While every religion has a variety of ways of learning about harmful actions, here we will study a simple approach known in Buddhism.
Among his many other ways of teaching about this subject, the Buddha taught that there are ten non-virtuous actions. This does not mean that these ten non-virtuous actions are the only wrong actions. So for example, in this list of ten, he does not mention taking drugs, or drinking alcohol, or beating your children. These actions are still wrong, they are still harmful, they just do not happen to be in this list.
This list examines fundamental psychological axioms that we need to understand. The first three are considered to be actions of body. Buddhism tends to look at the potentials for Karma as emerging in three ways: physically, verbally, or mentally. Buddhism studies action of our:
“What is karma that you have done? An action that you have thought about or that you have set into motion either physically or vocally.” —Yoga-carya-bhumi
These are three doorways through which we utilize energy. But again, do not think that these are the only ways to create Karma. This is just a model to help you get on your way towards analyzing yourself, but these do not include everything. As a matter of fact, these ten non-virtues are generally studied after somebody has already taken other vows, such as, do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not have sexual misconduct, do not take intoxicants, etc. So these ten non virtuous actions come after that.
In Buddhism, the first non virtuous act is called killing. We tend to interpret this as the act of murder, which of course, creates a lot of harm.
To kill a physical body is a grave crime. Yet, killing is not merely related to the physical body. We can kill with a word. We can kill with silence, because we can kill not merely the body, but the spirit. We can kill someone’s mind. We can kill someone’s heart.
To kill is to take someone’s life, to take the life of another being. In the scriptures it is stated that this is a right reserved only for God. Depending upon the religion or tradition you study, that right may be further elaborated. For example, there are what we call angels of death, which are Devas or Buddhas who are responsible for ending the life of creatures. In this case, killing is not a crime, it is their job, their duty, and it is performed with love. Likewise, there are cosmic executioners whose job is to kill, as punishment, and as compassion.
In Kabbalah, killing is the domain of the sephirah Geburah (literally, “severity”) in the Tree of Life. Each sephirah is a world, an energy, a psychological aspect, and much more. Geburah is the sephirah of justice, and it is ruled by the angel Samael. This is why the mystical scripture The Zohar says that the powerful angel Samael is the angel of killing. The Angel Samael has the right to kill in accordance with karma, in accordance with the law. There are many great masters, great teachers, great illuminated prophets, who acquire this right. The great masters David, Solomon, Padmasambhava, Quetzalcoatl, and others—in accordance with the law of karma—were able to kill without accruing any debt. We are not at that level. We do not have that right. But, we think we do.
Most people think, “I have never killed anyone, so this does not apply to me.” I am sorry, but it does. Our society is as it is because of who we are as individuals. All of us share in the karma of killing. Which civilization, which country on this planet is responsible for the most wars and killing? Which civilization, which country on this planet is spending the most money developing and perfecting the art of killing? The United States. The vast majority of the money that comes out of the United States is spent on the act and the art of killing. Why? There are a lot of “reasons,” a lot of “justifications.” Some may be good, some may be not. But it is an undeniable truth, and all of the citizens of the United States are participants in that killing, in some form, at some level, whether through active participation or through apathy, everyone contributes. None of us, in any part of the world, are innocent.
Many of us are being trained daily in the art of killing. Most television shows for the last few decades are about killing. Those who watch television are trained daily in how to murder. Media celebrates criminals, murderers, serial rapists, gangsters, war, and all of us indulge in these movies and TV shows, and think, “It is just entertainment” without realizing that information is going into the brain and is teaching us how to kill. Is this what we need to learn? What will be the consequences of a society that loves to watch death and killing, and the many “creative” ways there are to harm one another? Remember: cause and effect. If you teach generation after generation of children how to use weapons, how to handle guns, how to shoot, how to stab, what will be the result? Peace, serenity, a golden age? Or war and killing? No peace ever came from killing. Killing only creates more killing.
