Therefore, follow the Noble One, who is steadfast, wise, learned, dutiful and devout. One should follow only such a man, who is truly good and discerning, even as the moon follows the path of the stars.
The Noble Eightfold Path
Within the Fourth Noble Truths is found the guide to the end of suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path.
The eight parts of the path to liberation are grouped into three essential elements of Buddhist practice—moral conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom.
The Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path in virtually all his discourses, and his directions are as clear and practical to his followers today as they were when he first gave them. Practically the whole teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during 45 years, deals in some way or other with this Path. He explained it in different ways and in different words to different people, according to the stage of their development and their capacity to understand and follow him.
It should not be thought that the eight categories or divisions of the Path should be followed and practiced one after the other in the numerical order. They are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.
These eight factors aim at promoting and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline, namely : -
Ethical Conduct (Sila) : Ethics are undertaken using Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood.
Mental Discipline (Samadhi) : The mind is trained and disciplined and developed through Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
Wisdom (Panna) : Right Thought and Right Understanding relate to developing wisdom.
Right Understanding (Samma ditthi)
Right Understanding is the understanding of things as they are, and it is the Four Noble Truths that explain things as they really are. Right Understanding therefore is ultimately reduced to the understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
This understanding is the highest wisdom which sees the Ultimate Reality. According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding. What we generally call “understanding” is knowledge, an accumulated memory, an intellectual grasping of a subject according to certain given data.
This is called “knowing accordingly” (anubodha). It is not very deep. Real deep understanding or “penetration” (pativedha) is seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label. This penetration is possible only when the mind is free from all impurities and is fully developed through meditation.
Right Thought (Samma sankappa)
Right Thought denotes the thoughts of selfless renunciation or detachment, thoughts of love and thoughts of non-violence, which are extended to all beings. It is very interesting and important to note here that thoughts of selfless detachment, love and non-violence are grouped on the side of wisdom.
This clearly shows that true wisdom is endowed with these noble qualities, and that all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom in all spheres of life whether individual, social, or political.
Right Speech (Samma vaca)
Right Speech means refraining from : -
slander and talk that may bring about hatred, enmity, disunity and disharmony among individuals or groups of people,
harsh, rude, impolite, malicious and abusive language, and
idle, useless and foolish babble and gossip.
When one abstains from these forms of wrong and harmful speech one naturally has to speak the truth, has to use words that are friendly and benevolent, pleasant and gentle, meaningful and useful. One should not speak carelessly: speech should be at the right time and place.
If one cannot say something useful, one should keep “noble silence.”
Right Action (Samma kammanta)
Right Action aims at promoting moral, honourable and peaceful conduct. We should also help others to lead a peaceful and honourable life in the right way. It admonishes us that we should abstain from : -
dishonest dealings, and
illegitimate sexual intercourse.
Right Livelihood (Samma ajiva)
Right Livelihood means that one should abstain from making one’s living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating drinks or poisons, killing animals, cheating, etc., and should live by a profession which is honourable, blameless and innocent of harm to others.
One can clearly see here that Buddhism is strongly opposed to any kind of war, when it lays down that trade in arms and lethal weapons is an evil and unjust means of livelihood.
Right Effort (Samma vayama)
Right Effort is the energetic will to : -
prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising,
to get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a person,
produce, to cause to arise, good and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen, and
develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in a person.
Right Mindfulness (Samma sati)
Right Mindfulness is to be diligently aware, mindful and attentive with regard to : -
the activities of the body (kaya),
sensations or feelings (vedana),
the activities of the mind (citta) and
ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things (dhamma).
The practice of concentration on breathing (anapanasati) is one of the well-known exercises, connected with the body, for mental development. There are several other ways of developing attentiveness in relation to the body as modes of meditation.
With regard to sensations and feelings, one should be clearly aware of all forms of feelings and sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, of how they appear and disappear within oneself.
Concerning the activities of mind, one should be aware whether one’s mind is lustful or not, given to hatred or not, deluded or not, distracted or concentrated. In this way one should be aware of all movements of mind, how they arise and disappear.
Right Concentration (Samma samadhi)
Right Concentration, leads to the four stages of Dhyana. In the first stage of Dhyana, passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded, and feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities.
Then, in the second stage, all intellectual activities are suppressed, tranquillity and “one-pointedness” of mind developed, and the feelings of joy and happiness are still retained.
In the third stage, the feeling of joy, which is an active sensation, also disappears, while the disposition of happiness still remains in addition to mindful equanimity.
Finally, in the fourth stage of Dhyana, all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and sorrow, disappear, only pure equanimity and awareness remaining.