Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ; Sanskrit: ) is an early summary of the path of Buddhist practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth, in the form of nirvana.
The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi ('meditative absorption or union'; alternatively, equanimous meditative awareness).
In early Buddhism, these practices started with understanding that the body-mind works in a corrupted way (right view), followed by entering the Buddhist path of self-observance, self-restraint, and cultivating kindness and compassion; and culminating in dhyana or samadhi, which reinforces these practices for the development of the body-mind. In later Buddhism, insight (prajñā) became the central soteriological instrument, leading to a different concept and structure of the path, in which the "goal" of the Buddhist path came to be specified as ending ignorance and rebirth.
The Noble Eightfold Path is one of the principal summaries of the Buddhist teachings, taught to lead to Arhatship. In the Theravada tradition, this path is also summarized as sila (morality), samadhi (meditation) and prajna (insight). +more In Mahayana Buddhism, this path is contrasted with the Bodhisattva path, which is believed to go beyond Arhatship to full Buddhahood.
In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is often represented by means of the dharma wheel (dharmachakra), in which its eight spokes represent the eight elements of the path.
Etymology and nomenclature
The Pali term (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga|script=Latn) is typically translated in English as "Noble Eightfold Path". This translation is a convention started by the early translators of Buddhist texts into English, just like ariya sacca is translated as Four Noble Truths. +more However, the phrase does not mean the path is noble, rather that the path is (arya|script=Latn meaning 'enlightened, noble, precious people'). The term magga (Sanskrit: mārga) means "path", while aṭṭhaṅgika (Sanskrit: aṣṭāṅga) means "eightfold". Thus, an alternate rendering of ariya aṭṭhaṅgika magga is "eightfold path of the noble ones", or Eightfold Ariya Path".
All eight elements of the Path begin with the word samyañc (in Sanskrit) or sammā (in Pāli) which means "right, proper, as it ought to be, best". The Buddhist texts contrast samma with its opposite miccha.
The eight divisions
Origins: the Middle Way
According to Indologist Tilmann Vetter, the description of the Buddhist path may initially have been as simple as the term the Middle Way. In time, this short description was elaborated, resulting in the description of the Eightfold Path. +more Tilmann Vetter and historian Rod Bucknell both note that longer descriptions of "the path" can be found in the early texts, which can be condensed into the Eightfold Path.
Short description of the eight divisions
The eight Buddhist practices in the Noble Eightfold Path are: # Right View: our actions have consequences, death is not the end, and our actions and beliefs have consequences after death. The Buddha followed and taught a successful path out of this world and the other world (heaven and underworld/hell). +more Later on, right view came to explicitly include karma and rebirth, and the importance of the Four Noble Truths, when "insight" became central to Buddhist soteriology. # Right Resolve or Intention: the giving up of home and adopting the life of a religious mendicant in order to follow the path; this concept aims at peaceful renunciation, into an environment of non-sensuality, non-ill-will (to loving kindness), away from cruelty (to compassion). Such an environment aids contemplation of impermanence, suffering, and non-Self. # Right Speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship. # Right Conduct or Action: no killing or injuring, no taking what is not given, no sexual misconduct, no material desires. # Right Livelihood: no trading in weapons, living beings, meat, liquor, and poisons. # Right Effort: preventing the arising of unwholesome states, and generating wholesome states, the bojjhagā (Seven Factors of Awakening). This includes indriya-samvara, "guarding the sense-doors", restraint of the sense faculties. # Right Mindfulness (sati; Satipatthana; Sampajañña): a quality that guards or watches over the mind; the stronger it becomes, the weaker unwholesome states of mind become, weakening their power "to take over and dominate thought, word and deed. " In the vipassana movement, sati is interpreted as "bare attention": never be absent minded, being conscious of what one is doing; this encourages the awareness of the impermanence of body, feeling and mind, as well as to experience the five aggregates (skandhas), the five hindrances, the four True Realities and seven factors of awakening. # Right samadhi (passaddhi; ekaggata; sampasadana): practicing four stages of dhyāna ("meditation"), which includes samadhi proper in the second stage, and reinforces the development of the bojjhagā, culminating into upekkha (equanimity) and mindfulness. In the Theravada tradition and the vipassana movement, this is interpreted as ekaggata, concentration or one-pointedness of the mind, and supplemented with vipassana meditation, which aims at insight.
