A brief anatomy of Buddha’s “eightfold path” (ariya aṭṭhaṅgika magga) with a peculiar prolusion via “four noble truth” (cattāri ariyasaccāni)

The system of Dhamma (Buddh-ism) concerns itself with pain, suffering, moderation, balance, equanimity, self-discipline, purification, wisdom, virtue, kamma, rebirth, tolerance, loving-kindness, meritorious action, selflessness, universal compassion, the law of opposites, non-attachment, meditation, freedom, enlightenment, nothingness, nibbana, and all of these aspects blend together into one, great, harmonious whole, before they come apart and become nothing.

But if a Buddhist or any informed layman were asked: “What did the Buddha teach?”, the correct reply would be: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

If then questioned further, one should be able to define these teachings accurately, without uncertainty, ambiguity, or recourse to one’s own ideas. In other words, it is very important that the words of the Buddha are not distorted, either through ignorance or through one’s own speculation.

First, however, let us address the life of Siddhartha Gautama, who became a Buddha by his own effort-an Enlightened One at the age of 35, after meditating under a Bo tree and attaining the perfect embodiment of all virtues.

Having attained Buddhahood, the Buddha chose to return into the secular world out of boundless compassion and loving-kindness for others, beginning with his fellow ascetics, who had previously deserted him in the Deer Park near Benares, to share his wisdom, teaching them the path to enlightenment.

The Buddha devoted the rest of his life to serving humanity through his own example, teaching the path to deliverance from suffering through selfless love for others for the next 45 years, until he succumbed to the laws of nature and passed away in his 80th year.

The Buddha was a human being, albeit an extraordinary one, who was born, lived, and died, just like anyone else. He was not a divine being or a god, but through his own striving, without supernatural help, he became a perfect example of virtuousness, showing others the way to deliverance via the path of righteousness, through self-reliance, through self-dependence, and through self-discipline, following the path to enlightenment.

Anybody may strive to achieve this state, but you have to find it within yourself and not even the Buddha can make this effort for you. He can only show you the way. The rest depends on you to avoid the hindrances of delusion and attachment.

The first step to removing these hindrances is through moral self-purification ( sila)-an aspect of Buddhism that is sometimes under-stressed by seekers, who concentrate too much on meditation and insight and not enough on developing purity in their everyday moral actions. One cannot reach the final step without taking the first step of developing purity, goodness, and virtue through observing the precepts of right action, right speech, and right livelihood. One must first purify oneself on these points to arrive at higher insight.

The Buddha was not only the perfect example of wisdom but also of virtue, and his followers had the chance to be in his proximity over a ministry of 45 years, learning by his word and his example: an example which was even more convincing because of the inner tranquillity and outward radiance, loving-kindness, and universal wisdom that accompanied his presence.

Once he attained enlightenment, the Buddha could have turned his back on the world of sorrow, but he did not. He chose, through love and compassion for humanity, to help those still suffering in a world of temporality, impermanence, and spiritual pain.

We have a very good record of what the Buddha said during his lifetime as a teacher. The Buddha’s discourses were, in fact, codified and rehearsed by his followers a few months after his passing away, and eventually written down. Their presentation and penetration are comprehensive. Indeed, the Buddhist scriptures taken together constitute a body of literature 11 times the length of the Christian Bible, the difference being that in the Buddhist scriptures, everything emanates from one mind and thus coheres consistently together.

As every Buddhist knows, the basis of the Buddha’s teaching is to be found in the Four Noble Truths:

1. Suffering exists

2. The Cause of Suffering

3. The Cessation of Suffering

4. The Middle Way: The Noble Eightfold Path to the cessation of suffering

The Buddha said that supreme and unsurpassed enlightenment had come to him only after the realization of these four truths.

