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.}

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