The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:
|Division||Eightfold Path factors|
|Moral virtue (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)||1. #Right speech|Right speech|
|Moral virtue (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)||2. +more #Right action|Right action|
|Moral virtue (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)||3. #Right livelihood|Right livelihood|
|Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)||4. #Right effort|Right effort|
|Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)||5. #Right mindfulness|Right mindfulness|
|Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)||6. #Right concentration|Right concentration|
|Insight, wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)||7. #Right view|Right view|
|Insight, wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)||8. #Right resolve|Right resolve|
This order is a later development, when discriminating insight (prajna) became central to Buddhist soteriology, and came to be regarded as the culmination of the Buddhist path. Yet, Majjhima Nikaya 117, Mahācattārīsaka Sutta, describes the first seven practices as requisites for right samadhi. +more According to Vetter, this may have been the original soteriological practice in early Buddhism.
The "moral virtues" (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) group consists of three paths: right speech, right action and right livelihood. The word sīla, though translated by English writers as linked to "morals or ethics", states Bhikkhu Bodhi, is in ancient and medieval Buddhist commentary tradition closer to the concept of discipline and disposition that "leads to harmony at several levels - social, psychological, karmic and contemplative". +more Such harmony creates an environment to pursue the meditative steps in the Noble Eightfold Path by reducing social disorder, preventing inner conflict that result from transgressions, favoring future karma-triggered movement through better rebirths, and purifying the mind.
The meditation group ("samadhi") of the path progresses from moral restraints to training the mind. Right effort and mindfulness calm the mind-body complex, releasing unwholesome states and habitual patterns and encouraging the development of wholesome states and non-automatic responses, the bojjhaṅga (seven factors of awakening). +more The practice of dhyāna reinforces these developments, leading to upekkhā (equanimity) and mindfulness. According to the Theravada commentarial tradition and the contemporary vipassana movement, the goal in this group of the Noble Eightfold Path is to develop clarity and insight into the nature of reality - dukkha, anicca and anatta, discard negative states and dispel avidya (ignorance), ultimately attaining nirvana.
In the threefold division, prajna (insight, wisdom) is presented as the culmination of the path, whereas in the eightfold division the path starts with correct knowledge or insight, which is needed to understand why this path should be followed.
In the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta which appears in the Chinese and Pali canons, the Buddha explains that cultivation of the noble eightfold path of a learner leads to the development of two further paths of the Arahants, which are right knowledge, or insight (sammā-ñāṇa), and right liberation, or release (sammā-vimutti). These two factors fall under the category of wisdom (paññā).
The Noble Eightfold Path, in the Buddhist traditions, is the direct means to nirvana and brings a release from the cycle of life and death in the realms of samsara.
"Right view" ( / ) or "right understanding" states that our actions have consequences, that death is not the end, that our actions and beliefs also have consequences after death, and that the Buddha followed and taught a successful path out of this world and the other world (heaven and underworld or hell). Majjhima Nikaya 117, Mahācattārīsaka Sutta, a text from the Pāli Canon, describes the first seven practices as requisites of right samadhi, starting with right view: [wiki_quote=643e4287]}} There are fruits, and results of good and bad actions. +more There is this world and the next world. There is mother and father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives and brahmans who faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves. ' This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions. }}.
Later on, right view came to explicitly include karma and rebirth, and the importance of the Four Noble Truths, when "insight" became central to Buddhist soteriology. This presentation of right view still plays an essential role in Theravada Buddhism.
The purpose of right view is to clear one's path from confusion, misunderstanding, and deluded thinking. It is a means to gain right understanding of reality. +more In the interpretation of some Buddhist movements, state Religion Studies scholar George Chryssides and author Margaret Wilkins, right view is non-view: as the enlightened become aware that nothing can be expressed in fixed conceptual terms and rigid, dogmatic clinging to concepts is discarded.
Right View can be further subdivided, states translator Bhikkhu Bodhi, into mundane right view and superior or supramundane right view: # Mundane right view, knowledge of the fruits of good behavior. Having this type of view will bring merit and will support the favourable rebirth of the sentient being in the realm of samsara. +more # Supramundane (world-transcending) right view, the understanding of karma and rebirth, as implicated in the Four Noble Truths, leading to awakening and liberation from rebirths and associated dukkha in the realms of samsara.