What about video games? Have you noticed that the most popular video games are always games about killing, with extreme violence? Our children are spending hours and hours teaching themselves how to kill: to enjoy it, to indulge in it. Again, there may not be a physical act, but there is a psychological environment that is being created.
If we wonder why there is so much violence in the United States and North America because of guns, the people who live there have to look to themselves for the cause. If we wonder why there is so much violence in the Middle-East and Africa because of guns, the people who live there have to look to themselves, not blame other countries, but look to themselves. The causes are within us.
We kill others with our sarcasm, which is a form of verbal violence.
We kill with our anger and resentment.
We kill with our greed, when we refuse to share our wealth or resources with others.
We kill with our silence, when we do not speak to protect the weak or suffering, or to point out crimes.
We kill spiritually when we prevent others from receiving the true teachings, or when we spread false teachings. There are millions of people with very good intentions who are killings souls right now, because they are spreading spiritual lies.
Our desires cause us to kill in many ways. If we become fully conscious of our actions and their effects, then we can stop harming others. But for this, we have to change our behaviors in a radical way.
In regard to stealing we tend to think of a thief wearing a little black mask around his eyes who sneaks into a house at night to steal jewels. Yes, that is stealing, but that is relatively rare compared to the kind of stealing that we all do every day. It is a crime to steal energy, attention, ideas, the truth. We steal in many ways, not just by taking a possession. We may take away someone’s identity. If you have ever had a dream that someone steals your driver’s license, passport, or wallet, that means someone in the physical world is criticizing you, harming your image, taking away your identity, making you look bad. When we criticize, gossip, lie, point out defects of others, and otherwise calumniate or bring someone down, we are stealing their social image from them. This is wrong. Why do we do it? Because of our pride, resentment, and envy.
Samael Aun Weor wrote that the true spiritual aspirants are always surrounded by many people trying to destroy their image, accusing them of stealing money, of being a homosexual, a fornicator, an adulterer, a liar. Every spiritual aspirant, true spiritual aspirant faces this. Why does it happen? Because all the people in the spiritual community have envy, pride, fear, resentment. Those who spread gossip are stealing the reputations of others.
Deceit is a form of stealing. When you misrepresent something, you steal. What can we say about all these companies who make big promises and offer beautiful products for us to purchase, and then when we buy it, it is cheap junk, it does not work, or it breaks the day the warranty ends? This is deceit, it is stealing; it is wrong. How many companies or people out there genuinely want to make something that is really good and worth it and will last a long time?
Everybody is trying to get something for nothing. Nowadays, this is a big obsession: to get something for nothing, such as to win the lottery, which is, by the way, a form of deceit sanctioned by authority.
What can we say of people who are professional deceivers? Who are paid, who make their living by deceiving others? Some of us may be those people and we should carefully analyze what we do with our time. Many of us are paid to lie.
The third non-virtuous action—and we are still talking about actions primarily related with the body—is sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is a very vast topic, and the true importance of sex in spirituality has only recently been publicly revealed. The full teaching about upright sexuality can be found in books like The Perfect Matrimony and The Mystery of the Golden Blossom by Samael Aun Weor.
Sexuality is a necessary part of life. Sex is how life is created and sustained, and this is especially true in spiritual life.
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water [sexual energy] and of the [Holy] Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh [through common sex] is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit [through immaculate sexuality, as required in Leviticus 15] is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again [for everything that exists is born of sex, so must the soul be].” - Jesus, from John 3
Jesus taught sacred sexuality, but for two thousand years his teachings have been heavily edited.
Sexual misconduct is any misuse of sexual energy in our body, speech, or mind. Our modern society is constructed on sexual misuse.
Those who are serious about spiritual development have to convert their sexual power into a spiritual power. This can only be done when we understand and renounce sexual misconduct.
The most basic definition of sexual misconduct is fornication: the orgasm. To understand fornication, you have to study the secret teachings of any religion. No ordinary dictionary or exoteric teaching will explain the real meaning of fornication to you, because that aspect of the sacred teaching has been preserved in secret in order to keep it pure. Yet, there are hints in every scripture and religious text.
