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The Path takes us from samsara to liberation, making nirvana a reality.

The Path

The Buddha Dharma is meant to be put into actual practice and not just be a theoretical study. So understanding how to traverse the Path is very important. The Noble Eightfold Path will take us from samsara to liberation, making nirvana a reality, not a speculation.

The Noble Eightfold Path is not the only Path. In the future, we will introduce the Twelvefold Causal Chain and the Six Paramitas, all very important practices that lead to nirvana and Buddhahood. However, among these methods, the Eightfold Path is most fundamental.

The world “noble” can also be translated as “holy”, “of the Sages”, “righteous” , “correct”, “perfect”, “just” etc. It is a Path by which we can purify ourselves of the Three Poisons and reach nirvana, that is, complete and permanent liberation from suffering.

The Noble Eightfold Path prescribed by the Buddha is a comprehensive and systematic guide for attaining the ultimate goal of Nibbana, absolute and total freedom from suffering. The eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path are generally grouped under the following three heads.

Paññā (Wisdom)

Right view (sammādiţţhi)
Right resolve/intention (sammāsamkappa)

Śila (Morality)
Right speech
(sammāvācā)
Right action/morality and conduct (sammākammanta)
Right livelihood
(sammā ājīva)

Samādhi (Meditative Concentration)

Right effort (sammavayama)
Right mindfulness (sammāsati)
Right concentration
(sammāsamādhi)

It is like a wheel with eight spokes. Just as all the eight spokes of a wheel should be in position to make the wheel complete and enable it to roll on, in the same manner, all the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path should be practised simultaneously to complete the Dharma Wheel.

Together they can be viewed as sequential steps in our practice, but each step also stands on its own as an important aspect of a well-rounded practice.

Right” in the above enumeration of the Path has been used in the sense of “correct”, “perfect” and “just”.

Right View
Ignorance
(avijjā), which is the root cause of suffering, is not only misunderstanding, or lack of knowledge of the true nature of things and true nature of self but also. Having wrong views of them. Therefore, Buddha first of all prescribes “Right View” as the antidote to ignorance.

Right view is seeing things as they actually are: anityam. asukham and anattā. Analyzing every aspect of the inner or other experience, the Buddha shows

that it is all impermanent, sorrowful and selfless (anattā). Every cognizable element, whether internal or external, gross or subtle, is said to have these three characteristics. They are applicable, without exception, to ‘everything that is seen, heard, reflected, contemplated’ (M.I. 136)

“When, O monks, the monk sees the impermanent corporeality (form), feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness as impermanent (subject to suffering and without a self), in that case he is possessed of the right view” (S.III.51).

“Material shape (form) and the other skandhas are impermanent; what is impermanent is suffering; what is suffering (sorrowful) is not self, what is not self – that is not mine, that I am not, that is not myself. This should be seen by means of right wisdom as it really is” (Vinaya Pitaka I.14).

“The instructed disciple of the Ariyans beholds of material shape (form) and the other skandhas as: ‘This is not mine, this am I not, this is not myself’, so that, when the material shape and so on change and become otherwise, there arise not for him grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair” (S: III. 19 etc.). Because of ignorance and wrong views, we not only crave and cling to the things, but also construct further false views about them conditioned by our cravings and impulses. The view we form of the things, the judgement we make and the value we attach, in short, the world we form – are all conditioned by our personal desires, purposes, lusts and cravings. These in turn give rise to the various afflictions and defilements such as hatred, anger, pride, conceit etc. The view of things we form is not the right view of things as they really are, but with subjective attributes and qualities. There is no absolute truth in them. All these things are to be rightly understood and also the truth of the Four Noble Truths realized inwardly. Thus, right view is the undistorted comprehension of the basic laws and truths underlying actualities of life. In every task we perform, the first thing we need to have is the right view or right understanding of the goals and methods. This is especially important in spiritual cultivation.

Right Understanding means having the right views, right perceptions. It means understanding the Principle of Causality, Emptiness, and the Middle Way. It also means taking on the Buddhist practice in order to eradicate the Three Poisons: greed, anger, and ignorance-not as a means to be famous, worshipped, wealthy, gain special powers, and so on.

Right Understanding is to see that pleasures of the senses are not true pleasures; they lead to suffering instead. It means to have a respect for all beings; that compassion, wisdom, samadhi and peace are qualities which we should revere. It means to see that helping others is to help oneself, and that thinking only of the self leads to the suffering of everyone involved. Right Understanding is the compass, the map that guides us in our cultivation. To understand what is the right thing to do is not the same as being able to do it. Right Resolve, Right Speech, and Right Action are also needed.

