuge to the teachings of the Buddha - the refuge to Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha - regularly a set of five ethic precepts (abstain from taking live, abstain from speaking untrue, abstain from sexual misconduct, abstain from taking intoxicants) and does not only try to keep them, but – more important – seeks to understand and observes them in their simplicity and deepness. The training in keeping those precepts is therefore a important practice to learn to be mindful and to get in touch with the intentions which are the forerunner of actions.
Even it is in most Theravada tradition usually, to define this set very exactly and expand it till the 227 rules of full ordinate Bhikkhus, it easily runs into hypocritical conventions and simply literally observance which again just cares about “actualities” (here sometimes the intention as a creative reality) but less about the mind training and the observance of intentions and their origin. With the use and collection of intellectual knowledge – often a tool for excuses – one easily cuts off his nose to spite his face.
So for expample traditional are five factors mentioned which lead to the break of the first precept (abstain from taking life:
pano — presence of a living being.
panasaññita — one knows that it is a living being.
vadhacittam — the intention to kill.
upakkamo — the effort to kill.
tena maranam — the resulting death of that being.
If we compare this with the introductive Sutta – a unknowingly done unwholesome action weights heavier as a knowingly done unwholesome action – it would be easy to assume a antithesis. Over more the listing is a even a great soil to continue doing bad things.
Here it is referred, that if one kills without intention or unknowingly, one does not break the precept (does not break the precept! There is no reference to karma and its effects). If so, our world would be quick healed in a way that everybody would just run around very naively, ignorant and untaught. Who likes to kill? One does only like to gain benefit. We also know that actions done without being aware do have consequences and can lead to suffering. If we for example barge somebody undeliberately, it could be easily that he/she will be hurt by our action and it easily could be that he/she even seeks for retribution. Therefore it would be rather misplaced to regard such an action as an “unintended” action which does not have results (for one self).
In worldly judiciaries there is maybe a proper proverb in regard of this: „ ignorance of law does not protect against punishment”, and also a guiding principle in modern management: “Knowledge is an obligation to take responsibility and not an obligation to allocate on responsibility".
If we observe the process between intention and sated action more in detail, we might recognize that there is no action without intention. If there is no will, we could even not able to sit on a chair. On the other side we might recognize that there are countless actions with seem to be unintended, action we are mostly not aware of and which are a kind of side actions of our superior striving.
This seeming conflict in regard of actions done unknowingly might rest on one of two conditions: on an fundamental misinterpretation of what is wholesome and what is unwholesome, or better a lack of knowledge that there are wholesome and unwholesome actions; and on missing or defuse awareness or remembering.
In the first case, killing is not regarded as unwholesome as there are no wholesome actions as well. In this case one would later find no reason to reflect on the single factors leading to such an action. The situation of taking live is even not in an basic approach a matter of awareness. One simple does not recognize killing and hurting or does not account it as unwholesome but a unchangeable normality (if one has experience hurting already by one self). Out of this viewpoint, the simile with hot iron ball might become clearer and it is also understandable that consequences of such deeds (with clear ignorance) effect more heavily. (* One who does an evil deed and recognize it as unwholesome, might abstain form such deeds in the future as somebody who does not have such discernment. The later might therefore, out of ignorance, continue to set such actions for a long time and with it increasing his suffering as well as serving a fruitful soil of nutrition for the suffering of others.)
For example, somebody who is punished for a done deed but convinced that he has not done anything unethical will without fail suffer from this consequences as somebody who have done a deed with full awareness of its injustice. What we should not forget here is, whether the deed is done knowingly or unknowingly, both have their consequences. If we view it in the frame of our worldly justice, the punishment would be mostly the same.
The second case which is useable to rest on, is the present consciousness and I guess that this, in appointing the factors which lead to the violation of a precept, easily can be ignored or even leads to a stagnation of ones progress. Men tents to tinker notional ways of maintaining and continue his unwholesome habits in covering them in believed wholesomeness.
That all has much to do with the way of live and this days the human society has nearly beholden a way of live that does not care that much about intentions but orientates on “actualities”. There is just the intention to visible facts. Even there is today a general understanding that killing and hurting is unwholesome, the spiral of killing and being killed increased manifold through material orientation and the artificially bondage of productivity in the last centuries. Unwholesome is simple been outsourced and good suppressed: “We know it, but we are not aware of it” or “We are aware of it, but we do not know how to do different”
That this nevertheless has immediate impact for the individual is easy identifiable when we look at the dramatic high numbers of depressions and mental illnesses in the part of the “peaceful” society (affluent society). Not to speak about the significant indentation in our nature and environment. We do not live that peaceful as we might think and enjoy it often to forget the main roots greed and ignorance when we proof or intentions while following or comfortable habits uncritically. But we are not able to escape form the results, even thought smart outsourcing techniques. At this point it is maybe more understandable that a simple farmer who exactly knows that he kills for his livelihood, is mostly more lightheartedly as somebody how feels secure and nourishes from the unwholesome acts of others. No question that unwholesome acting – for example to nourish his family – also has unwholesome results but also has some accounts of wholesome intentions (for the welfare of others) in it. It is the ordinary worldly wheel of giving and taking, lose and win, the wheel that moves on through contrary acts. If this is made skillful and mainly unselfish, one can moves slowly upwards but the direction downwards is the usual.
