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Eightfold Path in Buddhism

by Ron Kurtus (10 December 2009)

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state that craving and desire result in suffering and disappointment in life. The fourth of these truths indicates that following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the end of suffering and the achievement of self-awakening.

The eight aspects of the path are considered a sequence of individual steps. Instead, they are interdependent principles that are seen in relationship with each other. Each element in the Eightfold Path begins with the word "right", which also suggests "perfect" or "ideal" behavior.

Modern interpretations have grouped items into wisdom, ethical conduct and mental development.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Note: This is an educational website. We are not promoting any one religion.



Wisdom

Right View and Right Intention are the first two items in the Buddhism Eightfold Path to ending suffering in your life. They relate to forms of wisdom.

1. Right View

Right view means that you should see and understand things as they really are and accept the Four Noble Truths. You need to accept that all beings are subject to suffering and realize the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas. This will help you to have complete understanding of the true nature of all things.

Since your view of the world forms our thoughts and your actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view concerns understanding and wisdom, right intention refers to the the kind of mental energy that controls your actions. It is a commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement.

The Buddha stated that you should have intentions of:

  1. Renunciation or resistance to the pull of desire
  2. Good will and resistance to feelings of anger and aversion
  3. Harmlessness and not thinking or acting cruelly, violently or aggressively, but instead developing compassion

Ethical conduct

Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are the next three items in the Buddhism Eightfold Path to ending suffering in life. Ethical conduct is related to moral discipline. It supports the other principles of the path.

3. Right Speech

Right Speech is important in Buddhist ethics because your words can harm or help other, as well as contribute to making enemies or friends.

The Buddha stated that to follow right speech, you should abstain from:

  1. False speech, especially telling deliberate lies and speaking deceitfully
  2. Slanderous speech and using words maliciously against others
  3. Harsh words that offend or hurt others
  4. Idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth

Paraphrasing the Buddha's words in a positive sense, it means you should tell the truth, speak kindly, use warm and gentle words and talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

Right Action means your should act in a wholesome manner with positive deeds. If you perform unwholesome actions, it will lead to unsound states of mind.

The Buddha stated that to follow right action, you should abstain from:

  1. Harming others intentionally or accidentally
  2. Taking what is not given, including stealing, fraud, deceitfulness and dishonesty
  3. Sexual misconduct

Paraphrasing the Buddha's words in a positive sense, it means you should act kindly and compassionately, be honest and respect the belongings of others, and follow proper sexual conduct.

5. Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood means that you should earn your living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully.

The Buddha mentions four specific activities or livelihoods that harm other beings and that you should avoid:

  1. Dealing in weapons
  2. Dealing in living beings, such as slave trade and prostitution and including raising animals for slaughter
  3. Working in meat production and butchery
  4. Selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs

Also, you should avoid any occupation that violates the principles of Right Speech and Right Action.

Mental development

Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are the last three items in the Buddhism Eightfold Path to ending suffering in life. They relate to forms of mental development.

6. Right Effort

You should follow Right Effort, which is working to achieve what is right. It is necessary for you to achieve the other principles of the path. Without Right Effort, nothing can be achieved. Misguided effort can distract your mind from its task, often resulting in confusion.

Your mental energy and effort can be either wholesome or unwholesome. This can lead to self-discipline, honesty, benevolence and kindness, or it can result in desire, envy, aggression and violence.

The Buddha lists four types of endeavors that lead to perfection:

  1. Prevent the arising of unwholesome states
  2. Abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen
  3. Arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen
  4. Maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is controlled and perfected thinking and reasoning. It is your mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness.

When you have right mindfulness, you are aware of the thought process where you can actively observe and control the way your thoughts go.

The Buddha stated that four foundations of mindfulness are contemplation of:

  1. The body
  2. Feelings or emotions
  3. The state of mind
  4. The phenomena

8. Right Concentration

Right concentration concerns the development of a mental force that occurs in your natural consciousness.

Concentration is the state where all your mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration means concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions.

The Buddhist method to develop right concentration is through meditation. When you meditate your mind focuses on a selected object. You can then reach elevated levels concentration in everyday situations.

Summary

Following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead you the end of suffering and the achievement of self-awakening. The eight aspects of the path are considered a sequence of individual steps. Instead, they are interdependent principles that are seen in relationship with each other. They are grouped items into wisdom, ethical conduct and mental development classifications.


Follow the right path in your life


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

About Buddhism - Eightfold path - From the BigView.com

Noble Eightfold Path - From Wikipedia

Religion Resources

Books

Mapping the Dharma: A Concise Guide to the Middle Way of the Buddha by Paul Gerhards; Parami Press (2007) $15.95 - For people interested in learning the basics of Buddhism; easy to read and follow

Top-rated books on Buddhism


Questions and comments

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