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  • Thong Tri Temple

The Fourth Noble Truth, Part III: The Noble Eightfold Path

Updated: Jan 26


| Equanimity {Upekṣā} |


Set #7: The Noble Eightfold Path


Note: The Buddha never intended his followers to believe His Teachings blindly, but to practice them and judge for themselves whether they are correct.


The Noble Eightfold Path, often represented by the Dharma Wheel, can be divided into three ways of practice: Wisdom or Insight, Morality Discipline or Good Conduct, and Meditation/Concentration or Mental Development.


Wisdom or Insight (in Sanskrit, Paññā) – The heart of Buddhism is wisdom. In Buddhism, wisdom is the ability to realize the true nature of existence, impermanence, dis-satisfaction and the concept that the “I” does not exist in the way one believes it does. With wisdom, we can attain perfect harmony between the body, the emotions, and the intellect where all three are working together to help each other as one, instead of three conflicting forces.  


  • Right View (Understanding)

  • Right Intention (Thinking/Thought)

 

Morality Discipline or Good Conduct (in Sanskrit Sīla) – prevents us from creating bad karma. It instructs us in how we conduct ourselves, how we use our body and speech, and the way we live our lives.


  • Right Speech

  • Right Action

  • Right Livelihood

 

Meditation/Concentration or Mental Development (in Sanskrit Samādhi) – allows us to look into our minds so that we can let go of the qualities that cause us to generate negative actions and develop a calm and steady mind. Meditation and concentration balances our emotions. When one has good concentration, emotions like love no longer come from selfish desire; there is no longer a desire to try to get something from someone.


  • Right Effort (Diligence)

  • Right Mindfulness

  • Right Concentration 


The Noble Eightfold Path can be followed in two different ways: 


1) The initial mundane path where one begins to purify morality and develop concentration with some degree of insight; and 

2) The supramundane path which develops with Right View and ultimately leads to Enlightenment.



In addition, the word "Right" should not be taken as judgmental, as in the opposite of "wrong." In this instance, "Right" is about getting back to our true nature, which is wise, wholesome, skillful, and complete.


    Right View or Right Understanding


1) [30] Right View (also known as Right Understanding) - Right View means to see things as they are, based on direct insight, not just thinking and believing in the concept. In other words, understanding the true nature of reality, and understanding that all that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing (as reinforced in the first three Noble Truths). When we don't really know, but we think we know, we will always be in a state of uncertainty and confusion. One needs the vision and understanding provided by Right View to be able to see the Path clearly. Right View must be developed through contemplation and using the Buddha’s Teachings. 


Right Intention



2) [31] Right Intention (Thinking/Thought) - Right Intention is the commitment to cultivate the right attitudes. Every action begins with a thought, and that thought is one’s intention. This quality of Right Intention is followed as a natural consequence of Right View and leads to the development of morality. Through the Right View, one comes to understand the true nature of existence, and this understanding changes our motivations to end suffering. As a result, one's mind becomes shaped by Right Intention, followed by Right View.


Right Intention has three aspects: 


1) The intention of renunciation, to become free from sensual pleasures and selfish desires. 

2) The intention of humaneness, the kind-hearted wishing for other sentient beings to be well and happy. 

3) The intention of loving-kindness, having the mind of compassion, and wishing for other sentient beings to be free from pain and suffering. The intention to live in such a way as to not cause suffering to any sentient beings.


Right speech



3) [32] Right Speech – Buddhism teaches compassion and loving kindness. Right Speech involves speaking kindly to each other, and also to ourselves. There are four aspects of Right Speech, each with a positive side and a negative side: 


1) Make an effort to speak the truth, abstaining from false speech

2) Always speak words that promote friendship and harmony, abstaining from slanderous speech, and from causing hatred between people

3) Always speak softly and affectionately, abstaining from harsh, abusive, angry, and bitter speech 

4) Always speak words that are meaningful on the proper occasion, abstaining from idle chatter 


4) [33] Right Action – Right Action is concerned with bodily actions and has three aspects. All of one’s thoughts, speeches, and actions will be in harmony when using ethical conduct to manifest compassion.


