4

When somebody asks if it's OK for a Buddhist to do this or that, different answers may be given:

  • It goes against n'th precept
  • It is an unwholesome action
  • It will produce bad kamma
  • It will cause rebirth in hell
  • Anything else? If there is something more, please let me know.

Other possible answers may include:

  • It does not break any precepts
  • It is a wholesome action
  • It will produce good kamma
  • It will cause rebirth in heaven
  • It will lead to nibbana/enlightenment
  • Anything else? If there is something more, please let me know.

I wonder which of these things are completely equivalent (e.g. is an unwholesome action exacly the same as an action that produces bad kamma?), and if there is a gradation of these things (e.g. is breaking a precept worse than an unwholesome action that doesn't break a precept?).

2

I don't think there is a gradation where the quality of the action itself is concerned. All actions are always either kusala or akusala.

  • kusala: skillful, wholesome, good, meritorious
  • akusala: unskillful, unwholesome, bad, demeritorious

As people, though, we will always feel compelled to judge and compare actions. Stealing from the cookie jar is not as bad a stealing a car. Killing a fly is not as bad as killing a bird. But these distinctions are mind-made: in the end there is just kusala and akusala.

Now, whether there is a gradation tied to the kamma produced by any given action is an entirely different question (to which I have no answer, but I'd guess that there is a correlation between kamma and quality of the action).

is an unwholesome action exacly the same as an action that produces bad kamma?

Yes. Without mincing words, both of these are two sides of the same coin.


(Also, in your two sample lists, you could also mention that an action could go with or against the Noble Eightfold Path.)

1

My opinion is that there is no such gradation. Actions begin with a thought or Chēthanā. These are the seeds that determines the eventual actions. So if our Chēthanā are pure it will lead to pure actions. If they are impure, the actions will be impure.

Verse 1.

Suffering Follows The Evil-Doer Mind precedes all knowables, mind's their chief, mind-made are they. If with a corrupted mind one should either speak or act dukkha follows caused by that, as does the wheel the ox's hoof.

Verse 2. Happiness Follows The Doer of Good

Mind precedes all knowables, mind's their chief, mind-made are they. If with a clear, and confident mind one should speak and act as one's shadow ne'er departing.

-Treasury of Truth , Ch.1 ("Twin Verses)

Hence, as these verses quite clearly justifies, thought precedes all actions. Since thoughts cannot be graded, it is more so the quality rather than the quantity of the thought that really matters.

Forget all the jargon that comes with the precepts and rules. Follow your heart. Ask yourself truly, at the very point of thought, "Is this what I really want to do? Does this go against my self conscience and pure gut feeling? Does the action that comes with this thought hurt me, others and both above mentioned parties?" . If the answers are satisfying, then put that thought into action. It will bring good.

Life is not like a game of basketball or cricket where a judge keeps score. It all comes from the strength of the thought itself. If your thought is strong enough, you can even attain higher Pāramitās or 'states of perfection' which are stepping stones to Nibbana.

1

The question illustrates emptiness.

Our habits only want us to quantify absolutely, we want to grasp at something concrete, but this habit is futile due to dependent arising.

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