The Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path forms the framework for all the Buddha’s teachings. It was the first topic he mentioned in his first sermon, and the last topic he mentioned in his last.
A Brief Overview
1. Right View/Understanding - Knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, seeing the nature of our suffering.
2. Right Intention/Resolve - Being resolved on Renunciation, Loving-kindness, Harmlessness.
3. Right Speech - Abstaining from lying, malicious or divisive speech, abusive or harsh speech, and idle chatter.
4. Right Action - Abstaining from killing, stealing and harmful sexual behavior.
5. Right Livelihood - Abstaining from dishonest and harmful means of livelihood.
6. Right Effort - Avoiding and overcoming unskillful qualities, and developing and maintaining skillful qualities.
7. Right Mindfulness - Keeping the path and teachings actively in mind throughout the day.
8. Right Concentration - Practicing staying present though daily meditation.
The 3 Divisions of the Path
Discernment: consisting of right view and right resolve; Together they form a guide, and give a sense of direction and purpose to our practice.
Virtue: consisting of right speech, right action, and right livelihood; Form a foundation of holding ourselves accountable for our words, our deeds, and our livelihood, which lessens our regrets and remorse, allowing us to be more honest with ourselves and see the mind more clearly with less blind-spots and bias.
Meditation: consisting of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; By developing an inner stillness and focus, we begin to realize all the ways in which we cause ourselves and others to suffer, and are then able to lessen them.
An Exploration of The Path
1. Right View/Understanding
Right View is having conviction in Karma(action) and a working understanding of the Four Noble Truths, In other words having faith in the power of our thoughts, words, and deeds, and their ability to make a positive difference in our lives.
The 4 Noble Truths:
1) Dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction, stress) is a part of life.
2) Dukkha arises from attachment to desires
3) Dukkha ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4) Freedom from Dukkha is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
We must realize that the cause of Dukkha lies in our mind. Nobody is imposing it upon us. We cannot put the blame outside ourselves. It is through our own craving that we produce pain, suffering, anxiety and depression for ourselves.
When we see that the cause of Dukkha lies in our own mind, we understand that the key to liberation also lies in our own mind. That key is the overcoming of ignorance and craving by means of wisdom, discernment and having the confidence that following the Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of suffering.
2. Right Intention/Resolve
Right Intention is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. It is taking this newfound understanding and committing to putting it into practice within one's own mind Reflecting on the quality of the resolutions we hold to the most, noticing whether we are operating from skillful intentions or not.
Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions:
1) the intention of renunciation, meaning resistance to the pull of desire.
2) the intention of good will, meaning releasing feelings of anger and aversion.
3) the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
3. Right Speech
Right Speech is taking ownership of both verbal and internal speech by adopting the principle of non-affliction, realizing that the way we speak to ourselves informs the way we speak to others and vice versa.
The Buddha explained Right Speech as the following:
1) to abstain from false speech, never to lie deliberately nor speak deceitfully
2) to abstain from divisive, slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others
3) to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others
4) to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.
Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak harmoniously, warm and gently, and to speak from clear intentions.
Before you speak W.A.I.T.(Why Am I Talking?) what’s my intention?
4. Right Action
With Right Action we begin expanding the principle of non-affliction into our actions as well,
understanding that some enjoyable actions tend to lead to unfavorable results down the road while others don't, and some unenjoyable actions tend to lead to favorable results while others don't.
By reflecting on which is which and learning to avoid actions with unfavorable results we begin to invest in our long-term well-being and the path to peace starts to develop.
Right Action involves the body as a natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. It has three aspects:
1) Abstaining from killing living beings of all kinds.
2) Abstaining from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud.
3) Abstaining from harmful sexual behavior.
Positively phrased, Right Action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to self and others.
5. Right Livelihood
Right Livelihood builds off the two previous factors and expands the principal of non-affliction to include the way we meet our physical needs as well as the impact we have on the world around us
The Buddha taught his disciples to avoid any occupation or job that causes harm and suffering to other living beings or any kind of work that leads to one’s own inner deterioration. Instead, one should earn a living in an honest, harmless, and upright way. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings that one should avoid:
1) Dealing in weapons
2) Dealing in living beings, including slavery, prostitution, and raising animals for slaughter,
3) Working in meat production and butchery
4) Selling intoxicants and poisons such as alcohol and drugs.
Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action should be avoided. Realizing that if the way we support ourselves is dishonest or harmful to ourselves or others then it is bound to lead to unfavorable situations thus putting both ourselves and the people we care for at risk.
6. Right Effort
The Buddha says through Right Effort we can transform the whole structure of our lives. We are not the hopeless victims of our past conditioning. We are not the victims of our genes or our environment. Through mental training it is possible to raise the mind to the plateau of Wisdom, Freedom, and Peace.
The most basic definition of Right Effort is to generate desire and exert one's will to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities.
Right Effort consists of 4 ‘exertions’ (Guard/Abandon/Develop/Maintain)
1) Guarding against unwholesome states arising (such as greed, anger, and ignorance)
2) Abandoning any unwholesome states that have arisen
3) Developing undeveloped wholesome states (such as generosity, compassion, wisdom)
4) Maintaining, strengthening and cultivating existing wholesome states.
It’s also important to understand that ‘Right’ in this context means two things:
1. That the level of exertion is appropriate to the task, being careful not to overcomplicate simple solutions.
2. That it’s appropriate for where you are at in your practice, many unwholesome qualities of mind can prove difficult or even harmful to try and uproot for a newer practitioner and will need to be revisited as you progress on the path.
The Buddha taught that practice should be like a well-tuned string instrument. If the strings are too loose, they won't play a sound. If they are too tight, they will break. Ideally practice should be nourishing, not draining.
7. Right Mindfulness
Right Mindfulness is seeing things as they are in the present moment, with clear consciousness, while setting aside the story lines we consciously or unconsciously bring to things.
It's also a faculty of active memory, calling to mind and keeping in mind any instructions and intentions that will be useful on the path. Through mindfulness we keep the teachings and past lessons we have learned in mind as a safeguard against unskillful behavior as well as remembering what methods or perceptions have worked for us in our practice and which have not.
Another aspect of Right Mindfulness as described in the Satipatthana or Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra is 4 broad themes for meditation:
- Mindfulness of the body/breath
- Mindfulness of feeling tones
- Mindfulness of the mind
- Mindfulness of mental qualities
With mindfulness, you develop insight into the nature of things and learn to deal with your suffering and feelings peacefully. You become aware of the things that bind you or disturb you and through this awareness you develop deeper agency, discernment, non-attachment, and inner stability.
8. Right Concentration
Right Concentration means concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions through the practice of meditation. Through meditation, the mind grows calmer. This tranquility allows us to develop insight, through contemplating either the breath, body, sensations, mind-states, or the dharma(teachings). Eventually purifying and liberating the mind.
Right Concentration is supported by all the other factors of the path and in turn supports them as well,
The Discernment factors of Right View and Intention act as a guide.
The Virtue factors of Right Speech, Action, and Livelihood help to lay the prerequisite foundation.
The remaining Concentration factors of Right Effort and Mindfulness act as direct support.
In a more direct sense concentration becomes ‘Right’ Concentration in the context of the path when 5 components come together, 3 causes which are really one fluid activity and their 2 results.
1) Directed Thought: directing your thoughts towards your meditation object, in this example the breath, and remaining focused only on thoughts related to it.
2) Evaluation: evaluating the preconceived notions and perceptions we have about what the breath is, and adjusting them in a way that allows it to flow without obstruction, relaxing tightness and tension in the body.
3) Singleness of Preoccupation: keeping your awareness right there at the breath, not allowing it to go straying off to other objects.
1) Rapture: a sense of breath and awareness becoming one, fully occupying the entire body.
2) Bliss: a sense of both physical and mental ease and contentment.
In other words you’re thinking about the breath and you’re also evaluating the breath: Is it comfortable? Is it not comfortable? If it’s not comfortable, what can you do to change? When it is comfortable, how do you maintain and use that sense of comfort? You try to spread it through the body. That’s the work of directed thought and evaluation. When you really do get focused on the breath, to the point where you’re not interested in anything else, the mind will come to singleness of preoccupation. And the results will be a sense of ease or pleasure, along with a sense of rapture.
Right Concentration is something that we work towards and develop through consistently implementing the Eightfold Path into the various aspects of our lives.