Not by Birth, but by Action:
of Actions and Deeds
Sakyamuni Buddha emphasized the importance of action. He specified
three different modes of action called the Three Karmic
- the action of the body
- the action of the mouth
- the action of the mind.
The actions of the body are what
we typically consider as action: behavior with a physical
component. We can point at the result of these actions and
claim, "I did that." The
actions of the mouth involve activities we would identify
as vocalized speech. The motives found behind that speech
are also considered in this mode of action. Motives include
but are not limited to efforts to clarify, console, excite,
mislead, confuse or dominate those we address in our speech.
The actions of the mind include all thoughts and intentions.
Because of the emphasis on actions, practice took
a primary role in the understanding of the Buddhist path.
It was through practice that one was able to remove the fetters
that kept one bound to the world of birth-and-death, the
world of samsara, the world of suffering. Buddhism
was described as the three pillars of Teaching, Practice
and Enlightenment. One
first studied the teachings and performed different practices
based on those studies. Through perfecting the practices
associated with one’s learning, one achieved Enlightenment
and became a Buddha. Even now, in distinguishing between
the different schools of Buddhism, one is often asked, "What
is your practice?"
Practice with Teaching emphasized that actions
were founded on the wisdom of a Buddha.
Prefacing Practice with Teaching emphasized
that actions were founded on the wisdom of a Buddha. For
example, we are constantly performing actions and are therefore
practicing certain behaviors. Unfortunately, the behaviors
we tend to practice do not lend themselves towards achieving
Enlightenment. Instead of being based on a Buddha’s wisdom
our actions tend to be motivated by the Three Poisons: greed,
anger and ignorance.
A Buddhist monk of the early fifth century
named Vasubandhu helped to develop the Yogacara school of
Buddhism. Yogacara strives to help us to understand the importance
of our actions (Karma). An oversimplification description
of what the school teaches follows.
... teachings encourage us to act the way
a Buddha does, speak as a Buddha speaks, and think
like a Buddha.
Our karmic acts—our actions—help
to define who we are in the following way: the more we do something,
the better we get at doing it and the easier it gets to do.
In our everyday lives we discover that we tend to practice
how to be greedy, how to be angry, and how to be stupid. We
tend to hoard, we lash out and abuse people and we hurt ourselves
and others. We tell people how wonderful it would be to posses
something, we shout at people in our complaints, and we say
how everything is okay even when we might be feeling that things
are getting out of control. We tell ourselves that all we have
to do is possess one more object and we will be happy, we make
a mental note of how unfair a person is and vow never to
deal with them again, and we tell ourselves that if we are
unhappy, it is the other person’s fault. None of these actions
have the wisdom of a Buddha. The Yogacara teachings encourage
us to act the way a Buddha does, speak as a Buddha speaks,
and think like a Buddha. Unfortunately, it is very difficult
for us to give up the world we have created for a world that
none of us have really seen. Shinran Shonin, the founder
of Jodo Shinshu, is quoted in the Tannisho as
"It is hard for us to abandon this old home of pain,
where we have been transmigrating for innumerable kalpas
down to the present, and we feel no longing for the Pure
Land of peace, where we have yet to be born. Truly, how powerful
our blind passions are!"