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Eightfold Path – Wisdom, Virtue, Concentration
This article describes the three themes of the Eightfold Path of wisdom, virtue, and concentration. Here is an article on the Maggara-Vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha’s analysis of the Path: Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
Some of the text in this article is an excerpt from my book Becoming Buddha.
The Eightfold Path is a path that develops profound wisdom, pure virtue, and unwavering concentration. These three refined qualities are necessary in order to awaken – develop full maturity – as the Buddha teaches awakening. This article explains the eight factors of the path in the context of these three qualities. Right View and Right Intention develop profound wisdom. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood develop pure virtue, and Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation support developing unwavering concentration. As one path towards awakening, it can be said that an awakened human being is an ongoing expression of these three qualities.
Right View and Right Intention are the wisdom factors of the Eightfold Path
“It is for the full comprehension, clear understanding, ending and abandonment of suffering that the Noble Eightfold Path is to be cultivated.”
The Eightfold Path is the path to be developed leading to lasting peace and happiness. It is the fourth of The Four Noble Truths. The Eightfold Path is the framework for Dhamma practice. All eight factors are to be integrated into the life of a practitioner of the Dhamma. Each factor contributes to a cohesive system of developing insight and understanding of impermanence and the distraction of stress.
The Eightfold Path is a path of Heightened Wisdom, Heightened Virtue and Heightened Concentration.
The first two factors contribute to the development of Heightened Wisdom:
- Right View
- Right Intention
There are three factors that develop Heightened Virtue:
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
Three additional factors contribute to the development of Heightened Concentration:
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Meditation
Right View is both an entry point into the Dhamma and, with practice, the state of mindful presence free of the distraction of stress.
As you begin to integrate the Eightfold Path into your life, and diminish the views and actions arising from your ego-self, your moment-to-moment life becomes an expression of an awakening human being.
Keep in mind the stated purpose of the Dhamma is understanding the origination of stress and experiencing the cessation of stress. Being mindful of this singular purpose will be a great benefit in recognizing otherwise wholesome activities that are a distraction from developing understanding.
I will separate these eight factors into the three natural divisions of The Eightfold Path. While it is wisdom that develops and deepens as understanding develops and deepens, Right View also provides the initial perspective for Dhamma practice and Right Intention provides initial direction.
The purpose of practicing The Eightfold Path is to experience the cessation of the distraction of stress. Stress describes the ongoing mental/physical states experienced by your ego-self in the phenomenal world. Stress ranges in experience from general unsatisfactoriness and disappointment to extreme emotional and physical suffering.
A reminder about terminology: The word that the Buddha used to describe unhappiness and stress is Dukkha. Dukkha also can be translated to mean unsatisfactoriness, disappointment, disillusionment, disenchantment, suffering, and confusion. I will use the words unhappiness and stress interchangeably to signify all manifestations of Dukkha.
Ignorance, lacking wisdom, as to the truth of human existence gives rise to the distraction of stress.
The Four Noble Truths provide an understanding of ignorance and the pervasiveness of the distraction of stress. Clinging and craving is shown to be the origination of the distraction of stress. The Third Noble Truth shows that cessation of stress can be developed. The Fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the path leading to the cessation of unhappiness and stress, The Eightfold Path.
The first factor or component of The Eightfold Path is Right View. Right View implies wrong view. Wrong view is a view of yourself and the world that is ignorant of The Four Noble Truths. This course and the Buddha’s teachings are to develop Right View and complete knowledge and understanding of The Four Noble Truths.
Right View is initially the perspective that your views of life have been lacking understanding, lacking wisdom. This lack of wisdom has given rise to craving and clinging leading to unhappiness and stress. Stress is a distracted mind state born of ignorance. Preoccupation with stress is the distraction that keeps one in ignorance.
Remember, this is not stating that you or all human beings are generally ignorant, only that ignorance of The Four Noble Truths leads to suffering.
Understanding that it is your own ignorance of The Four Noble Truths that has caused your distracted mind state of stress is acknowledging the truth of stress. Remember that the task associated with The First Noble Truth is a complete understanding of stress. Right View then is understanding stress in the context of The Four Noble Truths.
The skills required to accomplish the task of understanding stress are heightened concentration, useful insight, and refined mindfulness. The skills are developed within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
Without the initial perspective that wisdom and understanding in the context of The Four Noble Truths is lacking, it will be impossible to develop the understanding leading to the cessation of stress. Acknowledging that it is your own lack of wisdom that has caused disillusionment and suffering can be difficult at first.
Until this initial step is taken your mind will reject developing understanding. Your mind will remain wandering around in ignorance looking for any distraction to avoid seeing the truth.
Without the perspective of Right View, developing the path of liberation would be like planning a trip to Los Angeles when you are departing from New York but believing and insisting that you are in Chicago.
It is impossible to arrive at your destination, lasting happiness and peace, without first acknowledging your present quality of mind. Achieving liberation and freedom from stress cannot be realized without first accepting the truth of stress and its causes.
