Buddhist philosophy has always been a mystery for people of different religious confessions. It must be admitted, though, that Buddhism is not only a religion but also a specific philosophy that can possibly lead one to the stage of ultimate cognition of the world and one’s self. Taking a closer look at some aspects of Buddhism, one can understand the specifications of the teaching better.
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The eight-fold path, the trail to the ultimate cognition, is a perfect target for exploration. Helping to understand the way the Buddhist philosophy works, it can become a key to the Buddhist teaching and Buddhist vision of the world.
Introduction: Blazing the Trail to the Ultimate Enlightenment
One of the three major world religions, Buddhism is the belief that everyone talks about, yet hardly anyone knows well. Exotic ad mysterious, the path of the wise is one of those phenomena which are worth considering a bit closer. Analyzing the ideas offered by Kinnard1, one can possibly see the key aspects of the Buddhist religion and understand what makes it stand out of the rest of the numerous existing beliefs.
The Eight-Fold Path as It Is: A Ladder to Heaven Is Hard to Climb
According to Kinnard2, there is a specific eightfold path that helped Buddha reach the stage of complete Enlightenment and cognize not only the world around him but also his own self. One of the key notions in Buddhism, the eightfold path, can be considered a “ladder to Enlightenment,” which makes it a worthy thing to consider.
What wise men say: concerning the eterne
As Kinnard explains3, the eightfold path can be split into three key ideas, which are wisdom, ethics, and mental development. Defined as wisdom, ethics, and mental development, these three stages are bound to lead to understanding the essence of Buddhism and can embrace the eight steps towards cognition as Buddha interpreted it. Starting with the aspect of wisdom seems logical since it envelops the first three folds of Buddhist development.
From a bird’s-eye view: see it the right way
According to what Kinnard says4, right understanding is the first of the eight keys to becoming a true Buddhist. As Kinnard explains, this is the first step towards a Buddhist vision of the world, and the essential one: “understanding the dharma5, as Kinnard calls it, is the first step to cognizing one’s self and, therefore, the element which opens the gateway to cognition in general. Closely related to the issue of the Four Noble Truths, the idea of the right understanding presupposes taking the things the way they are, without giving them some qualities which they are not supposed to possess or imagining them the way they are not supposed to be. According to Kinnard, the Four Noble Truths can be defined in the following way:
“One of the most basic distillations of the Buddha’s teachings; they are (1) suffering (duhkha) exists in the world; (2) suffering arises, or has a cause (samudaya); (3), suffering has an end (nirodha); (4) there is a path […] (Margot)”6. Hence, the idea of understanding presupposes realizing that there is one and only logical way in which things are organized, and cognizing it without intervening in it is the way of Buddha.
With the right thing in mind: about the intentions
Another complicated idea which makes the second stage of learning the ways of Buddha, right intentions are a crucial step on the way to cognition. Referring to the force that controls people and makes them act in a certain way, the idea of right intentions, therefore, presupposes that one should take a full account of his/her feelings and, thus be guided only by the best intentions. As Dhammasaavaka (2005) clarifies, right intention can be described as the wish to keep to the specific ethical principles for the sake of further self-development. Defining intent as the energy which people’s actions are controlled by, Dhammasaavaka makes it clear that this mental energy must be used wisely.7
Indeed, with the most righteous ways of thinking and behaving, one cannot possibly have any wrong intentions. Thus, it is reasonable to make sure that one’s own moral standards are humane enough and not egotistic; once these standards pass the test, one can expect that his intentions are right and are not aimed at anything that can bring harm to the given person or any other human being. Split into three types, these right intentions are the building blocks of Buddhist teaching:
1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. The intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. The intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently or aggressively, and to develop compassion.8
Thus, the second idea of the eight-fold development presupposes compassion and the absence of any egotistic ideas whatsoever; insisting on the idea that altruism is the key to the Buddhist understanding of the world, Dhammasaavaka sheds some light on the Buddhist vision of the universe.
About the ethical: when morals are a matter of life and death
Another group of issues which are supposed to be perceived and learnt well by an adept of the Buddhist teaching, ethical issues make an essential fragment of the eightfold path, including such elements as the ability to convey one’s ideas clearly, taking the necessary measures when the latter are required and taking the track that seems the most righteous whatever the circumstances are.
Speak up! When even the slightest inflections matter
The thing that one might be expecting the least from Buddha, the rules on how to speak the right way are yet the third step on the path to the Enlightenment. Echoing with the topic of the ethical conduct, this issue has a lot to do with addressing the other people in a proper way. Indeed, if considering this idea a bit closer, the way one treats the rest of the world does shape him/her as a person. On the one hand, one can argue that the right speech is the result of treating the others right; on the other hand, the manner of addressing often sets the mood for the rest of the conversation and the pattern for further interactions. According to Buddha’s principles, right speech can be split into the following elements:
1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. To abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.9
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Teaching people to think carefully before they say something and to see words as a powerful tool that must not be used without thinking, Buddha helps his students reach another level of self-development and approach the Enlightenment even closer.
