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BUDDHA’S NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

A Guide to Mindful, Harmonious and Peaceful Living

Charles Day*
www.desmoinesmeditation.org

INTRODUCTION

The Eightfold Path is a prescription, a guide, a do-it-yourself instruction manual


that outlines eight steps or practices for reducing and ultimately ending suffering
and attaining enlightenment. While some parallel the commandments and moral
laws of other religious traditions, Buddha repeatedly emphasized that:

1. The practices are guidelines, not commandments;


2. Difficulties in following them reflect ignorance and inexperience, not sin;
3. They are validated by personally experiencing the consequences of
practicing them, not by any authority, scriptural edict, consensual
agreement, or outside approval.

The Eight Practices are divided into three groups:

1. Wisdom Practices—to attain the transcendental experience of seeing


things as they really are and accepting that “what is, is”: Steps 1 & 2:
Right or Skillful Understanding and Skillful Thought
2. Morality Practices—to develop virtuous, ethical, and harmonious conduct.
Steps 3, 4, & 5: Skillful Speech, Skillful Action, and Skillful Livelihood
3. Mental Practices—to develop mindfulness and tranquility. Steps 6, 7, & 8:
Skillful Effort, Skillful Mindfulness, and Skillful Concentration

PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING WISDOM AND TRANSCENDENTAL INSIGHT

1. SKILLFUL UNDERSTANDING (View or Insight):

a. Of the Four Noble Truths: (1) Suffering is caused by (2) attachment and
(3) can be overcome (4) by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path;
b. The Three Characteristics of Reality—(1) the universal suffering or
unsatisfactoriness experienced by all living beings, (2) the impermanence
of all physical and mental phenomena, and (3) the interdependent,
interconnected, selfless nature of everybody and everything throughout
time and space;
c. The Law of Karma (Causality) and Intentionality; and
d. The Wheel of Conditioned or Co-dependent Arising.

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There are three levels of wisdom or understanding:

a. Inspirational wisdom is acquired by reading or hearing the words of


another, such as from scriptures, texts, reports, tradition, popular beliefs,
teachers, leaders, or parents. Such wisdom is based on devotion, trust, and
blind faith.

b. Intellectual wisdom is based on examining what one has heard or read to


evaluate whether it is rational, logical, practical, and beneficial, and whether it
has been taught by wise and respected persons across cultures and over time.

c. Experiential wisdom results from personally experiencing, intuiting, and


knowing at a transcendental level what is universally and invariably correct, right,
truthful, skillful, good, beneficial, and wholesome for all living beings and nature,
and what is incorrect, wrong, untruthful, unskillful, bad, harmful, and
unwholesome.

2. SKILLFUL THOUGHT (Intention, Aspiration, or Aim): Intentionally and


purposefully refrain from and eliminate unskillful and unwholesome thoughts
related to selfish greed, ill will, anger, harmfulness, and delusion. And cultivate
and strengthen skillful and wholesome thoughts of selfless detachment,
renunciation, generosity, good will, nonviolence, lovingkindness, compassion,
appreciative joy, gratitude, joy in the happiness and good fortune of others,
humility, and equanimity.

Buddha called greed, ill will or anger, and delusion regarding a separate self the
Three Primary Defilements or Impurities of the mind and considered them to be
the root causes of all suffering. They can be counteracted, weakened, and
eliminated by simply being aware of and mindful of their presence, as well as by
specifically cultivating the Four Great Virtues of lovingkindness, compassion,
altruistic joy, and equanimity. These virtuous qualities are considered innate, and
research has consistently shown that they emerge spontaneously as benefits of
regular meditation and other spiritual practices. The Intentions or motivations
underlying thoughts, as well as speech and behavior, are critical in causing,
increasing, and perpetuating suffering, as well as in preventing, weakening and
eliminating it. It is not the thoughts, words, and acts themselves but the
intentions behind them that produce karma, i.e., future positive or negative
consequences.