The first is the Noble Truth of Suffering: humans are born into a world of suffering. Birth is suffering. Disease, old age, decay, and death are suffering. Life is full of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Not getting what one desires is suffering. Being exposed to unpleasantness is suffering. Being cut off from desired objects and pleasures is suffering, making us sometimes wish we had not been born.

Purport

The First noble truth is the full understanding of suffering. Of course, in an obvious way, people are aware of suffering and know when they have unpleasant sensations such as hunger, cold, or sickness. But the first noble truth includes awareness of all the ramifications of suffering. It encompasses the very causal nature of suffering. This includes knowledge of the subtle and the obvious aspects of suffering.

The obvious aspect of suffering is immediate pain or difficulty in the moment. Subtle suffering is more difficult to recognize because it begins with happiness. But by its very nature this happiness must change because it can’t go on forever. Because it must change into suffering, this subtle suffering is the impermanence of pleasure.

One thinks that a particular situation will give one the most happiness one can ever imagine, but actually, within the situation, there is a tremendous amount of anguish. If one thinks of those who are really fortunate’ gods or human beings with a very rich and healthy life it seems as though they have nothing but happiness. It is hard to understand that the very root, the very fiber of what is taking place is suffering because the situation is subject to change. What is happiness by its very nature it can often mean that there will be suffering later on. There is no worldly happiness that lasts for a very long time. Worldly happiness includes an element of change, of built-in suffering. For that reason, the first noble truth of the awareness of suffering refers not just to immediate suffering, but also to the subtle elements of suffering.

The Buddha taught the truth of suffering because everything that takes place on a worldly level is a form of suffering. If we are suffering but are not aware of it, we will never have the motivation to eliminate this suffering and will continue to suffer. When we are aware of suffering, we can overcome it. With the more subtle forms of suffering, if we are happy and become aware that the happiness automatically includes the seed of suffering, then we will be much less inclined to become attached to this happiness. We will then think, ‘Oh, this seems to be happiness, but it has built-in suffering.’ Then we will want to dissociate from it.

The first truth is that we should be aware of the nature of suffering. Once we have a very clear picture of the nature of suffering, we can really begin to avoid such suffering. Of course, everyone wants to avoid suffering and to emerge from suffering, but to accomplish this we need to be absolutely clear about its nature. When we become aware that the nature of day-to-day existence is suffering, we don’t have to be miserable with the thought that suffering is always present. Suffering doesn’t go on forever because the Buddha entered our world, gave teachings, and explained clearly what suffering is. He also taught the means by which suffering can end and described a state of liberation which is beyond suffering. We do not have to endure suffering and can, in fact, be happy. Even though we cannot immediately eliminate suffering by practicing the Buddha’s teachings, we can gradually eliminate suffering in this way, and move towards eventual liberation. This fact in itself can help us gain peace of mind even before we have actually emerged completely from suffering.

Applying the Buddha’s teachings, we can be happy in the relative phase of our progress and then at the end we will gain wisdom and liberation and be happy in the ultimate sense, as well. The first noble truth makes it clear that there is suffering. Once we know what suffering is, we must eliminate that suffering. It is not a question of eliminating the suffering itself, but of eliminating the causes of suffering. Once we remove the causes of suffering, then automatically the effect, which is suffering, is no longer present. This is why to eliminate this suffering, we must become aware of the second noble truth, the truth of interdependent origination.

The Second Noble Truth is the Cause of Suffering, which is Craving: the root of suffering is craving the delights and pleasures of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. Where such cravings arise and take root, there will be suffering. Craving for delight and pleasure of the mind also causes suffering. Craving eternal existence, higher forms of existence, continued existence, immaterial existence, and craving the continued existence of the self all bring suffering. Craving the cessation of pain also brings suffering.

