Why Is The Eightfold Path Important? (Putting an End to Suffering)
The Buddhist eightfold path, known as the Noble Eightfold Path, are the specific instructions the Buddha gave as part four of the Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth taught us that unenlightened life is destined to be disappointing. Truths two and three gave us hope. We are the cause of our own suffering, and we have the power to end it. The fourth noble truth teaches that the cause of the end of suffering is adherence to the eightfold path.
This path is described as noble because it’s followed by those who are noble, or wise. In other words, these are the actions of people who are free from their suffering. Follow their example, and you can become enlightened too.
Living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing the wisdom to see things as they truly exist are basics of Buddhism. Why? Because doing these things leads to a calmer, more emotionally stable, peaceful and happier life.
By acting in accordance with the noble eightfold path, we generate the merit and good karma that leads us to a better rebirth in the next life. If we have trouble believing in past and future lives, that’s ok, we can still understand consequences. Acting in a noble way leads to positive consequences, while doing the opposite is certain to lead to negative ones. By following the eightfold path, we stop causing our own suffering.
The Eight Elements Of The Path
While this Buddhist life path is numbered, it’s not meant to be seen as a series of steps. We can practice each of these actions simultaneously, as each supports the other. To remind us of this, the eightfold path is symbolically represented by a dharma wheel with eight spokes. No one spoke comes first, and each helps turn the wheel.
In English, the eightfold path commonly makes use of the word ‘right.’ Translated from the Pali samma, this word could also be defined as skillful, wise, thorough, proper, or perfect. If we feel uncomfortable defining our actions as ‘right,’ it’s perfectly ok to replace this word with another to clarify the intent. The eight elements of the path are as follows…
1. Right View
To practice right view is to remember that our actions have consequences. Because karma exists we benefit from living in a way that minimizes harm. This is the basis of the four noble truths. Our own actions can prevent future unnecessary pain. If we truly believed this, we would be far more mindful of every act of body, speech and mind.
2. Right Intention
Right intention is the commitment to foster this moment-to-moment mindfulness of thought. Speaking and acting in beneficial ways begins with a calm, present and stable state of mind. Right intention is also the practice clarifying our why. We intend to follow the eightfold path not to benefit the illusory separate self, but do so in the service of love and compassion.
3. Right Speech
Right view and noble intention guides us to cease speaking in harmful ways. We refrain from lying and do our best to communicate clearly. We avoid speaking in ways that are divisive. We refrain from harsh or abusive speech, and avoid idle speech, remaining silent unless we have something useful to say.
4. Right Action
Right action is to cease harming others with our body, too. We refrain from killing other living beings, stealing, or harming others with our sexual behavior. Instead, we actively support life, practice giving and respect the relationships and boundaries of others.
5. Right Livelihood
Most of us spend a large portion of our lives in pursuit of livelihood. Right livelihood is the commitment to ethical business practice. Traditionally, this meant not earning a living by selling weapons, other people, meat, alcohol or poison. If our role at work entails cheating, deceiving, being dishonest or behaving in harmful ways, we’re not practicing right livelihood.
6. Right Effort
Right effort addresses the qualities of mind we must cultivate to remain vigilant along the path. It’s not enough to stop behaving in harmful or unhelpful ways. Instead, we should persistently nurture skillful, beneficial behaviors. This includes being mindful of the classic five hindrances and actively working to overcome them.
7. Right Mindfulness
Up until this point, we’ve lived without considering right view, right intention, right speech and the rest. We’re not in the habit of watching our thoughts, speech and actions. By training in right mindfulness, we avoid slipping into the habitual behaviors that cause harm. We can begin by learning how to mindfully observe our own breath.
8. Right Concentration
Having applied right effort and trained in mindfulness, we enter a state of right concentration. In this state we have successfully withdrawn from the distractions which keep us in an unskillful and unbeneficial state of mind. We rest, single-pointedly, in a state of awareness meditation. In this state, we experience the bliss that arises having freed ourselves from our pain.