The Ultimate Beginner’s Mind Guide to Buddha’s Eightfold Path

The foundational teachings of Gautama the Buddha are these Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life consists of suffering.
  2. We suffer because we cling.
  3. There is deliverance from this suffering.
  4. It’s called the Noble Eightfold Path.
For your entertainment and enlightenment, here are eight links to eight articles about the eight steps of the Eightfold Path. Which are actually not linear steps at all, but rather eight aspects to cultivate on the path toward full liberation.

Wise View: see the unfolding of Life.

Wise Thought, also known as “Right View,” is the beginning and the end of the path; it simply means to see reality as it is. We grasp the truth of impermanence and understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Teachers can show the way, but you must see it for yourself. According to Osho, “Knowing means you open your eyes and you see. Knowledge means somebody else has opened his eyes and he has seen and he talks about it, and you simply go on gathering information. Knowing is possible only if your eyes are healed, then it is authentically your experience.”

Wise Intention: surrender and be kind.

The Buddha explained Wise, or Right, Intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill and the intention of harmlessness… as opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention, those governed by desire, ill will and  harmfulness. Wise Intention is exemplified in this short poem. After thieves broke into his hut in 1079, Monk Ryōkan wrote:

At least the robbers
left this one thing behind —
moon in my window.

Wise Speech: say what is true and useful.

Buddha’s four classical teachings on Wise, or Right, Speech are to: abstain from false speech; not slander others; abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language; and not indulge in idle talk or gossip. This is easier said than done! Remember the Buddha-like advice of 18th century essayist Samuel Johnson: “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”

Wise Action: do no harm.

Wise, or Right, Action means following the five precepts… but these are not the five Buddhist Commandments. Hold them lightly. Have discipline, but don’t beat yourself up when you falter. Stated positively, the five precepts ask us to (1) act with reverence for all forms of life, (2) be honest, (3) have integrity in relationships, (4) speak wisely, and (5) consume healthily.

Wise Livelihood: make work worthwhile.

The Buddha warns against careers that harm other beings and suggests that we avoid any occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action. He says, “The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”

Wise Effort: never give up.

There are four Wise, or Right, Efforts, according to the dharma teachings: (1) Preventing the arising of unwholesome states; (2) Abandonment of any unwholesome states that have already arisen; (3) Cultivation of wholesome states that have not yet arisen; and (4) Keeping wholesome states that have already arisen. As wise old Sir Winston Churchill said, “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.”

Wise Mindfulness: be here now.

When the mind understands what causes suffering and what leads to happiness, mindfulness will naturally move toward happiness by letting go of clinging and craving. Paradoxically, this takes daily practice but also unfolds naturally. According to Mindfulness in Plain English, “Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are inherently transitory, (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities  that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.”

Wise Concentration: focus on the path.

The eighth aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Wise Concentration, is to cultivate a mind that is not multitasking but rather directed toward a single-pointed purpose. There are two categories of concentration: one-pointed focusing and moment-to-moment concentration (i.e., mindfulness). All forms of meditation employ both concentration and mindfulness; what varies is the emphasis on each and the specific technique of instruction.

Wise Concentration: Moving Away from Multitasking

May you be wise.
image source:

{part eight of the eightfold path series}

We live in a distracted way, in a digitized modern world.

“The day will come when man will have to fight noise as inexorably as cholera and the plague,” according to Nobel Prize-winning bacteriologist Robert Koch. He said that in 1905.

Over a century later, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton claims that “silence has become an endangered species,” and in any twenty-first century city or suburb, that’s hard to refute. Our ownMindfulness Manifesto here at elephant urges reader to stop, unplug, do nothing, and relax at least a little bit more each day.

The eighth and final “step” of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, wise concentration, is to cultivate a mind that is not multitasking but rather directed toward a single-pointed purpose. The Sanskrit termsamadhi can be broken down thusly: sam = “with” and “adhi” = to stand. Samadhi is to stand with a solid foundation.

There are two categories of concentration: one-pointed focusing and moment-to-moment concentration, which is also known as mindfulness. All forms of meditation employ both concentration and mindfulness; what varies is the emphasis on each and the specific technique of instruction.

