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Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is, in the teachings of the Buddha, declared to be the way that leads to the cessation of suffering (dukkha) and the achievement of self-awakening. The Noble Eightfold Path is used as an instrument of discovery to gradually generate insights unveiling the ultimate truth of things. It is a technique used to eradicate greed, hatred and delusion. The last of the four noble truths is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. In all of the elements of the noble eightfold path, the word "Right" is a translation of the word samyañc (Sanskrit) or sammā (Pāli), which denotes completion, togetherness, and coherence, and which can also carry the sense of "perfect" or "ideal". In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is often represented by means of the dharma wheel, whose eight spokes represent the eight elements of the path.

Origin

According to the Pali canon discourses, the Noble Eightfold Path was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha during his quest for enlightenment. It is believed to be an ancient path which has been followed and practiced by all the previous Buddhas. The noble eightfold path is a practice that will lead its practitioner toward self-awakening and liberation. It was revealed by the Buddha to his disciples, so that they could follow the very same path.

The practice of the Noble Eightfold Path varies from one Buddhist school to another. Depending on the school, it may be practiced as a whole, only in part, or it may have been modified. Each Buddhist lineage claims the ability to implement the path in the manner most conducive to the development of its students.

The threefold division of the path

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:

Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

The practice

According to the Buddhist monk and scholar Walpola Rahula, the divisions of the noble eightfold path "are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others. Bhikkhu Bodhi explains that "with a certain degree of progress all eight factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others. However, until that point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable".

According to the discourses in the Pali Canon, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness are used as the support and requisite conditions for the practice of right concentration. Understanding of the right view is the preliminary role, and is also the forerunner of the entire Noble Eightfold Path. The practitioner should first try to understand the concepts of right view. Once right view has been understood, it will inspire and encourage the arising of right intention within the practitioner. Right intention will lead to the arising of right speech. Right speech will lead to the arising of right action. Right action will lead to the arising of right livelihood. Right livelihood will lead to the arising of right effort. Right effort will lead to the arising of right mindfulness. The practitioner must make the right effort to abandon the wrong view and to enter into the right view. Right mindfulness is used in order to constantly remain in the right view. This will help the practitioner restrain greed, hatred and delusion.

Once these support and requisite conditions have been established, a practitioner can then practice right concentration more easily. During the practice of right concentration, one will need to use right effort and right mindfulness to aid concentration practice. In the state of concentration, one will need to investigate and verify his or her understanding of right view. This will then result in the arising of right knowledge, which will eliminate greed, hatred and delusion. The last and final factor to arise is right liberation.

Wisdom (PrajñāPaññā)

"Wisdom", sometimes translated as "discernment" at its preparatory role, provides the sense of direction with its conceptual understanding of reality. It is designed to awaken the faculty of penetrative understanding to see things as they really are. At a later stage, when the mind has been refined by training in moral discipline and concentration, and with the gradual arising of right knowledge, it will arrive at a superior right view and right intention.

Right view

Right view (• ) can also be translated as "right perspective", "right vision" or "right understanding". It is the right way of looking at life, nature and the world as they really are. It is to understand how reality works. It acts as the reasoning for the practictioner to start practicing the path. It explains the reasons for human existence, suffering, sickness, aging, death, the existence of greed, hatred and delusion. It gives direction and efficacy to the other seven path factors. Right view begins with concepts and propositional knowledge but through the practice of right concentration it gradually becomes transmuted into wisdom which can eradicate the fetters of the mind. Understanding of right view will inspire the person to lead a virtuous life in line with right view. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

There are two types of right view:

  1. View with taints: this view is mundane. Having this type of view will bring merit and will support the favourable existence of the sentient being in the realm of samsara.
  2. View without taints: this view is supramundane. It is a factor of the path and will lead the holder of this view toward self-awakening and liberation from the realm of samsara.

Right view has many facets, its elementary form is suitable for lay followers, while the other which requires deeper understanding is suitable for monastic. Usually it involves understanding the following reality:

  1. Moral law of karma: Every action (by way of body, speech and mind) will have karmic results. Wholesome and unwholesome actions will produce results and effects that correspond with the nature of that action. It is the right view about the moral process of the world.
  2. The three characteristics: everything that arises will cease (impermanence). Mental and body phenomena are impermanent, source of suffering and not-self.
  3. Suffering: Birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress and despair are suffering. Not being able to obtain what one wants is also suffering. The arising of craving is the root cause of the arising of suffering and the cessation of craving is the root cause of the cessation of the suffering. The way leading to the cessation of suffering is the noble eightfold path. This type of right view is explained in terms of Four Noble Truths.

