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The Noble Eightfold Course: Meaning and Practice

Within the fourth worthy reality is discovered the guide to the end of suffering: the honorable eightfold course. The eight parts of the course to freedom are organized into three essential components of Buddhist practice– moral conduct, psychological discipline, and wisdom. The Buddha taught the eightfold course in essentially all his discourses, and his directions are as clear and practical to his followers today as they were when he first gave them.

The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right comprehending (Samma ditthi)
  2. Right believed (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right income (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

Almost the entire teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during 45 years, deals in some method or other with this course. He explained it in various ways and in different words to different individuals, according to the phase of their advancement and their capacity to understand and follow him. However the essence of those many thousand discourses scattered in the Buddhist bibles is found in the worthy eightfold path.

It should not be thought that the 8 classifications or divisions of the path need to be followed and practiced one after the other in the mathematical order as given up the normal list above. However they are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each person. They are all connected together and each helps the growing of the others.

These 8 elements focus on promoting and refining the three basics of Buddhist training and discipline: particularly: (a) ethical conduct (sila), (b) psychological discipline (samadhi) and (c) knowledge (panna). It will therefore be more handy for a coherent and better understanding of the eight departments of the course if we group them and explain them according to these 3 heads.

Ethical Conduct

Ethical conduct (sila) is constructed on the vast conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings, on which the Buddha’s teaching is based. It is regrettable that lots of scholars forget this terrific perfect of the Buddha’s teaching, and enjoy only dry philosophical and metaphysical divagations when they talk and discuss Buddhism. The Buddha provided his teaching “for the good of the numerous, for the joy of the numerous, out of empathy for the world.”

Related: The Buddha’s standards for simplifying life

According to Buddhism, for a male to be perfect there are 2 qualities that he must develop similarly: empathy (karuna) on one side, and knowledge (panna) on the other. Here empathy represents love, charity, compassion, tolerance, and such honorable qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while knowledge would mean the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind. If one develops only the psychological, neglecting the intellectual, one might end up being a good-hearted fool; while to develop just the intellectual side [and] disregarding the psychological might turn one into a hard-hearted intelligence without feeling for others. For that reason, to be ideal one has to develop both similarly. That is the objective of the Buddhist lifestyle: in it knowledge and compassion are inseparably connected together, as we shall see later.

Now, in ethical conduct (sila), based on love and compassion, are consisted of three elements of the noble eightfold course: specifically, right speech, right action, and ideal livelihood.

Right speech

Right speech indicates abstention (1) from telling lies, (2) from backbiting and slander and talk that might cause hatred, enmity, disunity, and disharmony among people or groups of individuals, (3) from harsh, impolite, impolite, harmful, and abusive language, and (4) from idle, ineffective, and silly babble and chatter. When one avoid these types of wrong and harmful speech one naturally has to speak the fact, needs to utilize words that are friendly and good-hearted, enjoyable and mild, significant, and helpful. One must not speak carelessly: speech ought to be at the correct time and place. If one can not state something beneficial, one must keep “worthy silence.”

Right Action

Right action focuses on promoting moral, honorable, and serene conduct. It advises us that we ought to avoid destroying life, from stealing, from deceitful negotiations, from illegitimate sexual relations, which we ought to also assist others to lead a serene and honorable life in the proper way.

Right Income

Right livelihood indicates that a person should avoid making one’s living through an occupation that brings harm to others, such as trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating beverages or toxins, eliminating animals, cheating, and so on, and ought to live by a profession which is respectable, blameless, and innocent of damage to others. One can plainly see here that Buddhism is highly opposed to any kind of war, when it sets that sell arms and lethal weapons is an evil and unjust methods of income.

These three aspects (right speech, right action, and ideal income) of the eightfold path constitute ethical conduct. It should be recognized that the Buddhist ethical and ethical conduct targets at promoting a delighted and unified life both for the specific and for society. This ethical conduct is considered as the indispensable structure for all greater spiritual attainments. No spiritual advancement is possible without this ethical basis.

