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The Eightfold Path: The Gentle Middle Way
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Wheel of Dharma
The wheel of dharma

The Eightfold Path

The fundamental ideas in the Buddhist teachings are there to help us like a wheel with eight spokes. To set the wheel turning is to get onwards along with getting upwards through deep meditation. The Wheel of Dharma clarifies or sums up things like these through comparisons or interpretations. They differ -

The Eightfold Path is a practice that will lead its practitioner toward self-awakening and liberation. It is sometimes called the Gentle Middle Path and Gentle Middle Way. The Path was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha: Buddhist scriptures describe an ancient path which has been followed and practiced by all previous Buddhas. The Eightfold Path will lead practitioner along in the direction of self-awakening and liberation. Buddha said:

I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, travelled by the Self-awakened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path? This noble eightfold path: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration . . . I followed that path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of aging and death . . . Knowing that directly, I have revealed it. [Nagara Sutta, abr.]

Depending on the Buddhist school, the Eightfold Path may be practiced as a whole, in part, or modified. Here is a sketchy description of the path:

  1. Right viewpoint.
  2. Right values - Commitment to mental and ethical growth in proper measure.
  3. Right speech - One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way.
  4. Right actions, conduct - Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm.
  5. Right livelihood - One's job does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly.
  6. Right effort - One makes an effort to improve.
  7. Right mindfulness - Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness.
  8. Right meditation - State where one reaches enlightenment.

The word "right" in this list is a translation of a Sanskrit word that means correct, proper, good - in such senses "right". So "proper" and "good" may be just as good as "right" here.

You have to be judicious throughout life. For example, all eight factors can be present at once, and more or less so too. And till they all manifest so that it matters, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is proper and needed: One stage may lead into the next above it. That is the common trend as explained on old texts.

You have to grasp what is meant by the eight words that follow "right" in the list too. Commentaries elaborate on that difficult topic. Just ask, "What is the right view"? Then see what others too think of it.

If you strike a thankful balance, there are blessings along this confluent way: a clear mind, sound values, good and decent speech, acting to your benefit, and learning to meditate - all these combined for sound and all-round effects.

The Middle Path helps you to adjust. If you should focus on any of the eight factors, the most helpful one tends to be deep meditation. I think I would take up that from the start, inasmuch as it helps the rest big time. I recommend TM, Transcendental Meditation. It has been found to work best among tested and compared methods, according to David Orme-Johnson and others. [◦Link]

The eight factors in further detail

1. Right viewpoint can be translated as "right perspective", "right vision" or "right understanding". There are many levels of it. The proper view depends on observing firsthand; on heuristics (finding out); on schooling (being taught); and knowing and focusing on essentials, keynotes (eg, by Buzan's study ways). Meditation helps clarify the mind too, as evidenced by studies of Transcendental Meditation, TM, and more.

Buddha talks strictly in the perspective of what eliminates stress and other forms of suffering (dukkha), and to get aware of these basics - knowledge of what causes such discomfort, of how to make it cease, and what to do and how to do so - This is called right view.

2. Right values, or right intentions and resolves, sankalpa. Sankalpa or samkalpa means 'to bring about, be desirous'. It may be based on a conception or idea formed in the mind or heart. Intentions can be made in a deep, relaxed way.

Basically, the fit resolves derive from aiming at freedom, from dropping unnecessary ties, and from unwholesome deeds, that is, to harbour no ill will and commit to nonviolence. Buddhism encompasses these five basic moral values: abstain from killing (and from causing killings), stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants. Monks and nuns have so many more things they vow to abstain from.

How to make a resolve wisely? Try doing it in deep meditation, applying sanyama (focused attention on something in deep meditation). That is the way to do it. Satyananda also teaches how to make resolves in a deep, relaxed yoga state called yoga nidra. Trying it may be for free. [Yn]

3. Right speech is speaking truthfully, and without hurting goodness or good ones.

The challenge is to make best use of one's words. In the Pali canon it is explained as abstaining from lying . . . from abusive speech, and from idle chatter. One should prefer speech of concord, unifying speech, speech that consolidates those who are justly united, and not speech that sows mean discord. Favourable speech is attuned to concord - to love it, delight in it, enjoy and create it.

