The Eightfold Path
However we’ve come to know about Buddhism we probably have a faint idea that the Buddhist teachings will lead an individual to find happiness via a Path or Way. The Buddha said that it was an ancient path that he had found. A timeless path. One, that if travelled will lead you to true and authentic happiness.
The Buddha’s Eightfold Path is the foundational framework for that path and you will discover it below.
This is an excerpt from my new book Awaken: The Buddha’s Eightfold Path to True and Lasting Happiness which has just been released.
Please support our efforts to share the Dharma and our goal of creating a healing retreat centre by purchasing a copy of the book by clicking the button below or clicking on the cover image.
“Then came the last watch of the night
and still the future Buddha sat,
unmoved ever since he had seated himself
on the grassy cushion underneath the tree.
Now in his last supreme inner effort,
it is said that his mind tore veil upon veil
away from the highest mysteries,
as his mind soared ever higher and higher
in planes of consciousness undreamt of by man.
And having reached the
‘supreme complete enlightenment’,
the highest level of consciousness attainable,
Gautama perceived the cause of suffering
and the way to escape from suffering.”
Source: Buddha by Walter Henry Nelson
AN ANCIENT PATH REDISCOVERED
However little we may know about Buddhism we’ve all probably had some sort of encounter with it in our lives.
Maybe our first touch point with Buddhism was seeing a serene and content statue of the Buddha sitting peacefully in meditative equanimity.
However we’ve come to know about Buddhism we probably have a faint idea that the Buddhist teachings supposedly will lead an individual to enlightenment via a Path or Way.
This Path or Way will hopefully bring a person to a state of realization. An understanding of not only yourself, but also a direct knowing of the way things are, the ultimate truth, or to an experience of oneness with Reality, which Buddhists or followers of the Buddha-Dharma call Enlightenment.
In the Nagara Sutra the Buddha talks about the path that he discovered. He tells a story of a man walking through the wilderness;
“It is just as if a man, traveling along a wilderness track, were to see an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by people of former times. He would follow it.
Following it, he would see an ancient city, an ancient capital inhabited by people of former times, complete with parks, groves, & ponds, walled, delightful.
He would go to the king and queen saying, ‘Your majesties, you should know that while traveling along a wilderness track I saw an ancient path… I followed it… I saw an ancient city, an ancient capital… complete with parks, groves, & ponds, walled, delightful. King and Queen, rebuild that city!’
The king and queen would rebuild the city, so that at a later date the city would become powerful, rich, & well-populated, fully grown & prosperous.
In the same way I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times.
And what is that ancient path, that ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times? Just this noble eightfold path.”
The king and queen are you and I. The Buddha, in his compassion has shared his wisdom with us so that we may lead authentic and happy lives. Lives that touch other people in positive ways.
The Buddha taught people a way to free themselves from suffering. A path that leads to true authentic happiness. Metaphysical concepts and beliefs held no fascination or sway with him. He was only concerned with truths that were apparent and self-evident.
There’s a story of a wandering monk named Vaccha who visited the Buddha one day. While in the Buddhas presence he took the opportunity to ask him a series of questions that had his mind tied up in knots.
Questions like, “Is there life after death? Is the world eternal? What’s the nature of the soul?”
But the Buddha declined to answer these questions and at the end of the seekers questioning he explained why,
“Vaccha, the position that ‘the cosmos is eternal’ is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and they do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full awakening, and Nirvana.”
All of us have probably asked ourselves similar questions to the ones Vaccha asked the Buddha that day. And even if someone were to answer these types of questions for us they wouldn’t help us truly awaken our potential.
Or we become enchanted by metaphysical books and teachings. Consuming one after another after another. Or we become enchanted with spiritual practices that seem exotic and mysterious. Or we become enchanted with mystical dances or singing devotional songs that make us feel good for the moment but don’t lead to true and lasting peace.
The Buddha-Dharma is about sharing with you teachings that will lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calm, peace, direct knowledge, full awakening, and ultimately enlightenment.
The Buddha’s teachings are pragmatic, practical and designed for a particular purpose; to free us from suffering and help us find true authentic happiness. Freedom really.
The Buddha-Dharma helps us to break the spell of our greed, hate, ego-centric living, consumerism, politics and all kinds of others spells that we get caught in.
Dispassion, as it is referenced here comes from the Pali term ‘Viraga’ which can mean ‘fading away’. And in this context can be looked at as our compulsive and unconscious or semi-conscious or deluded ego-centric drives begin to fade away. Which then leads to peace.
So what is the goal or end result of following the Buddha-Dharma?
We’re given some pretty good clarity about this in a brief conversation between the Buddha and his Step-Mother Gotami.
Gotami visits the Buddha one day and asks him to teach her the Dharma in brief. The Buddha replies,
“As for the teachings that promote the qualities of which you may know, these qualities lead to
dispassion, not to passion;
to being unfettered, not to being fettered;
to simplifying, not to accumulating;
to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement;
to contentment, not to discontent;
to seclusion, not to entanglement;
to aroused persistence, not to laziness;
to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome.
You may definitely hold, ‘This is the Dharma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”[AN VIII.53]
So we get a clearer picture that following the Buddha-Dharma will eventually lead to:
All of which sound pretty good to me!
The Dharma is found in personal qualities. States of mind. Modes of being. In how we show up in the world.
The Dharma invites us to look within. To turn our energies and awareness inward and be curious about our own lives.
THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
“Brothers, the Noble Eightfold Path of
and Right Samadhi
Is what I call the Perfect Paths.
By following the Noble Eightfold Path
I have attained understanding, liberation and peace.
Brothers, why do I call these paths the Perfect Paths?
I call them perfect because they do not deny suffering
but indicate in the direct experience of suffering
the way to overcome it.
The awareness that develops from these liberates us from the shackles of suffering and gives birth to true peace and true joy.”
The Buddha (Suttapitaka, Majjhima-Nikaya, Pasarasi Sutta)
The Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth lays out the path in which we may discover true authentic happiness. This path is not some sort of philosophy but can be seen as Eight interconnected practices that will help to free us from our pain, anxiety and stress so that we may finally be happy and at peace.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The term Noble Eightfold Path is a translation of the Sanskrit arya-astangika-marga.
Arya can mean noble or holy.
Asta means eight.
Anga means ‘limb’, ‘member’, or even ‘shoot’.
Marga simply means path or way.
We usually think of the Noble Eightfold Path as consisting of eight successive steps or stages, but as we can see from the use of the word anga, this suggests that the steps are not so much successive as they are connected together.
In reality the path is eightfold in the sense of being eight-limbed or eight-membered. Even eight petaled would be a nice way to frame it rather than being made up of eight steps.
Right, Perfect, Proper, Whole, Integral or Complete?