According to Theravada Buddhism, mundane right view is a teaching that is suitable for lay followers, while supramundane right view, which requires a deeper understanding, is suitable for monastics. Mundane and supramundane right view involve accepting the following doctrines of Buddhism: # Karma: Every action of body, speech, and mind has karmic results, and influences the kind of future rebirths and realms a being enters into. +more # Three marks of existence: everything, whether physical or mental, is impermanent (anicca), a source of suffering (dukkha), and lacks a self (anatta). # The Four Noble Truths are a means to gaining insights and ending dukkha.
Right Resolve (samyak-saṃkalpa / sammā-saṅkappa) can also be known as "right thought", "right aspiration", or "right motivation". In this factor, the practitioner resolves to leave home, renounce the worldly life and dedicate himself to an ascetic pursuit. +more In section III. 248, the Majjhima Nikaya states, [wiki_quote=11880e37].
Like right view, this factor has two levels. At the mundane level, the resolve includes being harmless (ahimsa) and refraining from ill will (avyabadha) to any being, as this accrues karma and leads to rebirth. +more At the supramundane level, the factor includes a resolve to consider everything and everyone as impermanent, a source of suffering and without a Self.
Right speech (samyag-vāc / sammā-vācā) in most Buddhist texts is presented as four abstentions, such as in the Pali Canon thus: [wiki_quote=c62f5003]
Instead of the usual "abstention and refraining from wrong" terminology, a few texts such as the Samaññaphala Sutta and Kevata Sutta in Digha Nikaya explain this virtue in an active sense, after stating it in the form of an abstention. For example, Samaññaphala Sutta states that a part of a monk's virtue is that "he abstains from false speech. +more He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world. " Similarly, the virtue of abstaining from divisive speech is explained as delighting in creating concord. The virtue of abstaining from abusive speech is explained in this Sutta to include affectionate and polite speech that is pleasing to people. The virtue of abstaining from idle chatter is explained as speaking what is connected with the Dhamma goal of his liberation.
In the Abhaya-raja-kumara Sutta, the Buddha explains the virtue of right speech in different scenarios, based on its truth value, utility value and emotive content. The Tathagata, states Abhaya Sutta, never speaks anything that is unfactual or factual, untrue or true, disagreeable or agreeable, if that is unbeneficial and unconnected to his goals. +more Further, adds Abhaya Sutta, the Tathagata speaks the factual, the true, if in case it is disagreeable and unendearing, only if it is beneficial to his goals, but with a sense of proper time. Additionally, adds Abhaya Sutta, the Tathagata, only speaks with a sense of proper time even when what he speaks is the factual, the true, the agreeable, the endearing and what is beneficial to his goals.
The Buddha thus explains right speech in the Pali Canon, according to Ganeri, as never speaking something that is not beneficial; and, only speaking what is true and beneficial, "when the circumstances are right, whether they are welcome or not".
Right action (samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta) is like right speech, expressed as abstentions but in terms of bodily action. In the Pali Canon, this path factor is stated as: [wiki_quote=90e66795]
The prohibition on killing precept in Buddhist scriptures applies to all living beings, states Christopher Gowans, not just human beings. Bhikkhu Bodhi agrees, clarifying that the more accurate rendering of the Pali canon is a prohibition on "taking life of any sentient being", which includes human beings, animals, birds, insects but excludes plants because they are not considered sentient beings. +more Further, adds Bodhi, this precept refers to intentional killing, as well as any form of intentional harming or torturing any sentient being. This moral virtue in early Buddhist texts, both in context of harm or killing of animals and human beings, is similar to ahimsa precepts found in the texts particularly of Jainism as well as of Hinduism, and has been a subject of significant debate in various Buddhist traditions.
The prohibition on stealing in the Pali Canon is an abstention from intentionally taking what is not voluntarily offered by the person to whom that property belongs. This includes taking by stealth, by force, by fraud or by deceit. +more Both the intention and the act matters, as this precept is grounded on the impact on one's karma.
The prohibition on sexual misconduct in the Noble Eightfold Path refers to "not performing sexual acts". This virtue is more generically explained in the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta, which teaches that one must abstain from all sensual misconduct, including getting sexually involved with someone unmarried (anyone protected by parents or by guardians or by siblings), and someone married (protected by husband), and someone betrothed to another person, and female convicts or by dhamma.
