Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths
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 Four Noble Truths are the foundational framework for that path and you will discover them 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.
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“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.
During the time of the Buddha life was in a state of flux. A new urban class was coming to be, fueled by greed and power. The restricting caste system was being put to the test by the merchant class. Traditional values were crumbling. The old ways and rituals were starting to seem cumbersome and archaic. And people increasingly resented the dominating class of Brahmins and their ancient traditions and rules.
Underground rebellions of faith were erupting. More and more people yearned for a new spirituality. A new longing began to emerge, People were less interested in metaphysical speculation about the nature of ultimate reality and more concerned with personal liberation.
And secretly within their hearts it was as if all of the region was desperately calling out for a Buddha to appear. Someone to show them a new way of being.
Droves of people were “dropping out” of society to pursue the “holy life” which was perceived as a noble quest.
In forests, cities and towns one could easily find yellow robe clad monks who had set off on a journey of the utmost importance. They were after ultimate truth, freedom from suffering and the way that led to true and authentic happiness.
The monk was not seen as some sort of societal leech but was regarded highly by people from all walks of life.
The monk was engaged in a quest that would benefit the people often at a huge cost to himself.
This was the backdrop for the Buddhas life.
Over 2500 years ago a man named Siddartha Gotama set off on a noble quest to unravel the mysteries of human existence and to ultimately find a path that could alleviate human suffering and lead to true and authentic happiness.
He achieved this lofty goal after much struggle and pain. What he discovered he then distilled down into the Four Noble truths which includes the Noble Eightfold Path.
Legend tells us that the Buddha was once a beloved prince. Born into a world filled with riches and delights beyond measure.
When he was born there was a prophecy foretold about the young prince. He was destined for great things. One of two paths were laid out before him. The path of a king or the path of a holy man.
His father, wanting him to become the ruler of their kingdom schemed to keep the young Buddha cut off from the harsh realities of life. The King did everything in his power so that his son would never want for anything and would never be exposed to any type of influence that might set him upon the holy path.
He was constantly surrounded by whatever his heart desired. He lived in a beautiful palace, wore only the finest clothes, and ate only the best of foods. Attendants did everything for him. He also had a lovely and caring wife and a beautiful son.
But even with all this he was not happy.
Deep within him there was a silent longing calling out to him. He felt empty inside.
Feeling boxed in by his palace walls he ventured forth to see his kingdom for the first time in his life. He had never stepped foot beyond the comforts of the royal grounds.
We are told that what he saw beyond the palace walls rocked the very core of his being. Tearing his heart to pieces.
What he bore witness to are called the four sights in the Pali scriptures. The four sights being: sickness, old-age, death and then a holy man that seemed to be happy, peaceful and content.
He then abandoned his wealth, palaces, wife and son for the life of a homeless beggar – with a mission: he wanted to find a way to overcome the worlds suffering.
Six years later he achieved his goal. here.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
The Buddhist Path or Way finds expression in a number of different formulations, and of these the Four Noble Truths which includes the Eightfold Path is probably the best known.
Over 2500 years ago in Deer Park at Sarnath, shortly after the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment is when he officially delivered his first set of teachings. This pinnacle moment in human history is called the Turning the Wheel of the Dharma or the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
In that discourse the Buddha shared his spiritual revelation to a group of ascetic monks and the world has never been the same since then.
He taught these seekers the way in which he had torn through all the veils of illusion and shared the way in which he did it with them.
What he shared that day with that group of earnest monks was the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths tackle the fundamental problem of our suffering using a traditional format employed for diagnosis in Ancient Indian medicine:
- they describe the disease
- they point out the possible causes of the disease
- they give a prognosis or outlook (this is embodied in the great Mystics and saints showing us that it is possible. Kinda of saying, “Look! These people did it and so can you.)
- and finally they present a cure (they say this is the way that these enlightened beings achieved their superhuman state)
As the Buddha described them – here are the Four Noble Truths in brief:
The First Noble Truth: The Truth of Dukkha
Which means dissatisfaction, discomfort, unease, stress or actual suffering.
The Second Noble Truth: The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha
Which is a selfish craving,yearning or thirst. Which leads to self-grasping. Which is fuelled by ignorance. This ignorance makes us ultimately believe that we are separate from the whole (of existence and each other) so we must grab, fight and protect ourselves and what we believe to be “mine”.
The Third Noble Truth: The Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha
Which is that it can be overcome (dissatisfaction, discomfort, unease, or actual suffering) by living a noble life, by having a calm, clear stable mind and finally by going beyond the idea of “self” which leads one to go beyond craving (again this is embodied in the great Mystics and saints showing us that it is possible. Kinda of saying, “Look! We did it and so can you.)