Here a important sentence coming from economic thoughts, which might make the hidden red line more visible, is useful: “demand determines the marked (supply)”. This sentence is easy transformed into a Buddhist significance: Intention is the forerunner of action and so also for the result. What ever men maintain in his mind will – including all its necessary actions - appear on the market. Intention is not only the origin of becoming from things, it supports also to continue till reaching the wanted result. A result that decays even before it is finished and does not have any permanence.
It does not help us; it doesn’t bear wholesome fruits, if we mention a successful practice in just holding the intention of harmlessness high and forget about the other two resolves, and still using other things to be real happiness as excuse. Of course can a intensively deal with harmlessness while observing all circumstance at the same time lead to a better, but this approach can easily lead to frustration as one might not find an exit and the car constantly bits its tail. The fragmentation of the resolves also leads easily to struggle and disputes. We all know the daily new “insight” about causes of diseases or process problematic: “Waste separation is good”, “Waste separation has no results”, “Waste separation increases the energy usage” and so on, or “This preserving agent is morbiferous”, “…but this more” and “the third to expensive or not according the standards”, to point out some examples. Studies and polls are filling the colorful pages of our daily waste of time and the search for an easier solution.
But who dares to go that far to produce no waste and who dares to live without preserving agents? Things which seem more secure at this moment, things which imagine us comfort dominate our intentions long before the thought of wholesome or unwholesome. “We like to be and not decay”, as if we would support this in that way, as if we could become but do not decay.
Would anybody today venture to write his work by hand on an old paper? What does one think if he gets such a work handed over? Would the work be a different if it is printed on high glossy paper with the newest hard and software? What forces us to act in that way?
We can improve our acting also if we measure it by its „actualities“, if we do not forget to observe the intentions as well. In fact, there are three times (like Buddha once suggested his son) when we should reflect to avoid future dangers and lead a peaceful live without additional stress:
"Whenever you want to do a bodily action [the same with verbal and mental action], you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction... it would be a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then any bodily action of that sort is fit for you to do.
"While you are doing a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it.
"Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it... you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction... it was a skillful bodily action with pleasant consequences, pleasant results, then you should stay mentally refreshed & joyful, training day & night in skillful mental qualities.
- MN 61
Before we set an action we resort to our old experiences, while perform an action we resort on the very short timely experiences (we have from this action) and further we continue to observe the longtime effects after “ending” the action to be able to resort on more consciously experiences for future actions. In no way we orient our actions on speculations and assumption or give them more account as our own actual experiences. Even if we are at the end of our wisdom, the very important friends on the way, will support us and provide us his advices out of experiences and knowledge about the teachings of the wise and awakened ones.
Or ordinary acting is mostly on something like duty or promise orientated. Duties which lastly serve the resistance of our pleasantness and comfortably which are in fact not what they seem. There is just a: “If you like that, than you have to do this.” Even here it is just the intention the measure that makes it to a duty. Often there are promises which he put above our well knowingly heart.
To act wholesome of course bravery is also required, bravery to swim against the usuall habits; bravery to see, that in fact we do not need to do things even we tend to excuse much with it; bravery to follow a duty which is for the welfare of all and not just for the own, without referring to the standard measures of society; bravery in regard of limitless good will and compassion. Even our present decision can not change the flow out from past actions form or even drain away from today till tomorrow, the single decisions in the present are forming the future flow and – step by step – lead to more and effective freedom of choice.
Somebody performing an unwholesome action unknowingly is like a ownerless flotsam on the stream. In no way he is aware of drifting into decay but as long as he is on the surface he might feel more comfortable as somebody who is already a little aware. But time goes on and the results of actions follow everybody who is not escaped form the wheel of wandering on jet. A strong current does it make difficult, even impossible.
Fools of little wit are enemies unto themselves as they move about doing evil deeds, the fruits of which are bitter.
In reverence to the explanation of Venerable Nagasena to the King, the value of somebody who point out faults and gives true knowledge for the welfare of many and a long time, becomes clear:
Should one find a man who points out faults and who reproves, let him follow such a wise and sagacious person as one would a guide to hidden treasure. It is always better, and never worse, to cultivate such an association.