Single-pointed concentration practice

Also known as samatha or calm-abiding meditation, this is a wonderful practice for beginning meditators and for anyone who needs to quiet the mind at the beginning of a sitting session. It is done by simply choosing an object to pay attention to and using mindfulness to notice when the mind slips away. The most common and most readily available object is the breath, but others could be a candle flame, a mantra, the image of a deity, a flower or a waterfall. Rather than using force, we practice letting go of everything except the object of concentration. Concentration puts the five hindrances at bay, but it doesn’t uproot them. That’s why incorporating mindfulness is essential.

Present moment concentration

Mindfulness is simply watching the unfolding of life from moment to moment. As we watch the flow of physical and mental phenomena, we begin to see why we suffer. We see that there are no fixed things, only processes. We realize in our innermost core that there is actually nothing to hold on to. Through the concentrated, mindful mind, truth becomes integrated into our very veins and touches every aspect of our lives. The mud begins to settle and the factors of concentration begin to emerge. Paradoxically, it takes practice and wise effort, but it’s also available to each of us at every moment.

The following five qualities of concentration start to arise with both categories of concentration practice:

1. Initial application: aiming of the mind to the object of concentration (e.g. hitting the gong)
2. Sustaining the connection: holding the mind on the object of concentration (e.g. the resonance of the gong’s sound)
3. Rapture: delight, joy and interest (e.g. seeing a distant oasis in the desert)
4. Happiness: the pleasant feeling that accompanies deep concentration (e.g. arriving at that oasis and drinking the cool water)
5. One-pointed attention

Each of these five factors is said to directly counter one of the five hindrances. Initial application counters sleepiness. Sustaining connection counters doubt. Rapture is the antidote for ill will. Happiness is the antidote for restlessness. And one-pointed attention eradicates sense desire. (Unless, of course, your object of concentration is that sticky desire.)

It’s important to note that concentration is a double-edged sword. Just as a knife can be used to create beautiful carvings or to injure or kill another being, concentration can be directed toward good or evil.

Concentration is the last aspect of the Eightfold Path, yet it is not the culmination of the path. The wisdom of the integration of all eight aspects could be considered the culmination—the way to full liberation.

{Deep gratitude to Andrea Fella of Insight Meditation Center for her clear and lovely Dharma talk on wise concentration.}

Wise Mindfulness: Everything is in Constant Flux.


“Believing that we have to get to somewhere special in order to be free sets us up for suffering. But we can realize that wherever we are, we can come back to the breath, come back to the moment. It does not matter where we just were, it does not matter how bad it was. We just drop all that and come back to the breath.”

~ Cheri Huber

{part seven of eightfold path series}

Mindfulness. The word, like all words, is just a finger pointing at the moon. And yet, it is what we must do in order to live fully. It is the means and the end. Of what is the mind full? Of whatever is happening in the present moment. Bare attention.

According to Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana,

“Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are inherently transitory, (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities  that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.”

The Buddha’s teachings on Right (or Wise) Mindfulness outlines four foundations—training in these four frames of reference can be thought of as looking through four different windows into our experience.

1. The physical body

Start with attention to the breath going in and the breath going out. It is best to start with sitting meditation. We can always connect mindfully with the breathing. From there, we expand to paying attention to posture, daily activities, interactions, and ultimately every single thing—all by connecting to direct experience, the physicality of what’s going on in the body and what is being perceived by the five senses.

We start to recognize what is body and what is mind. Look at your hand. You have a concept of “hand.” Then close your eyes and feel your hand from the inside. This is the elemental, pre-conceptual experience of “hand.”

2. The feeling of our experience

Notice how each and every fleeting experience is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We typically like and want the pleasant, dislike and avoid the unpleasant. This foundation of mindfulness enables us to begin to understand the process of reactivity.

3. The state of mind

The third foundation involves exploring experience through the state of the mind. What color lens are we looking through? Anger? Mindfulness? Sadness? Happiness? Notice whether greed, aversion, desire, delusion, distraction and concentration are present or absent. This practice moves us in the direction of non-reactivity and non-judgment.

4. The dharma

Finally, the fourth foundation views experience through the lens of the Buddha’s teachings. We can be mindful of the hindrances (sense desire, restlessness, sleepiness, hatred, doubt) and constantly notice their presence or absence. What factors lead to the creation—and to the cessation—of these hindrances? Likewise, we observe what supports the arising and sustainability of the factors of enlightenment, which include mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration and equanimity.

The good news is that when the mind understands what causes suffering and what leads to happiness, the mindfulness will naturally move toward happiness by letting go of clinging and craving. This unfolds naturally.

May all beings be happy.

Wise Effort: Neither Slacking Nor Overachieving.

“Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.” ~Winston Churchill

{part six of eightfold path series}

Practice should be nourishing, not draining. Mindfulness practice isn’t always rainbows and lollipops, but it needn’t be torturous either. The Buddha taught that practice should be like a well-tuned string instrument. If the strings are too loose, they won’t play a sound. If they are too tight, they will break.

There are four right, or wise, efforts, according to the dharma teachings:

(1) Preventing the arising of unwholesome states.
(2) Abandonment of any unwholesome states that have already arisen.
(3) Cultivation of wholesome states that have not yet arisen.
(4) Keeping wholesome states that have already arisen.

Let’s look at each one in more depth.

Preventing the arising of unwholesome states

Who wants to suffer from unwholesome, unhealthy, unhelpful states of craving, aversion, worry, doubt, and so forth? I don’t. You don’t. Guarding against these negative mental states requires self-study. Sitting. Practicing meditation and cultivating greater mindfulness. Understanding causality—what situations cause you to become agitated? The goal is not to shun, repress or reject these negative states but rather to notice unpleasantness and not get all upset and create stories and commentaries that prolong it.

Abandonment of unwholesome states

Even if you organize your life so that unskillful tendencies are minimized, when they do occur, which they will, you can opt to let go of these unwholesome states. If your mind is a corporate boardroom, the chairperson can employ the veto power of the mind. Just say to yourself, “No, thank you,” or “I’m not going there.” Refuse to get carried away on a detrimental or delusional train of thought.

Cultivation of wholesome states

The compliment to letting go of negative, unwholesome states is generating the positive, helpful states of compassion, love, and wisdom. This is achieved through an ongoing, consistent practice of meditation, yoga, and other holistic methods. It is achieved through lovingkindness (metta) practice, gratitude and generosity.

Keeping wholesome states

Once you attain a wholesome state, make it last. Don’t get complacent. Don’t get bored and seek out a drama to stimulate your ego. Authentic mindfulness is a balance that requires both alertness and relaxation.

“Never, never, never, never give up.” ~Winston Churchill

Right Livelihood: What Makes Work Worthwhile?

You do your best work if you do a job that makes you happy. ~Bob Ross

{part five of eightfold path series}

Work. Careers. Jobs. Money. Making a living. These aspects of life are the concern of the fifth aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path—right livelihood.

This can be a sticky, troublesome part of life for many of us. I struggled a ton with (or rather, against) my career in my early twenties. I was an ambitious 18-year-old, and landed an internship at an advertising agency as a freshman in college.

After interning, I started working part-time for pay as a Media Planner and later an Account Coordinator. After I graduated in 2002, I got a job offer from the agency for $32,500 per year, which I happily accepted. This meant I no longer had menial responsibilities like proofreading PowerPoint presentations, brewing coffee for meetings, or covering for the receptionist. I was free to produce piles and piles of words. I was a member of the Creative Department now. They gave me a box of business cards that proclaimed me:

Michelle Fajkus

I was a professional copywriter. I wrote for a living. I was paid to write headlines that hook, taglines that reverberate in consumers’ minds, words that sell. I was a natural. Witty, well-read, poetic, resourceful. Before, my days at work were cluttered with pesky client meetings, manipulating schedules and estimating billings. As a Writer, I was paid to think and to present my expensive ideas in sleek conference rooms where coffee and assorted cookies were served on silver platters.

One day, I found myself sitting at my desk staring at the computer screen, hating my life, hating my job, feeling guilty for doing a bad job and feeling cowardly for not quitting. But on the other hand, I’d think, “It’s a good job.” (And it was.) Everything began overwhelming me. I couldn’t think of any creative ideas. I didn’t like anything I was writing–at work or at home, nothing! I felt utterly lame and blocked. I looked out into the future and saw my whole adult life stretching before me and…freaked out. I had alternating bouts of depression and anxiety. It was my quarter-life crisis.

I read Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. It’s all about visualizing your goals as if they’ve already happened, really connecting with the emotions you’d feel. And then releasing it. It involves affirmations and visualizations and stuff. My affirmation was: “I, Michelle, am now thriving in the San Francisco Bay Area, making a successful living by teaching hatha yoga.” I bought Think and Grow Rich!, in which Napoleon Hill makes frequent use of ALL CAPS, announcing: “Thoughts are things,” and “ALL IMPULSES OF THOUGHT HAVE A TENDENCY TO CLOTHE THEMSELVES IN THEIR PHYSICAL EQUIVALENT,” therefore, we must develop a “white heat of DESIRE for money.”