The Fourth Noble Truth: The Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha
Which has come to be known as the Eightfold Path
“Brothers, there are four truths: the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the elimination of suffering and the way that leads to the elimination of suffering. I call them the Four Noble Truths.”
~ The Buddha
“Realized from the ultimate view, that highest functioning is highest bliss, the Four Noble Truths supply a very useful frame for all of Buddha’s Teachings.”
~ Lama Ole Nydahl
THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH
“Brothers, the First Noble Truth is the existence of suffering.
Birth, old age, illness and death are suffering.
Sadness, anger, envy, fear, anxiety and despair are suffering.
The absence of what we love is suffering.
The presence of what we hate is suffering.
Desire is suffering.
Aversion is suffering.
This is the First Noble Truth.”
The Buddha, Suttapitaka Majhima-Nikaya, Saccavibhanga Sutta
The Buddha saw that life was marked with one universal quality: it was never entirely satisfying.
It was frustrating, hard and no matter what we did on the relative external level we never are truly able to find true lasting freedom and fulfillment.
He called this Dukkha.
Most translators translate the word Dukkha as suffering. But that doesn’t entirely convey what the Buddha meant. So let’s unpack the meaning of the word Dukkha.
Below you’ll find various interpretations of the concept of Dukkha from multiple Buddhist practitioners.
- Like an ill-fitting cartwheel (it doesn’t run smoothly, it’s bumpy and uncomfortable)
- The way things never come out quite right
- Our lives contain pleasure and pain, gain and loss, happiness and sadness. But what they don’t contain is ultimate final satisfaction
Source: Awaken: The Buddha’s Eightfold Path to True and Lasting Happiness
- Because we are never fully satisfied, we chase after experiences.
- We constantly seek satisfaction from the intrinsically unsatisfying.
- If only I can get this, achieve that, do this then everything will be fine and I’ll be happy.
Source: Buddhism by Kulananda
- Suffering, unsatisfactoriness or disharmony which we see all around us and also experience within ourselves.
Source: Vision and Transformation by Sangharakshita
- The root meaning of the Chinese character for suffering is “bitter”.
Source: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh
- “There is suffering”, thus carries the ultimate meaning that, compared to the experience of timeless awareness, even the best experience is pale and may therefore be described as suffering.
- It expresses Buddha’s insight that every changing event is secondary to mind’s timeless radiance which so few realize. Next to the spontaneous power of conscious space, even the most precious moments of excitement and love are mere shadows of one’s true essence.
The most beautiful of waves is less fulfilling that the depth of the ocean itself.
Source: The Way Things Are by Lama Ole Nydahl
Life as we normally live it does not bring real lasting satisfaction or fulfillment. If that were the case then most people most of the time would be in a state of happiness and fulfillment.
And if they were truly happy, satisfied and fulfilled they wouldn’t be continually craving for more. Trying to quench this unquenchable thirst (that can only be truly satiated by the bliss and fullness that is found within.)
In today’s modern world we probably don’t feel that “life is suffering”. We may feel that our lives in many ways are rich and happy. But no matter how good it gets we continually want more.
We know deep down that something is intrinsically missing and that all the sense pleasures in the world are ultimately hollow and can never last.
Dukkha Can Be Divided Into 4 Major Types:
Physical Suffering: This is the inescapable suffering that we experience because we are mortal beings with an impermanent body. In this category is the suffering of sickness, old-age and death. This is the pains of stubbed toes, belly-aches and migraines.
The Suffering of Unbearable Things: This is the suffering of having to put up with things we don’t like. Everyday situations like traffic, our boss, noisy neighbours, and annoying people and of not getting what we do want, like that promotion, an ideal partner, or that new car.
The Suffering of Change: Even when life is totally awesome, when everything is going our way, we know deep down inside that this will not last forever (“This too shall pass.” is a famous statement that sums it up nicely). But even though we know this, that all external situations will change no matter how blissful and perfect they are, we feel a mild sense of anxiety or dread or even sadness in the midst of the magnificence. And the flip side of this is that some people will continually try and control situations and people in order to keep things just as they are which also leads to Dukkha.
The Great Underlying Suffering: This is that great existential suffering. People have given words to it like, “There’s gotta be something more to life than this?” and it’s true. That no matter how many trips we take, or how much good food we eat, or however much money we make, none of this will ever truly make us feel fulfilled and satisfied. What we truly desire and long for is within. As long as we’re not exploring, tapping into and expressing our spiritual potential we could become the ruler of the world but even this wouldn’t truly make us happy.
So we need to honestly and compassionately see that we’re all hurting.
We’re all suffering in some way.
And when we finally acknowledge that suffering, sit with it, embrace the pain and see that we are not only hurting ourselves but we’re also causing others pain and harming the planet because of our pain, ignorance and selfish grasping maybe just maybe we will truly want to be free from that suffering and look for a way to do so.
