The Noble Eightfold Path is one of the principal teachings of the Buddha, who described it as the way leading to the cessation of suffering (dukkha) and the achievement of self-awakening. It is used to develop insight into the true nature of phenomena (or reality) and to eradicate greed, hatred, and delusion. The Noble Eightfold Path is the fourth of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.
1- RIGHT VIEW (Samma Ditti)
Right view is placed first because right view is the eye that guides and directs all the other factors. In the practice of the path, we need the vision and understanding supplied by right views, in order to see the way to travel along the path. Then we need the other factors, conduct or practice, in order to bring us to our destination.
Right view is placed at the beginning of the path to show that before we can set foot on the actual practice, we need the understanding provided by right view, as our guide, our inner director, to show us where we are starting from, where we are heading, and what are the successive stages to be passed through in practice.
2- RIGHT INTENTION (Samma Sankappa)
The second factor of the path is right intention. “Sankappa” means purpose, intention, resolve, aspiration, motivation. This factor of right intention follows as the natural consequence of right view. Through right view, we gain an understanding of the real nature of existence, and this understanding changes our motivation, our purposes in life, our intentions and inclinations. As a result, our minds become shaped by right intentions as opposed to wrong intentions.
In his analysis of this factor, the Buddha explains that there are three kinds of right intentions:
a) The intention of renunciation
b) The intention of non-aversion or loving kindness.
c) The intention of non-injury or compassion.
These are opposed to the three wrong intentions, the intention of sensuality, the intention of aversion and intention of harmfulness or cruelty.
3- RIGHT SPEECH (Samma Vacha)
This contains four aspects.
(a) Abstinence from false speech, that is, from lying – instead making an effort to speak truthfully.
(b) Abstinence from slanderous speech, statements intended to divide or create enmity between people. Instead the follower of the path should always speak words which promote friendship and harmony between people.
(c) Abstinence from harsh speech, from speech which is angry and bitter, which cuts into the hearts of others. Instead one’s speech should always be soft, gentle and affectionate.
(d) Abstinence from idle chatter, from gossip. Instead one should speak words which are meaningful, significant and purposeful.
4- RIGHT ACTION (Samma Kammanta)
This factor is concerned with bodily action and has three aspects.
(a) Abstinence from destruction of life, that is, abstaining from killing of other living beings, which includes animals and all other sentient beings, to abstain from hunting, fishing etc.
(b) Abstinence from taking what is not given, that is, from stealing, cheating, exploiting others, gaining wealth by dishonest and illegal ways etc.
(c) Abstinence from sexual misconduct, that is from illicit types of sexual relations such as adultery, seduction, rape, etc. and for those who are ordained as monks, the observance of celibacy.
5- RIGHT LIVELIHOOD (Samma Ajiva)
The Buddha teaches his disciples to avoid any occupation or job that causes harm and suffering to other living beings or any kind of work that leads to one’s own inner deterioration. Instead the disciple should earn a living in an honest, harmless and peaceful way.
Buddha mentions five specific occupations that one should avoid:
(a) Dealing in flesh, eg. as a butcher.
(b) Dealing in poisons.
(c) Dealing in weapons and arms.
(d) Dealing in slave trade and prostitution.
(e) Dealing in intoxicants or liquors and drugs.
The Buddha also says that his followers should avoid deceitfulness, hypocrisy, high pressure salesmanship, and trickery, or any kind of dishonest way of acquiring means of support.
6- RIGHT EFFORT (Samma Vayama)
The Buddha begins the training of the mind with right effort. He places a special stress on this factor because the practice of the path requires work, energy and exertion. The Buddha is not a saviour: “The Enlightened Ones point out the path, you yourselves must make the effort”. he says further, “the goal” is for the energetic person not for the lazy one.
The four aspects of right effort are as follows:
(a) The effort to prevent un arisen unwholesome states from arising
At a time when the mind is calm, something may happen which will spark off a defilement. eg. attachment to a pleasant object, aversion to an unpleasant object. By maintaining watchfulness over the senses, we are able to prevent the unarisen defilement from arising. We are able to simply take note of the object without reacting to the object by way of greed or aversion.
(b) The effort to abandon the arisen unwholesome states
That is to eliminate the defilements that have arisen. When we see that a defilement has arisen we have to apply energy to eliminate it.
This can be done by a variety of methods.
(c) Develop the undeveloped wholesome states
We have many beautiful, potential qualities stored up in the mind. We have to bring these up to the surface of the mind, eg. loving kindness, compassion etc.
(d) Strengthen and cultivate the existing wholesome states.
We must avoid falling into complacency and have to make effort to sustain the wholesome states and to develop them to full growth and completion.
A further word of caution has to be added about right effort. The mind is a very delicate instrument and its development requires a precise balancing of the different mental faculties. We need keen mindfulness to recognize what kind of mental state has arisen and a certain degree of wisdom to keep the mind in balance to prevent it from veering to extremes. This is the middle way.
7- RIGHT MINDFULNESS (Samma Sati) – by Mithra Wettimuny
Living in right mindfulness is the bedrock of one’s welfare and the foundation for one’s mental development. It is a great blessing. It is one’sgreatest protection. Human beings generally have a certain level of mindfulness. However, it is somewhat diffused. Therefore, it cannot be rightfully termed right mindfulness. Right mindfulness is not acquired soeasily; but then, good things never comes easy. To develop and acquire right mindfulness, requires great effort and commitment. It requires sacrifice.
Right mindfulness means keeping the mind in the present. This means that when one performs a certain task, one should be mindful and totally aware of that act at the time of performance. For example, when one brushes his/her teeth,he/she should be mindful of this process by paying attention to it and not allow any other thoughts to intrude. When you are eating, eat in silence,mindful of eating. But, if you are engaged in conversation whilst eating,that would be wrong mindfulness. From those two simple examples, you can realize that living in right mindfulness is not such an easy task. if one performs two or three acts simultaneously, it is not a skill but a weakness.Doing one thing at a time is the real skill, the real achievement.
One must resolve to develop right mindfulness. One must diligently train forit by practising simple exercises and gradually progress. In particular, one must direct one’s mindfulness to the internal. Most pay attention to theexternal, but rather you should look inward for your own welfare. This means:
(a) being mindful of body.
(b) being mindful of feeling.
(c) being mindful of mental states.
(d) being mindful of mental contents.
8- RIGHT CONCENTRATION (Samma Samadhi)
Right effort and right mindfulness are directed at the eighth factor of the path, right concentration. This is defined as wholesome one-pointedness of the mind, wholesome unification of the mind. To develop concentration we generally begin with a single object and attempt to fix the mind on this object so that it remains there without wavering. We use right effort to keep the mind focussed on the object, right mindfulness to be aware of the hindrances to concentration, then we use effort to eliminate hindrances and strengthen the aids to concentration. With repeated practice the mind becomes gradually stilled and tranquil.
With further practice we can develop deep states of absorption, called the “JHANAS”.
Stilled mind – The Gateway to wisdom
When the mind is stilled and collected it serves as the means to develop insight. Having developed right concentration, when the mind has become a powerful tool, we direct it to the four foundations of mindfulness, contemplating the body, feeling, states of mind and mental objects.
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