8-Fold Path

The “Eightfold Path” is what takes Buddhism beyond just theory or doctrine framework. By practicing the Eightfold Path, we can bring “dharma” into our lives. According to this site, “to the extent that it can be defined, we can say that [“dharma”] is both the essential nature of reality and also the teachings and practices that enable the realization of that essential nature.”

From this site and this site, I have learned that the Eightfold Path is often shown with the word “right” but this is an awkward, incomplete translation of the word “Samma.” Partly, this is because in the Western mindset, the opposite of “right” is “wrong.” While this could be seen as technically true in many cases, it is incomplete and could lead to the mistaken impression that the Path is a very narrow right or wrong kind of thing. Instead, I’ll be using different words instead of “right.”

The word “samma” means proper, whole, complete, perfect, and also has several other shades of meaning related to those. With all this in mind, I will also include the word “accurate” even though that is not a formally correct translation. For the sake of my own understanding right now, however incomplete and imperfect it might be, I will be using the words “accurate and complete” or “whole” or “perfect” or “proper” instead of “right.”

Accurate and Complete Understanding of the true nature of reality, the cause of dukkha, and the path to Awakening. This is connected to a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths.

Accurate and Complete Emotion, Aspiration, or Intention so that we act from love and compassion for our Selves and others. This also includes our motivation for seeking our Awakening and helping others along their Paths, as well. This supports the gaining of Wisdom and is important because our thoughts typically lead to our actions. The Buddha taught that there are three fundamental “Right Intentions,” which impact our karma. These are:

  • Intention of renouncing our emotional attachments
  • Intention of good will or loving kindness for all beings
  • Intention of doing no harm and actively being compassionate

Accurate and Complete Speech that is compassionate, clear, truthful, uplifting, and not harmful. In our current culture, this carries into all the electronic communication as well. The Buddha is said to have taught that “Right Speech,” which impacts our karma, has four parts:

  • Do not lie or deceive others
  • Do not slander others
  • Do not use rude, impolite, or abusive language
  • Do not indulge in gossip

This also includes speaking in such a way that we promote harmony and good will, speaking in a way that we help to ease tensions and reduce anger, and otherwise simply remaining silent.

Accurate and Complete Action that is ethical, not selfish, and not driven by our emotional attachment to our agenda. It is choosing to do things out of compassion and choosing NOT to do things that could be harmful to others. In most Buddhist teaching, this is tied to the Five Precepts and Mahayana Buddhism adds five more.

Since our actions impact our karma, these precepts are important, but they are not intended to be a list of “thou shall not” commandments. Instead, they are intended to provide a framework for how an enlightened being interacts with the world. In other words, if you are an enlightened being, you…

  • Do not kill
  • Do not steal
  • Do not misuse sex
  • Do not lie
  • Do not abuse intoxicating substances
  • Do not talk about the errors or faults of others
  • Do not blame others or selfishly elevate yourself
  • Do not be stingy with resources
  • Do not be angry
  • Do not speak ill of the Buddha, the Dharma, or the Elders

Proper Livelihood allows you to make a living by ethical means and causes no harm to yourself or others. One summary suggested that a proper livelihood is one in which you can make a living without compromising on the precepts. Another said that a proper livelihood allows you to make a living through love and compassionate action. This also extends to love and compassion for yourself, so that if your deepest Self is telling you to find another way to make a living, sincerely consider honoring that.

It is also important to consider that a proper livelihood provides many opportunities to practice the Eightfold Path, which is also a benefit.

Whole and Proper Diligence and Effort in order to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities. The Buddha taught that there are four aspects to this. I have slightly reworded and reordered these to better suit my understanding. They are:

  • The effort to strengthen wholesome qualities you already have
  • The effort to cultivate wholesome qualities you do not have yet
  • The effort to release unwholesome qualities you already have
  • The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities you do not have yet

Since this supports the other parts of the Eightfold Path, one thing to bear in mind is the need to avoid extremes and make sure that the diligence and effort bring joy. The Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh put this into perspective by saying, “If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly.” In other words, whole and proper diligence and effort should be nourishing…otherwise they are causing dukkha.

The Buddha is said to have taught that there are Five Hindrances to whole and proper diligence and effort, which are:

  • Sensual desire
  • Ill will
  • Sloth, torpor, or drowsiness
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Uncertainty or skepticism

Thankfully, the Buddha also taught that the hindrances can be overcome by being mindful of our body, our sensations, our feelings, and our thoughts. From what I have learned, developing our mindfulness is one reason for learning to meditate.

Whole and Complete Mindfulness or Awareness can help to overcome the Five Hindrances and lead one to better awareness of true reality. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, when “right mindfulness” is present, the Four Noble Truths and the rest of the Eightfold Path is present.” The idea is to be wholly aware of the present moment and to be fully in the present moment in body and mind.

Included in this concept is being able to release the habitual need to judge things by whether we like them or not. In other words, we learn to accept things as they are, more and more objectively and release our need to subjectively judge and rate things. This might include learning to accept pain rather than resist it. Accept pain when it comes and simply look into what is causing the pain and do what is needed to correct the situation.

Mindfulness also allows for three basic capabilities we often do not have, or do not realize are available:

  • Mindfulness allows us to fully do what we are doing
  • Mindfulness allows us to see things more objectively
  • Mindfulness allows us to see the true nature of what we see

Mindfulness is not developed solely through meditation, but can also be developed by simply choosing to bring your whole mind and body into the present moment in whatever activity you are doing. For example, if you are washing the dishes, take a moment to simply fully be present with every aspect of washing the dishes. Feel the water. Feel the dish in your hand. Feel the sponge or the rag you’re using. Feel the suds. Take a moment to notice the aroma of the dish soap.

The same practice can be extended to everything we do, in order to develop our capacity for whole and complete awareness.

Whole and Complete Concentration is typically thought of as preparing the mind for the moment of Awakening by learning to mentally focus on a single wholesome thought, a single point in space, or a single wholesome object. Over time, this can be mastered by practicing the Four Absorptions, which are typically taught as:

  1. Release passions, desires, and unwholesome thoughts. This results in a deep sense of well-being and rapture.
  2. Replace intellectual activity with a one-pointed mindfulness.
  3. The rapturous feeling fades as mental calmness and mental clarity comes.
  4. All sensation fades away leaving only the mindful calmness.

The most common way of developing whole and complete concentration is through meditation. Meditation is best learned by working with a skilled teacher, but there are many resources for learning how to meditate and many helps such as phone apps for timing or guiding the meditation as the student learns. We must be aware of the fact that it can take years to perfect this practice and give ourselves the room to develop the habit of meditating as we also work to perfect the practice.