Most translators will present the branches of the Noble Eightfold Path under headings such as right speech or right livelihood. But the use of the word right doesn’t really convey what the original Pali or Sanskrit word means.
The great Buddhist Master Sangharakshita explains that,
“Samyag (or samyak), which is prefixed to all eight angas or limbs of the Path, means ‘proper’, ‘whole’, ‘thorough’, ‘integral’, ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’.
It’s certainly not ‘right’ as opposed to ‘wrong’. If we start out calling things ‘Right Understanding’ this will naturally give rise to the concept of ‘right’ understanding as opposed to ‘wrong’ understanding, or ‘right’ action as opposed to ‘wrong’ action, and so on.
One gives the impression of a rather narrow, purely moralistic interpretation of the Path.”
Or right at the outset we setup up our minds to follow into a dualistic frame of mind.
But samyak means much more than just ‘right’.
As we have seen, it can also mean ‘whole’, ‘integral’, ‘complete’, ‘perfect’.
So even though I have left the translation of Samyak as “right” know that it means much more than that.
Another way to look at it is as “up-right” as in noble or majestic.
However one may enter upon the path, the next stage can only be called the Spiritual Quest. As we go off in search of meaning and insight in order to make sense of our world that has now been thrown into a type of chaos.
So the first stage of the path usually happens of its own accord. We are thrust through one of the two gates that signify the entering into the path. It is the universal or sacred initiation. A type of rite of passage that we all go through (either through pain or loss of some kind or during a moment of experience that breaks us free from the limiting confines of our self).
Then once that vision/experience/insight has happened we seek out and then transform our lives to be in harmony with it.
We see a different way of being and then do what we can to bring our lives in accordance with it.
Hence the Noble Eightfold Path consists first of an inner vision or experience that touches us deeply, gripping our hearts and minds. Then because of that magical, moving, painful and monumental moment our lives are changed and we begin to initiate even greater change and transformation into our lives because of what we experienced.
The Noble Eightfold Path Consists of:
and Right Samadhi
Just as we encountered the touchiness of translated words earlier. Here too we fall into the same sort of conundrum.
The word drsti is normally translated as understanding, so the first part of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path is usual presented as Right Understanding.
But drsti comes from a root word meaning ‘to see’, ‘sight’, ‘view’ or ‘vision’.
View or vision are probably the best ways to translate drsti.
When we’re starting out on this journey, we need to take up a new view. A different perspective about life and ourselves. Not a belief. But a way of looking at people, places and situations.
What’s included in this new view or perspective?
First and foremost is to know that within you and I, everyone, we all have Buddha Nature. We all have this tremendous potential but we don’t know it. It’s covered up, hidden from view by our own karma and selfish tendencies. It’s obscured by greed, hatred and delusion.
And because it is obscured, because we don’t know that this potential is there, we act out in ways that cause harm not only to others but to ourselves as well.
This is the second aspect of this curious looking at our own lives. We see how we are hurting in some way. There’s some sort of pain, some sort of desire, some form of stress, some sort of unease that is causing us to not allow our Buddha Nature to shine.
And since we are suffering in some way, that suffering spills over onto others. We hurt people with our words and actions. We selfishly cling to our self-centered point of view. We become a poison to the world.
And then we can step back a bit and see that everyone’s hurting in some way. Be it pressure at work, debt, illness, fatigue, whatever it may be – we’re all compromised in some way. Everyone has forgotten their own inherent Buddha Nature and because of that are suffering and causing other people to suffer in some way.
Once we begin to see that – we can see how our thoughts, words and actions can shape our lives.
We begin to see and know the Four Noble Truths and how they’re shaping our lives.
Once we see that, when can then see Karma.
Buddhism places a great deal of importance and power in our hands. Believing and knowing that our lives are shaped by us and not some external force or deity.
We look into and investigate how our lives, our current condition, is the result of causes. Causes that have been initiated by us. That whatever results we may be experiencing, “good” or “bad” are the results of past thoughts, words and deeds.
Karma can be seen as action. Thinking is action. Speaking is action. Doing things is action. And every action has a result.
As humans, life is continually presenting us choices and we have to make choices on how to respond to every moment we find ourselves in.
If we want to have a “better” life we must cultivate thoughts, words and actions that are skillful and are based in compassion and wisdom. Skillful behaviour that helps to bring happiness and peace not only to ourselves but to others as well.
Knowing this gives us hope, power, strength and confidence that we have some control, some kind of input, some kind of say in regards to the results we experience.
Now we can’t be held responsible for the pain and suffering in our lives that are brought about by others – but we can choose our response to those people in those situations.
Bit by bit and day by day we can diligently craft our thoughts, words and actions in such a way that we become a blessing to the world. Small daily actions over time lead to stunning results.
Zen Master Thich Thien-An in his book Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice presents us with an interesting question to go deeper into the Law of Karma,
“Sometimes we know someone who is virtuous, gentle, kind, loving and wise and yet his life is filled with troubles from morning to night.”
So if we believe that “good” acts lead to happiness and “bad” acts lead to suffering what about this situation?
The fruits of our Karma don’t necessarily ripen in this lifetime. Our Karma may come to bear in this or next lifetimes.
A person may enjoy prosperity in this lifetime even though their actions are unskillful. Also, a person who is skillful in this lifetime may experience troubles and hardships because of bad karma from a previous life.
The Law of Karma binds together past, present and future lives through the course of his transmigrations.
Our lives work out the karmic seeds in our store consciousness. The shapes of our lives are not predetermined by fate but are shaped by our own will through our volitional actions or karma. Therefore we see the importance of skillful thoughts, words and deeds and see how the power of these can be felt for lifetimes – good or bad.
“A bodhisattva is concerned with what he does (cause), but not about what he receives (effect). A common man worries about what he receives, but not about what he does.”
~ The Buddha, in the Avatamasaka Sutra
Master Thich Thien-An goes on to say the following:
“The theory of karma in Buddhism thus teaches that man is the creator of his own life and his own destiny. All good and bad that comes our way in life is the result of our own actions reacting upon us.
Our joys and sorrows are the effects of which our actions, both in the distant and the immediate past, are the causes. And what we do in the present will determine what we become in the future.
Since man is the creator of his own life, to enjoy a happy and peaceful life he must be a good creator, that is, he must create good karma.
Good karma comes ultimately from a good mind, from a pure and calm mind.”
When we act like Buddha’s we become Buddha’s. Poison is transformed into blessings.
And how can we become a blessing? How can we let our Buddha Nature shine?
By cultivating ourselves.
A long time ago a student of the Fifth Patriarch of Zen wrote,
“The body is like a bodhi tree
Mind a mirror bright
Diligently we wipe them clean
And let no dust alight”
~ Shen Hsui
This is the gradual path where we work diligently to minimize the pain that we cause to ourselves and others. We start to cultivate meaningful thoughts, words and deeds that will help to let our Buddha-Nature shine. These are things that help to keep our mirror clean.
