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.


Dogen and No-Self

Many Zen Buddhists, or just Buddhists in general, know Dogen’s famous quote about “studying the self”. It’s a popular reminder of what Buddhism is all about. I’ve seen various translations in various books, but I have yet to see an example of a bilingual translation until now:

I always like to see translations like this, because I’ve learned to distrust English translations of Buddhist texts that don’t include any references to the original language.  There are a lot of bad Buddhist quotes and translations floating around, and even something simple as the Buddhist “nembutsu” or reciting the Buddha’s name, gets mistranslated a lot. More on that in an old post.

Anyhow, I digress.  Looking at Dogen’s original writing, a few things I noticed as a language nerd:

  • Since this was written in 13th century, not the 21st century, it uses more archaic Japanese.
  • Similarly, the spellings are different: instead of saying toiu, it is spelled toifu, though it was probably pronounced the same.
  • Not surprisingly, Dogen uses some obscure Zen-Buddhist terms that even the Japanese language site above has to provide footnotes for, such as Goseki (悟迹) which means the period after Enlightenment.

Anyhow, regardless of the language, this quotation is still one of the best in Buddhism in my opinion.  Even Buddhists have to pause and remember to take stock about why they’re practicing Buddhism.  Contemporary history is rife with examples of Buddhist teachers who went off the rails, and of course this can happen to anyone, so it’s good to remember why we practice Buddhism.  Dogen’s words are a good reminder for us all.

Harmful Speech

In Buddhism the appropriate way to speak is divided into four components: refrain from false speech, refrain from slanderous speech, refrain from harsh speech and refrain from idle chatter or gossip. The effects of harmful speech are not as immediately evident as those of bodily actions, so its importance and potential is sometimes overlooked. But if we stop and reflect, we will see that speech can have enormous consequences for good or for harm. Speech can break lives, create enemies and start wars, or it can give wisdom, heal divisions and create peace. If your words are not kind, compassionate, helpful or wise, then remain silent. #words #quotes #speech #compassion #buddhism #lamayesherabgye #motivation #inspiration #instagood #spiritual #innerpeace #mindfulness #love

A post shared by Yeshe Rabgye (@buddhism_guide) on

A wise Buddhist minister I know once told me that words are like toothpaste: once you get them out of the tube you cannot put them back in.

Even as recently as last week, as work stress has accumulated, I’ve caught myself blowing up at another coworker in frustration, and although everyone moves on and we keep the project moving forward, I am left with a continued sense of guilt over what I said.

The Buddha didn’t call it harmful speech for nothing…


This post was inspired by a recent post on Instagram by Buddhist teacher Karma Yeshe Rabgye:

Loving-kindness or “metta” (also translated as “goodwill”) is a really important concept in Buddhism and an actual form of meditation practice. This guide on Access to Insight provides a much more detailed explanation of what metta as a Buddhist practice means, but in particular I wanted to post this quotation:

Right at the start, the meditation of loving-kindness should be developed towards oneself repeatedly in this way: “May I be happy and free from suffering” or “May I keep myself free from hostility and trouble and live happily” (though this will never produce the full absorption of contemplation). It is by cultivating the thought “May I be happy” with oneself as example, that one begins to be interested in the welfare and happiness of other living beings, and to feel in some sense their happiness as if it were one’s own: “Just as I want happiness and fear pain, just as I want to live and not to die, so do other beings.” So one should first become familiar with pervading oneself as example with loving-kindness.

When people demean or dehumanaize others, and we all know someone who habitually does this,1 it almost certainly extends from a kind of self-loathing. A person is uneasy, and insecure about themselves, so they learn to put others down as a way of self-affirmation. People who really hate themselves in turn are openly hostile towards others.

The antidote to hostility isn’t more hostility, but goodwill.

But all of this should begin with oneself. Even momentarily pausing to wish oneself to be happy and free from harm from time to time can cool the fires of self-loathing and help break the repeating mental habits that one accumulates to criticize oneself.

1 If you don’t know anyone like that, chances are, it’s you. ;p

Tired of Sitting? Try Walking Meditation

Hello everyone,

My efforts at meditation have begun as far back as my teenage years, when the only thing I knew about Buddhism was Shunryu Suzuki’s book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. I’ve never been a particularly good meditator, nor a particularly dedicated one, but I have been able to keep up the practice off and on over the years.

These days, I am lucky to work at a place that has a “quiet room” of sorts, where I can often sit and meditate for 10-15 minutes a day, and usually 2-3 times a week.

But I was also recently inspired to take up walking meditation too after watching this helpful video by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo:1

Walking meditation something is something I’ve only seen in Zen, where it’s called kinhin (経行), but this practice is actually more universal in Buddhism, and just like sitting meditation, has various ways of doing it. The particular form isn’t so important, so long as you find something you can stick to.

I’ve always had a little trouble with seated meditation, because of occasional problems with my legs, or just general restlessness, so I tried walking meditation as shown in the video above and it was very nice. My home happens to have a central hallway downstairs that runs all the way from one end of the house to the other, so it works very well for walking meditation, especially at night when the kids are asleep.2

Anyhow, try out the video above, and if you’re already meditating, try branching out into walking meditation too. You’re not forced to choose one or the other. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to blend the two in your practice.

Enjoy and peace!

1 I can’t remember when or how, but I remember conversing a little online with Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo a long, long time ago. Anyhow, good to see he’s well and making videos. 🙂

2 so long as I don’t step on kid’s toys. Legos really hurt!