Guide: Eightfold Path
A Guide to Buddhism's Eightfold Path
If you are not acquainted with the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, also sometimes called Buddha's Middle Path or Middle Way, this introductory guide may help. The Eightfold Path offers eight steps to take through life to improve it and to reach better meditation.
The Eightfold Path consists of the following eight “folds” or steps:
1. Right view or understanding: From a meditation viewpoint, you need to view life both scientifically and with speculation. Be rational and creative. Believe in scientific facts, to the extent that they show reality, but be willing to see beyond science and explore frontiers that science has not yet explored.
2. Right resolve or thought: From a meditation viewpoint, this means you should learn to have both a positive and a critical attitude, neither of them excessive, both of them rational, and both of them allowing for inner growth as well as an understanding of the difficulties of external reality.
3. Right speech: From a meditation viewpoint, you need to understand that words do have power, that what you say about yourself and others, and how you speak to others, can create both positive and negative consequences. You need, in other words, to become increasingly responsible for what you say to others—and to yourself.
4. Right conduct or action: From a meditation viewpoint, this means acting fairly, rationally, and kindly in all situations. You do act, and you do so in ways that creative positive or neutral effects.
5. Right livelihood: From a meditation viewpoint, this means that you try to make a living or otherwise serve a regular purpose in life that helps others. And you do so in a way that best fits your own physical, ethical, and intellectual abilities and gifts, as well as those of other people.
6. Right effort: From a meditation viewpoint, this means that you resolving to do well, as above, and your action or conduct to do well become joined and pointed inward. You join them in such a way that you work for something deeper and higher within yourself and/or for others.
Typically, this may mean reorienting yourself to a new type of education, a new profession, or, upon retirement, a new direction. This step also is a major preparation or background for moving into ever deeper or more committed forms of meditation, as in Steps 7 and 8, below.
7. Right mindfulness: From a meditation viewpoint, this may mean the real start of meditation practice. You may already be very mindful in some parts of your life. Being “mindful” (see) means paying close attention to deeper, more meaningful experiences–of beauty, strength, love, peace, whether outer or inner. It means paying more attention to the particular or special possibilities in ideas, thoughts, and memories.
It means that you, as a “watcher” of yourself and your experiences, is growing more completely and more often aware of your thoughts, feelings, quirks, habits of inner life, and ways of being in the world and in yourself. You do not need to do this constantly; simple regular practice of this on a daily or weekly schedule is sufficient to train yourself in mindfulness.
8. Right concentration: From a meditation viewpoint, this means focusing on what leads to discovery of your deeper awareness, your deeper self (see) beyond all external awarenesses. You use meditation techniques to discover–or simply fall into–what may be called enlightenment (see), nirvana (see), samadhi (see), or other significant meditative experiences (see “Stages of Meditation” and “Paths of Meditation”).
Reaching this state does not mean you lose or deny your humanity. Rather, if anything, it is a completely new start of inner life. In it, you can more fully appreciate and experience the depths and heights of life of which you and all humans are capable.
How do the eight steps work if you are just starting them? You may, as noted above, already be living, at least in part, several of them.
Note, though, that they are not a recipe for quick success. As you try them, you do not complete each step in a day or a week, make a check mark beside it, and then move on to the next. Rather, you learn what a step is, what it means in your life, and how you can accomplish it more thoroughly in this period of time.
You might be consciously practicing, or working on, several or more steps at any single time–a day, month, or year. And you usually incorporate each step increasingly into your typical life as you grow older, becoming better at doing so as the weeks, months, and years progress.
Ultimately, the goal is to be automatically practicing most or all steps as you change and balance yourself throughout your life. Some people learn to practice just five or six steps regularly. Others move on to the seventh or eighth step naturally.
The Middle Path is simply nothing more or less than a prescription for feeling better, happier, and even more useful as a human being. In the long run, you may also develop a much deeper awareness of yourself and of the universe.
The Eightfold Path is similar to other spiritual systems’ beliefs. The Judaic, Christian, and Islamic Ten Commandments of Moses are one example. Another is the Christian command by Jesus in the Golden Rule of loving God and doing to others as you would have them do to you. A 1960s counterculture version was taught by Timothy Leary, the 1960s Harvard psychologist and advocate of using LSD and marijuana for spiritual enlightenment, who recommended that people “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” (with “tune in” referring to becoming more aware, and “drop out” referring to replacing normal social roles and rules with more mindful ones). Confucius gave people a series of precepts to follow for an orderly, enjoyable life, and Lao Tzu offered a variety of sayings to help people maintain a middle way through the difficulties of life.
The Eightfold Path may be used to develop one’s own inner nature better, more acutely, and more enjoyably, whether that inner nature is that of a spiritual person; an intellectual, artistic, or aesthetic one; a communicator in public or private; a loving person; a leader or person of power; a doctor, nurse, or other healer; or a scientific, engineering, computer, or materials-handling person of some kind.
It is meant for all types of people. This is true you are calm or busy; highly social or very private; atheistic, agnostic, or spiritual minded; hard working or relaxed and casual; naturally healthy or unhealthy; followers of limited paths or extreme ones; drug users, illegal or legal, and alcohol users and abusers; and all others. If you are living at some kind of extreme in your life, you may need to bring your behavior closer to a middle way.
This “middle way” is not necessarily conformity. Rather, you simply look for more balance–of some kind–so that you may live out your best, fullest, most comfortable, and happiest destiny. Buddha’s Eightfold Path also allows you to make your changes gradually, and only as you discover what really works best for you in the reality in which you, yourself, live.
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Most recent content revision 19 July 2022
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