We also begin to practice meditation which gives us a grounded stability that helps us to discover a deep peace that sleeps within us.
The practice of meditation is like the striptease of the mind. A type of unraveling. We keep discarding and taking off layer upon layer of stuff that keeps us from seeing and knowing our own suchness, our own inherent Buddha Nature.
We settle into our natural state and the layers fall away all by themselves. Like leaves from a tree. Like dirty water in a glass. If we just allow ourselves and our confused and agitated minds to settle down, the purity of the water will be revealed.
Master Thich Thien-An says that,
“When we sit in meditation, we produce a pure and calm mind; this is the cause. And from this pure and calm mind comes a calm life, a peaceful life, a happy life; this is the effect.
Meditation is not simply a form of mental relaxation. It is something more. It is a way of transcending our finite ego-selves, of realizing our True Self which is Non-Self, of finding the ultimate reality that lies within, of creating better thought as the indispensable foundation for building a better life and a peaceful world.”
Much of the suffering, pain, stress and unease that we feel is caused by the stories and perspectives we have about the world, situations, people and ourselves. In order to go deeper into the unraveling of ourselves we must go even deeper then we’ve ventured so far.
In the story from earlier, where the man journeyed into the wilderness, found a beautiful city and then went back to tell the king and queen of its existence, we need to realize that the king and queen is us. You and me. We have a nobility within us that can be revealed and expressed. And it is through our thoughts, words and actions, what we do on a daily basis that either helps or hinders our potential. Actions have consequences. Every effect has a cause.
The Four Dharma Seals
The Buddha taught that all phenomena are branded with four salient marks or what is commonly referred to as the Four Dharma Seals:
1. Impermanence (anitaya)
2. Unsatisfactoriness/Suffering (duhkha)
3. Selflessness (anatma)
4. Emptiness (sunyata)
All things change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing is fixed. All things are in a constant state of becoming. You, me and even the stars.
Everything is in a constant state of flux.
We forget that sometimes.
Becoming rigid in our views of the world, each other and even ourselves.
Everything changes. Some days we’re up and some days we’re down.
It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows and it’s not always going to be doom and gloom.
Every beginning has an end and every end a beginning.
This constant state of ever-changing flux gets brought out into the spotlight of our awareness in this stage or branch of the path.
We begin to take notice of the ebb and flow of existence. That nothing remains constant. That all things arise, remain for awhile and then fade.
Nothing is really guaranteed to last. Be it our health, our relationships, jobs, wealth, fame. All the things that make up relative existence are unstable and impermanent.
With the dawning of this type of awareness we begin to loosen our grasp on reality. We start to see that ultimately none of these things that are outside of us can give us stable and lasting happiness.
Everything is impermanent so we practice holding life lightly. This is called Non-Attachment.
In the Tao te Ching there is a saying, “When the sage walks, he leaves no footprints behind.”
Master Thich Thien-An in Zen Practice, Zen Philosophy says that the meaning behind this statement is,
“The sage is human like us, and so he has footprints. What the statement means is that in his journey through life the sage leaves no traces of desire and attachment clinging to him as he lives from moment to moment.
Life is flowing, always changing, and the sage never looks back to the moment which has just sped by, nor does he look forward to the moment which lies ahead. Rather he lives in the present, flowing along in harmony with the rhythm of life, appreciating each moment for what it is worth and allowing it to pass on quickly to be replaced by the next.”
For most of us this isn’t the case.
We cling to and grasp on to the people we love, the experiences we have, and the things we own. We continually weave a net of clinging around our clothes, our cars, our house etc. Never really realizing how much we base our sense of self around these things and not seeing how we shackle ourselves to them.
We expect them to last forever, to never change. But all things change. All things rise and fall.
There is no point in searching for permanence in impermanent things.
We must give them space. We must hold them lightly – gently. Seeing that they are already gone from us. Knowing that we can give them the space they need to be free.
The great monk Ajahn Chah said,
“Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. But when the wind blows and the glass falls off the shelf and breaks or if my elbow hits it and it falls to the ground I say of course. But when I know that the glass is already broken every minute with it is precious.”
So we can see the secret to non-attachment is Right View. We see that by not understanding the impermanence of all things we suffer.
“Ultimately, compared to the experience of timeless awareness,
even the best experience is pale and may therefore be described
~ Lama Ole Nydhal
No conditioned thing is ever going to make you completely happy. Money, fame, power, nothing will quench this unquenchable thirst that we have.
Sure we may feel happy for a little bit – but soon enough that shiny new car, that raise, that amazing five star vacation will not be good enough. We’ll find ourselves once again unhappy with our circumstance and surroundings.
What about aging, sickness and death? This too is part of what we tend to ignore and reject. The Buddha also said that being with the unpleasant is suffering, separation from the pleasant is suffering, not getting what you want is suffering.
We need to see our pain and understand how we’re tying our happiness to people, situations and things that are outside of ourselves. If we continually do so we will never be happy.
“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
~ Morpheous, from the Matrix
What we believe to be “us” or “I” or “ego” is just a construct of multiple factors that we take to be a solid “me”.
This idea or concept of “I” is just a combination of variables and factors that are in a constant state of flux and change.
They interdependently arise in relation to a myriad of interconnected or interwoven factors which include the components of an individual (the 5 skandhas), the input of others and the dependance we have on others to live and thrive.
There’s not a independent permanent “I” that can be pointed to when we unravel the ideas, concepts, stories and parts that contribute to the collection of factors and variables that we believe to be a “self”.
The Five Skandhas are:
Rupa: material form (the body/the physical world) In regards to our own immediate experience we could say: the eye, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Some traditions incorporate and work with the four elements of earth, water, fire and air.
Vedana: feelings or sensations (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral)
Samskara: mental formations (anything made from another element)
Vijnana: consciousness (store consciousness, when mental formations are not arising they reside in our store consciousness as seeds)
The Skandhas give rise to a feeling, a perception, a viewpoint and an experience that I take as me or mine.
When I look into the idea of “me” “I” or “Ian” this feeling of a self, a me starts to dissolve.
Ian is a label that conveniently helps me function and interact with a world that is seemingly out there.
But what is this “Ian”?
And if I look deeper and deeper into “Ian” I see that Ian is made up of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensations, memories, experiences, preferences that are all woven together and which give rise to a convenient construct called Ian.
A story of “Ian”.
Everything exists in a matrix of interwoven causes and conditions. Everything depends on everything else to exist. The phenomenal world has the appearance of existence but beyond this appearance they have no substantial and lasting quality.
Everything arises and falls. And this arising and falling is in dependence upon causes and conditions.