PRACTICES FOR LIVING MORALLY, ETHICALLY, AND HARMONIOUSLY

3. SKILLFUL SPEECH:

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a. Refrain from lying, deception, and exaggeration
b. Refrain from slander, gossip, and malicious talk
c. Refrain from harsh, abusive, profane, and impolite language
c. Refrain from idle, useless, and unnecessary speech

Stated positively, this means practicing truthfulness, kind, and gentle speech.

4. SKILLFUL ACTION:

a. Refrain from killing or harming living beings. Stated positively, this means
practicing compassion and reverence for all life.
b. Refrain from stealing, cheating, exploitation, or taking what is not freely
given. Stated positively, this means practicing lovingkindness and generosity.
b. Refrain from inappropriate sexual activity. Stated positively, this means
practicing sexual responsibility.
c. Refrain from abuse of alcohol, drugs, and other intoxicants. Stated
positively, this means practicing healthy eating, drinking, and living.

5. SKILLFUL LIVELIHOOD: Refrain from earning a living or profiting by any


means that directly or indirectly causes harm to oneself or others, such as in
occupations involving cheating, exploitation, deception, and greed; trade in living
beings, such as slavery, prostitution, raising animals for slaughter, or butchery; or
trade in weapons, meat, poisons, or intoxicants.

PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING MINDFULNESS AND EQUANIMITY

6. SKILLFUL EFFORT (Endeavor or Will): Energetically, persistently, and


courageously cultivate and strengthen wholesome thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors, and prevent and eliminate unwholesome ones. Wholesome states
promote peace, happiness, and harmony. Unwholesome states promote conflict
and division, as well as desire, aversion, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness
and worry, and doubt and fear of commitment (The Five Hindrances).

Skillful effort refers to intentionally mustering the will, energy, courage, and
discipline to mindfully practice all the steps on the Eightfold Path, to develop and
maintain a regular meditation practice, and to consciously sustain continued
psychological, social, and spiritual growth.

7. SKILLFUL MINDFULNESS (Awareness): Mindfulness means to give


undivided attention to, focus on, be aware of, and experience present moment-
to-moment sensory reality within and around oneself, while letting go of thoughts
and emotions related to the past and future. It means to be aware of what is

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happening in the present moment, of what is, without judgement, reaction,
commentary, or decision, and to be mindful of when any of the later arise.

Sitting meditation is an extremely powerful technique for learning mindfulness.


Basic meditation methods involve (1) focusing the attention on a relatively neutral
event, such as experiencing the breath or mentally repeating a phrase; (2) letting
go of sounds, thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to which the attention
spontaneously wanders; and (3) gently returning the attention to the neutral
focus. For example, mindfulness is learned by attending to and being mindful of
the breath, letting go and being mindful of distractions that arise, and returning
the attention to the breath.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime during the day by simply turning the
attention to the breath while walking, waiting in line, or before answering the
phone, etc. Or one can be mindful of the moment-to-moment experiences in any
activity, e.g., washing dishes, dressing, brushing teeth, cooking, eating, etc.,
rather than allowing the mind to daydream or think thoughts unrelated to the
present activity. Buddha emphasized the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: (1)
body functioning and activity, (2) positive, negative, and/or neutral mental
reactions to sensory and cognitive stimuli, (3) moods, thought, emotions, and
other mental states of consciousness, (4) contemplation of mental states and
objects of consciousness, including specific teachings of the Buddha.

8. SKILLFUL CONCENTRATION (Absorption): Cultivate the ability to sustain


the stabilized mindfulness which leads to transcending desires and aversions
and attaining in meditation the four successively higher meditative states of
absorption or one-pointedness with respect to mental activity, joy, happiness, and
equanimity.

*Contact Charlie Day at (515) 255-8398, www.desmoinesmeditation.org or


charlesday1@mchsi.com to discuss meditation, Buddhism, sitting groups,
retreats or meditation experiences. r12-8