I wrote this in my journal in 2003: “Stuff is falling into place. I am manifesting my life. The Universe is listening.”

And I did move to California and taught yoga and adored it for a while, until…to reduce a very long story to seven words…I came back to Texas feeling defeated.

Now, I’m a school teacher finishing up my sixth year of teaching. I came to the field of education after my brief, uninspiring career in advertising and my failed attempt at full-time yoga teaching. I’ve loved teaching ever since I started subbing in 2004. So far in my career, I’ve already had the opportunity to teach elementary, middle and high school students. I find it rewarding and challenging to teach kids reading, writing and the other subjects as well as to help them develop traits such as cooperation, openmindedness, creativity and responsibility. I believe all students can learn and flourish in an environment of honesty, respect and equality. As a teacher, I love providing daily opportunities for my students to learn and grow with mindfulness.

The Buddha said, “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

I feel so blessed to have found peace and joy in my career, as a teacher of both yoga and school. Even in the midst of transition and the stress of a big life change, I am full of gratitude for my career in education. I have been working for a private bilingual school in Guatemala City for the past three years, and I’ll be completing my contract there in June. I have decided to relocate my life to Lake Atitlán, right here in Guatemala. Will I teach elementary school? Or, will I coordinate community outreach programs and work with local nonprofit organizations? I will know soon. Will I teach yoga? Definitely!

And you? “What do you do?” What makes your work worthwhile?

According to, right livelihood means:

one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 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.

Inspiring Quotes on Work

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. ~Plato

Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you will be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrow’s; never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today. ~Benjamin Franklin

Work joyfully and peacefully, knowing that right thoughts and right efforts will inevitably bring about right results. ~James Allen

It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A professional is one who does his best work when he feels the least like working. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker. ~Helen Keller

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. ~Kahlil Gibran

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. ~J.M. Barrie

My work is a game, a very serious game. ~M.C. Escher

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy. If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined. ~Johnny Carson

You’ve got to find what you love and that is as true for work as it is for lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found it. ~Steve Jobs

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. ~Theodore Roosevelt

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ~Stephen King

Previous Elephant Journal Posts in this Series

Right View: Elationship.

Right Intention: Surrender & Be Kind.

Right Speech: May Your Voice Be Full of Truth, Gentleness & Purpose.

Wise Action: Anything Could Happen Next.

Wise Action (Anything Could Happen Next.)

Right Action (or, Wise Action) is the 4th step of the Noble Eightfold Path outlined by the Buddha. This week, we’ll learn more about the Five Precepts and the Five Strengths. These are not the Buddha’s Ten Commandments; they’re moral guidelines rather than strict, absolute requirements.

The Five Precepts are about noticing what actions tend to make us happy (and are therefore “skillful”)—and what “unskillful” actions tend to make us suffer. Phrased as a question, “What supports moving away from suffering and toward freedom from suffering?” Overall, the five precepts ask us to do no harm.

The Five Precepts

1. Refrain from killing.

In Pali, the first precept literally requests that we refrain from striking out at things that breathe. Does this mean being a vegetarian? Not necessarily. There are no absolute answers. The Dalai Lama eats meat every other day, after being told early in life that he needed it for his health.

Does this mean not killing a spider, or ants or other bugs in your home? That’s up to each individual to decide. What’s important is to look at the movement of the mind. (That’s all meditation is, really. Sitting still, paying attention, watching the mind, learning its tricks, embracing the beauty and the chaos of life equally.)

2. Refrain from taking that which is not given.

Notice how this is more subtle than thou shalt not steal. You’re probably not going to rob a bank. But taking office supplies for use at home might be an example of taking something that is not yours for the taking.

3. Refrain from sexual misconduct.

The Buddha didn’t go into specifics on this one. Have integrity in relationships. Choose an appropriate partner. And, within the context of monogamous relationships, be faithful. Again, let your intention be to do no harm to yourself or the other person.

4. Refrain from unwise speech.

Ensure that your speech is true, kind, not harmful, useful and said at an appropriate time.

5. Refrain from using intoxicants.

The fifth precept states, “I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drinks which cause heedlessness.” However, in 2012, we have much more than alcohol to intoxicate us — including, but not limited to, illegal and prescription drugs, Internet, TV, rashly spending money, and thrill seeking.

