Noble Eightfold Path
The Buddha said that he taught one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering. By suffering he meant opening our eyes to seeing how wanting causes our suffering. Then he gave us the Noble Eightfold Path as the pathway to follow to end our suffering. Here are the eight steps of the Path:
1. Right View.
2. Right Motivation: loving friendliness (metta), harmlessness, letting go
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Samadhi (stillness)
1. Right View. We won't start on the Path if we have ignorance of the first two of the Four Noble Truths: that suffering exists and is caused by wanting. Wanting the present moment to be different than it is. Wanting to have something we don't yet have. Wanting something unpleasant to go away. And the third Noble Truth gives us hope that we can bring an end to our suffering. Otherwise, why would we make any effort if we felt it was hopeless to end our suffering.
Right View is different from the more common view that we will end our suffering by acquiring more things or having more pleasurable experiences to make us happy. As long as we don't have what we desire, we walk around feeling empty or sad, or even angry if we feel others or life circumstances are preventing us from obtaining our desires. And there is its opposite, that we believe we need to get rid of annoyances in order to be happy. This can lead to extreme behaviour: violence towards others or ourself or intolerance. Holding this view, we are condemned to walk around with anger in our hearts as long as the annoyance is present.
Another aspect of Right View is possessing moral shame i.e. having a conscience. This is what keeps the world civilized.
We can still "want" things while holding Right View. But we don't allow their absence in this moment to cause us suffering. For example: say we want a new car but don't have the finances to purchase one immediately or don't have the time to research what is the best car for our purposes. We can make a plan: save so much money each month towards the purchase or set aside so much time each week to do research. Then we let go. We accept reality. We can't have the car right now. It will happen in the future. We let go of wanting it right now. We focus on the present moment and enjoy the present as it is.
What about if we want society to be more just or people to care more about the environment? Again, we can make a plan for what kind of effort we want to make towards improving equality in the world or educating others about the environment. But we must keep the first Noble Truth in mind, that there is suffering in the world. The Buddha taught us that in this world system there will always be suffering, due to greed, either overt or covert. Covert greed arises when something in the environment stimulates us. This is what advertising is all about.
We will never be able to create "heaven on earth". Due to greed there will always be people who put their own needs and comfort ahead of the needs and comfort of others. So our goal is not achieving total world peace, equality and environmental stewardship. Our goal is to ensure we are aiding these visions in how we live our own life, to the best of our ability, and then to help some others see the beauty of living a moral, caring life. We focus on our actions in the moment. We don't allow ourselves to fuel our anger or resentment or sadness by repeatedly bringing to mind all that is wrong with the world.
2. Right Motivation. This has often been termed Right Intention. But I recently listened to a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm who clarified the difference between motivation and intention. Motivation is what motivates us to do a certain action. Intention is what we hope to achieve by doing the action. For example: say you have a pet dog who is elderly and sick and appears to be in a lot of pain. You decide to go to the vet and have the dog "put down". Your motivation is compassion. You don't want your pet to suffer. Your intention is to have him killed. But this is so different from a murderer who has an intention to kill a human being but the motivation is robbery or anger or revenge.
So this second step is actually to do with motivation. What motivates our actions? We want to be motivated by loving friendliness (metta) and harmlessness towards others and ourself. We don't want to be motivated by anger or revenge. And the third motivation is letting go, letting go of wanting. This happens gradually, for two reasons. One is gradually realizing that the pleasure we receive from satisfying our wants is impermanent. The other is the pleasure that we experience in our meditation practice. With deep stillness we experience a bliss that far exceeds any pleasure we receive from the sensory world. Our goal for our spiritual practice is happiness. So we don't want to be forcibly depriving ourself of the worldly pleasures before we are ready. It will be a natural process, a "been there, done that" experience as our insight into impermanence deeps and as our pleasure from the meditation practice deepens. One analogy is of a child with their toys. At a certain age they are very attached to certain toys. But as they grow older, they lose interest in those toys. They lie there, forgotten. This is the natural process of letting go. The Buddha's teaching on letting go (renunciation) is given in MN 75.
3. Right Speech. Right Speech is refraining from lying, from malicious gossip, from harsh speech, and from useless chatter.
Abstaining from Lying
We do not consciously speak a falsehood for our own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end. To be a deliberate lie, you must be aware “I am going to speak falsely”; while speaking be aware that “I am telling a lie” and afterwards be aware that “I have misrepresented the truth”. If we make a promise that we have no intention of keeping, that too is called a lie.
Abstaining from Malicious Gossip
We abandon malicious gossip and abstain from talk that causes division. Having heard something, we do not repeat it in order to divide people from one another. Instead, we reunite those who are divided, promote unity, enjoy concord, rejoice in concord, delight in concord and speak words that promote concord.
Abstaining from Harsh Speech
We speak words that are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and lovable; words that go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many. We use good speech whether in front of a person or behind their back.
The Buddha gave us a very high bar for our hearts. He said: "Even if terrorists were to torture you, such as by savagely cutting off your limbs with a two-handled saw, one who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching." He's asking us to feeling loving friendliness and compassion to someone who is savagely killing us.
The Buddha goes on to say, "Instead you should train yourself thus: "My mind will remain unaffected, and I shall speak no bad words. I shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. I shall abide pervading them with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; and, starting with them, I shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will."
