Noble Eightfold Path Buddhism

Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path or Noble Eightfold Path (Sanskrit IAST aṣṭāṅgamārga; pāli aṭṭhāṅgika magga) is, in Buddhism, the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha (dissatisfaction, suffering) as well as to total deliverance (nirvāṇa).

It is also called the "Middle Way" because it avoids the two extremes of pursuing happiness in dependence on sense pleasure on the one hand and pursuing liberation in the practice of outrageous asceticism and mortification on the other.

Shakyamuni Buddha having experienced both extremes, thus discovered the Noble Path "which gives vision and knowledge, which leads to calmness, to deep vision, to nirvāṇa." He enunciates the Eightfold Noble Path in his first sermon in Sârnâth, of which it is the fourth truth.

The Four Noble Truths

The heart of the Buddha's teaching is contained in the Four Noble Truths expounded in the first sermon entitled Setting the Wheel of the Law in motion (Dhammacakkappavattana sutta), which he gave at Sarnath, near Benares, before the five bikkhus (monks) who had been his companions during the period of ascetic exercises that the Buddha had practiced.

There, the Buddha, like a physician who knew the ills of the world and their remedies, enunciated these truths, which he made explicit in teachings collected in the Samyutta Nikāya, among others, especially in the "Khandha vagga" sections:

the Satta sūtra (SN 23. 2), the Cakkhu sūtra (SN 27.1); "Maha vagga ": the Adittapariyaya sūtra (SN 45.8), the Chiggala sūtra (SN 56.48), to mention only a few examples, the collection of the Samyutta Nikāya comprising almost 8000 texts, discourses or sūtra.

These Four Noble Truths are:

Dukkha: the nature of life, suffering, sorrows and joys (because they do not last); its imperfection, impermanence and insubstantiality. This must be understood as a fact, clearly and completely.

Samudaya (en), the origin of dukkha: desire, lust for life (taṇhā), accompanied by all passions, defilements and impurities. Mere understanding of this fact is not enough; this desire must be removed, eliminated, uprooted.

Nirodha, the cessation of dukkha: understanding the possibility of attaining nibbana, the absolute truth, the ultimate reality.

Magga, the Eightfold Noble Path leading to nibbana: mere knowledge of this Path is not enough. It must be followed and practiced with constancy.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Eight Truths

The fourth of the Four Noble Truths, the path has eight limbs (anga in Sanskrit), which are also grouped into three parts: ethics, meditation and wisdom.

These limbs are - in the order presented by the Buddha in the suttas :

right view (or understanding);
right thinking
right speech
right action;

right livelihood;
right effort;
right attention (sati);
right concentration (samadhi - the four jhana).

The first step of the path is wisdom (prajñā); it consists of a direct vision of reality, and in particular of the three characteristics of existence: selflessness, impermanence and suffering.

These eight limbs are followed both sequentially and simultaneously by practitioners of Buddhism.

The three parts form the "threefold path", another name for the Buddhist path (these various names are there in particular to help us not to see things in too rigid or structured a way, but to give various insights into a practice which must essentially be an "integrated" practice).

If these eight elements follow an order of progression -each element flowing from the previous one- they should not be considered as a linear progression, going from the first to the last element. Thus right effort and right mindfulness, together with right understanding, support the development of all the elements, which in turn support each other to deepen the practice of the Noble Path.

This path and its stages are represented in the form of a wheel, the wheel of dharma, which, with its eight spokes, symbolizes the teaching on ultimate reality, as well as the eight-spoked path that leads to its understanding and liberation.

Three sections

The division of the eight members into three groups is as follows:

A Śīla / or Sīla) - morality, discipline, ethics. These are elements 3 to 5 of the Eightfold Path :

3) samyag-vāc / sammā-vācā: right speech (not lying, not sowing discord or disunity, not using foul language, not idle chatter) ;

4) samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta: right action (following the Five Precepts);

5) samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva: right livelihood or right profession.
B Samādhi - effort, attention, concentration. Elements 6 to 8 of the Path:

6) samyag-vyāyāma / sammā-vāyāma: righteous effort or perseverance (to overcome what is unfavorable and to undertake what is favorable) ;

7) samyak-smṛti / sammā-sati: right attention, full awareness or right awareness (of things, of oneself - of one's body, emotions, thoughts -, of others, of reality) ;

8) samyak-samādhi / sammā-samādhi: concentration, establishment of being in awakening (vipassana).

C "Prajñā; paññā" - sight, thought, the "great wisdom". Elements 1 and 2 of the Path:

1) samyag-dṛṣṭi / sammā-diṭṭhi: right view or right understanding (of reality, the four noble truths) ;

2) samyak-saṃkalpa; sammā-sankappa": right thinking or right discernment (devoid of greed, hatred and ignorance). In the Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta, this is indicated as thoughts free from sensual passions, thoughts free from aversion and thoughts free from violence.

The term sammā that qualifies each stage of the path is most often translated as "right" or "correct"; the adjective "perfect" is also found, with some authors[Which ones?] deeming the adjective "right" too restrictive.

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