Noble Eightfold Path

Noble Eightfold Path is the Way leading to cessation contains a thorough and profound training of body, speech, and mind.

1. Right Understanding.

Right Understanding is a clear knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, encompassing the “Three Basic Facts of Existence”: -
  • Anicca (Impermanence), 
  • Anatta (Pali for “non-self” or “insubstantiality”; in Sanskrit Anatman) and 
  • Dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness). 
These are big topics, and we look to the Dharma teachings and commentaries, our own teachers, our own insight meditations for guidance on “right understanding.” Without understanding the Four Noble Truths (the “diseases”) of what use is the “cure” (The Eightfold Path)?

2.  Right Intention.

With clear knowledge, clear thinking follows suit. This is known as the initial application (of knowledge).

Thoughts mould a person’s nature and direct their course and direction of action. Unwholesome thoughts will debase and erode a person’s character over time, while wholesome thoughts will lift him/her higher and higher up.

In particular, Right Thoughts are:-
  • Renunciation Nekkhamma or worldly pleasures, and selflessness (altruism). This is opposed to insatiable desires and selfishness.
  • Loving-kindness Metta or goodwill towards people, including yourself; which is opposed to hatred, ill-will, aversion, dislike, detest and spite.
  • Harmlessness Avihimsa or compassion, as opposed to cruelty and callousness.

3. Right Speech.

Verbal expression and communication need to match Right Thoughts. For instance, you are cursing and swearing, or being harsh and abusive, your thoughts will certainly match your speech, and vice versa. The specifics are:

  • Firstly, avoid speaking lies, slander, harsh words, and indulging in frivolous chatter (gossips, idle talk etc.)
  • Secondly, as mentioned earlier, a harmless mind that generates loving-kindness cannot be giving vent to harsh speech, which first debases the speaker, then hurts the listener(s).
  • Last but not least, what is spoken should not only be true, but also sweet and gentle. If your comment is true but hurtful and unnecessary/unconstructive; then just keep your noble silence.

4. Right Action.

With good thoughts and wholesome speech, naturally, your actions have to be compatible. In particular, abstinence from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct (rape / molestation / deception / abuse). These three unwholesome deeds are caused by craving and anger, coupled with ignorance.

With the gradual elimination of these karmic causes (evil mental/verbal/physical actions) from your mind and body, blameworthy/bad tendencies will find no outlet nor route to express themselves.

5. Right Livelihood.

If you feel good about your job, it’s probably right livelihood. Do you help people? As long as you harm no one, and that would include the environment since that impacts all beings, then it’s right livelihood. Buddha wouldn’t put things in a negative context, but it should be obvious that any attempt at purifying thoughts, words and actions would be severely hindered by five kinds of trade/business/ job that clearly are NOT right livelihood:

  • Weapons (arms) production.
  • Human slavery.
  • Breeding of animals for slaughter / slaughtering animals per se.
  • Illegal drugs (narcotics), alcohol, cigarettes and the like: producing anything known to be bad for sentient beings.
  • Poisons: producing poisons, pollution and other harmful substances.
Hypocritical conduct is cited as the wrong livelihood for monks.

6. Right Effort.

To do anything in life requires determination, persistence and energy. The sustained, lifelong practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, to lead a pure and spiritual life, is the very definition of Right Effort. Right effort includes developing good habits, such as practising right mindfulness, right meditation and other positive moral acts in your daily life, not just occasionally.

7. Right Mindfulness.

The practice of Right Mindfulness, in particular, requires Right Effort. It is the constant watching/observation of your own body and actions, feelings, thoughts and mental objects (your imagination/images in your mind).

This self-observation is useful in two major ways:

  • It complements Vipassana (Insight) Meditation. As a subset of insight, it helps you gain a better understanding of yourself, the ever-changing (impermanent) nature of your own mind and body.
  • It enables you to check any subconscious or careless mental/verbal/physical actions that are negative or bad.
Anapanasati, mindfulness of breath, helps cultivate the seven factors of awakening as defined the Anapanasati Sutta:

  • Sati (mindfulness)
  • Dhamma vicaya (analysis)
  • Viriya (persistence)
  • Piti (rapture)
  • Passadhi (serenity)
  • Samadhi (concentration)
  • Upekkha (equanimity)

8. Right Concentration.

Simply put, Right Meditation is a deep concentration or total focus. The purpose is to train your mind to obey you and not the other way round.

When you start practising meditation, you will be shocked that your mind controls you, and how unruly it is, as a three-year child. (Sometimes we call it “monkey mind” because it won’t settle.) All sorts of thoughts will go and on in your mind. Initially, it will be like wrestling with a bull or trying to ride a wild horse without getting thrown off. But, with persistence, strength and determination, you will gradually find it easier and easier to focus your mind. The key is to become the “observer.” Don’t judge what you observe, simply observe such as it is. Stay in the present, mindfully observing.

Once you have succeeded in focusing your mind on a point, you can direct it / wield it, like a laser pointer. So, where do you point your laser-sharp and mirror-clear mind at? 
The answer is – The Five Aggregates that makeup ‘you’. 
The Five Skandhas (Aggregates or ‘heaps’) is a topic of its own, but in brief, it is the realization that the Five Skandhas entirely constitute sentient existence. The Skandhas are:-

  • Form (rupa or body)
  • Sensations (vedana or feelings)
  • Perceptions (samjna)
  • Mental activity (sankhara or formations)
  • Consciousness (vijnana)
These, interestingly, correspond to the Five Buddha Families (yet another feature story in its own right).

Right meditation includes many methods from different paths, all equally valid:-

  • Apannasati : Mindfulness meditation; sitting, lying, walking, skateboarding, just being mindful all day long. 
  • Samatha : single-pointed meditation (concentrating single focus on breath, for example), helping to give insight into the transitory nature of reality.
  • Vipassana : seeing things as they really are, or discerning “formations” (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates)
  • Panna (in Pali), Prajna (in Sanskrit): wisdom meditation: advanced meditations on reason, wisdom, insight, knowledge, recognition.
  • Metta Meditation : Meditating on loving-kindness for all beings.
  • Analytical meditation : where is this “I”, a specific form of Vipassana and also a subset of Panna meditation.
  • Visualization meditation : Traditionally advanced Enlightened being or deity visualizations in Vajrayana: these guided meditations (in the sense that you typically recite the visualization) take the meditator through the full path, generation, completion, understanding Shunyata through “rehearsal” style drama that ultimately brings insight and realizations. 
  • Mantra meditation : focusing on symbolically sacred sounds (often combined with meditation): can be considered a combination of Samatha (with sound as the focus) and Visualization. Some Buddhist include an element of faith in the use of mantra (or prayer) which can empower the sound. 

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