Since the Buddha asks us to feel loving friendliness (metta) towards someone torturing us, then surely, we can strive to feel metta towards someone who has used wrong speech to us, irritates us or lets us down in some way. We should utter no bad words to them or behind their back and we should keep their welfare in our heart. That is how we should train. Note, the Buddha said this is how we should train. He expects that in difficult situations we may revert to our former habit energy and use wrong speech and forget about radiating metta to one who is irritating or harming us. We learn from this, make amends, forgive ourselves and make a determination to use right speech and radiate metta in future situations. Thich Nhat Hanh's book, "For a Future to be Possible", which is in our library, discusses this beautifully.
Abstaining from Useless Chatter
This means speaking what is beneficial. Beneficial talk may include friendly chatter and joking that has the effect of creating friendship and community.
The Buddha gave us guidelines on the right way to criticize someone i.e. to maintain Right Speech
Before we criticize someone, we should be mindful with respect to five things and carefully establish five things:
1. Is my bodily behaviour pure? Do I possess bodily behaviour that is pure, flawless and irreproachable? Does this quality exist in me or not?
If my bodily behaviour is not pure, and I do not possess bodily behaviour that is pure, flawless and irreproachable, there will be those who say of me: “Please train your own bodily behaviour first.”
2. Is my speech pure? Do I possess speech that is pure, flawless and irreproachable? Does this quality exist in me or not?”
If my speech is not pure, and I do not possess speech that is pure, flawless and irreproachable, there will be those who say of you: “Please train your own speech first.”
3. Have I established a mind of loving friendliness without resentment or ill will to my associates? Does this quality exist in me or not?”
If I have not established a mind of loving friendliness without resentment to my associates, there will be those who say of me: “Please establish a mind of loving friendliness without resentment to your associates first.” Having loving friendliness means I can speak softly when offering a criticism.
4. Am I learned, and do I retain and understand what I have learned? Have I learned much about those teachings that are good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, which proclaim the perfectly complete and pure spiritual life? Have I retained them in mind, mentally investigated them, and understood them properly? Does this quality exist in me or not?”
If not, there will be those who say of me: “Please learn your own tradition first.” i.e. make sure you know what you are talking about.
5. I resolve to speak at a proper time, not an improper time. i.e. not when the other person is tired, overburdened and stressed out. Find a time when they are rested, relaxed and open. And never criticize anyone in public.
In summary, I resolve to speak truthfully, not falsely. So make sure I have my facts correct. I resolve to speak gently, not harshly. If I speak with anger, all the person hears is the anger, not my message. I resolve to speak in a beneficial way, not in a way that causes harm. Sometimes criticism will lead to harm, so it is best, if possible, to just leave the situation alone and let the person discover their mistake on their own. I resolve to speak with a mind of loving friendliness, not while harbouring ill will.
4. Right Action is refraining from the destruction of life, refraining from taking what is not given and refraining from sexual misconduct. We act conscientiously and kindly with compassion towards all living beings.
We do not harm others. We abstain from taking what is not given. We do not steal the wealth and property of others. We do not have sexual relations with those under the age of consent; with those who are unable to give consent (e.g.those mentally disabled); with those who are not free to refuse consent (such as a student to their teacher); where such conduct would be breaking a law; or with one who is in a relationship with another.
5. Right Livelihood
This basically means earning a living doing a job that doesn't cause harm to others or oneself. In the time of the Buddha, these occupations were defined as trading in weapons, trading in living beings, trading in meat, trading in intoxicants, and trading in poisons.
6. Right Effort. This has been described in an earlier set of the 37 Aids to Awakening. See part two. Briefly, the first two efforts concern the hindrances, the first to prevent them from arising and the second to abandon them once arisen. The second two efforts concern the factors of Awakening, the third effort is to arouse them if they are not present and the fourth effort is to maintain or develop them if they are present.
7. Right Mindfulness. The has been described in part three . Briefly it means being aware of the present moment and remembering what we have determined to be our focus in the present moment. Remembering what is skillful and what is unskillful. The four different areas that we can apply our mindfulness are to the body, most commonly the breath, feeling tone, the mind and the teachings of the Buddha.
8. Right Stillness (samadhi). This was described in part five. As we settle into our meditation practice our mind becomes more and more still. It jumps around less and less. The hindrances gradually disappear. Since our senses are not being stimulated, they shut down. We have now entered a pure experience of our mind. This state is called a jhana. There are different levels of jhana, depending on the degree of stillness. Jhanas are ecperienced as very blissful. This is the inner happiness that allows us to let go of pursuing happiness from the sensory world, as it pales in comparison. The jhanas are explained in Lesson seven under Teachings.
Please read a detailed description of the Path at this link.
Summary of the progress of meditation:
- overcome the gross hindrances with Right Effort
- overcome the subtle hindrances with Satipatthana (via anapanasati)
- calm good thoughts and feelings with satipatthana (via anapanasati)
- enter jhana
- emerge from jhana and contemplate the three characteristics of all things: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self.
This seven part article is based on a series of Dhamma talks given by Ajahn Brahmali at a nine day retreat.
Translators use different terms to try and give us an accurate meaning of the Pali words of the Buddha. This is difficult as usually one word doesn't convey the full meaning of the Pali word. Since different translators use different words, this can be confusing for a beginner. On a positive note, it offers us a fuller meaning of the word. Below is a list of a few words with multiple translations:
Awakening, Enlightenment, Realization, NIbbana, Nirvana
Four Satipatthanas, Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Four Applications of MIndfulness, Four Focuses of Mindfulness
Faith, confirmed confidence
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