“Buddha’s first Noble Truth is not as pessimistic as it might appear to some. Rather it is immensley uplifting. Whoever shows the nature of timeless mind to be more perfect than all of its fleeting games makes all rich beyond bounds.”
Lama Ole Nydahl, The Way Things Are
IT ISN’T ALL SUFFERING
Compared to minds timeless space like luminous nature everything else pales in comparison.
Maybe you’ve even experienced this already briefly…
Staring at a sunset.
Looking at a newborn child smile.
Seeing your loved one across a crowded room.
In the ecstasy of orgasm.
Hearing a piece of music that makes time virtually stop
Floating in the ocean.
Feeling a cool breeze on a warm sunny day.
That first bite of a piece of cake.
All of these wonderful things are mere drops of water compared to the ocean of bliss that is found in the enlightened state of mind.
It isn’t all suffering.
But there is suffering.
In believing that happiness, I mean true authentic happiness can be found through external things, circumstances or even people.
Suffering: We must first see it. Hold it gently. Speak softly and compassionately to it saying, “I’m here for you. I’m here for you my dear.”
Then we must see clearly and compassionately what is causing our suffering, unease or the general malaise that we’re feeling.
We then must resolve to discover the thoughts, words and actions that may be contributing to our pain. To find the things that we’re doing to hurt ourselves and more than likely discover what we’re doing that is harming others.
Then we can begin to stop thinking, speaking and acting in ways that are unskillful and harmful.
We discover what is essential. That we actually need very few things to survive. And that things in general can’t make us happy. A new job or more money won’t ultimately make us happy. A new and perfect partner won’t do the trick either.
These things are wonderful and if we are blessed with any or all of them we do what we can to honour and cherish them. But we don’t become attached to them.
So we begin to turn inwardly. Because we’ve discovered no basis for true and lasting happiness can be found within the conditioned ever changing world.
Not to say there’s no beautiful and joyous moments. There’s plenty of them. Like walking hand in hand down the street with someone you love.
But we’re looking for something rare.
Something that will last.
Something that can never be taken away from us.
We go within and start to explore and tap into an inner landscape that is very different than the world we normally play in.
And when we begin to peel away our layers of hopes and fears, desires and dislikes, our preferences and prejudices, our constructs and concepts of who we are and who we think were supposed to be, we start to reveal to ourselves something that just might be what were actually looking for.
Something that’s been there the whole time. Waiting patiently for us to stop playing our games. Knowing that in time we would find it. How can we not because it is the very essence of who we are.
It’s like a striptease of the mind. Letting go layer upon layer of stuff that is hiding our true beauty. A magnificence beyond words. A radiance that is causeless, timeless and deathless. It is beyond anything that we’ve ever dreamed of being possible for ourselves.
And once we get a glimpse of that potential our lives will never ever be the same.
THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH
“Brothers the Second Noble Truth is the Cause of Suffering.
The cause of suffering is craving
which leads to re-becoming,
accompanied by delight and lust,
seeking delight here and there;
that is, craving for sensual pleasures,
craving for becoming,
craving for non-becoming.
The cause of suffering is craving.
Craving in it’s turn is caused by ignorance
The ignorance that causes craving is ignorance of reality,
it is ignorance of the fact that reality is impermanent.
Ignorance of reality produces craving
because we take that which is impermanent
as being permanent.
Craving produces sadness, anger, envy, fear, anxiety and despair.
This is the Second Noble Truth”
The Second Noble Truth describes the origin, roots, nature, creation or arising of suffering (Dukkha).
We need to look deeply into this Dukkha to see how it came to be.
We need to gently and compassionately recognize and identify the spiritual and material foods we have consumed that are causing us to suffer.
What is causing your stress, unease, frustration?
In the First Noble Truth we see, understand and acknowledge that we are hurting in some way.
With the Second Noble Truth we begin to compassionately look into what we are doing that is causing us pain. We look deeply into our thoughts, words and actions to see and discover what may be at the root of our hurt, frustration, stress or pain.
In the quote that opened this chapter the word craving comes up again and again. This is a translation of the Pali word Tanha.
Most people translate the word “tanha” as craving or desire. But not all desires are unwholesome. The Buddha desired to find a way to end the suffering of the world. But one of the big things to consider is that he desired to help others but he didn’t cling to that idea.
The original Pali word “tanha,” has the root meaning of “to thirst”.
Here are some related words, and you might like to pause briefly after each one to get a sense of the experience of it:
This obsessive craving is subtly influenced by our ignorance. And here we can say that we are ignorant or unaware of the fact that we are being pushed and pulled and tossed about by our insatiable cravings. That we’re seeking true and lasting happiness from impermanent things like food, a new job, a new lover, a new house, that promotion.
A lot of people will tend to think that they don’t really crave. That this unquenchable thirst is only for those people who are addicts of some sort.