Right view for monastics is explained in detail in the ("Right View Discourse"), in which Ven. Sariputta instructs that right view can alternately be attained by the thorough understanding of the unwholesome and the wholesome, the four nutriments, the twelve nidanas or the three taints. "Wrong view" arising from ignorance (avijja), is the precondition for wrong intention, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness and wrong concentration. The practitioner should use right effort to abandon the wrong view and to enter into right view. Right mindfulness is used in order to constantly remain in right view.

The purpose of right view is to clear one's path of the majority of confusion, misunderstanding and deluded thinking. It is a means to gain right understanding of reality. According to the Pali Canon commentary, right view should be held with a flexible, open mind, without clinging to that view as a dogmatic position. In this way, right view becomes a route to liberation rather than an obstacle. Direct realization of the Four Noble Truths may come at the peak level of self-development during the practice of right concentration.

Right intention

Right intention can also be translated as "right thought", "right resolve", or "right aspiration" or "the exertion of our own will to change". In this factor, the practitioner should constantly aspire to rid themselves of whatever qualities that they know are wrong and immoral. Correct understanding of right view will help the practitioner to discern the differences between right intention and wrong intention. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

It means the renunciation of the worldly things and an accordant greater commitment to the spiritual path; good will; and a commitment to non-violence, or harmlessness, towards other living beings.

''Main Article:" Buddhist ethics'

Ethical conduct (ŚīlaSīla)

In order for the mind to be unified in concentration, it is necessary to restrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements. Ethical conduct is used primarily as aids for mental purification.

Right speech

Right speech (samyag-vācsammā-vācā), deals with the way in which a Buddhist practitioner would best make use of their words. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

The Samaññaphala Sutta, Kevatta Sutta and Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta elaborate:

The Abhaya Sutta elaborates:

Right action

Right action (samyak-karmāntasammā-kammanta) can also be translated as "right conduct". As such, the practitioner should train oneself to be morally upright in ones activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others. In the Pali Canon, it is explained as:

For the lay follower, the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta elaborates:

For the monastic, the Samaññaphala Sutta adds:

Right livelihood

Right livelihood (samyag-ājīvasammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

The five types of businesses that are harmful to undertake are:

  1. Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
  2. Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
  3. Business in meat: "meat" refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
  4. Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
  5. Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of toxic product designed to kill.

Samādhi: Mental Discipline, Concentration, Meditation

Samadhi is literally translated as "concentration", it is achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.

Right effort

Right effort (samyag-vyāyāmasammā-vāyāma) can also be translated as "right endeavor". In this factor, the practitioners should make a persisting effort to abandon all the wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds. The practitioner should instead be persisting in giving rise to what would be good and useful to themselves and others in their thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the difficulty or weariness involved. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

Although the above instruction is given to the male monastic order, it is also meant for the female monastic order and can be practiced by lay followers from both genders.

The above four phases of right effort mean:

  1. make effort to prevent the unwholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself.
  2. make effort to destroy the unwholesome that has arisen in oneself.
  3. make effort to arouse the wholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself.
  4. make effort to maintain the wholesome that has arisen in oneself.

Right mindfulness

Right mindfulness (• sammā-sati), also translated as "right memory", "right awareness" or "right attention". Here, practitioners should constantly keep their minds alert to phenomena that affect the body and mind. They should be mindful and deliberate, making sure not to act or speak due to inattention or forgetfulness. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

Although the above instruction is given to the male monastic order, it is also meant for the female monastic order and can be practiced by lay followers from both genders.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, a monk of the Theravada tradition, further explains the concept of mindfulness as follows:

Right concentration

Right concentration (samyak-samādhisammā-samādhi), as its Pali and Sanskrit names indicate, is the practice of concentration (samadhi). As such, the practitioner concentrates on an object of attention until reaching full concentration and a state of meditative absorption (jhana). Traditionally, the practice of samadhi can be developed through mindfulness of breathing, through visual objects (kasina), and through repetition of phrases. Samadhi is used to suppress the five hindrances in order to enter into jhana. Jhana is an instrument used for developing wisdom by cultivating insight and using it to examine true nature of phenomena with direct cognition. This leads to cutting off the defilements, realizing the dhamma and, finally, self-awakening. During the practice of right concentration, the practitioner will need to investigate and verify their right view. In the process right knowledge will arise, followed by right liberation. In the Pali Canon, it is explained thus:

Although this instruction is given to the male monastic order, it is also meant for the female monastic order and can be practiced by lay followers from both genders.