Let him admonish, instruct and shield one from wrong; he, indeed, is dear to the good and detestable to the evil.
Do not associate with evil companions; do not seek the fellowship of the vile. Associate with the good friends; seek the fellowship of noble men.
Dhp 76, 77, 78
(see also in AN 8.54]Dighajanu (Vyagghapajja) Sutta: To Dighajanu
the definition of admirable friend)
How ever it is usual that we feel very secure in or ignorance and rarely feel comfortable if we are disturbed in our ignorance. Who like to hear it that he does wrong and even harms others? Also here we can remember a folk proverb: “Knowing much causes head ache.” The head ache is conditioned because someone might know or understand what is going on around, but does not understand its truth and more over the way to escape from it.
Even trough the whole Buddhist practice is based on virtue, today one would find rarely essays and discussion about conduct and ethic in Buddhist communities.
Also here it seems that a promise or higher task is mostly placed above clear ethic. One is mostly busy to raise and maintain a group and to do so, one is more successful when abstaining from rebuke others in there way of live and to make it to an issue.
Buddhist practice rarely is offered as a way to peace but often sold as a way to pleasant feeling. Ethic is therefore a spoilsport and moral does not turn many to the needed collection boxes which maintain this illusion.
As we live in a time where ethic and moral is just something superficial, only less people have joy to get deeper into this issue. Starting from the beginning it goes against the habitual pleasures and comforts and the well known proverb, “What you don't know won't hurt you.” is as a protection of the higher places sense of being always well placed. But even one knows or not, it will have its consequences.
Ignorance of others should be a source of tolerance and compassion as a approach regarding them in one self, but not used as an excuse for our own actions. To hold wholesome acting high, even they are abnormal in our society and being be committed to, is a courage that serves the whole community. Much more then unwise compassion, which origins in attachments to persons and beings, it help in regard of general orientation and shows that the teachings of the Buddha are not just theoretical essays without living samples which are, like often stated, not up to date.
That talks about virtue under serval conditions are not pleasant is known by those how already have tried to rebuke somebody in this regard:
Why is a talk on virtues unpleasant to an unvirtuous?
A unvirtuous one hearing a talk on virtues becomes ill tempered, angry, retorts angrily and shows aversion. What is the reason? He does not see the attainment of virtues in him and does not experience joy and delight on account of virtues. Therefore to one without virtues a talk on virtues is unpleasant.
Why is a talk on virtues pleasant to a virtuous?
A virtuous one hearing a talk on virtues does not become ill tempered or angry, does not retort angrily or show aversion. What is the reason? He sees the attainment of virtues in him and experience joy and delight on account of virtues. Therefore to one with virtues a talk on virtues is pleasant.
Not without reason a monk, at least also for his own protection, is not allowed to teach the Dhamma if there are signs of aversion and respectlesness.
Generally there are two situations of respect with allow to teach people. In one case it is a respect out of fear or blind believe and the other a honestly gained and shared respect which has its origin out of observation and getting known by one self.
Both situation may transfer knowledge, wherever the second might end also in insight and discernment as the heart is mostly open in such a situation and a deep prove of the told can suddenly take place.
There is thus a head matter and a heart matter which are making a different. To gain a useful head matter an overdelivery or an observance which can be pondered intellectually. But to bring intellectual knowledge – which is very perishable – into true knowledge and insight the remembered of a teaching or knowledge needs to fall together with the own observation. Only if there it is seen by one self without doubt, we can call it real knowledge.
This is, no doubt, the point the point where the believed controversy between knowingly and intentionally actions fades away. From the moment when knowledge matures to insight and touched the heat, there is no more unknowingly action while there might be still a big amount of unintentional actions left.
With the reaching of the heart the meaning of mindfulness and alertness becomes clear. If there has been a unwholesome action, for example without aversion or intention to hurt, one would award this as a lack of mindfulness and carelessness and remember its danger. Actions out of unthoughtfulness hurt as well and also have their effects, but lead - if one recognize them – to a force to increase mindfulness to avoid there results.
Maybe it is good to bring a practical sample to transport the meaning in a different way. In our house there live many of those in subtropical countries well common “mini-geckos”. They run up and down the walls and seek hide in every small slit. One day I opened a door and saw one flatted stuck on the rabbet of the door post. If I did not know who it came this way, I was remembered that I am not always acting with most caution in regard to our fellow lodgers. If one sees things, it is possible to decide well and act according it. If one does not see, it is difficult. But what would hinder somebody to look more carefully if one knows the habits of his fellow lodgers. Carelessness also has it’s effects, even only impact on ones conscious sooner or later.