Time to take some actions: doing it like a Buddhist should do
Right action is the fourth principle of Buddhist teaching, and it does involve a lot of issues to ponder over. To start with, the definition of the right action in Buddha’s students’ interpretation is rather vague. In addition, the very idea of the right action does not seem credible, since taking the only correct action presupposes knowing all possible outcomes beforehand, which is practically impossible. Thus, the right action in the Buddhist teaching is rather what seems right at certain moment. As Dhammasaavaka explains, right action means avoiding any activities that can possibly harm any living beings. It is especially important that harm should not be made deliberately; the latter case is the ultimate denial of the key Buddhist principles. It is also worth mentioning that Dhammasaavaka considers even unintentional inappropriate conduct as a breach of the key principle of the Buddhist beliefs.10
Generally speaking, the idea of right action means doing the things which a kind and compassionate person would do. Whatever causes harm goes under the taboo section. However, it must be admitted that in certain life dilemmas, there is no alternative to causing harm, which also indicates that living according to the Buddhist principles is quite complicated.
Righteous enough: the proper livelihood
Although according to the postulates of Buddhism, wealth is the last thing a true Buddhist should think of, the Enlightened One shared a couple of thoughts on the subject of wealth with the followers and warned about the trap of becoming a money-grabbing greedy little man – an exact opposite of the ideal attitude which Buddhism insists on. As Dhammasaavaka claims, right livelihood also denies all sorts of activities which are somehow connected to using weapons, causing harm to the living beings and having anything to do with murder or destruction. Even butchery is considered the activity which a real Buddhist must not engage into from the sake of keeping true to the principles of harmless existence.11
Therefore, the idea of living a life in as harmless way as possible and avoiding causing any damage to people or animals is another key to becoming a Buddhist. It is quite remarkable that the Buddhist postulates include the idea of sparing the lives of any living being. Therefore, the central idea of Buddhism is maintaining the balance between people and nature, i.e., rather observing than interfering, and believing that the life of any living being, whether it is a man or a mosquito, is of utter importance and must not be harmed under any circumstances.
Mental development: some food for thoughts
Another peculiar issue the group of principles grouped together under the flag of mental development and fulfilling one’s own mental potential is worth taking a glance at. Covering the principles that concern a person’s ability to think and to draw conclusions, this part of the eightfold path is just as important as the rest of the stages. Moreover, the fact that in Kinnard’s interpretation12, these elements take the last place can actually mean that these are the most crucial stages on the way to the Buddhist enlightenment.
Right effort: making things work out
Another important element of the eight-fold development is the aspect of effort. It goes without saying that effort is the force that makes one achieve a certain goal. Since the goal of a Buddhist is to reach wholesomeness, the endeavors of the right effort are split into four categories, each leading to a new stage of perfection. Dealing with the issue of the complete and incomplete states, the right effort is meant to make a Buddhist feel wholesome.13
In the process of cognition: about mindfulness
The process of cognition is the key one in Buddhism. Therefore, the means to control the given process must be as efficient as possible, which the aspect of right mindfulness guarantees: “Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena”14.
Peace, wisdom, concentration! The final step
The last, but definitely not the least, the principle of concentration completes the eight-fold path. Making the previous seven stages possible, it helps focus on the essential details and avoid the thoughts and intentions which can be classified as inappropriate. As Dhammasaavaka explains, the eighth principle of the Buddha’s path is aimed at developing the force which is considered to be “mental” as well, yet concerns not the aspect of thinking, but the aspect of a focus, i.e., concentration. Depicted as a specific one-pointedness of one’s mind, concentration is crucial for a true Buddhist development, for it helps to direct all the mental processes at solving a certain problem and dealing with a particular object.15 Thus, making oneself focus on a certain task, one can reach the final stage. The eighth step is taken. The path is complete.
What It Means for Me Today: Searching for the Ultimate Truth
As for my own interpretation of the Buddhist ideas, I must admit that I have a long way to go before I approach the phase of the Enlightenment. Despite the fact that the above-mentioned ideas seem rather legit and worth considering, some of them are incredibly hard to follow, especially in the light of the specifics of the modern society. For instance, the idea that every single action must be in chord with the principles of ethics seems quite complicated. Indeed, if taking a look at the modern society, one must admit that, choosing between what is generally right and what works for a person at the moment, one is highly likely to choose the second option. Starting with saying “I’m fine” in response to “How do you do?”, even if one is doing terrible, and to more complex dilemmas, the modern choice is what works at the moment. Thus, Buddhist principles for me are a smart idea to consider, yet a thing which can hardly be applied to everyday life.
Conclusion: Another Way to Feel Free. Joining the Cohort of the Wise
Therefore, it is obvious that Buddhism and its key principles expressed in the eightfold path which Buddha described as the track to the ultimate Enlightenment. Although following the eight rules does not guarantee complete enlightenment and the ability to reach the greatest wisdom, joining Buddha in his faith and peacefulness, they describe pretty much the essence of a Buddhist position towards the world and the people living in it. Taking a closer look at these elements will not make one any inch closer to the actual learning the wisdom of Buddha, but it definitely stretch one’s idea of what Buddhism is and what its key ideas are. Perhaps, they will clear the way for those who are going to reach their own personal Enlightenment.
Dhammasaavaka, R. J. M. (2005). The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism. New York, NY: Lulu.com.
Kinnard, J. N. (2010). The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective. Boston, MA: Fortress Press.
1. The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press.
2. The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press.
3. The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press.
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5.” The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press, 33.
6. From The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press, 143-144
7. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 15.
8. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 15.
9. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 16.
10. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 16.
11. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 16.
12. From The emergence of Buddhism: Classical traditions in contemporary perspective by J. N. Kinnard, 2010, Boston, MA: Fortress Press.
13. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 16.
14. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 16.
15. From The Buddhism primer: An introduction to Buddhism by Dhammasaavaka R. J. M., 2005, New York, NY: Lulu.com, 17.