Purport

The truth of interdependent origination is an English translation of the name the Buddha gave to this noble truth. It means ‘that which is the cause or origin of absolutely everything.’ The truth of universal origination indicates that the root cause of suffering is karma and the disturbing emotions (kleshas). Karma is a Sanskrit word which means ‘activity’ and klesha in Sanskrit means ‘mental defilement’ or ‘mental poison.’ If we do not understand the Buddha’s teachings, we would most likely attribute all happiness and suffering to some external cause. We might think that happiness and suffering come from the environment, or from the gods, and that everything that happens originates from some source outside of our control. If we believe this, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to eliminate suffering and its causes.

On the other hand, when we realize that the experience of suffering is a product of what we have done, that is, a result of our actions, eliminating suffering becomes possible. Once we are aware of how suffering takes place, then we can begin to remove the causes of suffering. First, we must realize that what we experience is not dependent on external forces, but on what we have done previously. This is the understanding of karma. Karma produces suffering and is driven by the disturbing emotions. The term ‘defilement’ refers mainly to our negative motivation and negative thoughts which produce negative actions.

The Third Noble Truth is the Cessation of Suffering: what may bring about the extinction of suffering? The complete fading away and extinction of craving. Liberation and detachment from craving, that craving may vanish and be extinguished. The forsaking of desire for delightful and pleasurable things. Breaking free of the cankers of attachment and seeing the things of this world as impermanent, miserable, transitory, and elusive will bring about the annihilation of sorrow. Freedom from desire will bring about the extinction of suffering.

Purport

The third noble truth is the cessation of suffering through which the causes of karma and the disturbing emotions can be removed. We have control over suffering because karma and the disturbing emotions take place within us…we create them, we experience them. For that reason, we don’t need to depend on anyone else to remove the cause of suffering. The truth of interdependent origination is that if we do unvirtuous actions, we are creating suffering. It also means that if we abandon unvirtuous actions, we remove the possibility of experiencing suffering in the future. What we experience is entirely in our hands. Therefore, the Buddha has said that we should give up the causes of karma and the disturbing emotions. Virtuous actions result in happiness and unvirtuous actions result in suffering.

This idea is not particularly easy to grasp because we can’t see the whole process take place from beginning to end. There are three kinds of actions: mental, verbal, and physical. These are subdivided into virtuous and unvirtuous physical actions, virtuous and unvirtuous verbal actions, and virtuous and unvirtuous mental actions. If we abandon the three types of unvirtuous actions, then our actions become automatically virtuous. There are three unvirtuous physical actions: the harming of life, sexual misconduct, and stealing. The results of these three unvirtuous actions can be observed immediately. For example, when there is a virtuous relationship between a man and woman who care about each other, who help each other, and have a great deal of love and affection for each other, they will be happy because they look after each other. Their wealth will usually increase and if they have children, their love and care will result in mutual love in the family. In the ordinary sense, happiness develops out of this deep commitment and bond they have promised to keep.

Whereas, when there is an absence of commitment, there is also little care and sexual misconduct arises. This is not the ground out of which love arises, or upon which a home in which children can develop happiness can be built. One can readily see that a lack of sexual fidelity can create many kinds of difficulties. One can also see the immediate consequences of other unvirtuous physical actions. One can see that those who steal have difficulties and suffer; those who don’t steal experience happiness and have a good state of mind. Likewise, those who kill create many problems and unhappiness for themselves, while those who support life are happy. The same applies to our speech although it is not so obvious. But on closer examination, we can also see how happiness develops out of virtuous speech and unhappiness results from unvirtuous speech. At first, lying may seem to be useful because we might think that we can deceive others and gain some advantage.

But the Sakya Pandita (1147–1216), a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, said that this is not true. If we lie to our enemies or persons we don’t get along with very well, because they are our enemies, they are not going to pay attention to what we are saying anyway. It will be quite hard to deceive them. If they are our friends, we might be able to deceive them at first by telling a lie. But after the first time, they won’t trust us anymore and may see us as untrustworthy. Lying therefore doesn’t really accomplish anything. Then if we look at the opposite, a person who takes pains to speak the truth will develop a reputation for being a truthful person and out of this trust many good things will emerge. Once we have considered the example of the consequences of lying, we can think of similar consequences relating to other kinds of damaging speech: slander, and coarse, aggressive, and useless speech.