Flight Intention/Resolve

Mere knowledge or understanding is not sufficient to free one from the conflagration of suffering. The truth should be firmly established in mind through constant reflection, awareness and resolve to assimilate and realize the same in the deepest possible manner so that they become the core of the personality. Right resolve means firm determination to reform one’s life in the light of the truth and the right views. This includes cultivation of thoughts free from lust, thoughts free from ill-will (hatred) i.e. thoughts of loving kindness (mettā), and thoughts free from cruelty i.e. thoughts of compassion (karuņā).

As Dhammapāda (1.1) says, what we are today is the result of our intentions of yesterday and our intentions of today will decide our tomorrow. Our life condition is determined by the intentions of our mind. For the Buddha, intention is Karma, if a man speaks or acts with an impure intention, dukkha follows his as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.

If we have the right understanding, but seldom think about it, nor speak or act accordingly, then the understanding does not help us. So the first step we need to take, once we understand that something is good and worthwhile, is to think about it often, to reflect on our mind and actions, and to modify our views accordingly. When faced with everyday events, we learn to look at them from the proper perspectives. Right Thought, or Right Will, is to think and react according to the Buddhist teaching: from the perspective of Causality, the Middle way, from the perspective of tolerance and equality. We may want to reexamine our goals in life: where are we heading? Are we creating good karma or bad karma? Are our thoughts filled with greed and anger, or compassion and wisdom?

Right Speech And Right Conduct/Right Action

Right resolve must be co-ordinated with right speech and right conduct for the attainment of the goal.

The Sammādiţţhi Sutta reads as follows:- “Right view, right view, they say, friend. How is the noble disciple possessed of the right view?” (M.I.46). “When, friends, the noble disciple understands unrighteous action and the root of unrighteous action, the righteous action and the root of righteous action, then he is possessed of the right view.” (M.I.46-47)

With regard to the question as to what constitute the righteous and unrighteous action and their respective roots, it is pointed out that greed, hatred and delusion are the roots of all unrighteous actions and their opposites are the roots of righteous actions.

The bodily, verbal and mental actions, righteous and unrighteous, arising from their respective roots are enumerated as below:-

  1. Unrighteous bodily actions A) Righteous bodily actions

1 Destruction of life 1 To abstain from the destruction of life

2 Stealing 2 To abstain from stealing

3 Sexual misconduct 3 To abstain from sexual misconduct

  1. Unrighteous verbal actions B) Righteous verbal actions

4 Speaking falsehood 4 To abstain from speaking falsehood

5 Slandering 5 To abstain from slandering

6 Speaking harsh words 6 To abstain from speaking harsh words

7 Talking frivolously 7 To abstain from talking frivolously

  1. Unrighteous mental actions C) Righteoumental actions

8 Covetousness 8 Absence of covetousness

9 Ill-will (hatred/vindictiveness) 9 Absence of ill will

10 Wrong view 10 Correct view

Right conduct includes the five vows to practise: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-sensuality (celibacy) and non-possessiveness (or, according to some scriptures, not partaking intoxicating liquors).

Non-violence or non-injury has been prescribed as the cardinal virtue to be practised in the Buddhist code of conduct. In the course of prescribing the virtue of non-injury, Buddha speaks of treating all creatures like oneself, promoting happiness to all and refraining from doing any harm to any living creature. The raison d’ etre of treating all creatures like oneself, according to Buddhism, is just the empirical fact that all living beings like ourselves have a natural liking for life and happiness, and they hate pain and death. On the basis of this empirically observed common trait of their nature, Buddha lays down the ethical principle of non-injury or non-violence, and directs one to treat all beings like oneself. He says: “All tremble at punishment, all fear death -------- to all, life is dear. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill.” (Dh. 129 & 130)

Right Speech

Speech and bodily action come from our will, our thoughts. So the right thoughts will lead to right speech and right action. Together, our body, speech and will produce the karma that affect us in life.

Examples of wrongful speech are lying, profanity, frivolous speech (teasing or mocking someone), and slandering. The most serious offense in speech is to proclaim falsely that one is enlightened, has achieved deep samadhi or that one is a Buddha or a god, in order to draw followers or to obtain offerings.

In this modern age of mass communication, words and ideas expressed in books, movies, media, and internet, can easily reach many people. We should also be careful with our inputs in these media as they are an extension of our oral karma.

