The Noble Eightfold Path

The fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to the end of suffering. That path as described by the Buddha is the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention / Motivation / Thinking
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Concentration / Attention
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Effort / Diligence

What does “right” mean? In Buddhism, the word “right” means that something leads to happiness, liberation, and enlightenment, and “wrong” means something that leads to suffering – based on our own experience.  Whatever causes suffering in the present and the future, for ourselves and people around us, is the “wrong” thing to do. What brings well-being in the present and the future is the “right” thing. These terms are not a moralistic judgement imposed from outside, but born from our own experience of what leads towards happiness or away from suffering. The other equivalent terms for “right” are wholesome, noble, liberating, wise, and positive; and equivalent terms for “wrong” are unwholesome, ignoble, ignorant, delusional, and negative.

Right View

Right view is what connects the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path together. Right view implies the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. To understand the Four Noble Truths we have to have a deep understanding of cause and effect – an understanding that all of our actions have consequences. Our actions arise from our mind, therefore we must ultimately understand the causes and effects of the experiences in our mind. This is the understanding that wholesome thoughts and actions have wholesome results and that unwholesome thoughts and actions lead to unwholesome results.

Views are the foundation of everything that we do. From our views flow our intentions, from our intentions arise our emotions, our thoughts arise in the context of our emotions, and from our thoughts we act within the world:

Views  → Intentions/Aims/Ideals/Volition  → Emotions →  Thoughts  → Actions

Right view ultimately uproots delusion, one of the three main causes of suffering.

Right Intention/Motivation/Thinking

Right intention counters the other two main causes of suffering: aversion and craving. The intention of virtuous action or renunciation counteracts craving, that is, the intention of greed in all its forms. “Renunciation” in this case means giving up all the actions that cause us to suffer, and embracing all the actions that lead to our happiness. The intention of loving-kindness(goodwill) and compassion(harmlessness) counteract the intentions of ill-will and harmfulness, which are both forms of aversion.

Right Concentration / Attention

Right attention allows us to stay present with our experience without being overwhelmed by it, running away from it, or giving into it’s call for action.

Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness allows us to stay present with our experience without being overwhelmed by it, running away from it, or giving into it’s call for action. It is like asking yourself: “Can I experience this?”, whatever this is at this moment.

Working with Mindfulness Energy

Mindfulness is a powerful energy. Here are some useful tips for working with it:

1) Running out of juice
At some point while we are sitting, we may come to a point where we feel all of our energy is gone and it doesnt seem like we are able to remain open to our experience.  At this point, it is best not to keep trying to break past that barrier. Your best option is to practice relaxation. The practice of relaxation is the practice of joy without distraction.  It is usually easiest to do something physical – go for a walk, a bike ride, exercise, dance, paint, play the guitar, or rest. For those of us who are overacheivers this can be hard because our goal-oriented nature can sometimes cause us to choose an activity with a goal.  The goal stresses us out and we are no longer relaxing, instead we are trying to achieve.

 

2) When it is present, mindfulness is a higher level of energy than reactive patterns.  This is why is has the ability to cut through them and dismantle them. When a reactive emotion(negative seed) arises, we have three options of how to handle it:

1) Suppress it – pretend it is not there, ignore it, distract ourselves so we do not see it or experience it.  This causes the pattern to increase in power.

2) Indulge it – act out the pattern, almost always to the detriment of ourselves and others.

3) Experience it – with mindfulness we experience the feelings as they are without doing anything with them.  

The first two methods cause the habit pattern to grow in power, so that when it comes up later it will be even stronger.  We end up giving those patterns more energy.

When hold our feelings in attention, this cuts off the energy that sustains the feelings.  The energy of those feelings begins to dissipate, and eventually causes a change in our mood.  We experience a change, our mind calms down. We can never control when this change will come because the habit pattern must lose enough of its energy to dissipate.  Trying to force it to go away only makes it stronger and is a type of suppression.

 

3) Mindfulness energy can flow into reactive patterns
If we spend some time developing our attention, and then get off our cushion and let our attention go, what happens?  All of that energy we have built up has to go somewhere, so when you drop your mindfulness it will flow into your reactive emotions.  If your anger is triggered, you may become more angry than usual, if your pride is triggered you may become more arrogant than usual. This is why it is important to maintain your attention even after you get up from the cushion.  By doing so, you will be able to observe more clearly what is driving you in each moment in your life.

 

Right Effort / Diligence

Right effort means we put effort into the following four actions:

  1. Prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states of mind;
  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.