In the long-term virtuous speech produces happiness and unvirtuous speech produces suffering. When we say ‘useless speech,’ we mean speech that is really useless, not just conversational. So, if we have a good mind and want someone to relax and be happy, even though the words may not have great meaning, our words are based on the idea of benefit and goodness. By useless speech we mean chatter for no reason at all. Worse than that is ‘chatter rooted in the disturbing emotions.’ When we say bad things about other people because of a dislike or jealousy of them. We just gossip about people’s character. That is really useless speech. Besides being useless, this very often causes trouble because it sets people against each other and causes bad feelings. The same applies to ‘harmful speech.’

If there is really a loving and beneficial reason for talking, for example, scolding a child when the child is doing something dangerous or scolding a child for not studying in school, that is not harmful speech because it is devoid of the disturbing emotions, rather it is a skilful way of helping someone. If there is that really genuine, beneficial attitude and love behind what we say, it is not harmful speech. But if speech is related to the disturbing emotions such as aggression or jealousy, then it is harmful speech and should be given up. We can go on to examine the various states of mind and see that a virtuous mind produces happiness and unvirtuous states of mind create unhappiness. For instance, strong aggression will cause us to lose our friends. Because of our aggressive-ness, those who don’t like us or our enemies will become even worse enemies and the situation will become inflamed. If we are aggressive and hurt others and they have friends, eventually those friends will also become enemies.

On the other hand, goodness will arise through our caring for our loved ones and then extending this by wishing to help others. Through this they will become close and helpful friends. Through the power of our love and care, our enemies and people we don’t get along with will improve their behaviour and maybe those enemies will eventually become friends. If we have companions and wish to benefit others, we can end up with very good friends and all the benefits which that brings. In this way we can see how cause and effect operate, how a virtuous mind brings about happiness and how an unvirtuous mind brings about suffering and problems. There are two main aspects of karma: one related to experience and one related to conditioning. The karma relating to experience has already been discussed. Through unvirtuous physical actions we will experience problems and unhappiness.

Likewise, through unvirtuous speech such as lying, we will experience unhappiness and sorrow. With an unvirtuous state of mind, we will also experience unhappiness as was demonstrated by the example of having an aggressive attitude. All of this is related to the understanding that any unvirtuous activity produces unhappiness and pain. The second aspect of karma relates to conditioning. By acting unvirtuously with our body, speech, or mind, we habituate ourselves to a certain style of behaviour. Unvirtuous physical or verbal behaviours create the habit of this type of behaviour. For example, each time one kills, one is conditioned to kill again. If one lies, that increases the habit of lying. An aggressive mind conditions one’s mind so one becomes more aggressive. In our later lives, that conditioning will continue on so that we will be reborn with a great tendency to kill, to lie, to engage in sexual misconduct, and so on.

These are the two aspects to karma. One is the direct consequence of an act and the other is the conditioning that creates a tendency to engage in behaviour of that kind. Through these two aspects karma produces all happiness and suffering in life. Even though we may recognize that unvirtuous karma gives rise to suffering and virtuous karma gives rise to happiness, it is hard for us to give up unvirtuous actions and practice virtuous actions because the disturbing emotions exercise a powerful influence on us. We realize that suffering is caused by unvirtuous karma, but we can’t give up the karma itself. We need to give up the disturbing emotions because they are the root of unvirtuous actions. To give up the disturbing emotions means to give up unvirtuous actions of body (such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct), the unvirtuous actions of speech (such as lying, slander and harmful and useless speech), and the unvirtuous aspects of mind (such as aggression, attachment, or ignorance). Just wanting to give up the disturbing emotions does not remove them.