Right Action

Examples of wrongful actions are killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. With right understanding and pure intent, our actions will be proper and righteous and truly beneficent. With Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Actions, we won’t produce karma which leads to future suffering. Our behavior will then be befitting that of a Buddhist cultivator on the way to liberation.

Right Livelihood

The fifth of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood. This refers to our career, our vocation, the means by which we support our family or ourselves.

One must earn a living to meet the essential needs of the body to keep it in a healthy condition. Buddha emphasizes the importance of the right (honest) livelihood that does not harm or interfere with other’s lives and does not disturb social harmony.

The following five trades are forbidden, even for lay Buddhists (leave alone monks and nuns), as unrighteous forms of livelihood:-

  1. Selling arms

  2. Selling human beings

iii)selling flesh i.e. breeding animals to sell for slaughter

iv)selling intoxicating drinks; and

v) selling poison

In following a right livelihood, there are two guidelines: first, it should not be against the law of the country, second, according to the Principle of Causality, it should not be an “unwholesome” livelihood. This means that our job should not be one that is morally corrupting, or one that hurts many sentient beings.

For example, being a fisherman or a hunter is legal, but it involves killing for a living; this brings much pain and suffering not only to many sentient beings, but eventually to the doer himself. Selling liquor, being in the gambling or prostitution business are also careers that are not considered right livelihood and should be avoided by a Buddhist.

We can also think: in my present career, how can I be of service to others? View it not as a job that brings in the paychecks, but as an opportunity to serve society and the needs of others.

Right Effort

While a person is trying to live a reformed life through right views, right intentions, right speech, right conduct and right livelihood, he still has to deal with his deeply rooted sankhāras that produce negative thoughts. Constant effort to uproot old negative thoughts and to prevent new ones from arising is very important in the path to Nibbāna. First one has to clean the mind and then immediately fill it with positive thoughts. This process is called right effort or constant endeavour to maintain moral as well as spiritual progress by banishing negative thoughts and assimilating positive ones. Right effort is directed at the mind (the will) at the sub-conscious level and aims at transforming the consciousness at the root.

“These are the four right efforts: an aspirant generates desire, endeavours, stirs up vigour, exerts his mind and strives that

  1. evil unwholesome mental states that have not arisen should not arise (i.e. prevent them from arising);

  2. evil unwholesome mental states that have arisen should be gotten rid of;

  3. wholesome mental states that have not arisen should arise (i.e. develop them to arise)

  4. wholesome mental states that have arisen should be maintained, preserved, increased, matured, developed and brought to completion.”

(Dîgha Nikāya III. 221)

Putting our efforts in the right place is important. Otherwise, we can work very hard but achieve very little. Even worse, with the wrong kind of effort, we may never reach our goal.

Examples of wrong efforts are: stealing or gambling to get rich; stepping on others to become successful; wanting to achieve enlightenment or salvation but with blind faith or follow a misguided path.

If we understand Causality and the Four Noble Truths, and practice the Eightfold Path, we will be putting in the right efforts towards achieving liberation.

Right Mindfulness

The sixth factor Right Effort deals with the elimination of evil states and the development of good states in oneself. This self-purification is best done by a careful introspection for which Right Mindfulness. The seventh factor is essential.

With right understanding about Reality, right thought, right speech, right action, and the right efforts in meditation practise, we will be able to achieve right mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of mind. To practise mindfulness means that the mind is conscientious, clear and lucid. Thoughts of greed and anger are quickly detected and renounced, and eventually, only righteous thoughts arise. The mind thinks of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, and the precepts; the mind is filled with compassion; the mind is not deluded and misguided.

By the above practice in right mindfulness, we eventually have a complete understanding of the Dharma, are willing to do all good without a sense of the “self” doing the deed, or the “other” benefiting from the deed, finally reaching the state of no mind. “No mind” is the ultimate right mindfulness.

The principle of mindfulness or Vipassanā meditation is to watch, to observe to investigate and to be watchful of all mental and physical phenomena as they actually are. Here we need to cultivate the mental concentration into a degree that is sufficient to ensure a steady undistracted mindfulness (sati). This is the special insight meditation discovered by Siddhartha after all his other efforts failed to cognize reality as it is, to burn away in the fire of wisdom all the defilements and corruptions that bind him to the cyelic existence and to achieve Nibbāna complete and permanent liberation from suffering. This insight meditation is bequeathed to posterity in his famous discourse called Satipaţţhāna Sutta, the discourse on “The Setting of Mkindfulness” (Sutta No: 22 of the Digha Nikāya; Sutta No:10 of the Majjhima Nikāya). The Sutta says that mindfulness is the only way for achieving:

      • the practising of the right path

      • the destruction of the defilements and corruptions

      • the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation

      • the destruction of suffering and grief

      • the purification of the mind

      • the direct experience of Nibbāna

Pāli word “sati” (Sanskrit: smrti) has the meaning of mindfulness. This word

is synonymous in the earliest tradition for both sati and sampajañña (samprajamya) (awareness). They, by the word “sati” are understood mindfulness plus awareness (attention, observation, vigilance – to watch, guard).

