After our whirlwind tour of the ennobling 8-fold path, I’ve been thinking about how to work with the path as a whole. Clearly it’s difficult (or impossible) for most of us to remember and practice all eight elements all the time; so on a practical level, how can we adopt the path as a guide and develop it?
My current working theory is that persistence and flexibility are two important keys. The Buddha’s path will only be effective at reducing our suffering if we undertake it for the long term (persistently). And, to make real use of the 8-fold path, we have to be flexible, meaning willing to try, fail, try again, try differently, observe the results, observe others’ as well as our own results, reflect, surrender, check the results, try looking from another angle, etc.
The process of walking the path is also iterative and non-linear. Our attention to right speech might lead us back towards considering right view, or we could focus on balancing right concentration and right mindfulness. The steps are too interdependent to complete one at a time; we have to keep circling back to deepen our understanding of each step again and again. When the elements of the 8-fold path are (in some sense) complete and balanced, that is one definition of awakening.
My own practice with right speech has been interesting. I made a resolution some time ago to listen to others more closely and to not interrupt them. That part of the experiment has been going reasonably well. But I’ve noticed recently that other types of right speech are doing less well, as if a fat lady had tightened her corset, slimming down one part of her anatomy but causing another part to bulge out. There seem to be more instances of questionable words slipping out of my mouth – not curses usually, but blunt or rough speech. I notice these words and tones after they’re airborne, and feel a bit shocked and dismayed. What’s behind this change? Is slowing down and becoming more reflective in one category of speech taking energy away from other forms of careful speech? Perhaps being reunited with old friends stimulates old patterns of speech? Or maybe I’m just noticing the next challenge. It’s not clear, but the process of observing and reflecting continues. I offer this story as an example of one way to work with the path factors.
Meanwhile, there are a few opportunities I’d like to bring to your attention. These are recommended activities for persons interested in the specific areas of study or practice.
For those of you who live in the Brisbane area, you or a friend of yours might be interested in an Introduction to Meditation course I’m planning to teach starting 29 August. The flyer is available here: http://www.dharma.org.au/dharmacloud/
For those of you interested in intensive study of the Buddha’s teachings, my friend Shaila Catherine offers on-line courses, one starting very soon: http://www.bodhicourses.org
If you are interested in investigating Healing Ecology with a Zen teacher, see: http://www.davidloy.org
The factors of the eight-fold path are:
1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)