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The Eightfold Path

Right View (Right Understanding)

In Buddhism, it is the relentless drive to fulfill our never-ending cravings that produces dukkha. Like a vicious cycle, instead of making us happy, fulfilling our desires only drives us to fulfill other bigger, more complex desires when we realize that we were not completely satisfied. It is only when we can have the right views about the nature of reality that we can become free from the vicious cycle of suffering.

Right Intention (Right Thought)

According to Buddha, our thoughts are very powerful; they determine our mental states (such as happiness or sadness) and then our actions. With this understanding, one is then asked to have the right intentions. While this means several different things, it is essentially asking you to turn away from the vicious cycle of craving and desire by committing to a lifestyle of self-improvement and ethical conduct. In this, the commitment to a life of heedfulness, Buddha finds the seeds of happiness.

Right Speech

Buddha knew the tremendous power of words. Words and the ideas that they represent can change minds and lives and so Buddha advised: 1) don’t lie 2) don’t gossip 3) don’t hurt others with words and 4) to avoid idle chatter. In positive terms, we might be asked to tell the truth, be polite, courteous to others when we speak and to talk only when it is necessary. In this way, consideration and kindness to others brings happiness to others and consequently, ourselves. It’s easy to see the simple truths behind this advice, even if it’s not easy to actually do. But by doing things that aren’t easy and don’t necessarily come naturally, we improve our control over ourselves.

Right Action

The Dhamma (truth or law) must live through our actions. Just as our thoughts influence our actions, our actions can influence our minds and who we become. As such, Buddha recommends that we: 1) do not harm others 2) do not cheat, steal or be dishonest and 3) avoid sexual misconduct and to help others to live a life of similar values.

Right Livelihood

In the same way, Buddha also advises one to making a living through legal and peaceful profession. As such he advises one to avoid livelihoods that deal with 1) weapons 2) living things (people and animals) 3) meat and butchery and 4) intoxicants (e.g., drugs and alcohol). (something about our lifestyle and their ethical implications for those around us)

Right Effort

Buddha recommended that his disciples make the “right effort” to rid one’s self of unwholesome thoughts, words and actions and ultimately to perfect a good and wholesome state of being. There are certain levels of effort that the Buddha encouraged, with the higher levels taking more effort and practice than the lower levels.

  1. The lowest level might be the effort to try to prevent bad thoughts or bad things.
  2. The level after that might be getting rid of a bad thought or feeling.
  3. Next you would try to have good thoughts and feelings.
  4. The highest level, which would require the most effort, practice and will, would be to try to maintain and perfect a good, wholesome state of mind and subsequently, being.
Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the most influential teachings of Buddhism and has filtered into popular culture as well as modern psychotherapy. The Buddha felt that it was imperative to cultivate right mindfulness for all aspects of life in order to see things as they really are, or in other words, to “stop and smell the roses.”

He encouraged keen attention and awareness of all things through the four foundations of mindfulness:

  1. contemplation of the body
  2. contemplation of feelings
  3. contemplation of states of mind
  4. contemplation of phenomena

In a word, mindfulness is about experiencing the moment with an attitude of openness and freshness to all and every experience. Through right mindfulness, one can free oneself from passions and cravings, which so often make us prisoners of past regrets or future preoccupations.

Right Concentration

Right Concentration is a mental discipline that aims to transform your mind. As the core practice of “meditation,” right concentration is a foundational activity within Buddhist thought and practice.

According to Buddha, there are four stages of deeper concentration called Dhyana:

  1. The first stage of concentration is one in which mental hindrances and impure intentions disappear and a sense of bliss is achieved.
  2. In the second stage, activities of the mind come to an end and only bliss remains.
  3. In the third stage, bliss itself begins to disappear.
  4. In the final stage, all sensations including bliss disappear and are replaced by a total peace of mind, which Buddha described as a deeper sense of happiness.