However, the Buddha in his great kindness and wisdom has given us a very skilful way to eliminate the very root of all the disturbing emotions through the examination of the belief in the existence of an ego or a self.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. It is the Middle Way that avoids the two extremes of the base, vulgar, unholy, unprofitable path of sensual pleasure in opposition to the painful, unpleasant, unholy, unprofitable path of self-mortification. It is the Middle Way beyond those two extremes that leads to liberation, peace, discernment, enlightenment, and nibbana.

Purport

The fourth noble truth is called ‘the truth of the path’ because the path leads us to the ultimate goal. We do this step by step, stage by stage, progressively completing our journey. The Buddha’s teaching is called ‘the dhamma,’ and the symbol of these teachings is the wheel that you see on the roofs of temples and monasteries. This is the symbol of the Enlightened One’s teachings.

Wheels take you somewhere, and the dhamma wheel is the path that takes us to the very best place along the finest road. This wheel of the Buddha’s teaching has eight spokes because the path that we follow as Buddhists has eight major aspects known as ‘the eight-fold path of realized beings’ or ‘the noble eight-fold path.’ We need to follow this eight-fold path and it is essential that we know what this path is and how to practice on this path. These eight aspects to the noble eight-fold path can be grouped into three areas: superior conduct, superior concentration, and superior wisdom which make up seven of the eight spokes with the eighth spoke, superior effort which is the quality that supports the other seven. Superior effort is needed for achieving correct conduct, correct concentration, and the development of correct wisdom.

Buddha taught the “cure” to the disease of suffering as eight positive, affirmative activities that can help us rise out of Samsara. Buddha did not establish “can’t” dos or laws, but instead coached us on what we can (and should) do.

Taken further, these are steps on the Noble Eightfold Path that lead to the extinction of suffering:

1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech

4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

These eight factors of the Middle Way are to be both followed in sequence and practiced concurrently, in preparation for the extinction of suffering and ultimate release from the sorrows of this world. It makes sense to practice them more or less in order, as later stages arise out of earlier ones, although continued practice on the level of mindfulness or concentration brings a deepening of understanding on the initial level, but in the end they all come together and work toward the same end.

Once the mind is uncluttered, it may then be concentrated to achieve whatever is desired. Right Concentration is turning the mind to focus on an object, such as a flower, or a lit candle, or a concept such as loving compassion. This forms the next part of the meditation process.

Right concentration implies that we select worthy directions for the concentration of the mind, although everything in nature, beautiful and ugly, may be useful for concentration. At deeper levels, no object or concept may be necessary for further development.

The benefits of Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are significant as they teach the mind to see things, not as we are conditioned to seeing them, but as they really are. At the same time, they also lead to a feeling of calm and peace with the world. By being in the moment and being able to concentrate effectively, a sense of joy in the moment is felt. Release from the control of past pains and future mind games takes us closer to freedom from suffering.

Purport

When we practice the dhamma, it is most important to stabilize our mind. We are human beings and we have this very precious human existence with the wonderful faculty of intelligence. Using that intelligence, we can, for instance, see our own thoughts, examine them, and analyse our thinking process so we can determine what are good thoughts and what are bad thoughts. If we look carefully at mind, we can see that there are many more bad thoughts than good ones. The same is true with our feelings. We find that sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad, and sometimes we are worried, but if we look carefully, we will probably find that the happier moments are rarer than those of suffering and worry. To shift the balance so that our thoughts are more positive, and happier, we need to do something and this is where samadhi or meditative concentration comes in, because samadhi is the root for learning how to relax.