For monastics, the abstention from sensual misconduct means strict celibacy while for lay Buddhists this prohibits adultery as well as other forms of sensual misconduct. Later Buddhist texts state that the prohibition on sexual conduct for lay Buddhists includes any sexual involvement with someone married, a girl or woman protected by her parents or relatives, and someone prohibited by dhamma conventions (such as relatives, nuns and others).
Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva) precept is mentioned in many early Buddhist texts, such as the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya as follows: [wiki_quote=6b82dcf4]
The early canonical texts state right livelihood as avoiding and abstaining from wrong livelihood. This virtue is further explained in Buddhist texts, states Vetter, as "living from begging, but not accepting everything and not possessing more than is strictly necessary". +more For lay Buddhists, states Harvey, this precept requires that the livelihood avoid causing suffering to sentient beings by cheating them, or harming or killing them in any way.
The Anguttara Nikaya III. 208, states Harvey, asserts that the right livelihood does not trade in weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison. +more The same text, in section V. 177, asserts that this applies to lay Buddhists. This has meant, states Harvey, that raising and trading cattle livestock for slaughter is a breach of "right livelihood" precept in the Buddhist tradition, and Buddhist countries lack the mass slaughter houses found in Western countries.
Right effort (samyag-vyāyāma / sammā-vāyāma) is preventing the arising of unwholesome states, and the generation of wholesome states. This includes indriya-samvara, "guarding the sense-doors", restraint of the sense faculties. +more Right effort is presented in the Pali Canon, such as the Sacca-vibhanga Sutta, as follows: [wiki_quote=e170765b].
The unwholesome states (akusala) are described in the Buddhist texts are related to thoughts, emotions, intentions. These include the pancanivarana (five hindrances), that is, sensual thoughts, doubts about the path, restlessness, drowsiness, and ill will of any kind. +more Of these, the Buddhist traditions consider sensual thoughts and ill will needing more right effort. Sensual desire that must be eliminated by effort includes anything related to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch. This is to be done by restraint of the sense faculties (indriya-samvara). Ill will that must be eliminated by effort includes any form of aversion including hatred, anger, resentment towards anything or anyone.
While originally, in Yogic practice, sati may have meant to remember the meditation object, to cultivate a deeply absorbed, secluded state of mind, in the oldest Buddhism it has the meaning of "retention", being mindful of the dhammas (both wholesome states of mind, and teachings and practices that remind of those wholesome states of mind) that are beneficial to the Buddhist path. According to Gethin, sati is a quality that guards or watches over the mind; the stronger it becomes, the weaker unwholesome states of mind become, weakening their power "to take over and dominate thought, word and deed. +more" According to Frauwallner, mindfulness was a means to prevent the arising of craving, which resulted simply from contact between the senses and their objects. According to Frauwallner this may have been the Buddha's original idea. According to Trainor, mindfulness aids one not to crave and cling to any transitory state or thing, by complete and constant awareness of phenomena as impermanent, suffering and without self. Gethin refers to the Milindapanha, which states that sati brings to mind the dhammas and their beneficial or unbeneficial qualities, aiding the removal of unbeneficial dhammas and the strengthening of beneficial dhammas. Gethin further notes that sati makes one aware of the "full range and extent of dhammas", that is , the relation between things, broadening one's view and understanding.
The Satipatthana Sutta describes the contemplation of four domains, namely body, feelings, mind and phenomena. The Satipatthana Sutta is regarded by the vipassana movement as the quintessential text on Buddhist meditation, taking cues from it on "bare attention" and the contemplation on the observed phenomena as dukkha, anatta and anicca. +more According to Grzegorz Polak, the four upassanā have been misunderstood by the developing Buddhist tradition, including Theravada, to refer to four different foundations. According to Polak, the four upassanā do not refer to four different foundations of which one should be aware, but are an alternate description of the jhanas, describing how the samskharas are tranquilized: * the six sense-bases which one needs to be aware of (kāyānupassanā); * contemplation on vedanās, which arise with the contact between the senses and their objects (vedanānupassanā); * the altered states of mind to which this practice leads (cittānupassanā); * the development from the five hindrances to the seven factors of enlightenment (dhammānupassanā).