1) Acting with gentleness and compassion, abstaining from killing any living beings, which includes animals and all other sentient beings

2) Observing honesty and abstaining from stealing, which includes not taking what is not given, cheating, exploiting others, gaining wealth by dishonest and illegal ways, etc.

3) Abstaining from sexual misconduct, adultery, seduction, rape, etc. For those who are ordained monks and nuns, the observance of celibacy. For a Lay disciple, respecting the marital rights of others. 


Right Action / Right Livelihood


5) [34] Right Livelihood – The Buddha explained that Right Livelihood is peacefully and honestly earning one’s living through ethics without causing harm and suffering to all other sentient beings. The Buddha specifically mentioned five professions that a Lay disciple should avoid: 


1) trading in living sentient beings, for example slave trade and prostitution

2) trading in arms and weapons

3) trading in alcohol, drugs, and other intoxicants

4) trading in poisons

5) trading in meat

 

6) [35] Right Effort or Diligence – Right Effort provides the energy to develop the other seven factors, especially the factor of Right Concentration which is necessary for the development of wisdom. There are four aspects: 


1) Effort to prevent the development of unwholesome mental states especially greed, anger, and ignorance that have not yet arisen

2) Effort to extinguish and abandon unwholesome mental states especially generosity, loving-kindness, wisdom (the opposite of greed, anger, and ignorance) that have arisen

3) Effort to develop the wholesome mental states that have not yet arisen

4) Effort to strengthen and maintain the wholesome mental states that have arisen. 


Right Effort is the sustained effort to eliminate unwholesome states that interfere with concentration, such as craving, anger, boredom, agitation, and confusion. The corresponding positive effort is to try hard to develop and perfect those wholesome qualities that contribute to mental clarity and calm, such as alertness, energy, joy, tranquility, and equanimity. 


Right Mindfulness


7) [36] Right Mindfulness - Right Mindfulness is to be developed through the four foundations of mindfulness: 


[1] contemplating the body

[2] contemplating physical sensations (feelings)

[3] contemplating the mind, and 

[4] contemplating mental qualities (mind objects)


Right Mindfulness is being clearly aware of what is happening within oneself and being clearly aware of our surroundings and what is being experienced. Another way to say this is, living in the present moment.” Being mindful of the Dharma Teachings will benefit the Buddhist Path, as will awareness of the whole body, sensations, feelings, and states of mind. Mindfulness is a form of attention and living in the moment. However, for the practice of mindfulness to include being involved in one’s experience, mindfulness is different from ordinary attention. Often, attention is used as a tool for the purposes of one's biological and psychological needs. Mindfulness serves as a tool for the rest of one's mind.


Living in the present moment and being conscious of what one is doing encourages the awareness of the impermanence of the body, feelings, and the mind.


Right Concentration


8) [37] Right Concentration – Right Concentration is the balance of emotions. With proper development and progress of the mental focus necessary for this awareness, Right Concentration leads to a state of deep meditative absorption states, or Jhanas, and attainment of insight and wisdom. When properly developed, the other seven factors of the Path from Right View to Right Mindfulness become a supportive and necessary condition for the development of Right Concentration. Unlike worldly concentration, Right Concentration is wholesome and accompanied by the suppression of mental hindrances.


The eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel is the symbol of the Noble Eightfold Path and represents the eight elements of the Path. 


Read more about the Dharma Wheel in our next blog. Please see Part IV: The Dharma Wheel.



May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!


Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.


References:

“Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)


“Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)

“The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada

“A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

“The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.

“Buddhism,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism.

"Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth" (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.nymo.html .

"Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3)" (Ud 8.3), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 3 September 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.03.than.html

“A Verb for Nirvana by the Theravada Scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2005”

“Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Sambodhi sutta, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya, Wisdom Publications.”

“The Noble Eightfold path: The Way to the End of Suffering, Bhikku Bodhi, 1994, ‘The Wheel Publications, No: 308/311’, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka.”

“Spiritual faculties, Ayya Khema, accessible at “(To Be Seen); Here and Now”; Ten Dhamma Talks” by Sister Ayya Khema, ‘Access to Insight (Legacy Edition)’, November 2013.”

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