The addict is an obvious extreme of this craving fuelled by ignorance. But we all crave something. Be it the freedom from pain or the desire for pleasure which is a universal craving for each and every one of us.
But there’s more to it. What about the craving for the summer sun on a rainy day. The craving for approval. What about the worker rushing to work but is stuck in traffic. The mother that craves for her child to become a successful doctor.
This craving shows up in our lives in so many ways. We feel it when we’re stuck in line waiting for our morning coffee.
When we experience annoyance, dissatisfaction or impatience we are craving for things to be different.
The Buddha taught that the origin of suffering is craving (tanha) conditioned by ignorance (avijja).
Craving is a complex bundle of thoughts, emotions, attitudes and impulses.
Craving keeps us continually dissatisfied with life. Never being content with the way things are. Forever basing our happiness and fulfillment on external conditions that are continually in a state of flux.
And the kicker is for the most part we are unaware of it. Oblivious to the fact that we are constantly being whipped by our pain or being dragged along by our desire for pleasure.
The Three Cravings
There seems to be a certain disposition within us towards craving. We always want to be stimulated in some way, desire some form of pleasure, or we want something else, something new, something better or we’re wanting something to stop.
These are the three cravings:
- The craving for sensual pleasures
- The craving for something new
- The craving for things to stop
We try to wrestle happiness from the world by grabbing at the things we like, pushing away the things we don’t like and generally organizing the ever-changing flux of impermanent events into a pattern that suits our demands and is to some extent stable.
We tend to think that we’ll be happy when – and only when – we’ve got the world around us organized in a particular way. We try to control the uncontrollable.
But if we make our happiness dependent on the changeable and uncertain world around us, we are doomed to be unhappy and dissatisfied almost all of the time.
And even if we get what we want this state can’t last forever (and a lot of the time we expect it to).
The ever-changing flux of life that we are part of simply cannot permanently be organized into a static arrangement for long but we believe that this time things will stay exactly as they are.
Even if by some miracle we could organize the outer world around us permanently into a state we liked – even if we could be:
- have the perfect partner
- be constantly surrounded by sensory pleasures
- live a life of complete leisure and luxury
- be free from illness, old-age and death (for ourselves and our loved ones)
Even with all this we would still not be fulfilled.
True fulfillment comes from our inner being and is not from outer ever-changing circumstances.
If our inner world is plagued by the negative mental states that come from the narrow pre-occupation we have with our own selfish desires then we will even be unhappy in paradise.
But if we have a rich inner life then outer circumstances cannot influence us.
Craving Versus Healthy Desires
Many forms of desire are healthy and good:
- desire for the necessities of life keep us physically healthy
- friendship, beauty, meaningful work
- desire to fulfill our spiritual potential pushes us in the direction of Dharma
New clothes, a new partner, a new car, a new computer, a bigger bank balance, a more prestigious job, an expensive meal, or an exotic holiday – there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these.
But none of them will do more than distract us from the emptiness and dissatisfaction that we feel if we are ignoring our spiritual potential and living below our real spiritual level.
If we base our happiness on these external things we actually create suffering rather than satisfaction for ourselves. We will be on a never-ending treadmill – chasing a dangling carrot that is constantly out of reach.
THE THIRD NOBLE TRUTH
“Brothers, the Third Noble Truth is the extinction of suffering.
Suffering can only be extinguished
with the extinction of it’s cause, that is,
ignorance and therefore craving.
This is the Third Noble Truth.”
Once we see the many ways in which we’re causing ourselves and others pain, then we can begin to let go of the thoughts, words and actions that made that stress, frustration and pain to arise.
But it’s not enough to let go of unskillful behaviour. We must find new ways to think, speak and act.
This is where the Noble Eightfold Path comes into play.
The Spiritual Masters of the past and present stand as shining examples of the goal.
Calling out to us and reminding us of our potential. Showing us that IT IS possible to be free from suffering and that we can actually find true, lasting and authentic happiness.
This is the Third Noble truth – that it’s possible to be free.
“Buddha’s teachings unceasingly point to mind’s ultimate nature.
They show its essence to be all knowing fearless space
and turn one’s steady experience into continual highest joy.”
Lama Ole Nydahl
THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH
“Brothers, the Fourth Noble Truth is the way that leads
to the extinction of suffering: that is the Noble Eightfold Path.
This is the Fourth Noble Truth.
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.
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
Want to explore the Eightfold Path...?
If you’d like to go deeper into exploring the Eightfold Path then please grab a copy of my new book Awaken: The Buddha’s Eightfold Path to True and Lasting Happiness which has just been released.
If you’re looking for a simple and heart felt guide to the Buddha Dharma then this book is for you.
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.
In this book, in easy to understand language, you will go on a journey and discover that path for yourself.