Friday, August 10, 2018

The Buddhist Path

Ven. Nyanatiloka (; Dhr. Seven, Eliza Darcey (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

The "Path" (magga) in Buddhism can refer to the four supermundane paths (lokuttara-magga of the "noble ones" or ariya-puggala) or the Noble Eightfold Path (atthangika-magga) leading to the end of all suffering, the Middle Way described as the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. This ennobling (enlightenment-making) path is divided into three sections:

  • 1. Right view
  • 2. Right intention or thought
  • 3. Right speech
  • 4. Right action
  • 5. Right livelihood
  • 6. Right effort
  • 7. Right mindfulness
  • 8. Right concentration
1. Right view or understanding (sammā-ditthi) is directly penetrating or understanding the Four Noble Truths with regard to the universality of:
  1. unsatisfactoriness (disappointment, suffering, pain)
  2. its origin in craving (or in greed, aversion, and delusion)
  3. its cessation in nirvana 
  4. the PATH leading to its cessation.
  • See "The Discourse on Right View" (MN 9, translation and Commentary in "Right Understanding").
2. Right intention or thought: thoughts free of sensuous desire (letting go, renunciation), ill-will, cruelty.

3. Right speech (sammā-vācā): abstaining from perjury, tale-bearing, harsh speech, and foolish babble.

4. Right bodily action (sammā-kammanta): abstaining from taking the life of living beings, taking what is not given (stealing), and sexual misconduct (intercourse with the ten forbidden people).
  • "Ten forbidden people"? There are ten types of person who are off limits, such as those dependent on others (family, community, etc.), married people, engaged people, promised people, those not permitted by law... Penetration with these constitute serious "sexual misconduct." Note that it is not one's own state but the state of the other person that figures more prominently. If that person is married, that person is off limits for me whether or not I'm married.
5. Right livelihood (sammā-ājīva): abstaining from a means of earning a living that brings harm to other beings, such as trading in weapons, in living beings, in intoxicants, in poisons; slaughtering, butchering, fishing, soldiering, deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, usury (charging interest on loans), and so on.

6. Right effort (sammā-vāyāma, see padhāna): the effort to avoid (unarisen) harmful and unwholesome things, the effort to overcome (arisen) ones; to develop wholesome things, to maintain (and bring them to full maturity).
7. Right mindfulness (sammā-sati): mindfulness and awareness in contemplating the four supports: body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects (see satipatthāna).
8. Right concentration (sammā-samādhi): coherence (and thereby purification) of heart/mind associated with wholesome (kusala) consciousness, which eventually may reach the meditative absorptions (jhānas).

Who sees the truth is freed by the truth.
NOTE: As with all of the other factors, two kinds of "concentration" are to be distinguished, the mundane (lokiya) and the supermundane (lokuttara). The second is associated with those states of consciousness known as the Four Supermundane Paths and Fruits (ariya-puggala).
 As the Buddha says in MN 117: "O meditators, I say to you there are two kinds of right view: the understanding that it is good to give alms and offerings, that both good and harmful actions will bear fruit and will be followed by karmic results.... This, O meditators, is a view which, though still subject to the defilements/cankers, is meritorious, yields worldly fruits, and brings about good results.
"But whatever there is of wisdom, of penetration, of right view conjoined with the Path -- the Path to enlightenment being pursued -- this is called 'supermundane right view,' which is not of the world, which is above the mundane and part of the Path."
In a similar way the remaining factors of the Path are to be understood. As many of those who have written about the Noble Eightfold Path have misunderstood its true nature, it is therefore appropriate to add here a few elucidating remarks about it.
This Path is fundamental for the understanding and practice of the Dharma, the Buddha's Teachings. First of all, the figurative expression "Path" should not be interpreted to mean that one advances step by step in the sequence of the enumeration until, after successively passing through all the eight stages, one finally may realize or reach one's destination, nirvana.
If this were the case, one should have first realized right view with penetration of the truth, even before one could hope to proceed to the next steps, right thought and right speech.
Each preceding stage would be the indispensable condition and foundation for each succeeding stage.
In reality, however, Links 3-5 -- constituting training in virtue (sīla) -- are the first three links cultivated. Thereafter come Links 6-8 -- constituting mental training (samādhi) -- and at last right view and so on -- constituting wisdom (paññā).
It is, however, true that a really unshakable and safe foundation for the Path is provided only by right view. For, starting from the tiniest glimmer of confidence and insight (faith and knowledge), gradually, step by step, develops into penetrating-insight (vipassanā) and so forms the immediate condition for entrance into the Four Supermundane Paths and Fruits of enlightenment for the direct realization of nirvana.
Only with regard to this highest form of supermundane insight may we indeed say that all of the remaining links of the Path are nothing but the outcome and the accompaniments of right view.
Regarding the mundane Noble Eightfold path, however, its links may arise without the first link, right view.
Here it must also be emphasized that the links of the Path not only DO NOT ARISE one after the other, as already said, they partly arise simultaneously as inseparable, associated mental factors in one and the same state of consciousness.
So, for instance, under all circumstances at least four links are inseparably bound up with any karmically wholesome consciousness, namely 2, 6, 7 and 8 -- that is, right thought, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (MN 117). This means that as soon as any one of these links arises, the three others do also.
On the other hand, right view is not necessarily present in every wholesome state of consciousness.
  • Path (magga) is one of the 24 conditions (see paccaya 18)
  • The Noble Eightfold Path and its Factors Explained, Ledi Sayadaw (, Wheel 245/247)
  • The Buddha's Ancient Path, by Piyadassi Thera (
  • The Noble Eightfold Path, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wheel 308/311)

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