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The Noble Eightfold Path
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Chapter 15

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya Atthangika Magga), discovered by the Buddha Himself, is the only way to Nibbána. It avoids the extreme of self-mortification that weakens one’s intellect, and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards one’s spiritual progress.

It consists of the following eight factors: -

Right Understanding - Samma Ditthi

Right Thoughts - Samma Sankappa

Right Speech - Samma Vaca

Right Action - Samma Kammanta

Right Livelihood - Samma A jiva

Right Effort - Samma Vayama

Right Mindfulness - Samma Sati

Right Concentration - Samma Samadhi

1. Right Understanding is the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. In other words it is the understanding of oneself as one really is.  The keynote of Buddhism is this Right Understanding. Buddhism as such is based on knowledge and not on unreasonable belief.

2. Right thoughts are threefold. They are the Thoughts of Renunciation -  Nekkhamma Sankappa, which are opposed to lustful desires.  Benevolent Thoughts - Avyapada Sankappa, which are opposed to ill will, and Thoughts of Harmlessness (Avihimsa Sankappa) which are opposed to cruelty. These tend to purify the mind.

3. Right speech deals with refraining from falsehood, slandering, harsh words; and frivolous talks.

4. Right Action deals with refraining from killing, stealing, and un-chastity.

5. Right livelihood deals with the five kinds of trades, which should be avoided by a lay disciple. They are trading in arms, human beings, flesh  (that is, breeding animals for slaughter), intoxicating drinks, and poison. Hypocritical conduct is cited as wrong livelihood for monks.

6. Right Effort is fourfold - namely,

i. The endeavor to discard evil that has already arisen,

ii the endeavor to prevent the arising of un-risen evil,

iii the endeavor to develop un-risen good, and

iv the endeavor to promote that good which has already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness is also fourfold. It is the mindfulness with regard to body, sensations, mind, and Dhamma (Phenomena).

8. Right Concentration is the one-pointed ness of the mind.

The first two are grouped in Wisdom - Paññá, the second three in Morality - Síla, and the last three in Concentration - Samadhi.

                {Right Speech

Síla         {Right Action

                {Right Livelihood

                {Right Effort

Samadhi {Right Mindfulness

                {Right Concentration

                {Right Understanding

Paññá     {Right Thoughts

Strictly speaking these factors that comprise the Noble Eightfold Path signify eight mental properties (Cetasikas) collectively found in the four classes of Supra-mundane Consciousness whose object is Nibbána.

According to the order of development Síla, Samadhi, and Paññá are the three stages of the Path. All these stages are embodied in the following beautiful verse:

Sabba Papassa Akaranam

Kusalassa Upasampada

Sacitta Pariyodapanam

Etam Buddhana Sasanam

To cease from all evil,

To do what is good,

To cleanse one’s mind:,

This is the advice of all the Buddhas.

Síla or Morality is the first stage.

Without killing or causing injury to any living being, the aspirant should be kind and compassionate towards all. Refraining from stealing, he should be upright and honest in all his dealings.  Abstaining from sexual misconduct, he should be pure and chaste. Shunning false speech, he should be truthful. Avoiding pernicious drinks that pro-mote heedlessness, he should be sober and diligent.

Every follower of the Buddha is expected to observe these five principles of regulated behavior daily. As circumstances permit he may advance a step further and observe the eight or even the ten precepts.

Whilst he progresses slowly and steadily with regulated word and deed and sense-restraint, the Kammic force of this striving aspirant compels him to renounce worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life. Realizing the vanity of worldly pleasures, he voluntarily forsakes his earthly possessions, and donning the ascetic garb, tries to lead the Holy Life in all its purity. It should be understood that it is not absolutely necessary to retire apart and lead the life of an ascetic to be a Saint.

The life of a Bhikkhu expedites and facilitates spiritual progress, but even as a layman one could attain Sainthood. There are several instances of laymen who realized Nibbána without renouncing the world. Anathapindika and Visakha were Sotapannas, the Sakya Mahanama was a Sakadagami, the potter Ghatikara was an Anagami and King Suddhodana died as an Arahant.  In the role of a Bhikkhu the aspirant leads a life of voluntary poverty and practices the four kinds of Higher Síla - Discipline as prescribed by the Patimokkha, Sense-Restraint, Purity of Conduct connected with livelihood and Conduct in connection with the necessaries of life.

Securing a firm footing on the ground of Síla, he then embarks upon the higher practice of Samadhi, the control and culture of the mind, the second stage of this path. Samadhi is the one-pointed ness of the mind.

When he gains this perfect one-pointed ness of the mind, it is possible to develop the five Supernormal Powers - Abhinna, namely, Divine Eye - Dibbacakkhu,  Divine Ear - Dibbasota, Reminiscence of past births - Pubbenivasanussati Nana. Thought Reading - Paracittavijanana and different psychic powers - Iddhividha. It must not be understood that these supernormal powers are essential for Sainthood.

Though the mind is purified, there still lies dormant in him the tendency to give vent to his passions, for by concentration passions are only lulled to sleep. They may rise to the surface at unexpected moments.

Both Discipline and Concentration are essential, but it is Insight - Vipassana Paññá that enables one to see things as they truly are. This is the final stage on the path to Nibbána.

With his one-pointed mind he looks at the world to get a correct, view of life. He now meditates on the Three Characteristics - Tilakkhana, Transiency - Anicca, Sorrow - Dukkha and Soulnessness -Anattá. He comprehends that all conditioned things are transient - Sabbe Sankhara Anicca, all conditioned things are sorrowful - Sabbe Sankhara Dukkha, and all things conditioned and non-conditioned are soulless - Sabbe Dhamma Anattá. Of these three characteristics he takes the one that appeals to him most and intently keeps on developing insight in that particular direction until that glorious day comes to him when he would realize Nibbána for the first time in his life, having destroyed the first three Fetters - Samyojana - Self-illusion - Sakkaya Ditthi, Doubts - Vicikiccha, and Indulgence to wrongful rites and ceremonies - Silabbata-paramasa.

At this stage he is called a Sotapanna - one who has entered the Stream that leads to Nibbána.  As he has not eradicated all Fetters he is reborn seven times at the most.

Summoning up fresh courage as a result of this distant glimpse of Nibbána, he cultivates deeper Insight and becomes a Sakadagami - Once-Returner - by weakening two more Fetters - namely, Sense-desires - Kamaraga and Ill will - Patigha. He is called a Sakadagami because he is reborn on earth only once in case he does not attain Arahantship.

It is in the third stage of Sainthood - Anagami - Never-Returner that he completely discards the above two Fetters. Thereafter he neither returns to this world nor does he seek birth in the celestial realms, since he has no more desire for sensual pleasures. After death he is reborn in the "Pure Abodes" (Suddhavasa), a congenial place meant exclusively for Anagamins and Arahants.

Now the earnest pilgrim, encouraged by the unprecedented success of his endeavors, makes his final advance and destroying the remaining five Fetters:-

Attachment to Realms of Forms - Ruparaga, Attachment to Formless Realms - Aruparaga, Conceit - Mana, Restlessness - Uddhacca, and Ignorance - Avijja - becomes a Perfect Saint by attaining Arahantship.

Thereafter he lives as long as his Reproductive Kammic force lasts. On the dissolution of the body he attains Parinibbána.

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