All Actions Have Consequences

This is the fourth of seven key understandings.


Everything we think and say and do has consequences for ourselves and for others. Like ripples on a pond our actions spread out and affect others because everything is interconnected.  And we need to remember that our actions are irreversible.

Consequences are where our thoughts and actions meet reality.  We can’t always foresee all the consequences of our actions and trying to be 100% sure we are doing the right thing 100% of the time would lead to anxiety and indecisiveness.  However, we can resolve to try to choose those actions that lead to true happiness and not to unhappiness – to avoid selfish actions and to choose actions that have beneficial consequences for all – actions that promote connection and unity and harmony.

INTENTION is the key.   Our intention can be to do no harm and to try to be helpful to all our fellow beings. 

When we know and FEEL that we are all connected, then we don’t want to hurt anyone.  We know that would make us unhappy too.  Feeling our interconnectedness makes us sensitive to how our actions affect others.

Ultimately, LOVE is the purest motivation for our actions.  Love is wanting others to be happy too. It motivates goodwill, friendliness, kindness, compassion for those who are suffering, and a desire to be of service to all.

Experience can be an excellent teacher, if we reflect on our actions and their consequences.  We then consider our actions more carefully and cease being merely reactive to situations.  Over time we become wiser and more skilful in our actions.  REFLECTING on our behaviour is the key to changing.

We can also consider what the wise have said about actions. Wise people in all times and places have suggested rules or guidelines that promote a way of living that is harmonious with everyone and that contributes to a stable peace of mind and a life free of fear and strife for the individual.  Respect for others, and ourselves, is the underlying basis for such principles.  Ethical actions consider the long-term interests of all.

We can start with rules or guidelines but potentially we can go beyond following rules and act from understanding; and even beyond that, we can act from a feeling of being connected to all other beings and to the whole of nature.

To build a harmonious and peaceful world we need mutual tolerance and understanding.  The most promising avenue is to be found in a system of secular ethics grounded in a deep appreciation of our common humanity. 
– The 14th Dalai Lama

The ethical principles suggested by Buddhists are a system of secular ethics which do not depend on a belief system.  Here they are stated both in their positive and their negative aspects.  The first three would be listed in any code of moral behaviour.

  • Respect and support life.  Do not kill or injure other beings.
  • Be helpful and not harmful with speech.  Be honest and tell no lies.  Be a respectful listener.
  • Respect property.  Do not take what is not freely given.
  • Respect the relationships and sexuality of others.  Refrain from harming others through sexual behaviours.
  • Maintain mental clarity. Avoid taking intoxicants that may impair awareness and judgement leading to unwise actions.

Mental “inputs” – from such sources as movies, TV programs, magazines, friends, internet sources, social networks and computer games – may also negatively affect our attitudes and behaviours.

Before any action we can ask ourselves some questions along these lines: –

  • Have I considered the needs of others? Or, am I treating others as just a means to an end for myself?
  • Would I be okay about everyone else acting this way?
  • Would I be able to justify my actions to others?
  • Is this something a person of good character would do?
  • Is this action contributing to a happy state of affairs for everyone?

Actions come from our state of mind.  So, when our state of mind changes, then our actions change.  If we make a conscious effort to develop our innate goodness, then that becomes our usual state of mind.

By becoming a kinder person we will be less likely to act in a negative way.  We can practise being generous when we realise we are being selfish, patience when angry, and loving kindness to those we have difficulty with.  We can focus on being thoughtful before speaking or acting.  Gradually more of our true nature shines through in our everyday actions.

Living with a spirit of kindness and generosity takes our focus off ourselves which expands our life and our true happiness.  The giving/receiving score becomes unimportant – we just seek to contribute whenever we can.  We also experience that acting kindly brings us pleasure.

We see we need to take full RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves and our actions.  As we grow we learn how to act in wise, practical and creative ways.  Developing a gentle self-discipline and thoughtfulness brings our actions into line with our understanding and our higher intentions.

We may need to patiently train ourselves out of the habits of the way we have been living.  Self-control – over our thoughts, feelings and actions – is necessary for success in life.  Self-control often means overriding our habitual impulses.  We can endeavour to cease acting/reacting impulsively or recklessly.

Particularly we need to be careful when seeking pleasure or excitement.  Being caught up in pleasure or excitement we might not think properly about the consequences. Some pleasures may bring pain and suffering in their wake.

Self-interest or selfishness, including the desire for pleasure, has such a strong influence on our attitudes and behaviour.  If we can see that in the long term, bigger picture the consequences are not good, then we see the need to resist impulses and to act in line with our understanding.

Taking responsibility for our actions is EMPOWERING.  We open up the opportunity and the freedom to shape our own lives.  We realise that we are the main agent in our own life – we are not just at the mercy of other agents.  We have the power to change ourselves and so change our lives, and we understand that everything we do affects how our life unfolds.  We can be creative and find satisfaction in our achievements, becoming more confident and effective.  Acting responsibly, we earn the trust and respect of others.

Changing our own attitudes and behaviour is within our control and capacity.  Changing the attitudes and behaviour of others is not – although we may be able to influence them and indeed may have a responsibility to do so.

Although all our actions have consequences we should not think that everything that happens to us is caused by us.  We may be a victim of events and circumstances beyond our control such as natural disasters, major social upheavals or selfish or reckless individuals.

Realising the consequences of our actions will sometimes cause us to regret them and resolve to avoid such actions in the future.  We may need to be accepting and forgiving of ourselves at the same time as we look for possible ways to make amends for any harm done.  We will sometimes need to forgive those whose actions have harmed us.  Being unforgiving or revengeful prolongs any suffering and often initiates a new round of harmful actions.  Acceptance and forgiveness allow us to move forward and not fix on the past.

Copyright © 2008-2017 John Frederick Gray



  • All our actions have consequences.
  • We need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
  • Our resolve can be to do no harm and to try to be helpful to our fellow sentient beings.
  • We need to reflect on our actions.
  • Our basic guideline can be whether our thoughts, words and actions are leading to positive consequences.

Some quotes about ACTIONS

Nothing we do changes the past, but everything we do changes the future.
– Chinese proverb

Everything you do, returns at last to you, so why don’t you, do love.
– Tom Rapp, Pearls Before Swine.

Wisdom and compassion should become the dominating influences that guide our thoughts, our words, and our actions.     – Matthieu Ricard

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For more Quotes related to All Actions Have Consequences click here.

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For suggestions for Practical Activities and Resources related to this topic click here.

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