Overview of the Eightfold Path


Before we examine the 10 stages of practice meditation, it is useful to look at the first teachings the Buddha taught after he was enlightened. The Buddha was an extraordinary Yogi, who had crossed all barriers of this world and had reached the ultimate state of equanimity and tranquility. It is said that in this state of bliss, he looked around the world with his spiritual eye and found the monks that would be fit for his first sermon. These monks were the same monks who had left Siddhartha because they believed he had strayed away from the holy spiritual path. Ironically, it was the 5 monks themselves who were unfortunate to leave Siddhartha, who later became the Buddha. 

When the Buddha arrived at the hut of these monks, he appeared completely different from the monks. They were astonished by his stature, his bright aura, and his equanimity of mind. Without saying a word, the Buddha had already impressed the monks, who knew that this man is extraordinary and it is in their benefit to listen to what he has to say. 

The first thing the Buddha preached is known as the Four noble truths and the Eightfold Path. Until now, the monks had been practicing extreme penance, by starving themselves, withstanding cold temperatures, and neglecting both physical and mental agony. But like an instrument, which is useless and lousy when its strings are too tight or too loose, the mind, becomes useless when a monk engages in excessive penance or sensual indulgence. Hence, he proposed a middle way, which was neither focused on intense self-mortification nor impulsive self-indulgence. Instead, it found a middle ground, where the mind had neither desire nor aversion. The middle way is the Eightfold Path, and understanding the middle way is the cornerstone of all Buddhist philosophy. If anyone understands this Eightfold Path alone and puts it to practice with diligence and patience, he is bound to be a successful practitioner. 

The Four Noble truths

1. Suffering has always and will always exist for sentient beings inhabiting the Earth. All beings with a conscious system are bound to suffer, and this is the human condition predisposed at birth, 

2. The suffering that all sentient beings face is caused by desire, which is the gratification in sensual pleasures. Desire can be positive or negative- both to want something or not want something is a result of having expectations that lie outside the mind. Since the world is impermanent and everything in it is at constant flux. Thus having expectations that lie outside the mind only produce misery. In reality, suffering is caused by the delusion of self. And because we misattribute our identity, we get caught up in a cycle of gratifying the entity which is unreal and only a product of habituation. 

3. Though there is suffering, there is a way that can help us remove this misery. Suffering is not removed by merely believing in God, or mindlessly reading scriptures. Suffering is removed by abandoning desire, which breeds all misery in life. Letting go of expectations of others and of the world trains the mind to remain content with what is in the present moment. Thus, the mind becomes calm, and in this state, it starts to present qualities that we call divine and holy. 

4. What is the precise way to overcome suffering? How can I abandon desire that breeds delusion, if all my life my brain is conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain? The answer is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, also known as the Middle Way. In general, the noble eightfold path involves Virtue, Meditation, and Wisdom. When we practice living in a virtuous way, our self-control improves and this leads to better meditation sessions. When our meditation sessions are not disturbed by things that lie outside the present moment, the calm mind gets rid of its delusion and presents the real I, which brings an end to all suffering. 

The Eightfold Path

1. Right View: 

Understanding the Four Noble Truths: 

- Understanding suffering

- Understanding suffering's origin

- Understanding the cessation of suffering

-Understanding the way leading to suffering's cessation. 

Understanding the law of karma: as you sow, so shall you reap. 

2. Right Intention

Having proper intention to live a holy life: 

- Intention to let go/ renunciate of things that lie outside the mind (sensual pleasures). Reflect on the advantages of a mind that is content with the present moment. 

- Intention of goodwill and altruism for everyone. Reflect on the fact that all beings seek happiness just like you, and therefore it is only fair that you wish for their best if you want the best in your life.

- Intention of harmlessness for all the beings who are suffering in their own mental worlds. Reflect on the fact that all beings wish to escape suffering just like you, and therefore it is only fair that you avoid creating further suffering for others. 

3. Right Speech

Having speech that is conducive to harmony and friendship towards everyone. Developing loving-kindness. 

- Abstaining from false speech

- Abstaining from slanderous speech

- Abstaining from harsh speech

- Abstaining from idle chatter

4. Right Action

- Abstaining from taking life- by body, speech, and mind

- Abstaining from stealing- not taking what is not given

- Abstaining from sexual misconduct- Maintaining one relationship

5. Right Livelihood

- Earning money in a righteous manner, helping family and friends in need, and developing good relations with neighbors. 

6. Right Effort

- Effort to restrain from defilement (greed, hatred, delusion)

- Effort to abandon defilements (greed, hatred, delusion)

- Effort to develop wholesome states (renunciation, loving-kindness, and compassion)

- Effort to maintain wholesome states (renunciation, loving-kindness, and compassion)

7. Right Mindfulness

Be mindful of the following categories without having judgment. Let come, let it be, let it go. 

- Mindful contemplation of body- composition of various elements, cells, tissues, and organs. 

- Mindful contemplation of feeling- All experience is either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. 

- Mindful contemplation of the mind- Thoughts come out of nowhere, and go nowhere. Mind is a continuum, that is flowing with thoughts about greed, hatred, and delusion. 

- Mindful contemplation of phenomena: Understand the 5 hindrances, 5 aggregates, 7 factors of awakening, and 6 sense bases. 

8. Right Concentration

Through meditation, unify the mental continuum and focus all its energy on one thing- the breath. As you continue meditating for longer times, you will reach meditative states known as jhanas, 

First Jhana: Devoid of sensual pleasures and unwholesome states, there is thought, examination, rapture, happiness, and one-pointed concentration. Here, mindfulness is developing at a steady rate.   

Second Jhana: Thought and examination disappear, and the practitioner is unified with just one motive: to remain mindful of the breath regardless of what arises in the mind. There is rapture and happiness.

Third Jhana: Rapture disappears, and the individual is tranquil, full of equanimity. Here the practitioner experiences feeling out of the body and is full of happiness. 

Fourth Jhana: Happiness disappears, there is neither pleasure nor pain- there is fading away of body consciousness and the practitioner feels as if their sense of self has disappeared. 

Immaterial jhanas: infinite base of space, the infinite base of consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither perception nor non-perception. These states are far too advanced for words to explain them. Here the practitioner completely blows away from the delusion of self and reaches Nirvana. Natural compassion rises for all other beings who are trapped in the delusional world. 

7 factors of Awakening

While practicing the Eightfold Path, there are some key factors that can help the process of Awakening. These factors develop as you go into further meditative states or Jhanas. Note that these factors may appear in different forms for different people. This is just the general guideline for how they appear and disappear. Each factor gives rise to the next when it is matured. 

1. Mindfulness: Awareness of body, feeling, mind, and consciousness. 

2. Investigation: Reflection on the impermanence of the body, feeling, and consciousness. 

3. Energy: Removes dullness that comes from meditating for too long. 

4. Rapture: Intense joy of reaching the top of energy levels in body and mind. 

5. Tranquility: When rapture reaches its peak, the mind desires no more thoughts, feelings, or sensations. 

6. Concentration: When the mind is tranquil enough to drive away all perceptions, it unifies the mind. Unification of mind leads to Samadhi, which is the state of complete concentration

7. Equanimity: All fetters destroyed and individual identity abandoned, here the mind reaches the peak of concentration and becomes equanimous. Equanimity conditions the mind to remain in the present moment and find no fault in any part of the world. Birth and death are destroyed, Nirvana is reached.