In a different thread that I no longer can find, someone pointed out this reference to a monk sitting idly by and doing nothing to help while watching a person being swept away in a flood. From here:
Thus if a bhikkhu sits idly when seeing a flood sweep a person down-stream, he commits no offense — regardless of his feelings about the person's death — even if the person then drowns. Recommending that another person sit idly as well would also not fulfill the factor of effort here, because the category of "command" covers only the act of inciting the listener to do any of the four actions that would fulfill the factor of effort under this rule.
... The same holds true if a bhikkhu decides not to give a patient a treatment — or to discontinue treatment — that might conceivably extend the patient's life: It does not fulfill the factor of effort, for such acts do not cut off the life faculty. At most they simply allow it to end on its own.
Peter made a similar point in the above-referenced thread:
Peter makes some excellent, compelling points, but it is difficult for me to understand how it cannot possibly amount to akusala kamma if, for example, I see a child about to be hit by a passing car, and I know I can reach out and pull the child to safety, but instead I choose to allow the child to be hit by a passing car. Is there nothing in the Buddha's teachings that would prompt one to seek to prevent injury or death to that child? And to opt against inaction in such a situation?Peter wrote:Things die. All the time. Nothing about the Buddha's teachings seek to prevent that.
What about the teachings of caritta-sila in, for example, the Sigalovada Sutta? Don't they imply that the Buddha taught we should help when we can?
22. "The helper can be identified by four things: by protecting you when you are vulnerable, and likewise your wealth, being a refuge when you are afraid, and in various tasks providing double what is requested.
In the thread referenced above, Ven. Dhammanando offered this helpful guidance:
When I apply this to the example of the monk sitting by idling without helping as a person is washed away in a flood, I find it impossible to imagine how such a monk (unless he is an arahant) could watch a person dying and choose not to help, and yet still not accumulate akusala mind-door kamma of any kind.Ven. Dhammanando wrote:I think it depends what you mean by 'inaction'. If you mean no action of body, speech or mind, then no, there's no kamma of any sort.
If you mean without doing anything with one's body or speech, then yes, one can accumulate akusala mind-door kamma by thoughts of covetousness, ill will, wrong view etc..
Furthermore, there are circumstances in which one can perform akusala body-door kamma without the body moving (e.g., by commanding someone to kill) or akusala speech-door kamma without saying anything (e.g., when a bhikkhu who knows himself to be guilty of a Vinaya offence remains silent when asked if he is pure during a Patimokkha recital. The bhikkhu's silence in this context will be taken as a statement of his being free of any offence, and so he commits the akusala kamma of false speech).
So I ask the question (to put it in general terms): Is it proper understanding of the Buddhadhamma that inaction is never akusala kamma? My answer (wrong though it may be) is that the Buddhadhamma encourages us to be helpers, and not to fall back on inaction in the face of circumstances when we see suffering and know that we could help. This has broad implications for us on many fronts, including in the purchasing choices we make as consumers.
So if someone asked me the question: "Is it your understanding of the Buddhadhamma that inaction is never akusala kamma?" -- my short answer would be: "No." I'm sure there are those who disagree with me. I'm posting this to learn more.