Living in accordance with the five precepts is an act of generosity, as the purpose of the precepts is to be happy and kind. When we’re connected with the truth of suffering and the realization that clinging causes suffering, we want to live by the precepts. Unskillful ways fall away.

Stated positively, the five precepts ask us to (1) act with reverence for all forms of life, (2) be honest, (3) have integrity in relationships, (4) speak wisely, and (5) consume healthily.


The Five Strengths

Excerpts from Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön:

“The five strengths are the heart instructions on how to live and how to die. Whether it’s right now or at the moment of your death, they tell you how to wake up to whatever is going on.”

1. Strong determination is about connecting with joy, relaxing and trusting. It’s determination to use every challenge you meet as an opportunity to open your heart and soften, determination not to withdraw. When you was up in the morning, you can say: “I wonder what’s going to happen today. This may be the day that I die. The may be the day that I understand what all these teachings are about.”

2. Familiarization means that the dharma no longer feels like a foreign language. Developing wakefulness as your habit, your way of perceiving everything. We talk about enlightenment as if it’s a big accomplishment. Basically, it has to do with relaxing and finding out what you already have.

3. Seed of virtue is, in effect, Buddha nature or basic goodness. It’s like a swimming pool with no sides that you’re swimming in forever. In fact, you’re made out of water. Buddha nature isn’t like a heart transplant that you get from elsewhere. … Let yourself fall apart into wakefulness. … Searching for happiness prevents us from ever finding it.

4. Reproach implies that you see insanity as insanity, neurosis as neurosis, spinning off as spinning off. … Each time you’re willing to see your thoughts as empty, let them go, and come back to your breath, you’re sowing seeds of wakefulness, seeds of being able to see into the nature of mind, and seeds of being able to rest in unconditional space. … That’s the seed of bodhichitta ripening. You find out who you really are.

5. Aspiration is simply to voice your wishes for enlightenment. “May my compassion for myself increase. May I experience my fundamental wisdom. May I think of others before myself.” Aspiration is much like prayer, except there’s nobody who hears you.

It is a relief to know that Orestes is no longer suffering and has left his body behind. I can’t help but think of how unfair and cruel life can be, but at the same time it’s so beautiful. Our friend was and always will be a unique and sublime soul.

The last words of the Buddha, according to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, were:

“Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.”

{This is part four of a series on the Noble Eightfold Path. Check out the first three articles in this series: Right ViewRight IntentionRight Speech on Elephant Journal.}

Wise Speech: True, Gentle, Helpful.

Photo: Chris Blakeley

“Deep listening is the foundation of right speech.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

{Part three of Eightfold Path Series}

Right speech is the third aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. (Learn about the first two aspects, right view and right intention.) This is the first of the three steps on the path address ethical behavior; the other two address right action and right livelihood.

Of course, words, thoughts and actions arise together, intertwine and support each other.

Buddha distilled his instructions on right speech down to a simple principle:

“Say what is true and useful.”

To frame it another way, in any situation, ask yourself: “Am I causing harm to myself or another with my words?” Right speech is so important that it is one of the five precepts of Buddhism (stay tuned for much more about those next week), as well as its very own step on the Eightfold Path.

So, how do we refrain from unwise speech? Here are the four classical teachings:

  1. Abstain from false speech.
  2. Do not slander others.
  3. Abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language.
  4. Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

Viewed from the flip side, the positive angle—ensure that your speech is true, kind, not harmful, useful and said at an appropriate time.

Don’t Lie. Do Speak Your Truth.

We usually lie out of fear or greed in order to get something that we want, something that we don’t think we can get by being honest. Instead, strive to speak with integrity. Keeping our word is part of telling the truth. Being chronically late or habitually flaky is a subtle form of lying. So are those frequent and continuous white lies that we tell ourselves and others.

Don’t Slander. Do Create Harmony through Your Speech.

As Rush Limbaugh demonstrates every day, it feels good and liberating to slander people with whom we disagree. But this is a false sense of liberation, a form of instant gratification that only serves to harm. So stop!

Don’t Harm. Do Cultivate Verbal Kindness and Compassion.

“If we want to do good, it has to be in our words to the people that we live with, and the people that we meet on the street, and the people that we interact with at the stores, and the people that we work with. If you want to stop nuclear war, pay attention to your speech, pay attention to how and when your words are connected to your heart and when words aren’t connected to your heart, and what’s going on when they’re not. Without judging it, just study it, begin to look at it.” ~ Jack Kornfield

Don’t Gossip. Just Say No to Smalltalk.

