The angle on behavior called "skillful" is interesting, manipulative, but interesting. I mean, an innocent person has no need for skill. The iChing, being a mathematical system, for instance, has 64,247 situations of wise advice. Would you do a piece listing five skillful behaviors for us please, in the typical style, perhaps just a sampling from your source? I am very curious how the advice is presented in English. Thanks.
Well, here's my best understanding in the matter: unskillful behavior, at its simplest level, describes actions—or patterns of action—whose results bring harm to myself or others. This passage from “The Wings to Awakening” might be more than the “sampling” Carly asked for and takes a good bit of reading, but I offer it as a serious answer to a serious question. It’s worth the effort. Here’s a small piece at the heart of what Thanissaro Bhikkhu has to say:
Anyone who has mastered a skill will realize that the process of attaining mastery requires attention to three things: (1) to pre-existing conditions, (2) to what one is doing in relation to those conditions, and (3) to the results that come from one's actions. This threefold focus enables one to monitor one's actions and adjust them accordingly. In this way, one's attention to conditions, actions, and effects allows the results of an action to feed back into future action, thus allowing for refinement in one's skill. By working out the implications of these requirements, the Buddha arrived at the principle of this/that conditionality, in which multiple feedback loops — sensitive to pre-existing conditions, to present input, and to their combined outcome — account for the incredible complexity of the world of experience in a way similar to that of modern theories of "deterministic chaos." In this sense, even though this/that conditionality may seem somewhat alien when viewed in the abstract, it is actually a very familiar but overlooked assumption that underlies all conscious, purposeful action.
I’m not sure that innocence enters into the picture here. All of us find ourselves in situations where actions are called for every day and the point, insofar as I correctly understand the Buddhist view, is that we are able to observe the results of those actions and determine whether they are desirable or undesirable by judging their effect. The unskillful action, as I say, is the one that results in harm.
Carly asked for examples of skillful behaviors. Let me take simple, personal ones, with the hope that they are not too trivial to meet his request.
1. A classic: I’m driving on the freeway in heavy traffic and someone cuts me off. The unskillful action is to allow my anger to get the better of me and return the favor in a rage. Or speed up beside him and offer him the finger. Undesirable result: everyone’s temperature goes up, and no one gets ahead any faster. The skillful action is to observe the anger as it arises, recognize it for what it is—just another passing feeling—and allow it to dissipate. Desirable result: a calmer ulcer, a more pleasant day, more harmony in the universe. And less harm to self and others.
2. Dinner time. I’m just a little overweight (true!) and I know that the second helping of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (sorry, I’m English! Let's say, spaghetti alfredo) will do nothing to improve the situation. The unskillful action of course is to take the second helping. Undesirable result: more weight gain, less sound sleep, more discomfort in the morning. The skillful action, then, is to observe the desire arising, see it for what it is (greed!)—perhaps even find its source in old habits—and decline the second helping. Result: less harm to self and the environment (you’ve heard about beef, right?) along with better health for me, and the satisfaction of being in control of my appetites (I wish!)
3. I have an appointment for this afternoon, and need to prepare and leave in time to arrive at the appropriate moment. Unskillful action: I postpone my preparation and fiddle around instead with the damn blog. I get involved, fail to notice the passage of time, and leave later than I had intended. Undesirable result: I arrive late for the meeting, piss off the person I’ve arranged to meet, and don’t have the information I need to produce a successful outcome. The skillful action, of course, is to spend the time I need in the morning to put my facts together, to be aware of the time, and to leave enough of it for a prompt arrival. The desirable results are too obvious to mention.
I can count well enough to know that this is three, not the five requested, but you get the idea… I’m not convinced that any more would help. The Buddha’s most useful wisdom arises, I believe, from the observation of such everyday behaviors, and is most helpful guiding us in this way in our lives. The big abstractions don’t count for much, to me. It’s all about consciousness, about not sleep-walking through the day, about being aware of my actions and their results. It’s about the way I choose to live my life, the freedom from compulsions and addictions, and the progress toward as much enlightenment and happiness as I’m capable of.
Cardozo came up with the interesting idea, on reading the above, to open up a forum for those who might care to do so to write in personal examples of their unskillful behaviors and the results. A kind of Buddhist confessional, I suppose, which might stimulate deeper self-awareness---and perhaps an opportunity to share, mend and move on. We're debating how that might be done. I'd welcome your thoughts and suggestions.