Fit speech is at a proper time, goes to the heart, is polite enough, and hardly displeasing to good people. The goal is to speak in season, speak what is factual, what is in accordance with the main goal of living, adhering to the basic teachings (Dharma). It is more than eloquence and rhetorics, it consists of words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal of concord consolidated among good ones - and thus sympathy at large. That is a main key.

4. Right action, morally upright conduct. Things to abstain from and avoid include taking life, stealing, and sexual misconduct. One is to focus on behaving in compassionate manner for the sake of welfare for good and delicate ones too. There are two sides to this too: key things to avoid, and things to go for and accomplish by training in the activities that fit in. What is brings corruption and harm, or sustain these two, is to be avoided.

5. Right livelihood abandons dishonest livelihood, corrupting livelihood, and a livelihood that causes harm to good and fair ones and innocents at large. Accordingly one ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. Hence one is to avoid business in weapons, means of killing, slave trading, prostitution, buying and selling children or adults, breeding animals for slaughter, manufacturing or selling intoxicants and addictive drugs, and business in killing poisons. It helps to work within the range of your interests and preferences too, and to realise yourself in actual work.

6. Right effort, proper endeavour consists of persisting efforts to abandon wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds by self-schooling etc. Replace them by what would be healthy, good and useful to oneself and others in your thoughts, words, and deeds. One is to uphold good things, desires, and conditions and what is useful to good persons in general. Skills and more skills are called for in handling beneficient desires, activities, advancing non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development. Buddhism advocates skilfulness.

One is to prevent what is unwholesome, preferably before it manifests and grows strong. If what is unwholesome has manifested, to uproot it. And make effort to arouse and maintain what is wholesome. By TM one learns to combine work and meditation on an even keel. That practice is excellent.

7. Right mindfulness. Alternative wordings are "right memory", "right awareness" and "right attention". It consists of keeping one's mind alert to phenomena that affect body and mind. Seek to be mindful and deliberate, making sure not to act or speak due to inattention or forgetfulness. To be focused is to be aware and mindful of the body, feelings, mind and mental qualities. One aim is detached observation of what is happening within us and around us in the present moment. One is to go for remaining in the present, open, quiet, and alert.

One is alerted in and by deep meditation.

8. Right meditation, dhyana. Meditation crowns it. It also helps the adjustments that are called for in other steps of the way.

One focuses on an object of attention to get into a state of meditative absorption (dhyana, Pali: jhana). Buddha discerns four dhyana levels. Meditative states can be developed through mindfulness of breathing, methods of breathing and methods that involve mantras (repeated syllables). Suggested method: TM.

Why TM for Buddhists, monks and lay people? Studies show it works. Some telling stories may too:

  • The Buddhist leader Bhikkhu Sanghasena, who practices Trancendental Meditation, has decided to introduce TM in his schools and monastery in Ladakh, Kashmir, in Himalayan India. People from all over the world formerly came to his international meditation center to learn his buddhistic meditation techniques. Sangashena has expressed great appreciation of Maharishi and his teachings, which he will implement in Ladakh.
  • During the last few years, Rev. Koji Oshima, a Japanese Buddhist monk who has practices TM for 9 years, has inspired Buddhist monks in Thailand and Sri Lanka to learn TM. Today over 3100 such monks have learned TM.
  • Cardinal Ratzinger, the later Pope Benedictus XVI, in 1990 signed a newsletter where TM and other eastern meditations were described as helpful for attaining peace "even amidst turbulence". [◦Source]

Meditation fosters mental and physical health. It brings and sustains joy and bliss, tranquillity born of unification of mind, equanimity, and pure awareness. These steps of dhyana in turn makes fit for examining better, for developing wisdom by cultivating insight and using it to examine. In deep meditation it is fit to affirm and visualise and focus on accomplishments (sanyama, or top samkalpa). Better still, deep meditation leads progressively toward self-awakening.

