Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth – The Path out of Suffering
As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, the Buddhas Four Noble Truths can be seen as a process as well as a medical prescription.
First Noble Truth – Identifying the Problem of Dukkha
Second Noble Truth – Identifying the Causes of Dukkha
Third Noble Truth – Prognosis that Dukkha can end
Fourth Noble Truth – The therapy (discipline, mindfulness, and meditation) that brings Dukkha to an end and the realization of real unconditional happiness
Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth is also known as the Eight-fold Path or the Middle Way and is usually represented by the eight-spoked wheel with each spoke representing one aspect of the Eight-fold Path. This image has become widely accepted as the symbol of Buddhism itself.
The eight spokes of the Eight-fold Path all begin with the Pali word ‘samma’ which is commonly translated as “right” (e.g. right view), however a better translation would be ‘skillful’ and/or “wise”.
So the word ‘samma’ doesn’t mean “right” as in the dualistic concept of right vs wrong.
These should not be considered as commandments as one would find in the Abrahamic religions, but are rather guides and signs on the way to realization of the true nature of reality and all of its implications of selflessness.
Now let’s get to the actual spokes of the Wheel:
- Right (Skillful/Wise) View or Understanding – This refers to an understanding of the Four Noble Truths themselves. I think we can all see that suffering is the root of mankind’s woes, that it has a cause, and that it can end.
Daily Reflection: Am I seeing what’s really there in front of me, or am I seeing what I want to see?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Intention
This refers to the cultivation of a single-minded focus on the goal of liberation from dukkha via the cessation of dukkha, Nirvana.Once we have “attained” Nirvana then we find that our focus becomes one of perfect selflessness. Also in our compassion for all living beings and desires with compassion for everyone else to also “attain” Nirvana and experience the Bliss of Interdependence.Examples: 1) the renunciation of the significance of worldly possessions; 2) Avoiding doing harm to others; 3) Engaging in activities that will help us to our goal, which would include study and meditation practice.
Daily Reflection: “Am I truly committed to living compassionately?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Speech
Skillful speech stems from skillful intention so if we are operating in the mindset of “Right Speech” then we will naturally refrain from abusive speech as well as speaking untrue words.Speak gently and don’t gossip about others behind their backs.
Daily Reflection: Am I saying anything that I wouldn’t say about a certain person in their presence? Are my words helpful or harmful?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Action
Like all of the steps, the fourth step in the Eightfold Path is rooted in Right Speech. This step builds mental calm by cultivating morality which is essential to the concentration step.It means we walk the walk and do our best to avoid the physical expression of negative mental states, which is something that we work up to with the previous steps.When we use Right Action with Right Speech together, this results in the natural inclination to not partake in stealing, lying, sexual misconduct (i.e. rape or adultery), and the ingestion of intoxicants that can cloud our minds.
Again these are not commandments but are rather signs that we are walking the path to awakening.
Daily Reflection: Am I engaging in behaviors that try to dull the mind? Do I always practice what I preach?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Livelihood
Essentially this is the training of morals in oneself wherein we avoid occupations that lead people to engage in killing, lying, cheating, stealing, or engage in sexual misconduct (a modern example would be sleeping with a colleague from the workplace).Instead it is better to choose an occupation that doesn’t violate the path or cause harm to others. For example, I used to work in the Pharmaceutical industry where employees routinely engaged in lying, spoke unskillful words. This is not Right Livelihood.
Daily Reflection: Am I truly happy in my occupation? Have I lost sight of my calling in life?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Effort
This step is about keep our mind oriented on our goal of liberation by overcoming negative feelings that may arise within us such as impatience, slothfulness, excessive pride, vengeance, or greed.The idea is to overcome these mental obstacles to equanimity and meditation that arise as a result of dukkha (suffering) and maintain a steady effort toward the goal of liberation without getting distracted by negative feelings.
Daily Reflection: Am I staying on track or do I find myself get lazy and distracted? Is my effort consistent, or do I engage in bursts of activity?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Mindfulness
This step involves Mindfulness which has become a buzzword in recent decades but I think Buddha’s teaching goes into it more deeply.
Essentially this is the quality of attentiveness to your thoughts and actions and knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
With Right Effort we need to gently shift our perspective from a state of confusion and random thinking to a state of clarity and mindfulness. We then become more aware of everything that arises within and observe it with perfect clarity.
Daily Reflection: Am I fully aware of the present moment? Do I notice when my emotions or thinking changes?
- Right (Skillful/Wise) Concentration
Right Concentration is focusing all of one’s mental faculties onto one physical or mental object (i.e. Avalokiteshvara). This allows us to see reality as it truly is and not how our minds create them to be.
I hope you enjoyed this article on Buddhas Fourth Noble Truth, and as we can see this is a process. Not only can we visualize the process in the form of a wheel, but we can also see that each step is a petal of the eight-petaled lotus within. When we experience cessation from suffering we feel ourselves opening to ourselves and others.
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