what is the eightfold path

What is The Eight Fold Path Of Buddhism? Full Definition

The Noble Eightfold Path is the fundamental Buddhist teaching that offers a path towards enlightenment and the end of suffering. The ‘cessation of suffering’ is the Fourth Noble Truth. If you’re not familiar with the Four Noble Truths I highly recommend you read that first and then come back and this will make more sense when you do.

I think it’s interesting to note that the term “noble” refers to the fact that this path is “non-self” and that it is not a form of selfish seeking. I wasn’t aware of that until I touched upon my research for this article.

There are two paths that make up the eightfold path. The first is the path of virtue, which is made up of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. The second is the path of meditation, which consists of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

What is the main purpose of the Eightfold Path?

Given that the Four Noble Truths are the foundation that Buddhism is based upon, the Eightfold Path can be thought of as the vehicle of the Fourth Noble Truth.

It’s a way or a path that is broken down and taught for anyone to learn, religious or not, to release their suffering, live more compassionately and reach a state of Nirvana, or as some might say ‘enlightenment’ or ‘bliss’.

What are the three main categories of the Noble Eightfold Path?

The Eightfold Path aims to encompass and master the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline, these three categories are: Ethical Conduct, Mental Discipline, and Wisdom.

1. Ethical Conduct

In Buddhism, ethical conduct is used to describe the actions and attitudes a person takes to live a life that is in accordance with the principles of the Buddha’s teaching. Such ethical conduct includes the avoidance of intoxicating drinks, sexual misconduct, stealing, lying, and killing. It’s about living an honest and good life. It is a way to lead a life with happiness and peace.

In Buddhism, ethics is called Sila. Sila is quite complicated and difficult to translate from Buddhist texts into English. It is a term that has been translated as ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, ‘morals’, ‘moral conduct’, ‘good conduct’, ‘the discipline of the mind’, ‘the training of the mind’, ‘discipline’, ‘guidelines’, ‘models’, ‘codes’, ‘regulations’, and ‘standard’.

There are different kinds of Sila in Buddhism. The Mahayana school of Buddhism is connected to the idea of compassion and altruism. In the Theravada school, it is connected to the idea of renunciation. Sila is the foundation of Buddhism.

Ethical Conduct comprises three of the eight categories within the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

2. Mental Discipline

Mental discipline is crucial for progress on the Buddhist path. It is a practice that includes both physical and mental cultivation. Physical disciplines are the things that Buddhists do to keep their body healthy and strong. This includes proper diet and exercise. Mental discipline includes the things Buddhists do to keep their mind healthy and strong. This includes mindfulness, meditation, and the cultivation of concentration.

Mental Discipline also comprises three of the eight categories within the Eightfold Path: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

3. Wisdom

The wisdom that is explained in Buddhism is a way to gain a sense of peace and clarity in life. It is a way to gain a sense of contentment and happiness in life.

It is about the cultivation of the Buddhist path, which is about overcoming suffering, gaining insight and understanding, and the cultivation of wisdom. When someone has wisdom, they are able to make the best decision for themselves and be at peace with who they are.

To hear wisdom, one must meditate, which is the practice of deep concentration and detachment from thoughts. Wisdom is essential to Buddhist practice and it is the key to understanding the nature of reality.

Wisdom comprises the final two of the eight categories within the Eightfold Path: Right Thought and Right Understanding.

What are the 8 practices of the Eightfold Path?

The eight practices of the Eightfold Path in Buddhism are as follows:

1. Right Understanding

Right Understanding is the understanding that the Buddha has attained. The understanding is that everything is impermanent and subject to decay and change. The understanding of the three marks of existence tells us that our experiences are neither permanent nor stable.

It is the understanding that the body is a mental construct, the understanding of the mind as a storehouse of mental states, and the understanding of the law of cause and effect.

It is the awareness of the illusory nature of the true self. It is the realization that there is no ‘self’ that is unchanging and fixed, but that all phenomena are impermanent and in constant flux.

2. Right Thought

Right Thought is making choices that are aligned with our nature and the world. What is our nature according to Buddhism? We are of love, compassion, and non-self.

Thoughts that don’t align with love and compassion such as violence or sexual misconduct are not considered Right Thought.