When our mind is relaxed, we are happier and we are more joyous. The word ‘samadhi’ means ‘profound absorption.’ If we can learn how to achieve samadhi then even if we apply this samadhi to worldly activities, it will benefit us greatly. With samadhi our work will go well and we will find more joy and pleasure in our worldly activities. Of course, if we can use samadhi for dhamma, then it will bring about really good results in our life. Some people may have been practicing dhamma for some years and might feel they have achieved few results from the practice and think, ‘Even after all these years that I have been meditating, there is not much to show for it. My mind is still not stable.’ This thinking shows us the real need to learn how to develop samadhi or concentration so that samadhi becomes a great support for our meditation. No matter what time we can give to meditation, that time is very well-spent. Often if we do an hour of meditation, it doesn’t mean we did one hour of perfect samadhi. Rather it probably means we had a half hour engaged with a lot of thoughts and a half an hour of what we could call good sitting of which about 15 minutes of this was good samadhi. So, it is really important to learn how to meditate properly, so our time meditating is most fruitful.

Right Mindfulness means being aware of the moment, and being focused in that moment. When we travel somewhere, we are hearing noises, seeing buildings, trees, advertising, feeling the movement, thinking of those we left behind, thinking of our destination. So, it is with most moments of our lives.

Right Mindfulness asks us to be aware of the journey at that moment, and to be clear and undistracted at that moment. Right Mindfulness is closely linked with meditation and forms the basis of meditation. Right Mindfulness is not an attempt to exclude the world, in fact, the opposite. Right Mindfulness asks us to be aware of the moment, and of our actions at that moment. By being aware, we are able to see how old patterns and habits control us. In this awareness, we may see how fears of possible futures limit our present actions.

Now, having read this, try the same walk as before but with a focused mind, which now concentrates only on the action of the walking. Observe your thoughts before reading on. Sometimes you may be absorbed in what you are doing. Music, art, sport can trigger these moments. Have you ever done anything where your mind is only with that activity? At that moment, you are mindful, and the Buddha showed how to integrate that awareness into our everyday lives.

Purport

How do we achieve superior concentration’ That is where the second factor of correct mindfulness is necessary? It is through mindfulness that we will be able to actually achieve samadhi. When we have mindfulness, we are very clear about what is happening in our meditation. Also, between our meditation sessions we shouldn’t lose the thread of meditation, so we should with mindfulness carry this power of the meditation into our daily life. Our mindfulness needs to be very stable; it needs to be clear, and it needs to be the strongest mindfulness so that we can achieve the highest samadhi.

In the Moonbeams of Mahamudra by the great Takpo Tashi Namgyal it says, ‘When one meditates one needs mindfulness which is clear and powerful. It needs to have the quality of clarity and at the same time it needs to be stable.’ Mindfulness can be just clear, but if there isn’t enough force to the mindfulness, it won’t be effective. For there to be a change in our post-meditation behaviour, we need to have mindfulness and awareness. Without this clarity of awareness and without the strength of mindfulness, we won’t recognize the subtle thoughts that keep our samadhi from developing. So, with these subtle thoughts, we become accustomed to a very superficial kind of meditation that will keep us from progressing. Clear and strong mindfulness, however, will allow us to recognize the obstacle of these subtle thoughts. So, strong and clear mindfulness is very important.

This is a significant step on the path as it relates to seeing the world and everything in it as it really is, not as we believe it to be or want it to be. Just as you may read the directions on a map, and then make the journey, studying, reading and examining the information is important, but only the preparation for the journey. At a deeper level, direct personal experience will then lead us to Right Understanding.

In his book “Old Path, White Clouds” , Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of the Buddha. The Buddha says “my teaching is not a dogma or a doctrine, but no doubt some people will take it as such.” The Buddha goes on to say “I must state clearly that my teaching is a method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. A thinking person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon.”

Knowing reality is of very little value if we don’t put it to personal use in our lives.

Purport

There are many levels of the Buddha’s teachings each which has its own way of describing what the highest view of reality is. There are the Theravada teachings, the Mahayana teachings, the Vajrayana teachings, and the Mahamudra teachings. Each Buddhist tradition has its own way of defining what is the highest view, and whichever view we hold we need to strive in developing the right view during the meditation and to develop right view during post-meditation experience.

