8.1 Introduction to The Noble Eightfold Paths
The Noble Eightfold Paths are:
Concentration gives rise to wisdom.
If we want to be wise, we must be calm and concentrated in our mind. If we want to be calm and concentrated, we must take precepts with good conduct. As an analogy to a tree, morality is the root, concentration is the trunk and branches, while wisdom is the fruit.
Amongst the Eightfold Paths, the first two belong to wisdom, and the last three belong to concentration. The remaining three belong to morality.
8.2 The Three Practices
It is very important to note that morality is the foundation for the progress on the path, as it is the foundation of all qualities.
In Buddhism, the morality is based on the principle of equality and the principle of reciprocity. Equality means that all living things are equal in their essential attitudes (animals not excluded) e.g. happiness, security. Reciprocity means "do unto others what you want others to do unto you".
Nowadays, there is a dangerous tendency to neglect the importance of morality and to go just to the more exciting part of the paths, i.e. meditation and philosophy.
The Buddha says that the mind is the source of all mental states - Ten Dharma Realms are not beyond one single thought! Mind is the source of all merits and virtues. Mind is the key to changing the nature of our experience. As mind is important in all spheres of activities, mental development has an extremely important role in the practice of the Noble Eightfold Paths.
For Noble Eightfold Paths, the three paths in this group encourage and enable one to be self-reliant, attentive and calm.
In Sanskrit, the word Samadhi refers to the profound, yet subtle and fine spiritual state in the course of mediation. There are many kinds of Samadhi representing different states of happiness and bliss, freedom and comfort, calmness and peace, merits and virtues, and also spiritual powers.
In Sanskrit, the word Prajna refers to wisdom. Wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is an accumulation of historical and experimental facts, which is mainly obtained through studying. Wisdom is somewhat intrinsic which is mainly obtained through cultivation and mental development/meditation. If your mind is pure and calm, your wisdom will emerge. Conversely, if your mind is full of defilements and annoyance, you will be ignorant with illusions.
In short, faith is preliminary while meditation is instrumental. However, the real heart of Buddhism is wisdom.
8.3 The Eightfold Paths
Right Understanding is to see a thing as it really is, not just part of it nor its surface. It is the full and complete, objective and penetrative understanding and insight of all things. There are two types of understanding. One is the understanding that we acquire ourselves towards observation. The other is in the understanding that we acquire through others (through study). However, in both cases, to become part of one's living experience, one must meditate upon what one has observed and examined, studied and learned., considered and determined. This is the process of Right Understanding.
Right Understanding can be often divided into two aspects. Buddhism offers different goals. The ordinary level is happiness and good fortune, while the deeper level is ultimate liberation. For Right Understanding, the first aspect is the understanding of the Principle of Cause and Effect in the sphere of moral responsibility of our actions and behaviors. And, the second aspect is the understanding of Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Three Universal Truths, etc.
When we describe Right Understanding in various ways, all these understandings are opposed to ignorance, to attachment, to entanglement in the cycle of birth and death.
Renunciation is cultivated by meditating upon the incomplete and imperfect nature of existence particularly the sensual pleasure and material things. Kindness and compassion are cultivated by recognizing the equality of all living things.
Finally, through wisdom, having eliminated ignorance and the Three Poisons, we can attain liberation, the final goal, i.e. the purpose of the Noble Eightfold Path--the bliss of Nirvana.
These four actions are actually four of the Ten Wholesome Actions related to speech.
Keeping in mind the principles of equality and reciprocity,
These three actions are actually the first three of the Five Precepts, and also the Ten Wholesome Actions.
If these guidelines are sincerely cultivated within a society, such society will be a better place to live in.
Specifically, there are five kinds of livelihood that are discouraged for Buddhists.
The practice of good conduct creates within the individual an inner peace, stability, security and strength. He/she is now ready to practice the other steps of the Path.
It is an effort to prevent unwholesome thought from rising. It is an effort to reject unwholesome thoughts once they have arisen. It is the effort to cultivate wholesome thoughts. An finally, it is the effort to maintain wholesome thoughts. The last one is particularly important because most people may retreat in the pursuit of the Buddhist Way.
In regard to the practice of the Dharma, mindfulness acts as a rein upon our mind. Our mind usually runs after objects of senses, thus it is never concentrated, calm and still.
Different from meditation, Right Mindfulness can be practiced at any time in any place. It simply entails being aware and attentive, watching our own mind, seeing where it is going and what it is doing.
Specifically, the practice of mindfulness has been developed to include four particular applications to:
When one's ability in this kind of meditation is developed, it has two main benefits.
Right Concentration is an instrument to attain wisdom, the real heart of Buddhism.