Even though the phenomenal world has no permanent and lasting thing that we can point to as a “self” everything composite is bound by laws that govern it’s arising and falling.
The Buddhist concept of “no-self” or sometimes phrased as the teaching on “emptiness” is one of the most subtle and difficult for people to grasp.
Nothing exist independently of everything else. Everything exists interdependently. In truth there’s simply an infinite web of inter-relationships with no separate parts.
Interbeing is how the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh would put it.
Everything inter-exists. Everything is part of a wholistic whole.
Seeing Things As They Actually Are
Our natural state is open, aware, vast, cognizant luminosity. Spontaneous freedom, compassion and joy arises naturally if we let. Seeing things as they naturally are is a vision that is filterless and free. It is view based in compassionate clarity.
We guard ourselves from extremes. We watch our actions knowing that we are still bound by universal laws. Understanding that we’re all hurting in some way and that pain is making us act out in strange and harmful ways.
A New View
So as we can see, the first step or first branch or petal of the path consists of seeing and embracing a radical new view of reality.
It’s about radically reorienting ourselves and our priorities in life.
This new vision doesn’t discount the happiness that can be found in the mundane world.
But it looks beyond it and sees a new potential. A possibility that exists in each and every one of us.
We enjoy life to the full during the blissful and ecstatic moments but we’re also content to bear the suffering and hardships of life.
Some days we’re up. Some days we’re down. That’s just how it is.
Master Thich Thien-An says that,
“Each day the Zen student must do his best to fulfill that day. Then he should let the day pass, not clinging, not attached, not worried about anything; he must let the mind be free.”
Once we see it we then move into the next seven aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. This is where the transformation gets anchored into our lives.
It’s December 31st 11:59PM. The clock is about to strike midnight.
People all over the globe will be setting New Years resolutions. All of them hoping that the coming year will be a little (or maybe a lot) better than the last.
As practitioners of the dharma, goals present a bit of a conundrum.
How can you achieve your goals in a mindful way?
And how do we pursue those goals skillfully in our fast paced world?
Below you’ll discover the Buddhas formula for perfect intentions and how to achieve our goals in a healthy and mindful way.
Three Kinds of Right or Perfect Intention
It’s been said that before the Buddha achieved enlightenment he discovered a particular pattern to his thoughts.
On one side were thoughts that were selfish. These type of thoughts led to ill will and the possible harm of others (greed, hatred, delusion).
And on the other side were selfless thoughts. Thoughts that lead to skillful actions which promoted good will and harmlessness (generosity, compassion, insight).
He then taught this discovery as the Three Kinds of Intentions.
The Three Kinds of Intentions
Letting Go (Renunciation): The intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of greed and desire.
Goodwill: The intention of goodwill, which counters the intention of ill will and hatred.
Compassion: The intention of compassion or harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness.
The two key ingredients to unlocking the power of perfect and mindful intentions are awareness and compassion.
That if we give up our selfish cravings (renunciation) then our thoughts and actions will flow in a way that nurtures and nourishes not only our lives but the lives of all those around us.
The Buddha promoted an aspirational way of approaching goals. A way of looking at what we want to achieve and then running those goals through a type of litmus test.
Intentions Investigation Process
It can be broken down as follows:
Is what I want to achieve going to benefit others?
Will this lead to selfish craving or attachment?
Is the motivation behind what I’m doing based in compassion for others?
Will this goal bring me or others true happiness?
Does this goal promote good will to others?
Is this goal harmful or does it promote harmlessness?
There’s a lightness to the Buddhas style of setting intentions and pursuing our goals.
We see the mountain top and we make our way toward it. Steadily and persistently.
Behind it all is the intention of benefiting others in all that we’re doing.
There’s no rushing or pressure. Just a sure footed momentum that keeps us keeping on.
Right Emotional Resolve
Resolve is another way to translate the sanskrit word Samkalpa.
For what we’re trying to achieve, total transformation of our lives, it seems that emotional resolve is also a good way to look at this second stage of the path.
We’re trying to break free from our old patterns and build up some momentum toward our goal of freedom and authentic happiness.
To do this we need to tap into an inner resolve that continually fuels us toward our goal. Something that goes beyond logic and reason. An energy that fires us up. Something to lift us out of the deep grooves of our habitual thoughts, words and actions and helps us blaze new trails.
Sangharakshita says that this stage of the path,
“represents the harmonization of the whole emotional and volitional side of our being with Perfect Vision, our vision of the true nature of existence.”
Brain and heart need to be united in harmony for true change to occur.
In the Yoga Nidra tradition we talk about the Samkalpa as your heartfelt desire. Something that you want from the deepest depths of your being. And this wish is something that will serve you, unlocking and unleashing the very best of yourself.
This Samkalpa has to go beyond reason. We have to know it, see it, understand it but most importantly we have to feel it. We must feel it within our very DNA.
The reason why it must be embodied and hotwired deep within us is that this mind-heart resolve will have to work in a wide range of experiences.
It will come to your aid when your best intentioned family and friends challenge you on your new way of life.
It will come and serve you in traffic, after a crappy nights sleep to help you be at ease.
It will move you off the couch and onto the cushion.
This resolve is kinda like having a strong willed compassionate coach in your corner. Cheering you on, giving you advice, and sometimes grabbing you by the scruff of the collar kicking and screaming getting you off your lazy butt and doing the things that will lead you to freedom.
At this stage of the path we really start to see and know that how we’ve lived our lives isn’t working. A more gentler, compassionate and peaceful side of us begins to emerge. One that begins to go beyond the frantic fast paced world of greed, anger and delusion.
We know that we are hurting in some way. That this pain and desire for pleasure (selfish craving) is driving us to cause not only ourselves to suffer. But we’re probably hurting others constantly throughout the day. So a level of compassionate awareness comes into our lives. Like a watchful guardian.
In the realm of our selfish craving this starts to diminish. Those trinkets and toys, the selfish wants and desires no longer hold us under their spell. What we truly desire, and we’re starting to really feel it, is something deeper. A profound state that cannot be found from the purchase of the latest gizmo or gadget.
We start to let go and to tap into an inner fulfillment that begins to seep into every aspect of our being.
Life becomes simpler. Our priorities start shifting.
And this is where Right Emotional Resolve kicks in. Because we need it to stay on track and motivated to make wise and skillful choices as we move forward along the path.
The third stage or limb of the Noble Eightfold Path is Perfect Speech. At this point in our transformation process we have taken up a new perspective about life (Right View) and we’ve gotten clearer on our intentions (Right Intentions).
Now’s the time when the rubber starts to really meet the road. This is where we start to work toward changing some of the fundamental aspects of ourselves, namely how we communicate.
