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Eightfold Path

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Lion Guardians of the Bodhi Path by Tony Fischer Photography via Flickr

In Buddhism the Eightfold Path is the path said to lead away from suffering (dukkha), constituting the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. The eightfold path is:

  1. Right views
  2. Right intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

The path is not to be followed in a linear sense; the aspirant usually shifts from one prescription to another. And interpretations of each prescription differ according to the doctrine of a particular Buddhist school, of which there are myriad. Japan, alone, had 162 different Buddhist schools in 1972 (Eliade Guide to World Religions: 1991, p. 40).

Having said that:

  1. Right views generally refers to accepting the Buddha’s teaching, particularly the Four Noble Truths.
  2. Right intention refers to cultivating a state of mind leading to the flowering of awareness known as enlightenment (bodhi).
  3. Right speech means avoiding harsh, unnecessary and untruthful speech.
  4. Right action means monks following the rules of their order or laypersons avoiding slothful, violent and generally unethical actions.
  5. Right livelihood means avoiding unethical occupations.
  6. Right effort means harnessing all of one’s thoughts and activities to the goal of enlightenment.
  7. Right mindfulness dispassionately observes the flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations, with a view towards controlling and stilling them.
  8. Right concentration refers to focusing on a single point, ultimately leading to the achievement of nirvana. Right concentration could be seen as the doorway to meditation, the last step towards the Buddhist understanding of enlightenment.

Many compare the Eightfold Path, in a very superficial way, to the Hindu Vedanta or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But an honest, clear-minded analysis reveals important differences among the teachings of these world religions. By way of analogy, it’s like saying coke is identical to corn syrup, which is identical to water. While these all share the quality of being liquids, they’re also quite different liquids. And so it is, many would contend, with the teachings (and effects) of different world religions.

Related Posts » Ch’an Buddhism, Zen

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