The Eightfold Path – An Overview

One interesting aspect of Buddhism is its focus.  It does not aspire to explain the beginning of the universe, as other religions attempt to do with the concepts of almighty gods, along with our relationship to those gods as the path to salvation. Buddhism is concerned with human suffering and how to alleviate it.

Buddhism’s foundation is the Four Noble Truths (problem description and proposed solution) and The Eightfold Path (application of the solution).

In the search for meaning and happiness in one’s life, there are many spiritual practices from which to choose.  If, rather than figuring out a path from scratch, you are considering an established approach (a religion or philosophy), there several key elements that need to be explored to ensure there is alignment between your aspirations and the methodology to achieve them.

Accurate Problem Description

If you’re living with:

  • some sense of dissatisfaction,
  • unhappy with aspects of your life,
  • concerned about personal fulfillment,
  • experiencing anguish,
  • looking for peace of mind and happiness,
  • searching for meaning,

then step one is determining whether the spiritual approach under consideration accurately describes your state of mind and your aspirations.

With Buddhism, the first two of the Four Noble Truths describes the problem/situation in this way:

  • Life is suffering,
  • Suffering has a cause,

The definition of suffering is very broad. The Pali word for suffering “dukkha goes beyond the limited english definition of suffering to include the aspects of dissatisfaction and search for meaning as described above.

The cause of this suffering is attributed to desire – a wanting or yearning that creates a gap between where you think you are and where you think you want to be.

Proposed Solution

The next two Noble Truths are:

  • There is an end to the cause of suffering,
  • The way to put an end to suffering is the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is often represented as an eight-spoked wheel, with the hub stylized to show the Three Treasures:

  • the Buddha (You),
  • the Sangha (your practice community), and
  • the Darmha (the teachings and the actual state of the Universe).

The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices, all of which work together and reinforce one another.

The eight elements are arranged in three groups:

Moral Discipline

  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood

Concentration

  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

Wisdom

  • Right View
  • Right Intention
It’s important to understand the use of the word “right” – it’s not used in the sense of right versus wrong. The better understanding is “appropriate”, as in “the right tool for the job”.

Also, while the practices within Moral Discipline and Concentration support the development of Wisdom, an initial focus on Wisdom’s two practices, Right View and Right Intention, help set the compass direction (so to speak) for the two other groups.

Each group supports the others:

  • Moral Discipline acts as the foundation for Concentration
  • Concentration is the foundation for Wisdom
  • Wisdom evolves to provide further direction for Moral Discipline.

Each spoke of the Eightfold Path will be expanded upon in future posts.

Next Up: Right View

Note: The content of this post is based in part on “The Noble Eightfold Path” by Bhikku Bodhi