A lot of the times Perfect Speech is presented in negatives. No lying, no slander, no harsh words, no communication that divides people.
The Buddha when asked about Perfect Speech said,
“And what is perfect speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called perfect speech.”
On other occasions he elaborated on the details of Perfect Speech by saying,
“Abandoning false speech… He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world…
Abandoning divisive speech… What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here…
Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord…
Abandoning abusive speech… He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large…
Abandoning idle chatter… He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, and the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal…”
In the Abhaya Sutta he elaborates even further,
“In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Buddha has sympathy for living beings.”
An effective way to transform our lives is to shift our focus to the positive aspects of what we’re looking to achieve.
With Perfect Speech we can start to use our words in loving, kind, skillful and compassionate ways. We become mindful of the words we use and the possible impact that they may have.
We start to use speech which is truthful, affectionate, helpful, promotes concord, harmony and unity.
In most occasions the topic of Perfect Speech is mainly concerned with the words we’re using to communicate externally with others.
But what about our inner dialogue?
What are the words we’re using secretly within our minds?
Are those words harsh or kind?
Are we constantly criticizing ourselves and others?
Are we blabbing on incessantly about trivial worries and concerns?
Are we catastrophizing every possible outcome and scenario?
Look into that hidden world of your inner speech.
Is it kind, harmonious and compassionate?
Speaking Our Truth
In the realm of Perfect Speech is included speaking our truth.
First we must get to know ourselves. What do we believe? What do we stand for? What have we been suppressing?
Perfect Speech includes courageous and fearless speech. Of course using compassion and awareness.
But first we must turn inward and find our authentic and true selves then we can share that beauty with the world.
In numerous stories of the Buddha the were times when a seeker would pose a question to him and he would answer that person with Noble Silence.
In these instances the Buddha knew the answer to the question but saw that answering would not help the person move toward freedom and authentic happiness.
There may be times like that for us too. Where the best answer is no answer at all.
Another aspect of Noble Silence is being ok with not filling the air with idle nonsensical chatter. Get comfortable with being silent. It may be uncomfortable at first but over time it is a great blessing.
The Gift of Your Presence
So many times throughout the day we find ourselves engaged in conversation. But few of us are actually listening to what the other person is saying.
We’re caught up in our minds trying to come up with a witty response so that we can boost our own egos and show that we’re smart and wise.
One of the greatest gifts that we can give another person is the gift of our full and undivided attention.
Listening deeply to them. Soaking in what’s being said and the hidden words not being said as well.
Once we let down our guard and start to communicate openly, honestly and from a place of deep compassion and kindness our conversations will be transformed into magical moments of heartfelt connection.
It takes courage to do so.
But in doing so we give other people the chance to touch a deeper part of themselves as well.
The fourth stage or limb of the Noble Eightfold Path is Perfect Action.
In most of the presentations of this stage you will find discourses and teachings on living an ethical life. For those following the Buddhist path, living a noble and blameless life is fundamental aspect of the process.
The Buddha is often quoted as saying,
“And what is right action? Abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct. This is called right action.”
So many people just gloss over this stage of the path. But in doing so you’re missing out on one of the most integral parts of the path.
Ethics and morality aren’t sexy. There’s no glitz or glam to it. No mystery. No real intrigue or curiosity entices us to explore it deeply. There’s no fancy mantra’s, no specific visualizations, no auspicious meditations or rituals to perform.
But in Buddhishm it’s a fundamental aspect of the path. So much so that it falls under the category of the Threefold Training or as it’s sometimes referred to, the Threefold Practice.
The precepts or ethical/meaningful behaviour are one part of the Threefold Practice which can be seen as the foundation of all Dharmas.
The Threefold Practice is comprised of Sila, Samadhi and Prajna (ethics, equanimity and insight).
The Threefold Training:
Sila: Precepts, Morality, Ethics/Skillful/Meaningful Behaviour (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood)
Samadhi: Equanimity, Calmness, Contentment, Wholeness, A Bringing back Together, Unification, One-Pointedness, Absorption, Steadiness of Mind, Settled Mind, Concentrated Mind, Undistracted (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Samadhi)
Prajna: Insight, Understanding, Emptiness, Interdependence, Interbeing (Right View, Right Intention/Thinking)
The great Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava said,
“Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.”
And Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche commenting on the above said,
“When training in the view you can be as unbiased, as impartial, as vast, immense and unlimited as the sky. Your behaviour on the other hand, should be as careful as possible in discriminating what is beneficial or harmful. One can combine the view and conduct, but don’t mix them or lose one in the other.”
And Master Thich Thien-An helps to drive home the idea remind us that,
“Even Enlightened Ones do not act contrary to the laws which they have transcended; how much more do these laws apply to the unenlightened.”
How can we expect to achieve awakening if we are living unethical lives?
If the great masters of the past kept a watchful eye on their own behaviour and they were enlightened what makes us think that we shouldn’t do the same?
Sila can be seen as paying attention to our life in such a way that we are living it wisely so that we may be free from remorse and blame.
And how we do that is by being mindful of our behaviour. We let go of unwholesome behaviour and cultivate wholesome behaviour.
Many people who are committed to the way of awakening take on the precepts as a way to help guide them as they set out on their journey.
The precepts are simple.
If you want to live an awakened life:
Please, please don’t kill
Please, please don’t steal
Please, please don’t abuse sex
Please, please don’t lie
Please, please don’t take anything that will dull or fog up your mind
The precepts are not rules or commandments but can be seen as principles of training.
Our actions can be seen as skillful or unskillful based on ones awareness.
The Thai Monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu had this to say about Sila,
When our actions don’t measure up to certain standards of behaviour, we either (1) regret the actions or (2) engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid.
These reactions are like wounds in the mind. Regret is an open wound, tender to the touch, while denial is like hardened, twisted scar tissue around a tender spot.
When the mind is wounded in these ways, it can’t settle down comfortably in the present, for it finds itself resting on raw, exposed flesh or calcified knots. Even when it’s forced to stay in the present, it’s there only in a tensed, contorted and partial way, and so the insights it gains tend to be contorted and partial as well.
Only if the mind is free of wounds and scars can it be expected to settle down comfortably and freely in the present, and to give rise to undistorted discernment.
This is where the five precepts come in: They are designed to heal these wounds and scars. Healthy self-esteem comes from living up to a set of standards that are practical, clear-cut, humane, and worthy of respect; the five precepts are formulated in such a way that they provide just such a set of standards.” Source: AN 10.1 (Nyanatiloka, trans.; from Path to Deliverance, pp. 65-66)
Ananda the Buddha’s cousin and attendant for his whole life once asked the Buddha,
“What, O Venerable One, is the reward and blessing of wholesome morality (sila)?”
The Buddha replied, “Freedom from remorse, Ananda.”