“A person’s approach to sexuality is a sign of his level of evolution. Unevolved persons practice ordinary sexual intercourse. Placing all emphasis upon the sexual organs, they neglect the body’s other organs and systems. Whatever physical energy is accumulated is summarily discharged [through orgasm], and the subtle energies are similarly dissipated and disordered. It is a great backward leap.” - Hua Hu Ching 69 (Taoism)
“When a man discharges semen, he must immerse his entire body in a mikvah [ritual bath], and [then] remain unclean until evening.” - Leviticus 15:16 (Judaism / Christianity)
“That which is called Brahmacharya [transformation of sexual energy] is regarded as the means of attaining to Brahma [God].” - Mahabharata (Hinduism)
“Flee fornication [orgasm]. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” - 1 Corinthians 6 (Christianity)
Sexual purity is a state in which the sexual energy is restrained, purified, and redirected, whether as a married or a single person. Sexual purity is a way of life observed by Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Krishna, Padmasambhava, and every great master. The teachings of sexual purity have only been given to those who have proven their ability to use it properly, thus the public has never heard of it. Instead, the public worships sexual misconduct, and will fight to the death to defend it, even though it is the primary cause of their suffering.
Sexual misconduct includes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and masturbation.
Sexual misconduct includes trying to have sex with your spouse when they are ill or not interested or against their will or when they are pregnant or menstruating. Having the sexual act in sacred places is wrong. It is wrong to have sex with children, prostitutes, renunciates. There are many ways we commit harmful sexual actions.
Pornography is sexual misconduct because it is a form of adultery. Jesus said in the gospels that when you look at a person with lust, you have committed adultery with them in your heart, thus in doing so, you have broken a commandment. But Jesus was not the only one to say that; the Buddha said it also five hundred years before Jesus.
“Commit no adultery. This law is broken by even looking at the wife of another with a lustful mind.” - Buddha
It is also in the mystical Hebrew scripture The Zohar.
“...it is prohibited for a man to look at the beauty of a woman to prevent him from acquiring bad thoughts and being torn into another thing [meaning semen will be torn from him and wasted].” - Zohar 33. Kedoshim:10
In every tradition, pornography, or looking at others lustfully, is defined as unethical. Sexual misconduct is not merely a physical act, it is in the mind and the heart.
Adultery is any act that corrupts something that was once pure. To adulterate means to change or corrupt something, to make it impure. We tend to think of adultery as just sex between a married person and someone else, another married person maybe. But no, not according to this doctrine, not according to any true religion. That is a form of adultery, yes, but not the fundamental form. The fundamental form occurs the instant we allow ourselves to have lust towards another person, even our spouse. Lust is a form of adultery; it brings impurity to the consciousness, it dirties the soul, it puts filth into the temple of God, which is within. Let us be clear however; this is not to condemn sex, because sex is natural and normal. Yet, it is only normal when that sex, that sexual act, that sexual emotion is illuminated with the presence of God, when it is pure.
The first three non-virtuous actions are related with the body. The next few are related with speech.
The fourth non-virtuous action is lying. To lie is possible even without speaking. We can lie with our silence, we can lie with a gesture, we can lie with a word. Moreover, we can cause others to lie, either for ourselves or to others when we affirm something that is not true.
What is the gravest form of lie? It is the spiritual lie. When we affirm something spiritual or religious that we do not know is true, we commit a horrible action whose Karma is extremely intense. For example: if we join a group, a spiritual movement, a religion, and we begin to preach and try to bring people into that religion but it is all a lie, whether we know it or not, we have accrued a very serious Karma. When you lie to the soul, you affect the inner Being of that person, you affect their spiritual development. This is an act equivalent to killing, because you kill the soul. For example: there are many groups and schools who are working very hard to spread degenerated spiritual teachings that encourage indulgence in desire, indulgence in lust, indulgence in the ego; they are committing a form of deceit of the most serious type, because they are affirming to the souls that follow them that desire and lust is okay with God. This is not true, and no authentic scripture in the world affirms it. This is an extremely serious crime whose consequences will reverberate far into the future, not merely with consequences in this lifetime, but in future lifetimes.
