Why the need for harmlessness?

And what, bhikkhus, is right intention? Intention of renunciation, intention of non-ill will, intention of harmlessness: this is called right intention.

If one doesn’t hold ill-will, would it automatically mean that one would be harmless as well? If so, why is there a need for intention of harmlessness in the second factor of eightfold path. Wouldn’t non-ill will suffice. If not, what is the significance of harmlessness that is different from non-ill will?


That is one of the amazing good characters of the perfected one. One can describe same things from different angle.

Remind me about:
Svakkhato Bhagavata Dhammo
The Buddha teaching is clear and concise.

These 3 things described 3 angles of good mental states.

You can’t have thought of non-holding on, without non-ill will thought, and without non-harming thought.

The pali words are:
nekkhammasaṅkappo, abyāpādasaṅkappo, avihiṁsāsaṅkappo


This is just an opinion (I am not backing it up with any suttas) but non ill-will is different than the intention of harmlessness. While most of the time they go hand in hand, that is not always the case. Ill-will seems a more active state of mind whereas harm can be done directly by ill will or indirectly by carelessness or reasons other than ill will.
There are many situations (typically many of the usual moral dilemmas one finds in philosophical studies) where the “choices” are presented in a way that seems as if one has to pick an option that does the least harm. An attitude of harmlessness possibly requires rejecting all such “choices” or at least thinking outside the box and it is going over and above just non ill-will (although one can argue that there has to be some deep seated underlying tendency of ill-will associated with all harmful behavior).

A similar scenario is where harm does come to someone even with the best of intentions if the issues at hand are not considered with sufficient care as to the outcomes. An attitude of harmlessness requires a deeper investigation of issues from as many angles as possible. Non ill-will seems like a coarser attitude compared to harmlessness, which seems a much more refined state.

with metta


" The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (karuna), aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive, and violent thoughts. Compassion supplies the complement to loving-kindness. Whereas loving-kindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha."—Bikkhu Bodhi


Thanks for the responses.

Maybe I will try to understand it this way.

When situation is not agreeable, one usually tries to react by having ill will. With right view, one practise non-ill will regardless of situations.

Next, one raises the bar by considering if choices lead to affliction even with agreeable circumstances. One practises harmlessness in this manner.

At this point in time, one would experience blissful state of mind due to the absence of afflictions. One would then intend on renouncing even the blissful states.

In this way, the purification of mind becomes more and more refine.

Harmlessness is also a direct reduction in contributing to the suffering of other Beings (an expression of Karuna). All of the Sila factors are about harmlessness, and require the combination of mindfulness (sati sampajana) in order to have harmlessness via body, speech and mind > which are behaviours and actions - not just intentions or mind states (can be caused by all of the defilements; ill will, greed, ignorance, sloth and torpor and restlessness). Another way of putting it is to be heedful of actions by body speech and mind, to not cause or contribute to any suffering


Thanks for the contribution.

Rightly so, harmlessness needs to be practiced with regards to body, speech and mind.

The mind is the forerunner. What one intends, one breaks into speech and acts out with bodily deeds. Speech and actions need to be informed and evaluated by the mind to be wholesome/skillful or not.

So the question is whether non-ill will encompasses harmlessness or the other way round? If metta corresponds to non-ill will and karuna to harmlessness, then it seems that harmlessness would be of a higher order, a more refined state.

I think you are asking whether non-ill-will implies or contains harmlessness or vice versa but it seems to me that they’re mostly independent.

One can have ill-will without causing harm, thinking: “I hate you!”, or do harm without ill-will as when a fisherman catches a fish (and obviously you can have both or neither).

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You are right about that. What about this - Is intention to harm always underlie by greed or hatred?