Sound Conduct

Last week, I started talking about the 4th of what I call the 4 Descriptors. I wrote:

For the next three articles, let’s look at the 4th descriptor, what is called the 8‑fold Path.

Each of the 8 paths is typically prefaced with “Right,” as in Right View, Right Vocation, etc. For purposes of our discussion, I’ll follow Glenn Wallis (I’m using his ideas for this entire series, as conveyed in the book, Basic Teachings of the Buddha.) He notes the language translation issue, and suggests that “Right” has the contemporary meaning of “correct,” as in right and wrong. He proposes using the word “sound,” as in “that which leads to the result we seek.” I agree. “Sound” it is!

The 8 can be put into three groups:

1. Understanding – Sound View, Sound Inclination

2. Conduct – Sound Speech, Sound Action, Sound Livelihood, Sound Effort

3. Attentiveness – Sound Awareness, Sound Concentration

About Conduct

First off, breaking the list of the 8‑fold Path into three is pretty common. However, there is variation between authors about what goes on which list. As with the language, as I noted above, I’m following Glenn Wallis’ categories and divisions in this series. Let me note, though, that “Sound Effort” as been known to appear under Attentiveness on other lists.


First off, the Buddha made it clear that he wasn’t particularly interested in offering up a list of things to do or not do. That being said, the present discussion comes from what is considered the Buddha’s first “sermon.” I suspect that he knew human beings all too well.

The wise crave inspiration, while the average person craves rules and permission.

Under the Sound Conduct category are 4 areas of concern.

This list became the basis for multitudes of rules and regulations for the discipline of monastic life. One of the nice things about Zen, and probably why I like it so much, is that the trappings and long lists are eliminated, and our preset topic could be reduced to one rule:

act consciously.”

As I noted above, we’ve decided to do three more teleseminars, and the topic this week (Wed. June 10, 8 pm eastern time) fits with today’s article. I’m discussing two themes: Noticing and Accepting.

Let’s think of it this way: last week, we talked about Understanding.

Now, the tendency in the West is to come up with more and more complex and elaborate theories, and then to bend our unadulterated experience to fit what we already believe. I proposed a Sound View and Sound Inclination that I described like this:

From this place of expansiveness, I can choose. I can engage, or I can step back. I can let go, or I can embrace. I can shut down, or open up. Nothing is right or wrong (the non dual part) and nothing is required, other than presence. I begin to see my life as a series of comings and goings, with no permanence to attach to. Things are as they are, and then they are something else.

In other words, we learn to take the workings of our mind as just another phenomenon.

Quoting Steve Hagen, in Buddhism is Not What You Think,

The upshot is that we don’t engage the world as it actually is. Instead, we react to the world as we assume it to be—or, worse, as we think or wish it ought to be.” p. 205


So, the Noticing part of living with integrity is to see, truly see, the games our minds are playing with the essentially meaningless life we are a part of .

Time and again, I see clients stuck in the morass of their reality not matching their desires, and blaming reality. And not noticing that this is what they are doing.

The way out is by accepting the reality of our short-sightedness.

Once you begin to actually notice how you are framing your existence, you can pull back a bit, have a breath, and get over yourself. The getting over is getting over the need to keep doing the stuff you’ve always been doing—choosing instead to live in accordance with a much more lightly packed understanding.

Sound Speech—one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was to moderate my mouth. I spent the first 30 years of my life being the sarcastic critic. I was a quick study, and seldom wrong about what I was seeing, and had a tendency to “not suffer fools gladly.” This, among other things, caused me an initial adrenalin high, followed by remorse. (You can read more about this in my book,This Endless Moment.)

Sound speech is the idea that the way we express ourselves ought to match our world-view, or understanding. If I profess peace, deep communication, and clarity, then whining, complaining, yelling, bullying, or blaming ought not to be things escaping my lips.

Because we do not notice, we tend to justify (as I did, for decades) our Unsound Speech by saying “Under the circumstances, what else could I do?”

Yet, here we are again.

There are no circumstances acting upon you. Not ever. Stuff is happening out there in the “real world,” and you are filtering the incoming data, and deciding (in a split second) what the thing means, and what to do about it. If you are committed to a particular path, you must realize your tendency to externalize, stop yourself, and act in accordance with your understanding. There can be no excuse for lapses. (see Sound Effort, below)

Now, this does not mean I cannot speak my mind. I do it here, every article, I do it with clients, and I do it with my nearest and dearest. What I do not do is take cheap shots, or speak in an intentionally harmful, cruel, or manipulative way. I say what I say with consistency, and clarity.

Sound Action—Following right along, we come to Action. Again, the operant principle here is, “Do no harm.”

