The Eightfold Path

In order to achieve an end to suffering, one must practice and follow the Noble Eightfold Path set forth by the Buddha. The eight steps of the path are depicted in the Dharma wheel below. Those aiming to reach nirvana do not have to complete these steps in any sort of order and may complete them simultaneously.

1. Right Understanding

Right Understanding is the acceptance of the Four Noble Truths (suffering exists, suffering arises from attachment to desires, suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases, freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path). In order to complete this step, we must realize that the cause of Dukkha lies in our mind. Nobody is imposing it upon us. We cannot put the blame outside ourselves. It is through our own craving that we produce pain, suffering, anxiety and depression for ourselves. Then when we see that the cause of Dukkha lies in our own mind, we understand that the key to liberation also lies in our own mind. That key is the overcoming of ignorance and craving by means of wisdom and having the confidence that following the Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of suffering.

2. Right Intention

Right Intention is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1) the intention of renunciation, meaning resistance to the pull of desire 2) the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion 3) the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

The Buddha explained Right Speech as the following: 1) to abstain from false speech, never to lie deliberately nor speak deceitfully 2) to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others 3) to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others 4) to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm and gently, and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

Right Action involves the body as a natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. It has three aspects: 1) to abstain from killing living beings 2) abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty 3) to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively phrased, Right Action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others.

5. Right Livelihood

The Buddha taught 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, one should earn a living in an honest, harmless, and peaceful way. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid: 1) dealing in weapons 2)  dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter, slave trade, prostitution) 3) working in meat production and butchery 4) selling intoxicants and poisons such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

The Buddha says through right effort we can transform the whole structure of our lives. We are not the hopeless victims of our past conditioning. We are not the victims of our genes or our environment. Through mental training it is possible to raise the mind to the plateau of wisdom, enlightenment, and liberation. The mind consists of wholesome states and unwholesome states. Unwholesome states are rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion. Right Effort consists of 1) preventing unwholesome states from arising 2) abandoning those unwholesome states that have arisen 3) developing the undeveloped wholesome states (such as love, compassion, kindness) 4) strengthening and cultivating the existing wholesome states.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. It involves keeping the mind in the present. The four foundations of Right Mindfulness are 1) being mindful of the body 2) being mindful of feeling 3) being mindful of mental states 4) being mindful of mental contents. Benefits of Right Mindfulness include the complete and continuous awareness of who you are and what you are, your reactions thoughts and feelings, and your relationship with the nature of the things of the world with whom you interact. With mindfulness, you develop insight into the nature of things and learn to deal with your suffering and feelings peacefully. You become aware of things that bind you or disturb you and through this awareness you will develop wisdom, detachment, and inner stability.

8. Right Concentration

Right Concentration means concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions through the practice of meditation. Through meditation, the mind becomes tranquil and still. This tranquility allows us to develop insight, to contemplate the body, feelings, states of mind, and to purify and liberate the mind.

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy that originated about 2,500 years ago in what is now Nepal and northeastern India. It is based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama who left an extravagant life as a young prince in search of a way to end universal suffering. He encouraged others to follow a path of balance rather than extremism, which he called the Middle Way. At the age of 35, after years of living a harsh ascetic life, Siddartha Gautama came to understand the samsara, or cycle of birth and rebirth, and how to end the cycle of infinite sorrow thus earning the title of Buddha or “enlightened one”. For the rest of his life, the Buddha preached the Dharma (the teachings of Buddhism)  in an effort to help others achieve enlightenment and free themselves of suffering.

The foundation of Buddhism lies in the Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha delivered in his first sermon shortly after his awakening. The Four Noble Truths consist of the following:

1) Suffering exists

2) Suffering arises from attachment to desires (craving)

3) Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases

4) Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path, a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions leading to an understanding about the truth of all things