The Ten Unwholesome Deeds in Buddhism

The basic foundation of Buddhist practice is not so much meditation but conduct. People might be surprised when I say that, but if you look at the Buddhist sutras, the Buddha spends a lot more time dispensing advice about personal conduct than he does meditation. This is not to deny the importance of meditation too, but I would argue that Buddhist conduct is the foundation that meditation rests upon, not the other way around.

The most basic, universal code of conduct in Buddhism is the Five Precepts. These are personal vows that disciples undertake and (in varying degrees) uphold.

But another, more comprehensive code of conduct that the Buddhist spoke about was the Ten Unwholesome/Ten Wholesome Deeds. These are a list of ten unwholesome deeds (mental, physical and verbal) and the opposite deeds that are considered wholesome.

One of the best explanations of the Ten Unwholesome/Wholesome Deeds is in the Saleyyaka Sutta (MN 41) of the Pali Canon.

In summary, the Wholesome Deeds are:

  1. Abstaining of taking life, or causing others to take life.
  2. Not taking what is not given to you.
  3. Abstaining from sexual misconduct.1
  4. Abstaining from false speech, only tell the truth.
  5. Abstaining from malicious or divisive speech (i.e. backbiting, sowing discord, etc).
  6. Abstaining from harsh speech (i.e. verbally abusing others).
  7. Abstaining from frivolous speech.2
  8. Abstaining from envy.
  9. Abstaining from ill-will towards others.
  10. Abstaining from distorted views.3

Unlike the Five Precepts, these are not vows you undertake. The Buddha is just giving general about how to live a more peaceful, trouble-free life and can probably look forward to a more positive rebirth in the next life.

1 As explained in the sutra:

he [who abstains from sexual misconduct] does not have intercourse with such women as are protected by mother, father, (father and mother), brother, sister, relatives, as have a husband, as entail a penalty [alternate translation: “as protected by the law”], and also those that are garlanded in token of betrothal.

2 Mainly this means talking about things that are pointless or stupid, or as the Buddha puts it:

[he or she] tells that which is seasonable, that which is factual, that which is good, that which is the Dhamma, that which is the Discipline, he speaks in season speech worth recording, which is reasoned, definite and connected with good.

3 Again, in the Buddha’s words:

He has right view, undistorted vision, thus: ‘There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed, and there is fruit and ripening of good and bad kammas, and there is this world and the other world and mother and father and spontaneously (born) beings, and good and virtuous monks and brahmans that have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declared this world and the other world.’

To me, this means appreciating the Dharma and the fact that all conduct has an effect on the world, and oneself.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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