According to the Pali canon, right concentration is dependent on the development of preceding path factors:

The acquired factors

In the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta, which appears in the Pali canon, the Buddha explains that cultivation of the noble eightfold path leads to the development of two further factors, which are right knowledge/insight (sammā-ñāṇa) and right liberation/release (sammā-vimutti). These two factors fall under the category of wisdom (paññā).

Right knowledge and right liberation

Right knowledge is seeing things as they really are by direct experience, not as they appear to be, nor as the practitioner wants them to be, but as they truly are. A result of Right Knowledge is the tenth factor - Right liberation.

These two factors are the end result of correctly practicing the noble eightfold path, which arise during the practice of right concentration. The first to arise is right knowledge: this is where deep insight into the ultimate reality arises. The last to arise is right liberation: this is where self-awakening occurs and the practitioner has reached the pinnacle of their practice.

The noble eightfold path and cognitive psychology

In the essay "Buddhism Meets Western Science", Gay Watson explains:

The noble eightfold path is, from this psychological viewpoint, an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior. It is for this reason that the first element of the path is right understanding which is how one's mind views the world. Under the wisdom (paññā) subdivision of the noble eightfold path, this worldview is intimately connected with the second element, right thought which concerns the patterns of thought and intention that controls one's actions. These elements can be seen at work, for example, in the opening verses of the Dhammapada:

Thus, by altering one's distorted worldview, bringing out "tranquil perception" in the place of "perception polluted", one is able to ease suffering. Watson points this out from a psychological standpoint:

Research has shown that repeated action, learning, and memory can actually change the nervous system physically, altering both synaptic strength and connections. Such changes may be brought about by cultivated change in emotion and action; they will, in turn, change subsequent experience.

See also

Notes

References

  • Allan, John (2008). The Eight-fold Path. Retrieved 2008-03-06 from "BuddhaNet" at http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm.
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  • Bogoda, Robert (1994). A Simple Guide to Life (Wheel No. 397/398). Kandy: BPS. Retrieved 2008-02-04 from "Access to Insight" (1996) at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bogoda/wheel397.html.
  • Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4
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  • Niimi, J. Buddhism and Cognitive Science. Retrieved 8 July 2006.
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  • Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, 1974. ISBN 0-802-13031-3.
  • Rewata Dhamma. The First Discourse of the Buddha. Somerville, Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-86171-104-1.
  • Snelling, John. The Buddhist Handbook: A Complete Guide to Buddhist Schools, Teaching, Practice, and History. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1991. ISBN.
  • Sri Lanka Buddha Jayanti Tipitaka Series (SLTP) (n.d.). Avijjāvaggo (SN 44 [Sinhalese ed.], ch. 1, in Pali). Retrieved on 16 July 2007 from "Mettanet - Lanka" at: http://mettanet.org/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/3Samyutta-Nikaya/Samyutta5/44-Magga-Samyutta/01-Avijjavaggo-p.html.
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu; tr. Magga-vibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Path (SN 45.8), 1996. Retrieved 25 June 2006 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn45/sn45.008.than.html.
  • —. Abhaya Sutta: To Prince Abhaya (On Right Speech) (MN 58); 1997a. Retrieved 20 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.058.than.html.
  • —. Avijja Sutta: Ignorance (SN 45.1); 1997f. Retrieved 2008-02-04 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn45/sn45.001.than.html.
  • —. Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta: To Cunda the Silversmith (AN 10.176); 1997b. Retrieved 19 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.176.than.html.
  • —. Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta (DN 11); 1997c. Retrieved 19 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html.
  • —. Maha-cattarisaka Sutta: The Great Forty (MN 117); 1997d. Retrieved 2 October 2006 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.117.than.html.
  • —. : The Fruits of the Contemplative Life (DN 2); 1997e. Retrieved 19 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html.
  • —. Canki Sutta: With Canki (excerpt) (MN 95); 1999. Retrieved 20 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.095x.than.html.
  • —. Maha-satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference (DN 22); 2000. Retrieved 18 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.22.0.than.html.
  • —. Vanijja Sutta: Business (Wrong Livelihood) (AN 5.177); 2001. Retrieved 2 October 2006 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.177.than.html.
  • —. Micchatta Sutta: Wrongness (AN 10.103); 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-04 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an10/an10.103.than.html.
  • —. Saccavibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Truths (MN 141); 2005. Retrieved 18 July 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.141.than.html.
  • Watson, Gay. Buddhism Meets Western Science. Retrieved 8 July 2006.

Related texts

  • Sangharakshita, 'The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path', Windhorse Publications, 2007. ISBN 1899579818.

External links

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