This is the step where we become committed to the path. Right Understanding shows us what life really is and what life’s problems are composed of, Right Intent urges us to decide what our heart wants.

Right Intent must come from the heart and involves recognising the equality of all life and compassion for all that life, beginning with yourself. Right Intent means persistence and a passion for the journey. Setting out to climb a high mountain means you must understand the lay of the land and the pitfalls, the other team members, and the equipment you need. This is similar to Right Understanding. But you will only climb the mountain if you really want to and have a passion for the climb. This is Right Intent. The mountain we climb here is our journey through life.

To summarise, Right Understanding will eliminate ignorance. With Right Intent and correct understanding, we then remove desire, which in turn causes the suffering defined in the Four Noble Truths.

Purport

Through our meditation, the realization of the true nature of reality will develop. Actually, in the meditation itself, when we have a direct awareness of reality, we may wonder, ‘Is this it’ Is this not it’ ‘ We will have all sorts of subtle thoughts and we need to confirm the accurateness, the rightness of the meditation that we are achieving. With time and with the right instruction we will gain confidence and come to know what in meditation is the finest, clearest, highest view of the true nature of phenomena. There will be confidence and conviction in our belief due to primordial wisdom (jnana). The development of wisdom at this stage is called ‘the very best philosophical view.’ After attaining this state of jnana, our post-meditation sessions will contain wisdom about the relationship of conventional reality which allows us to cultivate the very best intention. These two together make the very best wisdom: one applies to the depth of meditation and the other to the post-meditation state. So, we need to develop these and strive whole-heartedly to cultivate these two wisdoms.

Right Action recognises the need to take the ethical approach in life, to consider others and the world we live in. This includes not taking what is not given to us, and having respect for the agreements we make both in our private and business lives.

Right Action also encompasses the five precepts which were given by the Buddha, not to kill, steal, lie, to avoid sexual misconduct, and not to take drugs or other intoxicants. This step on the path also includes a whole approach to the environment, with Right Action being taken whenever possible to safeguard the world for future generations.

Purport

In our busy lives, we need to do many different things and everything we do has a consequence to others and ourselves. So, training to engage in the very best actions is to do what will not only bring benefit to oneself but to others. So, with an excellent motivation we do excellent actions which benefit ourself and others. We need to therefore analyse the quality of actions and to be able to discern between what is right and what is wrong.

Right Speech is the next step of the Path. We tend to underestimate the power of the spoken word, and often regret words said in haste. Each of us has experienced the disappointment associated with harsh criticism, whether justified or not, and we also are likely to have felt good when kind words encouraged us.

Right speech involves recognition of the truth, and also an awareness of the impact of idle gossip and of repeating rumours. Communicating thoughtfully helps to unite others, and can heal dissention. By resolving never to speak unkindly, or in anger, a spirit of consideration evolves which moves us closer to everyday compassionate living.

Purport

Speech is very important to us. For instance, we can’t see another person’s mind so we judge and are judged by behaviour and speech. Speech can also be very powerful. Whether we are addressing 100 or 1,000 people, if the speech is good and beneficial then 100 or 1,000 people will be benefited; but if the speech is harmful then it can hurt 100 or 1000 people, which is much more than we can do physically. So, we need to have not just correct speech, but we must train in the very best speech so that when we speak, we know what our speech is doing. Is it harming’ Is it benefiting’ What techniques can we use to develop this most excellent speech’

Part of our dhamma practice is the study, the reciting of texts, prayers and mantras which brings about the very excellent training of the best of speech. All of these activities sow the seeds for the good and right things in our mind which will afterwards become the basis for the expression of what will benefit ourselves and others. This is perhaps even more important today than it was in the past because we have such powerful means of communication. With the telephone we can contact people all over the world. With Internet and faxes the power of speech is really important, so there is even more reason to be mindful, aware, and careful of how we use this tremendous power of communication and speech. We should always be aware of its potential to either benefit or to harm others. So, training in correct speech is the first of the three paths of right conduct.