In the vipassana movement, mindfulness ( / sammā-sati) is interpreted as "bare attention": never be absent minded, being conscious of what one is doing. Rupert Gethin notes that the contemporary vipassana movement interprets the Satipatthana Sutta as "describing a pure form of insight (vipassanā) meditation" for which samatha (calm) and jhāna are not necessary. +more Yet, in pre-sectarian Buddhism, the establishment of mindfulness was placed before the practice of the jhanas, and associated with the abandonment of the five hindrances and the entry into the first jhana.
The dhyāna-scheme describes mindfulness also as appearing in the third and fourth dhyana, after initial concentration of the mind. Gombrich and Wynne note that, while the second jhana denotes a state of absorption, in the third and fourth jhana one comes out of this absorption, being mindfully awareness of objects while being indifferent to them. +more According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed higher - element".
Right samadhi (unification of mind)
Samadhi (samyak-samādhi / sammā-samādhi) is a common practice or goal in Indian religions. The term samadhi derives from the root sam-a-dha, which means 'to collect' or 'bring together', and thus it is often translated as 'concentration' or 'unification of mind'. +more In the early Buddhist texts, samadhi is also associated with the term "samatha" (calm abiding).
Bronkhorst notes that neither the Four Noble Truths nor the Noble Eightfold Path discourse provide details of right samadhi. Several Suttas, such as the following in Saccavibhanga Sutta, equate it with dhyana:
Bronkhorst has questioned the historicity and chronology of the description of the four jhanas. Bronkhorst states that this path may be similar to what the Buddha taught, but the details and the form of the description of the jhanas in particular, and possibly other factors, is likely the work of later scholasticism. +more Bronkhorst notes that description of the third jhana cannot have been formulated by the Buddha, since it includes the phrase "Noble Ones say", quoting earlier Buddhists, indicating it was formulated by later Buddhists. It is likely that later Buddhist scholars incorporated this, then attributed the details and the path, particularly the insights at the time of liberation, to have been discovered by the Buddha.
In the Theravada tradition, samadhi is interpreted as concentration on a meditation object. Buddhagosa defines samadhi as "the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object. +morethe state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered. ".
According to Henepola Gunaratana, in the suttas samadhi is defined as one-pointedness of mind (Cittass'ekaggatā). According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the right concentration factor is reaching a one-pointedness of mind and unifying all mental factors, but it is not the same as "a gourmet sitting down to a meal, or a soldier on the battlefield" who also experience one-pointed concentration. +more The difference is that the latter have a one-pointed object in focus with complete awareness directed to that object - the meal or the target, respectively. In contrast, right concentration meditative factor in Buddhism is a state of awareness without any object or subject, and ultimately unto no-thingness and emptiness, as articulated in apophatic discourse.
Development into equanimity
Although often translated as "concentration", as in the limiting of the attention of the mind on one object, in the fourth dhyana "equanimity and mindfulness remain", and the practice of concentration-meditation may well have been incorporated from non-Buddhist traditions. Vetter notes that samadhi consists of the four stages of awakening, but [wiki_quote=1862f43e]}}
Gombrich and Wynne note that, while the second jhana denotes a state of absorption, in the third and fourth jhana one comes out of this absorption, being mindfully awareness of objects while being indifferent to it. According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed higher - element. +more".
Order of practice
Vetter notes that originally the path culminated in the practice of dhyana/samadhi as the core soteriological practice. According to the Pali and Chinese canon, the samadhi state (right concentration) is dependent on the development of preceding path factors: [wiki_quote=bd92a31c]right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulnessis called noble right concentration with its supports and requisite conditions. +more|Maha-cattarisaka Sutta}}.
According to the discourses, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness are used as the support and requisite conditions for the practice of right concentration. Understanding of the right view is the preliminary role, and is also the forerunner of the entire Noble Eightfold Path.
According to the modern Theravada monk and scholar Walpola Rahula, the divisions of the noble eightfold path "are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others. +more" Bhikkhu Bodhi explains that these factors are not sequential, but components, and "with a certain degree of progress all eight factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others. However, until that point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable. ".
The noble eightfold path has been compared to cognitive psychology; Gil Fronsdal says the right view factor can be interpreted to mean how one's mind views the world, and how that leads to patterns of thought, intention and actions. In contrast, Peter Randall states that it is the seventh factor or right mindfulness that may be thought in terms of cognitive psychology, wherein the change in thought and behavior are linked.
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