The Buddhist Eightfold Path is the guideline by which one can live a life that leads to enlightenment. The fourth of the Eightfold Path is right conduct or right action.

What is right conduct? Right conduct is living in a moral and ethical way in the absolute sense rather than by the standards of any particular time or society. All the major religions say that killing is wrong. Yet, even today, we see acts of war that lead to death being justified as necessary for the greater good. Buddhism teaches to look at the entire picture and decide what is right conduct. Buddhism also teaches that each individual has their set of perceptions so that when faced with a complex situation different decisions may be reached. A person who feels that any killing is wrong practices right conduct when they oppose such action. However, a person who sees the result of a war as the freedom from oppression and a way of ending the cycle of violence may also be said to be practicing right conduct. Acts of retribution and revenge are not right conduct since they prolong the karmic cycle of suffering. The true test of an action is whether it helps relieve suffering.

Another aspect of right conduct is the act of giving, known in Buddhism as “dana.” Dana is not simply an act of charity. Dana also includes the reason for giving. Many times people give because they feel they must. They concern themselves with what others will think or they are acting out of a sense of guilt. True Buddhist dana has no feeling before the act that this is what “should be done.” Nor does it have any expectation of even an acknowledgment of the act. Dana is giving or acting because it is the natural thing to do. Simply stated, if you think “I have done a good deed” then it is just that, a good deed, not true dana. There is nothing wrong with doing good deeds, however, Buddhism is about attaining the state of being in which acts of dana are your way of living.

Buddhism does not have a list of “shalts” and “shalt nots.” Rather, the teachings, or Dharma, provide guidelines by which to live. The Buddhist belief in an infinite wisdom and compassion, from which we all can draw, puts the responsibility on the individual to do what is necessary to attain enlightenment. A basic Buddhist teaching is that all living things want have an end to their suffering and have a desire to be happy. Buddhism teaches the idea of “oneness” of all things. We are not superior, in the absolute sense, to any other thing. Only when we recognize this and direct all our actions to the ending of suffering of all things can we be said to be practicing true right conduct.

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