If your work has a lack of respect for life, then it will be a barrier to progress on the spiritual path. Buddhism promotes the principle of equality of all living beings and respect for all life.

Certain types of work were discouraged by the Buddha, in particular those where you deal in harmful drugs and intoxicants, those dealing in weapons, and those harmful to animal or human life. So, a dedicated Buddhist would not be recommended to have a liquor store, own a gun shop, or be a butcher. In his time, he also discouraged the slave trade, which dealt in human workers. And he was also against the practice of fortune telling as this made assumptions about a fixed future, where his teaching stresses that the future is created by what we do today.

Right Livelihood also implies that a Buddhist who is able, will undertake some work, either as part of a Buddhist community, or in the workplace, or, alternatively, do home based or community service. Many communities of monks ensure that each member has daily chores, which remind him of this step on the Eightfold Path.

Purport

Closely connected to right conduct is having a correct livelihood. Of course, livelihood means not just our job, but also all our main daily activities that we do to have food, clothes, a roof over our head and so on. Because we do this day after day and because it involves by its very nature our speech and our physical actions, we need to learn what is a correct and what is a negative livelihood that brings harm to others. We need, of course, to give up anything that harms others and to adopt a livelihood that is beneficial either directly or indirectly for us and for others.

Right effort means cultivating an enthusiasm, a positive attitude in a balanced way. Like the strings of a musical instrument, the amount of effort should not be too tense or too impatient, as well as not too slack or too laid back. Right Effort should produce an attitude of steady and cheerful determination.

In order to produce Right Effort, clear and honest thoughts should be welcomed, and feelings of jealousy and anger left behind. Right Effort equates to positive thinking, followed by focused action.

The Buddha was well ahead of his time on this one, and many books have been written about the power of the right attitude.

Purport

Let us go back to the first spoke of the wheel of dhamma samadhi that comes through the second spoke of mindfulness. These qualities won’t come by themselves unless there is the greatest effort applied to bring these qualities out. The next three spokes of wisdom, correct view, and correct thought won’t just come about one day by themselves without a great deal of skilful, intelligent, hard work. Then the last three spokes of correct conduct, correct speech, and correct livelihood also need a great deal of effort for these values to come about. So, this eighth spoke, best effort or diligence, is a support for all the other spokes. We could say that there are two types of effort. In Tibetan the word for ‘effort’ has the notion of joy and enthusiasm, while in English ‘effort’ has the notion of drudgery. So, there are two kinds of effort. One is a vacillating sort of effort in which we jump into something and then when it becomes more difficult, we slack off and the other is a steady, constant sort of effort. The first kind is more with what we associate with ‘enthusiasm’ and the other is more stable and the very best support for the other seven spokes.

Webliography and references

Holmes, D. D. (n.d.). Understanding the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. Buddhistdoor https://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/understanding-the-four-noble-truths-and-walking-the-noble-eightfold-path
(Accessed 21–8–21)

Buddha 101 website, The History, Philosophy and Practice of Buddhism, Available at: https://www.buddha101.com/p_path.htm (Accessed: 21–8–21)

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, Available at: https://www.samyeling.org/buddhism-and-meditation/teaching-archive-2/kenchen-thrangu-rinpoche/the-four-noble-truths-and-the-eightfold-path/ (Accessed: 21–8–21)

Matt Valentine, How to Walk the Buddha’s 8-Fold Path to True Peace and Happiness, Available at: https://buddhaimonia.com/blog/buddhas-8-fold-path (Accessed: 21–8–21)

Rahula Wapola (1959), What the Buddha Taught: Grove Press.

Originally published at https://jaiminism.substack.com on August 21, 2021.

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Jaimine

Jaimine

A libertarian professor based in Mumbai, youtubing at times, and reading books all-the-time. I write too. Dhamma practitioner.