This is why it is such a serious step to become a spiritual teacher. If you have not experienced the results of a spiritual teaching, then you restrain yourself from spreading them until you do. Confirm the teachings completely, through experience. Then you can teach without fear, and teach with confidence. Too often we hear instructors repeating what others have said, or quoting from popular theories and beliefs, because they do not want to contradict what is popular or what people like. We have to teach the truth, but we first have to know what the truth is.
The next non-virtuous action is divisive speech. Divisive speech is related to actions in which we try to separate people from each other, or keep them separated. In some families, for example, there may be an argument and one sister will not talk to the other sister. If we get involved and say “You shouldn’t talk to her, she’s really bad, she shouldn’t have done that.” That is wrong. This behavior is very common in the workplace.
Some people love to split others into groups, to divide people, control them, and manipulate them. Usually, the people who do this appear quite innocent or as “martyrs” who seem to deserve our sympathy.
How can we be a spiritual person when we are trying to separate people from each other? Real spirituality is about bringing people together, cultivating harmony, mutual respect, tolerance, peace, not divisiveness and contention.
The gravest form of divisive speech is when it is performed in spiritual groups. In some scriptures, it is said that this is the worst crime of all crimes: worse than killing, worse than fornication, worse than adultery is the crime of divisive speech in the spiritual community. Some say it is worse than the crime of killing a Buddha, so it is very serious. Yet, everyone is doing it. Anytime someone is making statements like, “That group is no good, you should stay away from them. They are bad people. They are not true to the lineage. They are not true to the master. They are merchants in the temple. They have left the path. They are not serious. They are all black magicians.” These are all forms of divisive speech and they are extremely serious problems. This is rampant in every spiritual tradition. Every group claims that their group is the only true and good group. It ridiculous to see all these different groups saying “We are the good ones, not them!” This is all lies. Let me tell you something: there are no good groups, not on this Earth. Do you want to find a good spiritual group? Then go to heaven: visit the internal worlds, bow at the feet of your inner Master, then you will find a good group. In the physical world, it is impossible to find a good spiritual group. All of us here have too much ego. All of us here are liars, cheats, adulterers, murderers, and fornicators, without exception. Everyone who says otherwise is a liar. These so-called leaders who claim to be illuminated ones or incarnations of “master so-and-so,” they are all liars. The real master we need to follow is within. The real group we need is within.
Divisive speech is a major crime because it separates the Sangha, the spiritual community. It empowers the ego. When groups are divisive, split, and separated into many different small factions and not united, they are weak. How can they fight if they are weak? How can they work for humanity if they are all separated and fighting with each other because of politics, gossip, rumors, and pride? They cannot. This is a problem that Paul wrote about in the years after Jesus. It was a problem then, it is a problem now. Gossip, rumors, pride, divisive speech, all of this interrupts the efforts of the Divine to help us.
The sixth harmful action is offensive speech. Offensive speech encompasses a wide variety of actions. Speaking critically of others, condemning others, attacking others, even attacking ourselves can be offensive. When our hostility, malice, and anger are coming out through our words, whether written or spoken, or even in our silence, it is offensive speech.
I once visited a spiritual instructor’s home with a group of other people and we were all having a very pleasant conversation, when suddenly the wife of the instructor came in the room and the whole tone of the room changed. When I looked at her, she did not say a word, but she was raging with anger. It affected everyone. It interrupted the entire purpose of our gathering. This was an example of offensive speech through silence. You see, she had a lot of resentment at some of the people that were gathered there and she was unwilling to transform it. I understand that and I feel bad that she made this mistake because it is going to affect her later if she does not deal with it.
Offensive speech is any means of communication that creates hostility or pain.
The seventh harmful action is senseless speech. We tend to think of “senseless” as words that have no meaning, but this action relates to speech that is senseless in terms of spirituality. For example, we spend hours talking about sitcoms or about celebrities, about our neighbors private lives, etc. That is senseless speech.