But that wasn’t all, having a solid foundation of Sila in your life would not only make you free from remorse, it would then lead to joy, rapture, contentment, true authentic happiness, then finally Samadhi and Wisdom.
We started with Sila and ended up with Samadhi and Wisdom.
We need Sila. The precepts help us along the way toward our goal of self discovery. They help us to stop creating suffering in our lives and generating Karma that will hinder us in our progress. They free us from remorse and help us sleep easy at night which then helps our turbulent minds begin to stop raging because we know that we are doing our best to live an awakened life.
So we can see that Right Action and the expression of it is dependent on how much we have been moved by Right View and Right Intention.
The deeper we embody the first few stages of the path the more that our actions will tend to be expressed skillfully.
They will be infused with a gentleness that seeks to connect deeply with every move we make. Every choice we commit to will be from an ever greater place of luminous compassion that seeks to minimize the suffering we create not only for ourselves but toward others as well.
We’re starting to become a universal blessing. Where each time we make contact with the world each person and place is made better because of us.
We know when we’re off track when the actions we make are based on operating from a place of greed, hatred and delusion.
The remedy is to come back to centre.
Selflessness, compassion and wisdom become our touchstones.
Sangharakshita says that we begin,
“…acting from our deepest understanding and insight, our widest and most comprehensive love and compassion.”
This Right Action is the outward expression of Right View and Right Intentions.
The Four Foundational Precepts & The Nine Elements of Awakening*
For members of the Ashaya Zen Sangha we have a set of guiding lights that we work with and use as our focus and meditation daily. These are known as the Four Foundational Precepts and the Nine Elements of Awakening.
This distilled wisdom helps us to unfold and awaken the hidden potential that sleeps within each and every one of us.
The Four Foundational Precepts
Just for today…
I will be loving and kind
I will be compassionate and caring
I will be joyous and enthusiastic
I will be calm and aware
The Nine Elements of Awakening
May I be mindfully aware throughout the day.
May I be giving, generous and kind to everyone I meet.
May I be skillful in thoughts, words and deeds.
May I be patient and trusting knowing that everything unfolds in it own time.
May I be persistent and strive diligently along the way and endure any hardships that may arise.
May I be energetic, enthusiastic and joyous in all that I do.
May I remain calm in the face of every adversity.
May I practice meditation so that I may be able to remain focused, aware and anchored in equanimity.
May I attain deep and penetrating wisdom that sees clearly and knows the truth of the way things are.
May I attain all of the Nine Factors of Awakening so that my very own life becomes a universal blessing.
These Nine can be summed up as:
As we are moved to ever greater and deeper levels of awareness we naturally, spontaneous, courageously and fearlessly express ourselves more skillfully and compassionately throughout our days.
At first there may be a little of work that needs to be done to stay on track and that is why we diligently practice (we meditate, we read dharma books, go to dharma talks, practice the precepts and the elements of awakening, etc).
But over time and with repeated exposure and practice these qualities are revealed as our out natural state.
* The Four Foundation Precepts are based on the Buddha’s Four Immeasurables. The Nine Elements of Awakening are a skillfully arranged combination of the 6 Paramitas and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.
It’s interesting to note that the Buddha’s first two disciples were merchants.
Tapussa and Bhallika, two Indian merchants, came upon the Buddha shortly after he had achieved enlightenment.
Moved by the peace and equanimity of the great master, they offered him some food and requested dharma teachings from him.
After being with the Buddha for just a short while they asked to become his disciples. They didn’t have a lot of time to be in the Buddha’s presence but were profoundly moved by him and the teachings. To help them remember the Buddha and remain faithful to the teachings they were given a few of his hairs to treasure as sacred relics.
I think it’s very significant that the Buddhas first two disciples were everyday working people.
So often we may think that Buddhism or the pursuit of a spiritual ideal is only for monks, nuns or priests. But we can see through the example of Tapussa and Bhallika that this notion is far from the truth.
Transformation and the pursuit of this ideal can be taken up by people from all walks of life.
If we are to truly transform our lives we have to look at making changes to every aspect of it and that includes our work lives.
Everyone has to work. This is a plain and simple truth. It’s the way things are. Our journey of transformation must come into our work lives as well.
Work takes up a huge portion of our day. It leaves it’s mark on us and through our work we impact not only others but the world as well.
So some fundamental questions to ask yourself is,
“Does the work that I’m doing serve me and my highest ideal?
Does it serve the world?
Is what I’m doing alleviating the suffering of others?”
These may be some tough questions to ask. But if we’re to transform ourselves we must have the courage to shine the spotlight of awareness on what we’re doing for a living as well.
Is your work stressful?
Is your work positively impacting other peoples lives?
Is your work harming the planet?
Is your work keeping you up at night?
Is your work keeping you from your loved ones?
Is your work preventing you from going deep into your practice of Dharma?
What we do for work has an effect on us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. How can it not? We’re spending anywhere from 8-12 hours a day doing what we’re doing. There’s bound to be some blowback in our lives.
There’s been countless incidents when individuals have come upon the path and have made some serious changes to what they’re doing for work. Even at the cost of severe financial hardship. But in the end they’ve found that the peace of mind and happiness they’ve found in new careers has been worth whatever struggles they’ve gone through.
Others have used this time to turn inward and discover some latent gifts and talents that they then share with the world. This may be a good time for you to do the same.
Is there something that you would love to be doing? Is there some sort of buried passion in you that’s seeking expression? And is there a way to line up that passion with your spiritual purpose? Investigate this for yourself and see what you discover.
There’s a story of one of the Buddha’s disciples named Sona that illustrates the idea of Right Effort beautifully.
Sona was the son of a rich businessman. His life was one of wealth and luxury. His passion was to listen to and play the lute.
He had heard that the Buddha was staying nearby to where he lived and that the great spiritual master was giving talks on the happiness that is found from non-attachment to worldly desires.
Sona went and listened to the Buddha and was so moved by the discourse that he asked to be ordained as a monk right there on the spot.
After becoming a monk, he was taught to be constantly mindful in all that he did, even when walking.
Sona took to the teachings with great zeal. Every day he could be found walking back and forth through the monastery. But his enthusiasm was a bit extreme and he developed painful blisters on his feet that bled profusely.
He was constantly in pain and felt even further away from discovering the happiness that had propelled him onto the path.
Disheartened Sona said to himself, “It is no use, I have tried so very hard, but have still not achieved what I wished for. It is better for me to return to lay life and enjoy the happiness I used to experience by performing charity.”
The news spread that Sona was planning on leaving the monastery. Eventually the Buddha heard of Sona’s predicament and paid the young monk a visit.
“Sona,” he said, “I have heard that you are not getting good results from your practice of mindfulness and want to return to the lay life. Suppose I explain why you did not get good results, would you stay on as a monk and try again?”