 

Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood

These are three aspects of the development of virtue. See The Five Mindfulness Trainings for more information. In short, these are guidelines for the actions we take in our daily life that allow us to live in harmony with ourselves and others:

  1. Loving-kindness & compassion, preserving life / Not killing
  2. Generosity / Not stealing
  3. Taking care of sexual energy / No sexual misconduct
  4. Loving speech, deep listening / Not lying, insulting, slandering, gossiping, or engaging in idle chatter.
  5. Keeping a healthy body and mind / Not drinking, not doing drugs, not ingesting images, sensations, or sounds that stir up unwholesome mental formations.

 

The Three Trainings

The Noble Eightfold Path contains three separate types of training:

  1. Right View and Right Intention lead to the development of wisdom, insight, and understanding.  Prajñā is the Sanskrit word for these qualities, pronounced something like “prahj-na”. The type of wisdom being developed refers to direct understanding of reality: realization of the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, dependent origination, and non-self. This is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about enlightenment. To embody this type of wisdom means that every action we take in our lives has as its basis this understanding of reality.
  2. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Attention develop mental discipline; also referred to as concentration. Samadhi is the Sanskrit word. 
  3. Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood develop virtuous action (Sila is the Sanskrit word, pronounced either “see-la” or “shee-la”).

These aspects are not separate stages, rather we develop all three simultaneously. There are specific methods we can use to cultivate each of these qualities, some of which are presented in this book. The purpose of developing them is to lead one toward the uprooting of all suffering in one’s life.

Some of the practices associated with each training are:

  1. Wisdom: any practice that focuses on non-self, impermanence, and understanding what leads to happiness or suffering. Examples include the loving-kindness meditation; Touching the Earth; observing the rising and passing away of bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts; study of the teachings; consulting with Dharma teachers about our practice; and practice in our daily lives.
  2. Virtue: the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings
  3. Mental discipline: all forms of mindfulness practice.

A practice which does not embrace all three components is not a complete practice. To gain deep understanding of the teachings it is necessary to practice both mindfulness and ethics, and to have insight into the meaning of wisdom in Buddhism.

 

SANSKRIT TRANSLATION EIGHTFOLD PATH BUDDHIST PSYCHOLOGY
Prajñā Wisdom

Insight

Understanding

Right View

Right Thought

Extinction of negative seeds
Samadhi Mental Discipline

Meditation

Concentration

Mindfulness

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration

Calming negative seeds in our mind, watering positive seeds in our mind
Sila Mindfulness Trainings

Precepts

Ethics

Virtue

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Preventing expression of negative seeds as action, encouraging expression of positive seeds in action

 

 

The Psychology of Practice

How do these three trainings affect our mind? The training in virtue puts a filter upon our actions – helping to restrain actions that will cause us to suffer and encourage actions that will bring us well-being and protect us.

Changing our actions will begin to reduce the power of our negative mental formations because we are no longer reinforcing them. However, we cannot do this without the aid of mindfulness. When a negative seed(emotion or thought) appears in our mind consciousness, we invite up the seed of mindfulness to embrace it. With mindfulness we simply observe the mental formation. We do not push it away and we do not act upon it either. After a while, because we have deprived it of it’s source of energy through mindfulness, the negative mental formation will return to our store consciousness. When it returns it will be a little bit weaker than it was before. Each time we do this, that reactive habit energy will grow weaker so that the next time it comes up it will not be as strong.

Through the development of wisdom, we learn to completely uproot our negative mental formations. We do not uproot an entire negative mental formation such as anger all at once, rather certain situations that used to trigger us will no longer do so. Wisdom brings new ways of looking at the world and we automatically respond appropriately to situations with compassion and loving-kindness. Just as when we were a baby we would cry when we weren’t fed, as an adult we have more capability and know how to respond appropriately to the feeling of hunger.

It is similar with positive mental formations, except that we encourage these to arise from our store consciousness, and try to increase their power and longevity in our mind consciousness, and encourage their expression in our life.

We can also see how the four right efforts work in this model:

  1. Negative seeds in the store consciousness which have not yet manifested in the mind consciousness, we let them be and do not water them.
  2. Negative seeds which have manifested in the mind consciousness, we help them go back to the store consciousness.
  3. Positive seeds in the store consciousness that have not yet manifested in the mind consciousness, we help them to manifest.
  4. Positive seeds which have already manifested in the mind consciousness, we help them to stay in the mind consciousness.