3. Right Speech

Right Speech means being truthful, honest, and just in your speech. It means speaking about others in a compassionate and non-hurtful manner. Even though Right Speech is not easy to practice, being able to do it is one of the most important attributes of the Eightfold Path.

There are four basic precepts of Right Speech: abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, and abstaining from idle talk. A person is also supposed to avoid spreading rumors and not use their words to hurt.

4. Right Action

Right Action is defined as “the right thought, word, and deed, with a view to the good of all.” The Buddha said that Right Action is what leads a person to his or her own salvation. Right Action can be broken down into three parts: thoughts, words, and deeds.

It refers to self-regulated action that is motivated by the desire to avoid unwholesome consequences and experience wholesome consequences. It is a moral action, which means that it should be done for the benefit of oneself, others, and society.

5. Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood is broken down into two types. The first type of Right Livelihood is the practice of generosity. The second type of Right Livelihood is the practice of virtue.

Right Livelihood is an important part of the Eightfold Path and means to always take and develop a good understanding of what is going on in the world and to act in the world in a way that promotes the welfare of all beings without creating harm.

Right Livelihood is a Sanskrit word that means ‘livelihood ought to be pleasing to your mind’. This means that your livelihood should be fulfilling and have a purpose. In Buddhism, Right Livelihood is a type of work you are doing that you find fulfilling, has meaning to it, and is not potentially harmful to others. It is not just about money or material goods because that is not the only thing that is important.

6. Right Effort

Right effort is the intentional engagement in wholesome actions with the intention of promoting the long-term welfare of oneself and others.

 It is sometimes translated as Right Application.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness is one of the most difficult to understand and practice, but it is also arguably one of the most beneficial.

Right mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment, without judgment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

It is the practice of living in the “here and now” moment with a sense of calm and balance. Right mindfulness is a state where we are fully present in the moment, aware of what is going on and how we are feeling, and we are not trapped by our thoughts, which can lead to suffering.

8. Right Concentration

Right Concentration can be translated as “concentrating the mind to direct it toward the object”.

Right concentration is being able to focus your mind on one thing, without being distracted by other thoughts. To do so, you need to practice Right Mindfulness.

It can be practiced by meditating and focusing your mind on a single, chosen object. It is also meant to be practiced throughout the day by being mindful and concentrating on what is happening and arising in the present moment.

How do you enter the Eightfold Path?

There are many ways to enter the Eightfold Path. It can be through a teacher, a book, or meditation. One way is to have a sponsor or teacher that can introduce you to the path. Another way is to read a book or Buddhist text first. If you are not a spiritual person, it can also be helpful to learn about meditation.

In Buddhism, the main form of meditation taught is mindfulness meditation. It can be helpful to get acquainted with this form of meditation.

If you haven’t heard of it already, there’s a great free meditation app called Insight Timer that you can use to practice. Search for mindfulness meditation, Vipassana meditation, Samatha meditation, or Buddhist meditation.

what are the four noble truths 1

What Are The Four Noble Truths Of Buddhism? Full Definition

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are foundational aspects of the Buddhist practice. They are at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.

The Buddha presented the Four Noble Truths in his very first sermon at Isipatana, near Benares, to five of his old colleagues, the ascetics.

Why are the 4 Noble Truths important?

The Four Noble Truths are the first teachings of Gautama Buddha and are considered the foundation of the Buddhist path. They are central to Buddhism because they are the way to end suffering and find peace.

Understanding the Four Noble Truths is imperative for a natural transition into learning The Eightfold Path, which is the way to end suffering.

1. Dukkha – There is Dukkha (suffering)

Dukkha is a Pali word and there’s no direct translation for it in the English language. The word ‘suffering’ has become the chosen and widely accepted translation. However, it’s important to note that Dukkha can also mean pain (physical or mental), sorrow, misery, affliction, dissatisfaction, discomfort, stress, anguish, and frustration.

The pain of illness, the pain of failure, the sorrow of a broken heart, the stress of resisting reality, the discomfort of certain emotions, the frustration of not getting what you want.

I think it’s fair to say we’ve all felt each of these things at one point in time or another in our lives. They’re all part of the vast realm of emotions that make up our human experience. If we weren’t meant to experience them, they wouldn’t exist.

