Recognizing Wholesome and Unwholesome

What is meant by ‘wholesome’?

Teachers Doug and Catherine Sensei break down the word into “whole” and “sum”. Is your view reflecting the total view? By this definition, we can see that the wholesome/ unwholesome starts in the mind, in Panna. When we have a wholesome view, our actions and Sila naturally follow.

It can probably be said that many people do not ask the question: what is wholesome, what is unwholesome? Simply to be asking this question is a good sign, because it means that you are in a state of question. And a state of question, or open curiosity, is quite wholesome because you are more likely to be searching for a whole view, rather than a limited view.

To ask “what is wholesome, what is unwholesome” you must recognize first that some pursuits and some ways of being/thinking are of a different value than others, and have different ripple effects in your being and beyond you.

Namgyal Rinpoche said that in order to recognize the wholesome from the unwholesome you need to:

[…] know in fact whether or not any action is pleasant. […] For example, at cocktail parties – which are often exactly that!  – where everyone gathers around having a wonderful time … or are they?

And how do you learn to recognize in yourself what is truly pleasant and unpleasant, since it is so easy to fool ourselves?

The way to come to know the wholesome for the unwholesome is to remove yourself from the props of modern society, go into retreat. Then you might be able to address yourself to the question of whether you are experiencing pleasure or pain. Awareness of the splits between the instinctual mind and the societal or civilized mind will slowly emerge, and you can know what is wholesome and what is not. […] I wonder how many beings can read the subtle messages of the body well enough to know when they are reacting from instinct and when they are acting from civilized conditioning?

Namgyal Rinpoche also offers a word of warning:

I would like to warn you against trying to involve someone else in the question of whether or not your actions are wholesome. You have to ask yourself whether what you are doing is unfolding your being, or whether it is not.

downloadPractice 1: Identifying wholesome and unwholesome


Ask yourself in the instance when you are unsure whether an action is wholesome or not:

  • If everyone did this, would it be ok?
  • If someone knew I was doing this, would I be ok with that?
  • Does the action lead to a sense of joy, pleasantness, and/or a clear mind state?




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