I make this salutation with hands to those who wish to guard their mind.

With all your effort, guard both “mindfulness” and “awareness”.

(Sāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra)

Sati Paţţhāna = Establishing or setting up of mindfulness

= Founding of mindfulness.

In the Sutta. Buddha has prescribed four foundations of mindfulness. Mindfulness or contemplation is to be established on the following four:

  1. The body (kāyānupassanā)

  2. The feelings (vedanānupassana)

  3. The mind or mental states (cittānupassanā)

  4. The mental contents (dhammānupassanā)

Anupassana means to contemplate (think intently and at length, Meditate);

means watchful attention. Mindfulness, awareness – continuously from moment to moment.

The Pāli word Vipassanā means:

vi” = variously in various ways

passana” = to watch to observe carefully;

Be mindful be aware, be on guard.

= to watch, to observe to be mindful

To look into and understand things

as they really are.

It is to carefully watch and observe mindfully (i.e. with mindful awareness, vigilant attention), to see clearly, to investigate penetratingly in various ways into the true nature of things, precisely as they are.

The Yogi, who is well-versed in Buddhist Vipassanā practice, remains alert and watchful at every moment establishing his mindfulness on the modifications taking place in his body, his sensations, his mental contents and emotions. Combining right mindfulness and Buddha wisdom, whatever he sees, he just sees knowing its effects, and leaves it at that and does not allow it to enter further into his mind,

- Whatever he hears, he just hears and leaves it at that,

- Whatever he smells, he just smells and leaves it at that,

- Whatever he tastes, he just tastes and leaves it at that,

- Whatever he touches, he just touches and leaves it at that, and

- Whatever thought arises, he just notices and leaves it that,

and does not allow any of these sensations, feelings or thoughts to enter further into his mind and to excite or arouse the latent inherent tendencies and afflictive emotions, for he knows their future effects as vividly as he knows the present.

In the Buddhist practice, the Yogi at every moment of his life keeps a watchful eye on his body and mind and is fully aware of the modifications taking place in his body and the sensations he is experiencing from the external causes. This is his mindfulness of whatever is happening, and this is combined with the wisdom that knows immediately what inherent latent tendency, desire or emotion that sensation because of the external cause is going to arouse, what its nature is and what effects will follow. Being fully aware of what is useful and beneficial for himself and also for others, what is harmful and evil likewise, the wisdom immediately cuts off the sensations at the sensation level itself and does not allow them to enter further inside and excite the harmful emotions.

From the Buddhist perspective, what you think as an external cause and what you consequently love or hate is in reality not as it appears to be. It is really empty (Śunya) because there is no unchanging permanent substance in it having any essence of its own worth clinging to. What is there is merely a mass of vibrations of subatomic particles (just as in you which you will realize in Vipassanā insight meditation) masquerading as a substance or person- attractive or repulsive. What you know of it is only through the modifications in your own body and the corresponding representations or reflections in the mind. The external cause, person or thing is not known to you directly as it is. What you think attractive or unattractive, beautiful or ugly, exciting or repulsive is all merely your own mental construction, false imagination with ignorant clinging to the modifications in your body and the corresponding mirror reflections in your mind. When you realize that all the external appearances are in truth empty having no inherent substance, essence or existence of their own (or when you realize that all these are not free in themselves, as Spinoza also shows) and detach the mind from what you think the external cause, your craving and hatred will all vanish.

Right Samadhi

Right effort and Right Mindfulness lead to Right Concentration. It is the one-pointedness of the mind. “A concentrated mind acts as a powerful aid to see things as they truly are by means of penetrative insight.

Samadhi means a deeply concentrated state of mind, typically achieved by diligent meditation practice. It is not enough that the mind is properly mindful (i.e., in right mindfulness) for a minute, for an hour, or even for a day. The mind should abide in right mindfulness at all times. That is to achieve right Samadhi. This means the mind achieves a state of absolute stillness and illumination. Stillness of the mind means it is not moved or affected by anything that happens around it; thereby attaining true peacefulness. Illumination means the mind, while unmoving, is clear and lucid, and able to perceive the world truthfully without any deception. The false ego is shattered, all ignorance and delusions are gone, and all attachments, greed, and anger (which are products of delusion) are cleared away. With right Samadhi, true liberation- nirvana is reached. And nirvana-ultimate bliss, is never apart from the mind itself.