Any means of communication that has no spiritual value is senseless speech. You do not have to speak it, you can indulge in it mentally. Reading magazines is senseless speech. Television is senseless speech. Most of the internet is senseless spiritually and creates harm.
Talking about things that are a waste of time is senseless speech. Gossip is senseless speech. “Did you hear that story? Did you hear what such and such person did? I cannot believe it, is it true?” Swami Sivananda has a very colorful phrase to describe this harmful action: “diarrhea of the tongue.” Senseless speech is marked in those people who cannot control their tongue, who are always going on, “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,” all day long. A person like that cannot meditate. That tongue is showing what their mind is doing. If you want to control your mind and have serenity of mind and enter into calm abiding, control your tongue. James said in the Bible:
“...the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
“And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” - James 3
If you want to know more about your tongue, study the Book of James in the New Testament. He gave a very beautiful, profound teaching about the tongue.
Talking about things that do not contribute to spirituality or our wellbeing is considered senseless speech. We need to talk a certain amount about our jobs, school, educating children, feeding ourselves, taking care of our lives. This is not senseless speech, these are important things that need to be talked about and discussed. Ethical speech does not mean that every time you open your mouth you have to talk about scripture. It means when you open your mouth, you talk consciously, and you know what you are saying and why you are saying it.
The remaining non-virtuous actions are related with the mind.
The eighth non-virtuous action is covetousness. Samael Aun Weor said that envy is the secret trigger of all action in the world. When we analyze what is happening with our governments, with big companies, with our family members, with ourselves, we can pretty much always find envy.
Envy is to want what someone else has. We want that car, we want that job, one country wants the resources of another, wants the respect of another, one family member wants the money of another, the love that another one gets. Envy is when we want something that is not naturally ours. Envy always says, “I want it. I deserve it.”
Envy is common in relation with material things. “I want money, a spouse, a better place to live, a big house, an island.” We have a list in our mind, probably since we were children. I will give you a little secret: Burn your list. You will have peace when you have no covetousness, when you are content with what the Divine has given you.
“...as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.” - 1 Corinthians 7:17
We are all scratching out a living trying to get more and more and more. Why? Because we have not comprehended death. We have not understood that we are going to die and all of those things we are working so hard to get will be useless. Why spend years and years struggling so hard to get something that, in the end, we have to give up?
When a desire emerges in you, reflect: “What will this fundamentally change for my soul? What will this change about the moment I am dying?”
Have you meditated on the moment of your death? Sit and imagine it. Do not hide from it, do not run from it. If you avoid death, when it comes you will be unprepared, and you will die in a panic and afraid, and those energies will affect your transition. But if you prepare every day for death, it will not come as a surprise, you will be ready, and you will pass into that transition with happiness, contentment. The true spiritual aspirant prepares for death every day. The true spiritual path is a path of dying from moment to moment, preparing for death. If you are doing that, what is there to be attached to? Why do you really need more shoes or more pants or that new computer, or to redecorate the whole house? There is nothing is wrong with those objects, what is wrong is our attitude and our enslavement to attachment.
Attachment is the key factor of covetousness. The state of our world is because of this envy. Yes, we have killing, we have lying, we have deceit, we have divisive speech; we have all those things but the key to suffering on this planet is covetousness. No one is content with what they have, and they want what the neighbor has. Because of envy we kill our neighbor, we lie about our neighbor, we deceive our neighbor, we go to war.
Here are some examples that you can look for in your mind: “How nice if I were the one in charge.” You might think, “That does not sound like covetousness to me, it sounds like pride.” But it is covetousness. How else will we get the idea unless we are trying to get it from someone else? We see the boss who is in charge, “Look at that nice car he drives, everybody respects him, they bow at his feet when he walks by, everybody salutes the guy in charge, I want to be that guy.” That is covetousness. This applies spiritually, too. A lot of people want to be the master who all the students bow to. Why? Not to benefit the students, but to get the praise, to feed pride, to hide from their fear.
