Korpo

The Noble Eightfold Path

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I'd say many people think Buddhism is about meditation, and that meditation alone will lead to enlightenment. This leads to ideas that the only way to enlightenment is sitting in posture most of the day.

One of the central teachings of Buddhism tells another story. It is the Noble Eightfold Path. See for example this diagram:


(from: http://landsofwisdom.com/?p=1726)

These are the eight essential components to mind when working towards liberation.

The ones commonly associated with meditation and to be nurtured in meditation are the purple ones. Right concentration is built during practicing, for example breath meditation. Right mindfulness is the presence you want to develop, for example through practicing Vipassana. And right effort means putting in as much as needed - though I wouldn't limit this to meditation.

This leaves five more components:

Right speech, right action and right livelihood all pertain to our interaction with the world we live in. These are the things that we emit into our environment - how we earn our living, how we treat others and how we talk to and about them. These guide our actions in daily life.

Right view and right intentions tell us something about the quality of mind we should always try to maintain. Especially right intentions is something that tells us that good actions by themselves are not enough, but that the quality of mind that we have while acting will influence the quality of the action itself. In this sense actions taken from wrong view and wrong intentions have a different quality, and will not bring us to liberation as those done with right view and right intention would.

All of these components interact. One cannot do wrong actions and maintain the mental qualities needed for right mindfulness. One example is from the book "The Art of Living", which presents the Vipassana as taught by Goenka and his answers to students. He remarks that people that do not abide by the moral preceipts of Buddhism but do retreats may still have profound experiences during retreats, yet when he encounters them again on the next retreat, they seem essentially unchanged.

In other words: Gains made only in some parts of the path may not last if other components are severely lacking. Deeds along the lines of wrong action or wrong intentions may in fact disturb the mind so much that attempts at right effort or right concentration might not lead to lasting effects. Doing a retreat might be seen as right effort, as it dedicates time to grow right concentration and right mindfulness, but if the mental qualities attained during the retreat are not nursed during daily life, then they will not pervade one's being and not create lasting change.

There has been at times critcism of Buddhism of focussing on things that are not ultimately involved with attaining enlightenment. But this would mark enlightenment as some mystical quality found on a meditation mat, not something that is to profoundly alter our lives and how we behave.

Mahayana Buddhism for example has a strong emphasis on benevolence and compassion. This expresses right intentions and will translate into right action and right speech ultimately, and ultimately into the peace of mind needed for right concentration and right mindfulness.

At times you work from the inside outward, and at times you work from the outside inward, but all of it is good work towards the right end and never wasted.

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Updated 12th May 2012 at 12:05 PM by Korpo

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Comments

  1. LPCF's Avatar
    This is a practical and succinct outline of the N.E.P. It brings it all together so well. Great work, Korpo!
  2. Korpo's Avatar
    Thanks.
  3. IA56's Avatar
    Yes, I did study one year the Noble Eightfold path and did get the experience of...not falling backwards...I am sorry not to know the English expression...in Swedish it is...Icke tillbaka fallande...It was so fantastic exprerience to know that all work well done will nobody take away from you...that when you come to certain point of knowing you canīt fall beneath it...so all efforts are taking you forward.....
    Thank you Korpo for re-minding me again....
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