Psychological Discipline

Next comes psychological discipline, in which are included three other aspects of the eightfold path: particularly, right effort, ideal mindfulness, and ideal concentration. (Nos. 6, 7 and 8 in the list).

Right Effort

Right effort is the energetic will (1) to avoid wicked and unwholesome mindsets from occurring, and (2) to eliminate such evil and unwholesome states that have actually currently emerged within a man, and also (3) to produce, to cause to occur, good, and wholesome mindsets not yet arisen, and (4) to establish and give excellence the great and wholesome frame of minds already present in a guy.

Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is to be diligently aware, mindful, and attentive with regard to (1) the activities of the body (kaya), (2) sensations or sensations (vedana), (3) the activities of the mind (citta) and (4) concepts, thoughts, conceptions, and things (dhamma).

The practice of concentration on breathing (anapanasati) is among the widely known workouts, gotten in touch with the body, for psychological advancement. There are several other methods of establishing attentiveness in relation to the body as modes of meditation.

With regard to experiences and sensations, one must be clearly knowledgeable about all forms of feelings and sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, of how they appear and disappear within oneself. Worrying the activities of mind, one need to be aware whether one’s mind is lustful or not, provided to hatred or not, misguided or not, distracted or focused, etc. In this method one needs to understand all motions of mind, how they occur and vanish.

As regards concepts, thoughts, conceptions and things, one need to know their nature, how they appear and vanish, how they are established, how they are reduced, ruined, and so on.

These 4 forms of psychological culture or meditation are dealt with in detail in the Satipatthana Sutta (Setting-up of Mindfulness).

Right Concentration

The third and last factor of mental discipline is ideal concentration, resulting in the four phases of Dhyana, normally called hypnotic trance or recueillement. In the very first phase of Dhyana, enthusiastic desires and certain unwholesome ideas like sensual desire, ill-will, languor, worry, uneasyness, and skeptical doubt are disposed of, and sensations of happiness and happiness are kept, in addition to particular mental activities. Then, in the 2nd stage, all intellectual activities are suppressed, tranquillity, and “one-pointedness” of mind established, and the feelings of pleasure and joy are still kept. In the 3rd phase, the sensation of pleasure, which is an active feeling, likewise vanishes, while the disposition of happiness still remains in addition to conscious equanimity. Lastly, in the fourth phase of Dhyana, all experiences, even of happiness and misery, of happiness and sadness, vanish, only pure equanimity and awareness remaining.

Thus the mind is trained and disciplined and established through ideal effort, best mindfulness, and best concentration.


The remaining two elements, specifically best idea and ideal understanding, constitute wisdom in the honorable eightfold path.

Right Idea

Right believed represents the thoughts of generous renunciation or detachment, thoughts of love and ideas of non-violence, which are extended to all beings. It is extremely intriguing and crucial to note here that ideas of selfless detachment, love and non-violence are organized on the side of wisdom. This clearly reveals that true wisdom is endowed with these worthy qualities, which all ideas of self-centered desire, ill-will, hatred, and violence are the outcome of a lack of knowledge in all spheres of life whether private, social, or political.

Right Understanding

Right understanding is the understanding of things as they are, and it is the 4 noble truths that explain things as they truly are. Right understanding for that reason is ultimately reduced to the understanding of the four worthy realities. This understanding is the greatest knowledge which sees the Ultimate Truth. According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding. What we typically call “comprehending” is understanding, a collected memory, an intellectual grasping of a subject according to specific offered information. This is called “understanding appropriately” (anubodha). It is not extremely deep. Genuine deep understanding or “penetration” (pativedha) is seeing a thing in its real nature, without name and label. This penetration is possible just when the mind is free from all pollutants and is completely established through meditation.

Related: What are The Four Noble Truths?

From this brief account of the worthy eightfold course, one might see that it is a lifestyle to be followed, practiced and developed by each individual. It is self-control in body, word, and mind, self-development, and self-purification. It has absolutely nothing to do with belief, prayer, worship, or ceremony. In that sense, it has absolutely nothing which might widely be called “religious.” It is a Course leading to the awareness of Ultimate Reality, to complete liberty, happiness, and peace through moral, spiritual, and intellectual perfection.


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