“How nice to have the wife of so-and-so, to have their possessions? How nice if I could eat that food?” This is all covetousness.
“How nice if others knew me to be humble, to be compassionate, to be wise?” Every spiritually inclined person has thought that. “I hope everybody can see me as a spiritual person, very humble.” That is covetousness. That is not true spirituality.
When you want something from someone else, when you are attached to how people see you, when you want their attention, when you want their respect, it is covetousness.
“How nice if people in high places respected me?” Some people think, “If everybody respected me, even celebrities would respect me, even politicians would respect me.” That is covetousness.
“How nice if I could be reborn in Nirvana (heaven) with powers and servants.” Covetousness.
“How nice if I had the ability to go in the astral body. How nice if I was a master of Samadhi.” Covetousness.
We should not covet what we do not have. If you want something different, analyze that want, and give it to God. This does not mean that you sit back and wait. There is a great quote from the Muslim tradition: “Pray to Allah but tie your camel to the post.” There is another one I like even better, I do not know where it comes from: “Pray to catch the bus, but run like hell.”
We have to give up our desires, analyze our wants, but we also have to work for what is right. Some people say, “If I accept what God has given me, does that mean I do not have to work? Does that mean I should quit my job? If I am not supposed to worry about my clothes and paying my bills and eating, should I just stop doing anything?” No, because if you do not do anything, you will starve. You have to work, you have to act, you have to be prudent, you have to be intelligent. But, you should accept what you are given, and curb your desires.
The ninth non-virtuous action is called harmful intent, or malice. This is any desire or any thought or action directed towards causing harm for others. Our anger wishes others to suffer. We imagine our enemies suffering. We imagine our boss getting fired. We imagine our spouse getting a divorce and being miserable because we left her or him. We imagine our parents suffering in loneliness because of our resentment to them. We imagine our friends missing us because we do not call them back. We imagine our coworkers confused because we do not speak with them. These are all malice; they are the intent to harm.
Any attitude of hostility is malice. It is very common now to find an attitude of hostility in people. How rare is it to find sincere kindness? How easy to find hostility?
Impatience with others is a form of hostility, malice. When we become impatient, we become angry, we want others to serve us, especially when we are hungry. Impatience is hostility. When you have that thought, imagining, “I wish that person would just go to hell.” That is malice, that is harmful intent. Directing curse words at another, even just in the mind, is harmful intent. That is the opposite of compassion.
How interesting it is that we speak and think without cognizance of what we are saying. We say to people, “Go to hell.” Or we say “I’m going to kill you.” “I could have killed her.” We do not think about what is behind those words. The personality thinks, “It is just a phrase that we toss around nowadays, it does not mean anything.” Then why do we say it? What is behind it? What psychological element is behind those phrases? We should analyze those tendencies.
The tenth non-virtuous action is wrong views, ways of seeing life that keep us doing wrong things. In other words, until we awaken consciousness, our entire way of being is a series of wrong views.
Right view is a conscious perception of reality that sees not only the fundamental nature of existence, but also sees everything with profound compassion, kindness, wisdom, and intelligence. Right view is the way an angel or Buddha sees. To acquire that type of vision is only possible when every atom of impurity has been removed from us.
Primarily, for our perspective at this moment, wrong views include to be ignorant of the reality of death. To be ignorant of the reality of cause and effect. To be willfully ignorant of the reality of a higher life. Many of us willfully ignore these truths. Many people, when they encounter this type of teaching, cannot bear it. It stimulates too much pain in the heart, it stimulates too much doubt in the mind, too many conflicts, and so they prefer to ignore it. This is to willfully ignore something that is fundamentally true.
Wrong views include any attitude that delights in wrong action. Any attitude in us that indulges in lust, that delights in pride, that delights in gossip, that delights in killing, that delights in stealing; these are all wrong views.
Any attitude or point of view that fails to recognize the truth of our situation is a wrong view. When we fail to be conscious of the needs of others or ourselves, that is a wrong view. When we fail to remember the Divine from moment to moment, that is a wrong view.
Right view is a conscious perception of reality.