In Buddhism’s The Three Pure Precepts, this is described as:

* Do not create Evil

* Practice Good

* Actualize Good for Others

Cool, eh?

Back to noticing. Remember, your tendency is to blame your internal state on external influences, and then to blame both for the out-of-control actions you perform. Once you notice this pattern, there seems to develop a gap between stimulus and reaction.

In other words, you gain a moment for a response.

Do not create evil—this is the first step. (They’re actually in logical order.)

Not creating evil is a process of stopping, which is often easier than starting something new. When I first got my mouth under my control, I did it by saying that I would no longer rip anyone a new one. The last time I slipped (April 1986, if you are curious) I saw (I noticed) the result as soon as my lips started moving, and I haven’t slipped since.

What I did, for a while, was shut up and said nothing.

This became a mantra for me, this “no evil” pledge. While I now talk quite freely, and push people hard, I do so not to punish or criticize, but to encourage. In a sense, I have taken myself out of the equation.

Practice good—stage 2 is to replace the “evil” with something “good.” Many of my clients are quite harsh and quick to blame others—lip-whipping anyone who crosses them. And, again, they are quick to justify their behaviour. So, the first step is to get them to shut up, and secondly to do something counter-intuitive.

The counter-intuitive part is this: your judging mind will be there until you die, squawking about how hard done by you are, how the other person doesn’t understand. You hear it (notice!) accept that this is what you are doing, and then head down the path you want to go.

So, if you say you want to communicate, and notice yourself coming up with excuses for doing so, you pull up, and simply ask yourself, “What do I actually want here?” You then implement that, as opposed to the knee jerk thing you were going to do.

Actualize Good for Others—stage 3 takes “good” to the next level. Practicing good is all about stopping yourself from being an idiot, and learning to practice what you preach. Now, the motivation shifts to being of service to others in their process of waking up.

Now, let me be clear here—this is not eating the burnt end of the roast.

I use that idea to talk about how people (mostly women) will sacrifice for others. They end up so busy rescuing others that they die without ever reaching 110 of their potential. The problem with this approach is that is not clean. It’s the ultimate in manipulation.

It’s the idea that if I am good, I’ll reap a reward, in the form of getting others to do what I want. So, the person stops griping and complaining, and tries “being selfless,” in the hopes that the people they are giving to will, I don’t know, let them move into the basement apartment when they get old, or something. (hey, Jim!)

Actualizing Good for Others, on the other hand, does what is “good” for the sake of doing what is “good.” There is no hidden agenda, no secret intent. And there is no “See how good I am being, rescuing others!”


Made you smile! I love my vocation!

Sound Livelihood—No, I don’t know what you ought to be doing with your life. What I do know is that whatever you are doing needs to fulfill you, while not harming others. The fulfillment part is, as usual, an internal sense.

What I mean is that if you do what you do in order to receive praise, money, or a sense of identity, you might want to Notice! what you are doing. You can tell that you have a livelihood problem if you think that what you are doing will eventually lead to satisfaction, as opposed to satisfying now.

As to the “no harm” part, nope, no list. You really have to look at this one, with a therapist, or teacher. But if what you are doing is producing a product or service that harms the health, well-being, or life of others, you might want to have a look. It is likely not OK to make your living, for example, getting people to spend their money on dubious products.

In Buddhist thought, karma is created by thoughts, deeds, and intentions. Karma is the Sanskrit word for action. Nothing more. It’s not the Christian idea of rewards and punishments. It’s about cause and effect. If you push something, it moves. If you rip someone off, you set in motion a loop that brings around the “vibe” of that action, and you get smacked.

Best to make your way of earning a living exactly mirror the depth of your understanding.

Sound Effort ties it all together.

Sound Effort—None of this means anything if all you do is think about it. Every part of this process revolves around doing what you say you will do. Anything else is hypocritical. Thus, we move from endless thinking about how things will be once I figure all of this out, to actually doing it.

I’ll end with a story. A few years ago I was a participant at a Come Alive, at The Haven. Part of this course is to practice the Communication Model. This is pretty easy for me, as I’ve been doing and teaching it for decades. My partner for the exercise was this sweet little lady. We both had a go at it. She said, “I’ve been taking communication courses for 2 years, because my son is now a teenager, and I need to talk with him well.”

I asked her how it was going.

She looked confused, then said, “Well, I haven’t tried it with him yet. I don’t want to get it wrong.”

I suggested that she’d done a great job with me, and that maybe talking with her son while he as still home was a good plan.

In other words, if what I write here, makes sense to you,
stop agreeing with me, and go do it.

End of story.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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