Though wisdom is seen as emerging fully only after concentration has been established, its two factors of right view and right intention are considered and placed at the beginning of the Noble Eightfold Path because as certain modicum of right understanding and right intentions are needed to embark upon the threefold discipline of Śîla (morality), Samādhi (concentration) and pañña (wisdom).

The Buddha says: “Develop concentration. for one who has concentration understands things as they really are” (SN:3: 13). He develops knowledge, insight and wisdom to penetrate the truth. As earlier explainted, right view to be gained through right concentration is the correct understanding of the basic laws and truths structuring the actualities of life. The pactice of right mindfulness and right concentration is Samādhi first leads to an intellectual analysis and understanding of the truths at the mandane level i.e. a n understanding of the Law of Karma (that determines the “ becoming” of the according to the oral efficacy of actions) as well as the doctrinal contents of the Dhamma – the three characteristics (impermanence, suffering and selflessness – anicca, asukham and anatta), Dependent origination and the Four Noble Truths intellectually. Deepening of the Samādhi takes the practitioner to the supramundane level where these truths are seen not only intellectually but experientially, where the flow of the underlying Viññāņa (i.e. will energy to become) is seen nakedly as it is, with all its passions. Prejudices. Impulses and sub-conscious and unconscious drives and where the following Viññāņa is totally purified and transformed. At this supramundane level, the practitioner exePeriences the truths and becomes free of all impurities, imperfections, cravings and clinging and has been told by the Buddha in the following immortal words while describing his experience.

As long as. O Bhikkus, The absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these Four Noble Truths ---------------- was not perfectly clear to me, so long I did not acknowledge, in this world together with gods, Maras and Brahmās, amongst the hosts of ascetics and priests, gods and men, that I had gained the incomparable. Supreme Enlightenment. When, O Bhikkhus, the absolute true intuitive knowledge regarding these Four Noble Truths ------- became perfectly clear to me, then only did I acknowledge in this world together with gods. Maras and Brahmās, amongst the hosts of ascetics and priests, gods and men, that I has gained the incomparable, Supreme Enlightenment.”

Thus cognizing, thus perceiving, my mind as delivered from the corruption of sensual craving, delivered from the corruption of craving for existence (i.e. the desire to be born), delivered from the corruption of ignorance. Being delivered, I knew: ‘Delivered am I’, and I realized- Rebirth has ended: fulfilled the Holy Life, done what was to be done; there is none other beyond this life.”

Ignorance was dispelled and wisdom arose; darkness vanished and light arose.” (MahāSaccaka Sutta, Majjhima Nikāya – No. 36).

This is Enlightenment, this is Nibbāna, complete and total freedom from all suffering. At this supramundane level, right view becomes the wisdom that directly penetrates the Four Noble Truths, “sees” the destruction of the defiling impulses within and “experiences” Nibbāna. Right intention, that consisted in thoughts of renunciation, of benevolence and of non-injury at the mundane level, becomes the purified consciousness free from lust, ill-will and other impurities, which fixes the mind upon Nibbāna at the supramundane level.

Buddha based on his experience in the quest for enlightenment has developed and bequeathed to us a unique technique for achieving this transformation of Viññāņa. This is the vipassanā (insight meditation) taught by the Buddha and described in the Satipaţthāna Sutta. Satipaţthāna means the establishing or setting up of Right Mindfulness as discussed earlier.

Questions

  1. Name the Eightfold Path.

  2. What is Right Understanding? To think that “it’s all your fault!” when something bad happens, is that the right understanding of Causality?

  3. What is the difference between Right Understanding and Right Thought?

  4. The Repentance Gatha says, “All the harm I have ever done, since time immemorial, are caused by greed, anger, and ignorance, and produced through my body, speech, and will.” So how should we amend our ways?

  5. How are bad karmas generated?

  6. Name and explain each of the Noble Eightfold Path.

  7. Give examples of right livelihood and wrong livelihood. Since we spend such a large part of our lives on our jobs, how can we make it more meaningful and beneficial to others?

  8. Are we putting in right efforts? Do these efforts lead to our goals? Reflect on what kinds of wrong efforts we have pursued.

  9. What is the difference between right mindfulness and right Samadhi?

  10. Do you think you can lead a life following the Eightfold Path?


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