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The Eightfold Path : Basics, Part 4

The Eightfold Path
By Brian Schell

And now, Buddha’s great “cure” to solve the problem of grasping, desire, and attachment, the Noble Eightfold Path:

The Eightfold Path Step 1: Right View

The first two steps on the path, Right View and Right Intention, are often paired together and called the “Wisdom” portion of the path. Right Speech, Action, and Livelihood fall into the “Ethical Conduct” category, and Right Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration are considered “Mental Discipline.” So between wisdom, ethics, and mental disciple, the eightfold path covers all the important stuff a Buddhist should focus on.

‚ÄúRight View‚Äù is also called ‚Äúright perspective‚Äù, ‚Äúright vision‚Äù or ‚Äúright understanding.‚Äù It’s all about having the right perspective on the yourself and the universe. You need to see the world and yourself as they truly are, not what you have been conditioned to see. Much of this relates to really understanding the four Noble Truths. Understand that nothing is permanent or perfect. To think through karma and all the effects it has on you. Having the proper way of looking at the world is especially crucial to a Buddhist, since your perspective actually shapes your life and how you live it.

It is important that in perfecting your “right view” that you clear out your misunderstanding, misconceptions, and confusion. Keep an open mind, and look at everything in a critical manner.

The Eightfold Path Step 2: Right Intention

Right intention is also called “right thought”, “right resolve”, or “right aspiration” or “the exertion of our own will to change.” It involves your commitment and your reasons for following the tenets of Buddhism. Do you really want to give up desire? Are you willing to make sacrifices to attain Enlightenment? Are you willing to give up anger, hatred, and negative feelings while embracing compassion? Are you willing to avoid doing harm to others?

The Eightfold Path Step 3: Right Action

Right action is also called “right conduct,” and involves how to behave in the physical world from day to day. Some examples of the “rules” are to avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. This idea leads us right into another famous Buddhist “list” called The Five Precepts, which we will examine tomorrow.

The idea behind right action is that improper physical actions leads to an unsound mind, so that in order to have a sound mind and attain Enlightenment, one should act properly with the physical body. In another way of looking at the five precepts, all of these rules involve physical attachments and desires, and as we learned yesterday with the Noble Truths, desire and attachment is the Buddhists’ ‚ÄúRoot of all evil.‚Äù

The Eightfold Path Step 4: Right Speech

One important Buddhist scripture explains, ‚Äú‚Ķwhat is right speech? Abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, abstaining from idle chatter: This, monks, is called right speech.‚Äù This is all very simple to understand, and pretty much follows the old adage ‚ÄúIf you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.‚Äù It’s better to live your life under a vow of silence (yes, Buddhists have those too) than it is to hurt others or yourself through your words.

In practice, this is one of the harder points of the Eightfold Path to follow. Watch yourself today or tomorrow and see how easy it is to complain, to gossip, or even just to waste time talking “about nothing.”

The Eightfold Path Step 5: Right Livelihood

‚ÄúRight Livelihood‚Äù is the goal of trying to make a living with right thought, speech and actions. You don’t have to give up everything and become a propertyless monk, but no Buddhist practitioner should engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm to other living beings or systems.

Think about your job; is anyone, anywhere harmed, either physically, emotionally or mentally? How about animals? If you analyze your life, you are probably going to see where you live at someone else’s expense. In my opinion, this is one part of the Eightfold Path that was easier to accomplish back in Buddha’s day than it is now. Today, everyone is so interdependant that it’s extremely hard to live without doing some damage.

The Eightfold Path Step 6: Right Effort

Right effort, also known as ‚Äúright endeavoring,‚Äù concerns the Buddhist practitioner’s continuous effort to keep his or her mind free of thoughts that might impair his or her ability to realize or put into practice the other elements of the Eightfold Path.

I have mentioned in the past that a Buddhist believes that reality bends to his own perception of it. By an effort of mind, a Buddhist can shape his reality. This can be a double-edged sword, creating both wholesome and unwholesome conditions. Right Effort concerns making the conscious effort to positively shape our minds and our world. The same type of mental energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness.

Right effort consists of four major actions that a Buddhist should attempt at all times:

1. Make an effort to prevent the creation of unwholesome states.
2. Make an effort to abandon pre-existing unwholesome states.
3. Make an effort to encourage wholesome states.
4. Make an effort to maintain pr-existing wholesome states.

The Eightfold Path Step 7: Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness, also translated as “Right Memory,” together with concentration, is concerned broadly with the practice of meditation. Roughly speaking, “mindfulness” refers to the practice of keeping the mind alert to phenomena, both internal and external as they are affecting the body and mind. It concerns seeing yourself and the universe as it really is.

Right mindfulness requires clear perception and it penetrates impressions, both correct and incorrect. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of how our own minds work in such a way that with practice, we can actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness:

1. The contemplation of the body
2. The contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral)
3. The contemplation of the state of mind
4. The contemplation of the phenomena.

The Eightfold Path Step 8: Right Concentration

Right concentration together with right mindfulness, is concerned broadly with the practice of Buddhist meditation.

According to the Pali canon, one of the classic Buddhist scriptures, right concentration is dependent on the development of all the preceding steps upon the eightfold path:

The Blessed One said: ‚ÄòNow what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors ‚Äî right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness ‚Äî is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions.’

Concentration (in this context) is a state where all mental faculties are directed onto one particular object or point. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions.

Meditation is the primary path to achieving right concentration, and most Buddhists practice meditation extensively. As we have seen, there are many forms of meditation, but most Buddhists practice it in some form. With enough practice meditating, it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

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2 comments to The Eightfold Path : Basics, Part 4

  • steven oldner

    Thanks Brian!
    It is always good to see these again and have a change to reflect and ponder the implications. I have talked with a few who feel religion should allow them to be less guilty about doing what they want, not changing the way they think.

    Your statement, “Having the proper way of looking at the world is especially crucial to a Buddhist, since your perspective actually shapes your life and how you live it.” reminds me of the book “The Secret” and “What the Bleep do we know?”. Buddha was far advanced for his time.

    Another slant for me provides more insights, activity items, and evaluation points so I can make the Right Effort!

  • mr lee

    and isn’t ‘practice’ the continual returning to willingness to follow the path … to refrain from killing, lying, stealing,talking about others etc etc. the willingness to return to meditation in all we do even if it’s a thousand times a day … willingness is such a huge concept … sometimes I make the buddah smile; sometimes I don’t. All revolves around willingness as greed, hate and delusion subtly manifest within the being.