“Yes I would, Lord,” replied Sona.
“Sona, you were a musician and you used to play the lute. Tell me, Sona, did you produce good music when the lute strings were well tuned? Neither too tight nor too loose?”
“I was able to produce good music, Lord.” replied Sona.
“What happened when the strings were too tightly wound up?”
“I could not produce any music, Lord.” said Sona.
“What happened when the strings were too slack?”
“I could not produce any music at all, Lord.” replied Sona
“Sona, do you now see why you did not experience the happiness of renouncing worldly craving? You have been straining too hard in your meditation. Do it in a relaxed way, but without being slack. Try it again and you will experience the good result.”
It is said that after the Buddha gave Sona this advice he stayed on as a monk in the monastery and eventually attained true authentic happiness.
The Goldilocks Spot
From the above story we can clearly see that a certain type of mindful effort is required to achieve freedom and happiness.
We’re looking for that sweet spot of Right Effort. Not pushing too hard and not lazing about. We have to get it just right.
The finely tuned area of Right Effort will come with time.
At first we may be just like Sona, with tons of enthusiasm and energy toward our practice. But this may lead to burn out, exhaustion and even make us forsake our efforts all together.
And on the flip side we may move a wee bit too slow along the path. Not really giving much effort or attention to changing and transforming our lives. And sooner than we realize it we’re back at the place where we started.
We must come to that Goldilocks spot of Right Effort in all that we do.
Even the Buddha wasn’t immune to extremes in the realm of Right Effort.
His own quest for the key to freedom and authentic happiness shows us what happens when we push too hard.
The story goes that the Buddha was on a mission to achieve liberation from suffering. He was so dedicated to that mission, so committed to discover the truth that he was willing to do anything to realize it.
So much so that he nearly died because of it. It was only after he throttled back on his efforts, started to take care of himself, begun to treat himself compassionately, gently and mindfully that he was able to finally find the middle way which ultimately lead to his enlightenment.
Perseverance and Determination
Perfect Effort comes into play as a matter of perseverance and determination in our lives as well.
There will be lows in our practice. Where it may see that, even with our skillful effort we’re not making much progress along the path. Or maybe were tired. Or we make an excuse that we’ll practice Dharma after we’ve gotten all our ducks in a row.
The subtle wisdom here is that we must work at a steady pace. Bit by bit and day by day. Moment by movement even. Finding a nice flow. Ultimately having the practice seep into every aspect of our lives. This only can happen if we have a deep dedication to ourselves. Letting go of the normal frantic rate we’re used to.
We must also come to realize that the Dharma and our spiritual practice is not just reserved for the meditation cushion or when we’re attending formal teachings.
We practice in traffic, in the grocery store, at work, while we’re doing dishes.
We’re engaging and infusing every facet of our lives with that Perfect Vision we gained early.
We steadily and consistently move forward step by mindful step.
We have glimpsed the potential of our lives, we have a deep knowing that it is possible to achieve our goal and we work patiently and persistently to reach it.
The Four Great Endeavours
Another tool to help up with our practice is the four great endeavors. These four help us to direct our energies so that they may have the most positive impact on our lives at the most fundamental and foundational level.
The Four Great Endeavour Are:
1) To prevent the arising of unwholesome states
2) To abandon (let go of) unwholesome states that have already arisen
3) To arouse/develop/cultivate wholesome states that have not yet arisen
4) To maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen
In Sanskrit the seventh stage or limb of the Eightfold Path is called Samyak-Smrti (Pali samma-sati). Smrti, or sati, is normally translated as ‘mindfulness’, or sometimes as ‘awareness’. The literal meaning or translation of Smrti is simply memory or recollection.
As the word Mindfulness has become popularized over the last several years I think it may be best to use that term for our purposes here.
What Is Mindfulness?
So what is mindfulness? Is it something that we all can benefit from? Can anyone do it? Do we need special equipment?
Before we get into what mindfulness is let’s talk about driving somewhere.
Have you ever been driving home or to work and you arrive there and for the life of you you can’t remember the journey. You’ve been in the car for an hour, turning, stopping, accelerating but there’s no real imprint of the actual journey. It’s like you were on autopilot.
Mindfulness is the opposite of that.
So much of our days are spent travelling back to the past or flying toward the future. We’re fragmented. In pieces. Scattered in non-realities. Torn between worlds. Missing out on the moment.
Most of the time we’re never truly present in our lives. We live in a perpetual state of delusion. We are unmindful and unaware of life, ourselves and everything in it.
Unmindfulness or Unawareness has many different facets. Some of which include:
Lack of purpose
Diffusion of attention
In our hyper-connective lives we live in a continual state of distraction. We’re constantly bombarded by notifications, sounds and sight that keep us from being truly present.
Mindfulness is the art of seeing clearly. It’s a way of looking at the world and seeing the way things are. Not how we want them to be. Not how we expect them to be.
We don’t let our hopes or fears color the moment, which in turn distorts the truth of what’s happening in some way.
Mindfulness helps us develop continuous present moment awareness of:
Everyday Things: trees, cars, a book, your cup of tea
Yourself: The body (e.g., posture, breath, movements, energy cycles), Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral), Mind (thoughts, intentions, volitions, etc.)
People: your loved ones, coworkers, strangers on the street
Reality Itself: the way things actually are and Perfect Vision
Mindfulness is about bringing your complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis in a relaxed and curios manner.
We pay attention to the present moment purposefully, non-judgmentally and gently.
Thoughts and feeling arise, and staying within our present moment awareness we acknowledge what is.
Mindfulness is really about tasting the chocolate fully and completely.
Mindfulness anchors ourselves in the present so that we can see the gift that it is.
Mindfulness is about being curious. We become curious and interested in our present reality whatever that reality is.
We even watch the rise and fall of our thoughts and emotions with a compassionate detachment. With a loving awareness.
We see how anger, worry, fear, frustration arise from within us, and then subside. We see the triggers that influence these moments. We identify the routine habits that lock us into unskillful behavior. And that awareness, that insight into the inner workings of our minds gives us the keys to our freedom.
This moment to moment awareness gives us space. A little more time to choose our reactions with a little spice of wisdom. And over time we’re no longer ruled by the goings on of the external or internal worlds.
We see the free play of mind clearly.
We’re no longer ruled by these fleeting emotions, memories or projections.
With mindfulness, with that compassionate awareness we see that there is a world of thoughts and passions within us. We observe them. Watch them. Like a person standing on the shore gazing in silent wonder at the rise and fall of the ocean.
“Once an old woman came to Buddha and asked him how to meditate.
He told her to remain aware of every movement of her hands
as she drew the water from the well, knowing that if she did,
she would soon find herself in that state of alert
and spacious calm that is meditation.”