J. Krishnamurti on gossip:

“It is a form of restlessness, is it not? Like worry, it is an indication of a restless mind. Why this desire to interfere with others, to know what others are doing, saying? It is a very superficial mind that gossips, isn’t it? – an inquisitive mind which is wrongly directed. …

I think, first of all, we gossip about others because we are not sufficiently interested in the process of our own thinking and of our own action. We want to see what others are doing and perhaps, to put it kindly, to imitate others. Generally, when we gossip it is to condemn others, but, stretching it charitably, it is perhaps to imitate others. Why do we want to imitate others? Doesn’t it all indicate an extraordinary shallowness on our own part? It is an extraordinarily dull mind that wants excitement, and goes outside itself to get it. In other words gossip is a form of sensation, isn’t it?, in which we indulge. It may be a different kind of sensation, but there is always this desire to find excitement, distraction. If one really goes into this question deeply, one comes back to oneself, which shows that one is really extraordinarily shallow and seeking excitement from outside by talking about others. Catch yourself the next time you are gossiping about somebody; if you are aware of it, it will indicate an awful lot to you about yourself. Don’t cover it up by saying that you are merely inquisitive about others. It indicates restlessness, a sense of excitement, a shallowness, a lack of real, profound interest in people which has nothing to do with gossip.”

So here’s your homework, should you choose to accept it.

Vow not to gossip for a self-selected period of time. An hour? A day? A week? Do not speak about a person who isn’t there in the conversation with you—regardless of whether you’re saying something positive or negative. No speaking behind someone’s back. When you get that burning desire to say something about someone, it’s easier said than not said.

Resist the urge! Please note: this “homework” is meant to be extreme — it’s a practice to bring more mindfulness to the ways in which we speak and the frequency with which we speak about people throughout the day. Obviously it’s okay and necessary to talk about people sometimes.

Bring more mindfulness to your thoughts and words. Leave a comment and let us know how it goes…

Wise Intention: Renunciation, Goodwill, Harmlessness

“Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as me or mine.”
~Joseph Goldstein

Right intention is the second aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. (Learn about the first aspect, right view.) The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill and the intention of harmlessness… as opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention, those governed by desire, ill will and  harmfulness.

The Intention of Renunciation

The Pali word for renunciation means “to go forth.” To go forth into the practice of awakening. Renunciation is not a matter of giving up our desires, but rather changing our perspective so that the desires no longer bind us. In other words… letting go. Not merely repressing desires (which never works) but rather letting go of clinging — to the solid ego-identity, addictions, bad habits, detrimental relationships, belligerent self-talk.
Renunciation is constantly accepting what is. This doesn’t usually happen overnight. What do we do with unskillful thoughts and intentions in the meantime? They are fodder for practice. Can we see and accept the fact that we’re clinging? And relax, even just a little bit? That would be a great place to start.


The Intention of Goodwill

Cultivation of goodwill means giving love free of craving and attachment. This is also known as metta. Further, the purest intention is bodhichitta, the wish to realize enlightenment for the sake of others.

For the ultimate benefit of all beings without exception,
throughout this and all my lifetimes,
I dedicate myself to the practice and realization of enlightenment.
Sentient beings are numberless: I vow to liberate them.
Delusions are inexhaustible: I vow to transcend them.
Dharma teachings are boundless: I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s enlightened way is unsurpassable: I vow to embody it.
~Bodhisattva Vows

Of course, we humans have mixed intentions and emotions. For example, upon receiving the news that a friend is getting married to a wonderful person or getting a big promotion, we may feel both joy and envy. We need to honor both the parts of ourselves that are open and the parts that are not (yet).

The Intention of Harmlessness

In “mathematical” terms, suffering equals pain times resistance. Where there’s lots of resistance to painful sensations or situations, there’s a plethora of suffering. No resistance = no suffering.


With this in mind, we can cultivate and emit compassion — for all beings, including ourselves. When we put ourselves in another’s shoes, empathy arises quite naturally. Over the eons, we’ve gone from only caring about blood ties, to religious brethren, to fellow countrymen and women… the next step is care for all sentient beings and Mother Earth herself. I wonder, can we build a truly empathic civilization? When? How?

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the other six aspects of the Eightfold Path.

“…practicing charity and compassion without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, to becoming a living buddha.” ~Diamond Sutra