Aiming at all or good ones?

In the traditional listings, there is "for all" where I say "for good ones and good things". I consider it a reformulation only. It probably means the same thing, but on the surface of it I may seem to disagree or hold a different view than canonical writings when it comes to "unity, good for all, concord of all" and similar tenets.

For the sake of propping up this new formulation, let me tell you it is presupposed in many sides to the ancient teachings too: (1) From the first years of Buddhism misbehaving monks were dispelled from the community, and (2) it was taught that one had better not associate (much) with fools, not if it could be avoided. (3) And one had better not give gifts to unworthy persons and causes. Thus "all" did not really mean "all" even back then.

Consider further that if you turn the other cheek to ill-doers, allow them to sacrifice innocent victims to get along and other vile doings, it helps bullies on and up and dwarfs goodness accordingly. I think you should not do that.

So if you have not reached a view that sees good and evil as part of the big scheme (nirvana and samskara - transcendence and the perceived world - as two sides of the same), help good persons and good things on and up to your ability. You will also notice that it is part of right livelihood, right endeavour and valuable moral too. So my formulations do have much support.

People are different. Some are bad, some misbehave, and good persons and conditions should not bear the burdens and suffer for marring doings and wrongdoings of any of the sort. So Buddhist concord in a sangha (group, community) and otherwise, clearly is not for everyone, but first and foremost a means to good conditions for those intent on improving themselves and their fares. That is my opinion.

Is There a Person in Your Buddhism?

You can think as you wish in the matter. But consider: Are you there? I think we should say "yes". But it is for you to find out of it. Are you (do you exist) or not? If not, you are not qualified to say anything about anything, as far as I can see. These are the arguments:

  1. Nirvana, the great goal, is told of by Buddha as worth experiencing and killing oneself is not. To experience nirvana you have to be (exist) to experience it. Accordingly, Buddha was still walking around as one for forty years after his enlightenment.
  2. Buddhism teaches reincarnation, which requires someone to do it.
  3. From ancient Buddhism there are Pudgalavadins. At one time one third of all Buddhists in India were Pudgalavadins. This "Personalist" school of Buddhism is known from ca 300 BCE and into the 1100s. The school held that there is a pudgala or "person" deep inside our system(s), for Buddha said there is someone who bears the bundles (meaning aggregates). That someone, the "person", make theories of karma, rebirth, and nirvana sustainable.
  4. Self on no Self, "To be or not to be, that is the question (Shakespeare)." Dr Richard Gombrich finds in What the Buddha Thought (2009) that the later-developed Buddhist doctrine of anatta (there is no Self), depends on a mistranslation of "Things are impermanent, i.e., ever-changing, and by that token they are not satisfactory, and by that token they cannot be the atman [spirit]." Gombrich holds that the true meaning is 'is not atman' rather than 'does not have atman' (self). (p. 69-70). And Mahayana Buddhism, as for example Nyingma, abounds with doctrines that there is a Self.
  5. You may keep the matter at bay as you like, for as long as you like. Belief in dogma is no prerequisite for studying and living Buddhism at all. See Buddha on it in the Kalama Sutta so as not to be taken in.

You may cultivate yourself. You are not required to believe in things in Buddhism, but to practice the essential teachings. You do not have to call yourself a Buddhist in order to take up the most beneficient practices and teachings either. Buddha's teachings are at bottom for self-help in advancing. I have tried to lay bare a good selection of the salient points above, along with a tip or two or three as well. You will find other sides to Buddhism on other of the Buddhist pages onsite.


Buddhist eightfold path, middle way, Literature  

Gombrich, Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox, 2009.

Thera, Narada. The Buddha and His Teachings. 4th ed. Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1988.

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