The Noble Eightfold Path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) described by the Buddha is the path that leads to the end of suffering. It is a practical guideline for ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing ourselves from the Three Poisons (ignorance, greed, and anger). The Eightfold Path is not a step-by-step practice, it is practiced holistically. To have a right view or perception of something, we must also have right thinking, right speech, and right action in order to have right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
The Eightfold Path is grouped in three groups that will lead us to enlightenment: Morality/Ethical Conduct (Sila), Wisdom (Prajna), and Meditation/Concentration (Samadhi).
• Wisdom (Prajna) – Right View and Right Intention.
• Morality (Sila) – Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.
• Concentration (Samadhi) – Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
1. Right View (samyāg-drishṭi)
Right View is the deep understanding to see things as they really are, to deeply understand the Four Noble Truths. Right View is first because we need Right View to see and understand everything before we think it, speak it, do it, and live by it. It is to understand how our reality, life, nature, and the world as they really are – to see these things as impermanent and imperfect. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Right View is also the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots (or seeds) deep within our consciousness.
If we are honest people, it is because the wholesome root or seed of honesty is in us. If we live in an environment where our seed is watered, we will become honest people. But if our seed of dishonesty is watered, we may deceit those we love and care about. We might feel bad or guilty about it, but if this seed of dishonesty is strong, we may do it anyway. Practicing mindfulness helps us identify all the seeds in our consciousness and water the ones that are the most wholesome
2. Right Intention (thinking) (samyāk samkalpa)
Right Intention refers to the volitional aspect; the mental energy to control our actions. This is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement; ridding ourselves of whatever qualities we know to be wrong and immoral. If we train ourselves in Right Intention, our Right View will improve. Because thinking often leads to action, Right Intention is needed to take us down the path of Right Action.
Right Intention reflects the way things really are, but the practice of Right Intention/Thinking is not easy. Our mind is often thinking of one thing while our body is doing another. Our mind and body are not unified. When we’re driving, we might be singing along to a song or swearing at other drivers while almost completely forgetting that we’re driving! Conscious breathing is an important practice. When we concentrate and become mindful of our breathing, we bring mind and body back together and become unified again.
There are three types of right intentions:
1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire.
2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion.
3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
3. Right Speech (samyāg-vāc)
In short, Right Speech is:
1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully.
2. to abstain from speaking with a forked tongue; saying one thing to one person and something else to another.
3. to abstain from harsh and slanderous speech.
4. to abstain from exaggerating or embellishing speech; to not dramatize unnecessarily, making things sound better, worse, or more extreme than they actually are.
4. Right Action (samyāk-karmanta)
Right Action refers to doing wholesome, compassionate deeds. Right Action can also refer to the Five Precepts. The Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta states to:
1. to abstain from taking life (harming sentient beings and suicide).
2. to abstain from taking what is not given (stealing, robbery, fraud, dishonesty).
3. to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. to abstain from consuming intoxicants.
5. Right Livelihood (samyāg-ājīva)
Right livelihood means that 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.
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.
6. Right Effort (Diligence) (samyāg-vyāyāma)
To some, Right Effort should be the First of the Eightfold Path, because Right Effort is the individual’s will to achieve wholesome ethics and deeds. It is the mental effort and energy in doing wholesome or unwholesome thoughts and deeds. It’s the same energy that fuels desire, envy, violence, and aggression, but it’s also the energy that fuels self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right Effort has four types of endeavors:
1. Prevent the unwholesome seeds that has not yet arisen in oneself.
2. Letting go of the unwholesome seeds that has arisen in oneself.
3. Watering the wholesome seeds that has not yet arisen in oneself.
4. Maintaining the wholesome seeds that has already arisen in oneself.
7. Right Mindfulness (samyāk-smriti)
Right Mindfulness is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Mindfulness exercises a powerful grounding function. It anchors the mind securely in the present, so it does not float away into the past and future with their memories, regrets, fears, and hopes. Right mindfulness is cultivated through a practice called the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” (cattaro satipatthana): the body, feelings, mind, and mental objections.
8. Right Concentration (samyāk-samādhi)
Right Concentration is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. Samadhi in meditation can be developed through mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati), through visual objects (Kasina), and/or through repetition of phrases (Mantra). For meditation, the meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step.
There are two types of concentration: active and selective. In active concentration, the mind abides on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as things come and go and changes. Active concentration means concentration on whatever is going on in our mind; allowing the thoughts and images come and go without clinging onto them or entertaining them.
Selective concentration is holding onto and concentration on one object. While doing sitting or walking meditation, we might concentrate on an image or statue of the Buddha. We stay focused and keep our concentration on the one object. We are aware of the noises of the cars outside, of the thunder storm, or the dog barking, but we only acknowledge them and continue with our concentration on our object.
We don’t concentrate on an object to escape our suffering. Instead, we concentrate to make ourselves deeply aware of the present moment. Samadhi means concentration, to practice Samadhi is to live deeply in every moment. To concentrate, we should be mindful, fully aware and present of what is going on. Mindfulness creates concentration, concentration creates wisdom, wisdom leads to insight, and insight leads to enlightenment.