On another occasion I shut one of our iron sliding grid doors, which are not only a beloved place for the minigeckos but also minefields of guillotines when they move. To rock the door a little before closing (yes, yes those houses, those doors and fears and the bond to its habitats…) actually helps them to get in secure. While being haste and unthoughtfull I forgot to do so and had to face a young two centimeter tale gecko running without tail in searching to escape. As he disappeared in the grass, two parts of the small limb moved like in terrible pain in front of my eyes for some other minutes, till they stopped. Sometimes kamma rippes very fast and I guess I don’t need to tell how it felt after such an unmindfulness deed. If there is somebody who tells that unintentional actions do not cause results or do not violate precepts, then it could be just a formal expression or one moves on a very raw and stump surface. Such simple told theses do not have much connection with cause and effect.
I did not gave the Babygecko much chance to survive but it happened on the following day, that I saw him rushing across the room in front of my feet. I guess it is also not necessary to explain the feeling of joy. But this wasn’t really caused by the heedlessness acting of cutting of the limb but more of the knowledge of what is an unwholesome deed and maybe the reaction of realicing such a deed.
Usually we do not take care what we are doing but have just certain single aim in front of our eyes which we regard as making us happy if we reach them, and as soon as we got them we search for the next target but one after the other impermanent, never the own and lastly always unsatisfactory.
Not only that our ignorance about the nature of things moves us like slave driver from one moment to the other and from one birth to the next, it minders also our good situation to gain understanding. Our mind is full of defilements, full of barrier out of previous unskillful actions. Rarely we bare the remember on good deeds in mind nevertheless we have right now in this life, just in this moment the very rare chance to change things and to not only slow down the flood of the stream of past actions but even turn it for the first time into the other direction or even bring it to an end.
Virtue is the base to gain wisdom and insight and that is the requisite to set the stream of wandering forth a finally end and awakes form ignorance. It might be that one gains some insight without the requisite out of past merits, even some pleasant moments but those old merits will consumed and the break out need a well filled wallet and is rare possible if one is caught in depts. Then it will be more difficult, much more then jet.
The fruits out of virtue are something everybody is all time able to observe. If one earnestly observes precepts one would also recognize how the mind naturally grows lighter and gets free from useless thoughts and twinges of conscience.
[Ananda:] "What, O Venerable One, is the reward and blessing of wholesome morality?"
[The Buddha:] "Freedom from remorse, Ananda."
"And of freedom from remorse?"
"And of joy?"
"And of rapture?"
"And of tranquillity?"
"And of happiness?"
"And of concentration?"
"Vision and knowledge according to reality."
"And of the vision and knowledge according to reality?"
"Turning away and detachment, Ananda."
"And of turning away and detachment?"
"The vision and knowledge with regard to Deliverance, Ananda."
— AN 10.1 (Nyanatiloka, trans.; from Path to Deliverance, pp. 65-66)
Everybody knows the joy that origins from righteously earned possession and many will know the joy of sharing such righteously earned possessions. But then one gives sweets and needs to think about the dentist, one give real assets and money and needs how ever to think on the moment when it is gone again. Drug addicted like to share drugs and gain short joy from it.
If there would be a possession, which would not cause suffering, is without fine prints but in opposite something that protects endless beings from suffering, how would it be to share even such a possession? …a different joy, something real special and real happiness?
We all have the possibility to gain such a possession and he even does not cost anything accept to give up our bad habits and our heedlessness. As invaluable such a possession is, as less it requires real victims and suffering.
If we have even the luck to be able to share such knowledge about wholesome deeds, then such a deed is real invaluable. But to do so, we need to gain its possession first righteously, as there are four kinds of individuals in the world:
Which four? The one who practices for his own benefit but not for that of others. The one who practices for the benefit of others but not for his own. The one who practices neither for his own benefit nor for that of others. The one who practices for his own benefit and for that of others. …
I would like to end this word with a citation of Ajahn Chah and wish everybody much joy while discovering, engrossing and implementing the highest virtue and an way of ease to the way to real peace and happiness.
The Heart Its Own Teacher
Each of us here is the same. We're no different from one another. We have no teacher at present — for if you're going to awaken to the Dhamma, the heart has to teach itself. If it doesn't teach itself, then no matter how much you have other people teach you, it won't listen, it won't understand. The heart itself has to be the teacher.
It's not easy for us to see ourselves. It's hard. So think about this a little bit. We've all done evil. Now that we're old, we should stop. Make it lighter. Make it less. There's really nothing
else. This is all there is. Turn your minds in the direction of virtue.
Ayu vanno sokha bala panna!
Useful additional Explaining:
The Healing Power of the Precepts