The Buddha gave us a blueprint to use if we want to move in the direction of awakening. It’s often called the Noble 8-fold Path, but I like to think of it as the Ennobling path, because it’s only after we’ve developed the elements of the path that we become “noble ones”.
The eight steps or factors are:
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
The difference between Right and Wrong in each of these elements is that a right view (intention, action, etc.) leads to beneficial results for ourselves and others. Wrong views (intentions, actions, etc.) lead to harm. These are not philosophical positions but practical guidelines for living a more wholesome life.
The eight factors can be thought of in three groups:
1. The wisdom elements – View and Intention
2. The ethical trainings – Speech, Action and Livelihood
3. The mental trainings – Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration
These three categories are braided into our experience, each one supporting the other two, enhancing the ongoing development of all three. The three groupings and the eight steps are not ultimately separable. We can begin with any one and if we continue to develop it, will eventually meet all of the other factors.
Since we’ve spent some time recently exploring the imperfections, here’s a description of the connection between the defilements and the eight-fold path:
The Buddha teaches that the defilements are stratified into three layers: the stage of latent tendency, the stage of manifestation, and the stage of transgression. The most deeply grounded is the level of latent tendency (anusaya), where a defilement merely lies dormant without displaying any activity. The second level is the stage of manifestation (pariyutthana), where a defilement, through the impact of some stimulus, surges up in the form of unwholesome thoughts, emotions, and volitions. Then at the third level the defilement passes beyond a purely mental manifestation to motivate some unwholesome action of body or speech. Hence this level is called the stage of transgression (vitikkama).
The three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path provide the check against this threefold layering of the defilements. The first, training in moral discipline, restrains unwholesome bodily and verbal activity and thus prevents defilements from reaching the stage of transgression. The training in concentration provides the safeguard against the stage of manifestation. It removes already manifest defilements and protects the mind from their continued influx. [But only a deep wisdom can uproot the underlying unwholesome tendencies.]
– from The Noble Eightfold Path by Bhikkhu Bodhi
We need to approach this training with respect and caution. It is easy for us, at the remove of 2,500 years from the Buddha, to misinterpret his meaning. But if we approach it with sincerity and honesty, we can change our lives for the better. We’ll start with right view next time…