The Noble Eightfold Path
Nearly two thousand years ago, Lord Buddha came in our midst to show us the light of wisdom. All his life, ever since he came to fathom the hollowness of life, the noble prince tried to grasp the true purpose of human birth and the object of the world. And when he saw the path to eternal glory and realized that salvation should be the motto of every living being, he tried to teach his fellow beings the right way of living that alone can ensure the freedom of every human soul. For generations to come, he left his invaluable precepts - known as "the Noble Eightfold Path."
The "Eightfold Path" summarizes the teachings of Buddha and shows us a way of life that one needs to follow to achieve the supreme state of being. That the human life is full of strife and suffering is not unknown to anyone of us. According to Lord Buddha, all our sorrows stem from the desires inherent in us. It is only through the removal of desires and attachments from the mind that one can free himself from worldly bondages and gain his liberation. The "Eightfold Path" of Lord Buddha is a way of life that consists of eight rules. It is a practical guideline that brings about the ethical, mental and spiritual development of a person and frees him from attachments and delusions, and thereby, prepares him for the path of self-knowledge. Lord Buddha believed that it was only by following these eight codes of conduct that man can gradually come to realize his true blissful self that always seeks oneness with the supreme entity.
The eight precepts that the noble "Eightfold Path" consists of are:
- Right View - It consists of being fully aware of the truth of life, to see and to understand things as they really are and feel the impermanence and imperfection of every aspect of the world. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of everything. As most of our thoughts and our actions are influenced by our view of the world, right view is what is said to yield right thoughts and right actions in us.
- Right Intention - Right Intention simply means the motive or mental energy that controls our actions. Improving oneself mentally and spiritually is not enough; more important is to remain committed to the spirit of self-improvement. According to Lord Buddha, there are three types of right intentions:
(a) Intention of Renunciation - This means the resistive power of the mind to the pull of desire.
(b) Intention of Good will - It implies the resistance of the mind to feelings of anger and aversion.
(c) Intention of Harmlessness - This signifies the mental attitude of compassion sans all thoughts of cruelty, violence, anger or aggression.
- Right Speech - It is the first ethical code of the Eightfold Path. Lord Buddha placed great importance on the power of speech. Words can make or break lives, attract or alienate people, create peace or give rise to war. So his advice to mankind was:
(a) Abstain from false speech - He advised against lying deliberately and speaking in a deceitful manner.
(b) Abstain from slanderous speech - He advised against using malicious words against others.
(c) Abstain from harsh words - Words that offend or hurt others are not to be used.
(d) Abstain from idle talks - Loose talks and idle chatter, that lack any purpose or depth, are to be done away with.
- Right Action - The second most important precept of the "Eightfold Path", this consists of controlling the bodily actions. While good actions lead to mental harmony, bad actions do just the opposite. Right action implies following the good codes of conduct and abstaining oneself from all unwholesome deeds. Lord Buddha further clarified this precept as
(a) Abstaining oneself from harming or killing others and doing intentional harm to others.
(b) Abstaining oneself from stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness and dishonesty.
(c) Abstaining oneself from sexual misconduct.
- Right Livelihood - This precept of the "Eightfold Path" indicates that one should earn one's living in an honest manner and gain wealth through sound means. Lord Buddha advised people against taking up such professions that requires one to
(a) Deal in weapons - Buy or sell weapons that are used to harm living beings.
(b) Trade in living beings - This involves slave trade and prostitution as well as raising animals for slaughter.
(c) Working in meat production and butchery - This demands killing living beings and trading their meat.
(d) Selling intoxicants and poisons - Trading such goods as alcohol and drugs, that are detrimental to human health, are to be avoided.
- Right Effort - This is seen as a prerequisite for the other precepts of the "Eightfold Path". Without proper effort channelized in a wholesome direction, no sound gain can be achieved. Right Effort is further divided into four types of endeavors:
(a) Effort to prevent the arising of unwholesome states yet not arisen.
(b) Effort to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen.
(c) Effort to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen.
(d) Effort to maintain and better wholesome states already arisen to perfection.
- Right Mindfulness - It is described as the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. In other words, it is actually the clearness of perception that enables us to be aware of our thoughts and control the way they develop. According to Lord Buddha, Right mindfulness depends on four factors:
1. An intent observation and consideration of the body,
2. An intent observation and consideration of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral),
3. An intent observation and consideration of the state of mind, and
4. An intent observation and consideration of the phenomena.
- Right Concentration - The eighth and last principle of the "Eightfold Path", it refers to the development of concentration that assists one in spiritual quest. Concentration is the mental force that enables one to focus his mind on one particular object. In this state, all mental faculties are unified and centred in a single direction. Concentration is present in every human being, albeit at a relatively low level of intensity. The mind of most persons wander in different directions and focus on thoughts and actions that are wholesome as well as unwholesome. Right concentration implies focusing the mind only on wholesome thoughts and actions and is one of the most important assets required for spiritual development. Buddhists prefer to develop right concentration through the practice of meditation.