The Noble Eightfold Path relates to all aspects of the Buddha’s teaching. It presents an intelligent, universally valid method of living life for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The Path combines eight highly sensible propositions into a practical, logical progression. The Path needs no doctrine and requires no belief or blind faith. There are no commandments, absolutes or blame for non-compliance—the eight steps of the Path divide into three sections. The first segment focuses on ethics, morality, and conduct. Mental development is the focus of the second part. The third and highest level relates to insight and wisdom. Each section builds on the next. Ethics, morality, and good conduct provide a foundation for mental development, which becomes the ground for insight and wisdom. For a Buddhist, the Path leads to liberation and enlightenment.
The word ‘noble’ refers to ‘the truths of the Noble Ones’, the truths or realities for the ‘spiritually worthy ones’. In this context, the word ‘noble’ refers to a profoundly spiritual developed person.
Kant’s echoes the Buddhas view in his famous Categorical Imperative:
‘Act as if the outcome of your action were to become a universal law of nature by your will.”
‘A person should treat another person as having intrinsic value, and not merely as a means to achieve one’s ends.’
Buddhism bases the principles of good conduct (morality and ethics) on the fairness of the equality and reciprocity model. Ethical conduct supports peace and harmony in society. On the individual level, good conduct builds inner peace and calm, making a person less reactive and providing the necessary foundation for mental development.
Follow the rules of good conduct, and society will benefit.
Follow the rules of good conduct, and the individual will benefit.
Speech is powerful. Harsh words are weapons that can injure. Gentle words can heal. Right speech is not speaking words that are distorting facts, unhelpful, negative and insulting. Wrong speech includes lying, divisive, abusive, idle, gossipy talk. Right speech is speaking the truth, holding to the truth and not deceiving the world.
Respect for life: Abstaining from taking life. Having compassion
for the welfare of all living beings.
Respect for property: Abstaining from stealing, from taking what is not
freely given, taking by force, taking by treachery.
Respect for relationships: Abstaining from sexual misconduct, adultery,
avoiding sexual relationships that bring harm to others, abusing the senses.
Living that does not violate the truth or disrespect the life, well-being, property and personal relationships of other living beings.
These five points contribute to the ills of society:
1. Trading in weapons and instruments for killing.
2. Trading in humans, slave trading, prostitution.
3. Trading in animals for slaughter.
4. Trading in intoxicants and addictive drugs.
5. Trading in poison and toxicants designed to kill.
Meditation relates to the mental development and understanding of the mind itself. It includes Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. The Buddha sees the mind as the source of all mental states. He said: ”The mind is everything. What you think you become.” Mind is the source of all merits and virtues. Mind is the key to changing the nature of experience. Mental development trains and purifies the mind.
Right Effort: In practice, effort refers to the will, energy and exertion required to keep the mind clear and prevent negative and unwholesome mental states. The mind is kept free from delusion. All effort goes into developing wholesome mental states.
Right Mindfulness: Here, the focus is on keeping the mind conscious, alert, and present. A sharp mind prevents the arising of distraction from physical or mental factors that hinder absorption. Specifically mentioned are sensory desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry and doubt.
Right Concentration: Refers to keeping the mind one-pointed in a state of conscious focus, undistracted and unscattered. This state of awareness is without object or subject, essentially empty of all sensation.
Right View: One has to be clear on what the Buddha teaches. Without such clarity, doubt will arise and unsettle the mind. It is essential to cultivate clarity about crucial components such as all actions have consequences in this life and after death, as death is not the end. The purpose of Right View is to clear the path from confusion, misunderstanding and delusion.
Right Resolve: Also called Right Intention and Right Aspiration. On a mundane, everyday level, resolve includes not harming another living being as the karmic impact of negative actions would lead to further rebirth. On a higher level, the aspiration expresses a commitment to experience the world and the self, essentially empty of substance and in a state of perpetual impermanent.
The Dharma Wheel is a prominent early Buddhist symbol. Its origins predate the Buddha. The wheel represents Buddha’s teaching, the Ultimate Truth, and acts as a reference to the ‘turning of the wheel”, the action that started Buddhism. The Dharma Wheel often has eight spokes representing the eight steps of the Eightfold Path.