This is exactly what the Buddha was trying to tell us in this first truth by saying ‘there is suffering’. He’s pointing us to the fact that suffering exists and we all experience it to one degree or another.

For some of us, these experiences of suffering are fleeting, and for others, they are more pronounced and prolonged and show up as more chronic ailments such as depression or anxiety.

I think it’s important to note the Buddha acknowledging that suffering is experienced within each of us isn’t meant to be a pessimistic outlook on life or teaching. It’s meant to acknowledge none of us are immune to the darkness that lay within each of us. We all experience it whether it’s acknowledged or not.

It’s meant to bring awareness to a universal truth. A truth that, when acknowledged, can then have light shed upon it. We cannot transform what we do not acknowledge.

2. Samudaya – The Arising Or Origin of Dukkha (Suffering)

The most widely known definition of the 2nd Noble Truth comes from the original text:

‘It is this “thirst” (craving) which produces re-existence and re-becoming, and which finds fresh delight now here and now there., namely, (1) thirst for sense-pleasures (2) thirst existence and becoming and (3) thirst for non-existence (self-annihilation).’

The term ‘thirst’ can be related to our desire for, and attachment to sense pleasures (ex: sex, lust, emotions), wealth or power, ideas and ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions, and beliefs. It is from this ‘thirst’ that all human quarrels arise; war, economical injustices, inequality, social and cultural discrimination etc.

Buddhism talks about our attachment to things; people, material possessions, status, success, power etc.

Some examples:

When we feel threatened by another person’s belief because it doesn’t align with our own, it’s because we’re attached to our own belief.

When we won’t let go, or feel the pain we when do let go, of certain material possessions (car, house, clothes, phone, shoes etc), it’s because of our attachment to the material world.

When we try not to let or don’t want someone to go, even when they want to, it’s because of our attachment to them or our idea of them or their relationship to us.

As you can see, the 2nd Noble Truth is very practical and relates to each and every one of us and our pain.

3. Nirodha – The Cessation of Dukkha (Suffering)

To eliminate Dukkha, one has to let go of the ‘thirst’ you learned about from the 2nd Noble Truth. This then leads to liberation from suffering.

This liberation from suffering is also known as Nirvana and sometimes called enlightenment.

Here are some descriptions of Nirvana from the original Pali texts:

‘It is the complete cessation of that very “thirst”, giving it up, renouncing it, emancipation from it, detachment from it.’

‘Calming of all conditioned things, giving up of all defilements, extinction of “thirst”, detachment, cessation, Nirvana.’

‘O bhikkus, what is the absolute? It is O bhikkus, the extinction of desire, the extinction of hatred, the extinction of illusion. This, O bhikkus, is called the absolute.’

‘O R dha, the extinction of “thirst” is Nirvana.’

‘O bhikkus, whatever there may be things conditioned or unconditioned, among them detachment is the highest. That is to say, freedom from conceit, destruction of “thirst”, the uprooting of attachment, the cutting off of continuity, the extinction of “thirst”, detachment, cessation, Nirvana.’

As you can see, the descriptions are quite similar. Commonly siting to Nirvana being the elimination of attachment, desire, and craving (aka “thirst”).

One of the concepts Buddhism teaches is the concept of no-self. The self we think we are can be thought of as the “ego”. And it is the ego that craves and desires in order to feed itself, to inflate itself, and to keep its’ identity.

This is what is meant by ‘the extinction of illusion’. We see that the self we created is an illusion and therefore there is no self to do the craving or have the “thirst”.

4. Magga – The Way Leading To The Cessation of Dukkha (Suffering)

This is also known as the ‘middle path’, because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses, which is ‘low, common, unprofitable, and the way of the ordinary people’; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification through different forms of asceticism, which is ‘painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.

Having experimented with both of these paths, the Buddha found neither laid a path to Nirvana. Instead, he discovered through personal experience the Middle Path ‘which gives vision and knowledge, which leads to calm, insight, enlightenment, Nirvana’.

This Middle Path is most commonly referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path, comprised of eight understandings to lead one to the cessation of Dukkha:

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right LIvelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

These eight understandings are meant to lead one to perfect the three cornerstones of Buddhist training and discipline:

  1. Ethical Conduct
  2. Mental Discipline
  3. Wisdom

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Noble Eightfold Path.