by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Thus I have heard,
“And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.”
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – The Wheel of Law
During the first sermon in the Deer Park, when Siddhartha Guatama, who had recently become the Awakened One spoke to the five ascetics he introduced a new paradigm of spiritual quest and personal responsibility. Instead of the dogmatic rules imposed by deities and brahmin, he presented a spirituality based on the potential for human beings to become better caretakers of themselves and the world around them. The belief that the fate of human beings and the world around them was predetermined by deities and that brahmin were there “hands” on earth was replaced by the knowledge of suffering as presented in the Four Ennobling Truths and the potential of human beings to alleviate as offered in the Fourth Truth, the Eightfold Path.
The Buddha’s new spiritual paradigm was then, and is now a call to action. The Four Ennobling Truths are the realities of the world we live in, that we elevate to the forefront of our bodymind remaining always aware of our goal of the alleviation/cessation of craving. This is not a deific problem or a clerical problem, this is a human problem that must be solved and the Buddha gave us the guide to solving them. The Fourth Truth, the Eightfold Path is the guide to a deeper understanding and way for each of our thoughts and actions to be directed toward that goal. Through Buddhist practice we first recognize the efficacy of these practices and act upon them, then we realize them as an itegral part of how we are in each moment and we become positive agents of change, examples to others of a social self.
The Four Ennobling Truths
Inherent in this life is suffering, unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish.
The cause of suffering, unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish is craving.
The cessation of craving is attainable due to the causal nature of the Universe; it leads to the resolution of unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish
- The path to the cessation of craving is Eightfold
The Eightfold Path
Traditionally each ideal of the Eightfold Path begins “right” with its implication that there is one specific mode to practice, one “right” view, one “right” intention, etc. When the interconnection between the Eightfold Path, impermanence and causality are realized though it becomes clear that by viewing the 8FP as “encompassing and corrective” we integrate a dynamism that allows an elevated level of situational thought and action. We live in a causal Universe where all phenomena change and where only through the option of applying multiple methods can we reach desired positive results. We have to keep a “beginner’s mind” in ever situation as each will be unique, requiring unique solutions. So, “right” becomes two words, “encompassing and corrective”. To be encompassing when applying the 8FP is to be mindful that our actions and thoughts will have wide-ranging positive, neutral or negative effects. It reminds us that we must act with the intention of securing the most harmonious outcome for the situation overall. And, that our thoughts/actions must be directed toward being positive causal agents that lessen or negate our own craving, and promote human flourishing.
The 8FP is not only a path to the alleviation of suffering; it is also one that leads to the development of a positive personal character. The eight ideals are paths to developing the three key characteristics of a social self: wisdom (prajna), ethical conduct (sila), and meditation (samadhi).
Encompassing and corrective view and intention are tools of wisdom. View is simply seeing the world around us as it IS, rather than creating a view of what we WANT it to be. It is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. Realizing the Three Characteristics of Existence – suffering, impermanence and not-self – is an encompassing and corrective view. Intention is our commitment to practicing situational ethics and our dedication to a life-long learning that drives positive personal development. The Buddha spoke of three E&C intentions: intention to resist craving, of goodwill and generosity, of harmlessness and compassion.
Encompassing and corrective speech, action and livelihood are tools of ethical conduct, guides to moral discipline. Our speech (written and verbal) and actions must be directed toward the promotion of harmony, the old adage “sticks and stones . . .” was never true; words do hurt, cause conflict and suffering. E&C livelihood really requires a situational view. A job can’t always be adandoned due to some “negative aspects” but any job can be approached wit the intention of changing negatives within the structure of it.
Encompassing and corrective effort, mindfulness and concentration are tools of meditative practice, and the application of meditative skills off the cushion. Our mental energy, our effort must be directed as wholesome force fueling self-improvement, self-honesty and social self while avoiding forces like desire, aggression and lust. Mindfulness is the cognitive process of seeing how reality is, our perceptions must be clear, going beyond first impressions. Concentration is developed through meditation practice where we learn to focus and sustain concentration. Then this skill is taken off the cushion into moment-to-moment situations.