A lot of people believe that mindfulness meditation will help them become calm. But in reality mindfulness and the practice as a whole peels back the layers of mind-stuff to reveal the deep calm and tranquility that lives within us already. The practice helps to root us in that awareness. It anchors us to that true feeling of peace. A calm abiding that is available to each and every one of us.
Our minds are vast a spacious – like clear blue skies. Thoughts, feelings, events are like clouds passing along and in front of our consciousness. The sky doesn’t say “I am a cloud” when a cloud is floating through the sky. The sky doesn’t say “I am a storm.” when the dark clouds are gathering and lightning and thunder begin.
No, the sky looks at these events and says “Look a storm is brewing. A great ruckus is going on.” And it watches and waits patiently, calmly. It doesn’t confuse itself with the goings on in front of it. It remembers and know that it’s the sky. Vast and immense. It has the space to hold the clouds and the storms – but it isn’t effected by them. The sky remains the same.
Mindfulness helps us to remember our own vastness. Reminding us of our immense capacity to be of the world but not be effected by it.
We watch with wonder. We hold the moment within our awareness because we have the compassionate and curious power to do so. Remembering that the storms will pass and forever and always we are clear blue skies.
We shine the spotlight of awareness on our lives, every aspect of them. Continually, gently and compassionately.
At long last we finally come to the eighth stage or limb of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.
Here once again we come across the gnarly issues that translators face in their work.
For the most part Samadhi is usually translated as concentration but this totally misses the mark.
I can see why most translators are quick to use concentration for this stage of the path.
Samadhi is a hard concept to pin down for most people. It’s slippery and illusive. Abstract and profound. Not easily conveyed.
So let’s unpack the word Samadhi and see what we can discover.
The literal meaning of the word Samadhi is to be firmly established or fixed in a certain state of being.
So we can see that what is trying to be revealed here is a state.
The Samadhic state means to that we are in a state of equanimity and groundedness. There’s peace, tranquility and stabilization of mind. And this state is undisturbed by externals.
Our scattered and tattered state is unified, brought back together, placed evenly upon the present moment, in an unwavering fashion.
This mind/heart state is beyond extremes.
And because the mind is clear and stable insight is able to be revealed spontaneously.
Picture a calm lake – that’s Samadhi. The Wisdom of Right View can be seen as the full moon, The light and reflection of the moon can only be fully seen if the lake is calm and stable.
Through our continual efforts, our distracted, scattered and scarred state of mind is healed and comes to rest in a new state of tranquility and bliss.
But this is not all that happens as we venture forth along the path.
We also become cloaked in a new state of being. One that permeates and penetrates every fibre, every cell, every thought, word and action of our lives.
We become, to ever greater degrees firmly established in Ultimate Reality.
An aspect of this Samadhi is Samatha which is usually translated as Calm Abiding.
There are Nine Stages of Samatha that we progress through as we go deeper into our meditative practice.
The Fundamental Basics of Meditation
“There is no point in much talk,
But the beginner needs various things.”
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated at all. It’s actually one of the most natural things in the world and can be broken down into two things:
1) Sitting down
To elaborate on these two things we could say:
- Find a comfortable seated posture (on a chair, a meditation cushion, etc it doesn’t matter
- Make yourself even more comfortable (the more comfortable you are the deeper you’ll be able to go)
- Keep your back straight
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth (this triggers the relax and renew response in the body)
- Let your breath flow naturally after that first breath (it’s smarter than you are and knows what it’s doing)
- Hold your gaze about two-feet in front of you, with slightly open eyes (this may feel a little weird at first but in time you’ll get used to it. If it’s too much for you you can close your eyes or keep your eyes open and let them anchor onto a candle flame or statue of the Buddha)
- Use the tactile sensation of the rise and fall of the breath wherever you feel it most as another anchor for you (chest or abdomen)
- If you find your mind wanders (which it will) gently bring it back to your anchor points (the tactile sensations of the breath and your visual anchor if your eyes are open)
- Keep at it
See! Super simple. Don’t complicate things. Be comfortable and breathe. That’s it. The mind’s gonna wander, thoughts will arise, your nose will itch etc etc – just come back to the tactile sensations of the breath.
The Three Negations
To understand Samadhi a little better it would do us good to look at some of the obscurations that will eventually fall away as we progress further in our realization or actualization of the path.
There are three states that we will begin to let go of.
These three are:
Freedom from Craving: First is the release from craving of sense based experiences for their own sake.
Freedom from Attachments: Second is the release from our attachment toward the pursuit of relative happiness and the never ending hamster wheel that goes along with it.
Freedom from Ignorance: Third is the dissolving of ignorance and living a life of unawareness (so now living a life of wisdom and awareness).This freedom happens naturally – meaning that it just unfolds in its own time and in its own way.
As equanimity and insight arise then things such as craving, attachment and ignorance just get released.
We are no longer enchanted by them.
As we are released from layer upon layer of conditioned thoughts, habitual patterns and mental constructs we will have ever increasing flashes of insight.
It’s as if the veil of illusion is lifted from our eyes. We begin to see clearly the way things actually are.
There is a sudden continuum of Satori experiences. These ever increasing moments of direct insight into the luminous cognizant and empty nature of existence and what we consider to be a “self”.
The Seven Petals Support and Nurture Samadhi
Samadhi arises from and is supported by the other 7 aspects of the Eightfold Path.
In the Maha-Cattarisaka Sutra the Buddha said that Samadhi is,
“Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions. Of those, right view is the forerunner.”
To have a peaceful, stable mind that is grounded in equanimity we need all the facets of the path to be present. And the most influential of these on our mind-peace is Right View.
The traditional sutra’s and accounts of the Buddha’s life would have you believe that he achieved enlightenment in one night while sitting under the Bodhi tree. But this can’t be the case.
He worked diligently, daily, for a long time, gradually cultivating himself, his mind, his heart, his thoughts, words and deeds and finally he “got it”.
The Buddha himself said that it could take individuals at least seven years.
The biographer Karen Armstrong in her amazing book The Buddha had this to say about the Buddha’s enlightenment to help us put things into perspective,
“If there is any truth to the story that Gotama gained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in a single night, it could be that he acquired a sudden, absolute certainty that he really had discovered a method that would, if followed energetically, bring an earnest seeker to Nirvana.”
Some days are gonna be good and some bad. Some days we’ll make progress and other days we’re gonna fall on our face. But gradually, over time, these things, the practices, these insights will lead to stunning results.
Our task is to approach each day, each moment with a calm and stable mind that is illuminated by insight.
And how we do that is by following the path that the Buddha laid out for us over 2500 years ago.
Like what you've read...?
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The Buddha said that it was an ancient path that he had found. A timeless path. One, that if travelled will lead you to true and authentic happiness.
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