The Eightfold Path is a set of guidelines, leading a student of this practice towards a meaningful and fulfilling life in Buddhism. They are considered to be one of the core teachings of the Buddha and is a central aspect of Buddhist practice.
The Eightfold Path consists of the following eight steps:
- Right Understanding
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
As language is loaded with meaning, people have been know to replace ‘right’ with ‘noble,’ ‘proper,’ or ’wise.’ I prefer wise. Through a devotion to practice we learn, gaining knowledge as we apply it and deeply understand it. As we try and test the knowledge in every aspect of life, we earn access to experienced wisdom. So I like using ‘wise’ as the description to these steps that support us as we walk this path.
By following the Eightfold Path, Buddhists seek to overcome suffering, cultivate compassion, inner peace, contentment and wisdom, that ultimately leads a student to achieve enlightenment or self-awakening.
The Eightfold Path is traditionally categorised into three main groups called the ‘three higher trainings’:
1. Wisdom: Wise Understanding, Wise Intention
2. Morality: Wise Speech, Wise Action, Wise Livelihood
3. Concentration: Wise Effort, Wise Mindfulness, Wise Concentration
These three categories are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
Wisdom provides the foundation for ethical conduct and mental concentration, while ethical conduct provides the foundation for mental concentration and the development of wisdom. Mental concentration, in turn, supports the development of both wisdom and ethical conduct. You can sense that these three components are the necessary means to walk this path.
In Buddhism, “wise understanding” refers to a wholesome mind state of a clear understanding of the nature of reality, specifically the Four Noble Truths.
- The truth of suffering (dukkha): The understanding that all things are impermanent. Good, bad and the indifferent everything has a beginning, mid, end. Truth of Impermanence.
2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya): The understanding that the root of suffering, ourselves, others & nature. Birth, change, aging, illness & death. Kleshas. Kleshas are what the student observes that come up in practice. They are considered mental-emotional afflictions, obstructions and causes of suffering or Dukkha. Kleshas produce negative thoughts and emotions in the Citta or Heart-Mind (called in the Yoga Sutras Klista Vrttis), the roaming tendencies of the heart-mind and the outer expression of the Kleshas.
- Avidya – Ignorance, misapprehension, misunderstanding, lack of awareness, blind spots – about the real nature of all things. Without Avidya the others wouldn’t exists.
- Asmita – Egotism, thinking more or less of who your limited ego identifies as.
- Raga – Attachment to pleasure, craving, grasping, yearning and addictively chasing instant gratification.
- Devsa – Avoidance of pain, resistance, aversion, the way we disassociate from things that might bring us pain.
- Abinivesha – Fear of loss, change and death.
3. The truth that there is a stopping to suffering (nirodha): Do you understand why you practice Yoga? Physical? Energetic? Mental/emotional? Spiritual? Do you understand how to meet your needs today? Exercise, diet, sleep, socialising, work, downtime, intimacy. The understanding that it is possible to end suffering by practicing. In yoga practice as well as others likeminded disciplines there is a delaying of the gratification of reacting and facing what we are afraid of or avoiding or attached to, and observing how our ego gets misidentified and waking to what we truly are. 1-3 stages of Yoga Awareness, understanding, acceptance,
Make a plan to stop suffering.
4. The truth of the path to stop suffering (magga): by practicing the Path whatever path that may be for you. Call to action! Show up, follow the plan, effort. Karma.
Wise understanding, therefore, is the ability to be aware in any given moment with clear understanding of these Four Noble Truths, as well as the understanding your intention to practice.
Do you understand what you are learning when you are aware? What are you learning when you’re aware of the asana in practice? Where do you hold too tightly, what part doesn’t engage? Why do you like some poses and not others? Energy-body? Sluggish, ungrounded, overactive? And the mind?What thoughts are motivating you to act? Reaction? Fear-base? Love-base? What are you learning when you rest in awareness? Consciousness? What do you need today to restore you to a state of serenity, sanity and peace?
We practice to clear our body, energy and mind-heart so we can see, not so affected by life, feeling whole and complete as we are and our capacity for great compassion, wisdom and the power of love motivate us in fulfilling our purpose today.