The Eightfold Path: Willingness and Experience

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

With the Four Ennobling Truths, Siddhartha set the groundwork for all Buddhists who would follow his teachings. In pragmatic Buddhism we use ennobling rather than the traditional translation of noble because like fertile ground the Truths are empty until used. Ennobling is an adjective, one that brings recognition that the Four Ennobling Truths are only furrows in a field. It isn’t until one is willing to plant the seeds, cultivate the ground, and experience what grows there is only emptiness.

Contemporary Buddhist scholars like Stephen Batchelor and David Kalupahana experience Siddhartha as presenting not a list of observations that if one believes their truth then that person can join the Buddhist club. Instead they experience the truths as a sequence of dependent origination or causality. The first Truth is, so the second is, the third is, the fourth is, and the fourth leads back to the first; and forms a causal loop. They are the truths that reveal the reality of how things are and of what works best in the here and now.

Why do we think this is what the Buddha meant? By looking at each of the ennobling truths we can see the corresponding action it requires.

#1 Unsatisfactoriness exists for human beings.

You must become fully aware of all the types of suffering that plague mankind and the world he lives in. Only by fully knowing unsatisfactoriness can we recognize the causes. You must accept that all human beings will encounter moments of suffering.

#2 The cause of unsatisfactoriness is craving, unnatural attachments and dualistic thinking that neglect an understanding of dependent origination,

You must look within (rigorous self-honesty) and without for the causes. The realization that nothing arises from nothing is where we begin. Craving for permanence and fear of change, a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Universe works, and an attachment to ego must be recognized as that cause.

#3 There is a path that leads to the cessation of craving and unnatural attachments of the mind, and thus there is a way to positively transform unsatisfactoriness.

The lessons of the Middle Path will lead us to the realization that suffering can be alleviated. You discover through experiential verification that the realities of the causal process of the Universe coupled with impermanence empower you to make the changes needed, to engage in positive transformation.

#4 This path is Eightfold.

In the Eightfold Path you find the dispositions of human beings that directly effect HOW you interact in an interconnected world. Like all Buddhist “lists” the Eightfold Path is not meant to stand alone but to be a dynamic and integral part of Buddhist practices, all which have an impact on HOW a Buddhist lives their life in relation to the causal Universe. The ideals of encompassing and corrective view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration when applied in conjunction with the Six Refinements become a “power tool” in the Buddhist toolbox.

The English Buddhist monk Novera said, “The four truths are not to be understood or known, they are injunctions in which we are directed to ACT!”

Wisdom, the sixth refinement is gradually developed as you practice generosity, morals, tolerance, energy and meditation, and acting with wisdom also helps us gradually develop those characteristics. For example the wise application of generosity takes more than just giving. You must learn to develop a clear and realistic view of the situation, what is needed as opposed to what is wanted. To start there will be a level of self-regard to your giving and that is a part of the gradual turning from that self-regard to selfless compassion. Your intent will undergo that change if you are mindful. The other aspects of the Eightfold Path – speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration – also have value in determining acts of generosity. Looking deeply into the Eightfold Path you’ll recognize the elements of the Six Refinements. View and intention are acts of wisdom. Speech, action and livelihood are acts of morals and ethics. Effort, mindfulness and concentration are acts of a meditative bodymind.

Like all Buddhist teachings meant to be useful and productive in the alleviation of suffering, their intent should lead us back to the ideals of the Four Ennobling Truths.

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra – An Awakened Mind II

Hello to all,

Here is the second in the series of talks given in the Deer Park at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life.  The first talk can found here.

We picked up the thread of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra where we left off last week.

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by Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi

“The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.

The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering is this: It is this craving which produces re-becoming (rebirth) accompanied by passionate greed, and finding fresh delight now here, and now there, namely craving for sense pleasure, craving for existence and craving for non-existence.

The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the complete cessation of those very cravings, giving them up, relinquishing them, liberating oneself from them, and detaching oneself from them.

The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the Noble Eightfold Path, and nothing else, namely: appropriate understanding, appropriate thought, appropriate speech, appropriate action, appropriate livelihood, appropriate effort, appropriate mindfulness and appropriate concentration.

This is the Four Ennobling Truths’: such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before. ‘This suffering, as a noble truth, should be fully realized’: such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before. ‘This suffering, as ennobling truths have been fully realized’: such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before.”

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Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – An Awakened Mind – Part 1

First Turning of the Dharma Wheel

by Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi

Talk presented in the Deer Park at the Buddha Center, Second Life – First in a series offering a way to think differently about Buddhist ideals meeting the realities of contemporary life.

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Siddhartha traveled over a thousand miles from his birthplace and home at Lumbini to the shade of a bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya where he attained awakening. He had abandoned a life of wealth and ease as a prince destined for greatness in order to pursue knowledge and wisdom. Along the way he studied with eminent teachers like Yogic-Master Alara Kamala and he experienced the life of an ascetic living in the forest submitting himself to excessive deprivations in pursuit of his goal to understand human suffering. Finally, after just sitting in meditation under a bodhi tree and gaining the knowledge of a Noble Path out of suffering he set out toward home, searching as he went for someone that might also understand the depth of compassion and wisdom that arose with Siddhartha’s awakening. In the city of Sarnath, 200 miles closer to his home, Siddhartha encountered the five ascetic monks he had once practiced with. They had previously abandoned Siddhartha because of his change in worldview from one of the power of deprivation to help one achieve spiritual liberation to moderation in all things is a more pragmatic path. Realizing that these were five men most likely to be capable of understanding what Siddhartha had awakened to he sat with them in the Deer Park at Isipatana in Varanasi and began to teach.

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: The First Turning of the Dharma Wheel is the text of that first teaching, a teaching personally experienced by the Buddha’s disciple who related it, as evidenced by the words that begin the sutra – Thus have I heard. Siddhartha speaks first of the Middle Way that is realized through mindfulness avoidance of the two extremes of deprivation and gluttony. Then the Four Ennobling Truths that he had awakened to were spoken aloud to the five ascetics, truths that would come to reshape their worldview as it had Siddhartha’s if those realizations were viewed as actions. In the final verses of the sutra Siddhartha says, “This is the last birth. There is no more re-becoming.” Seen by many to be a confirmation of Siddhartha’s acceptance of the Hindu ideal of rebirth there is another lens to view those words through . . . a lens we’ll look through in a future talk. The Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta offers these important teachings in a traditional manner. Viewing it through a “contemporary lens” the lessons that the Buddha imparted can help guide a contemporary Noble Life, just as the view through a “traditional lens” still guides practitioners today.

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