Ultimately Right View is the perspective of a mind resting in the Dhamma free of the distraction of stress, an awakened mind. Right View develops gradually. Initially, an understanding that life in the phenomenal world is stressful and the cause of stress is clinging begins the development of wisdom. Through integrating all eight factors of The Eightfold Path, Right View develops understanding that penetrates to the root of suffering.
Developing Right View is developing wisdom. The Buddha describes Right View:
“And what is right view? Knowledge with regard to stress, knowledge with regard to the origination of stress, knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress, knowledge with regard to the path or practice that develops the cessation of stress: This is called right view.”
Right View is knowledge and understanding of The Four Noble Truths. Right View is a view that supports developing concentration and wisdom.
Right View is considered the forerunner of the path:
“And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one’s right view. And what is wrong view? There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no Brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.”
The Buddha here is describing the ignorance and the consequences of wrong view: “There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed” means that clinging, craving, desire and aversion to objects, views, and ideas are maintained, not given (up).
“There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions” means that there is no understanding of the consequences of delusion.
“There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no Brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves” refers to lacking understanding of the process of becoming, kamma, or rebirth.
Wrong view is the view that compels one to phenomenal (worldly) attainment, acquisition, and attachment.
Initially, wrong view is simply recognized. As Right View is developed, actions originating in wrong view are abandoned. It is wrong view that continues to develop karma and it is wrong view that, due to karma, causes rebirth. Wrong view is caused by ignorance, Right View is an expression of wisdom.
Karma and Rebirth are explained in detail in week nine.
The Buddha explains how Right Effort and Right Mindfulness directly contribute to developing wisdom:
“One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities – right view, right effort, & right mindfulness – run & circle around right view.” [iv]
Right View supports and informs all of the components of The Eightfold Path. Having engaged with The Four Noble Truths, Right View brings wisdom to a mind previously stuck in ignorance and confusion.
The consequences of wrong view(s):
“In a person of wrong view, wrong resolve (wrong intention) comes into being. In a person of wrong resolve, wrong speech. In a person of wrong speech, wrong action. In a person of wrong action, wrong livelihood. In a person of wrong livelihood, wrong effort. In a person of wrong effort, wrong mindfulness. In a person of wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration. In a person of wrong concentration, wrong knowledge. In a person of wrong knowledge, wrong release.
“This is how from wrongness comes failure, not success.”
Holding wrong views founded in ignorance can never lead to Right View, wisdom, and liberation. All views born of ignorance are wrong views and are to be recognized and abandoned.
“Be mindful of wrong view and enter and remain in Right View.” This is the task associated with Right View.
Right Intention is having the intention to abandon all deluded views and abandon all that would continue ignorance and stress. Right Intention is the intention to recognize and abandon all clinging and craving.
Right Intention is also included as the second factor of The Eightfold Path as it leads directly to the development of the virtuous factors of Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Along with the intention to abandon clinging and craving, Right Intention is also the intention to abandon ill-will and all harmful thoughts, words and deeds.
Right View initially brings a recognition of wrong views. Due to strong mental fabrications, or conditioned thinking, that have developed from wrong view, recognition alone is not enough to gain liberation and freedom from stress.
Right Intention, holding the firm intention to abandon craving and clinging and develop the experience of the cessation of suffering, strengthens Right View. Right Intention can be seen as an expression of Right View. The entire transformative nature of the Dhamma arises from Right Intention.
Being mindful of Right Intention brings clarity to the destructiveness of reactive thoughts, words and deeds caused by ignorance.
Without Right Intention the virtuous and concentration factors of the Path cannot be developed. The ego-self has too much invested in wrong views to put all wrong views aside without the strong resolve of Right Intention. The impermanent ego-personality will not yield if wrong views are not abandoned and Right Views developed. Holding the intention to abandon all wrong views naturally brings the mind to the virtuous and concentration factors of the path. (Reviewed in weeks five and six)
Holding the intention to abandon all clinging and craving and to abandon all ill-will and harmful thoughts, words and deeds begins to diminish the effects that occur as a result of a strong attachment to your ego-self. Right View is also called Right Thinking and Right Perspective.
It is wrong thinking that binds impermanent views to a temporary ego-personality. It is wrong thinking that develops craving from a temporary ego-personality. Clinging and craving arise from a misunderstanding of what a self is and how a self has arisen. Misunderstanding the nature of self develops an ego-personality that suffers in ignorance from birth, sickness, aging, death and rebirth.
It is this personality that the Buddha identified as “anatta.” Anatta means “not-self” or “non-self.” This is often misunderstood to imply that awakening is the extinguishing of being. Awakening is the extinguishing of an insubstantial, impermanent personality that has arisen from wrong views. It is this personality that is subject to the distraction, confusion and suffering of stress.
Impermanence, Dukkha and Not-Self is explained in detail in week seven.
Right Intention is the intention to abandon all views of an impermanent self so that Right View may be developed completely.
Impermanence describes the environment in which ignorance and stress (dukkha) arise. Impermanence also describes the environment that a “self” develops ignorance resulting in the distraction of stress.
A wrong view of self develops behavior that manifests in non-virtuous ways. If it were not for a confused mind subject to stress and strongly committed to maintain its existence, there would be no need for a path of liberation.
As stated previously, once the wisdom of The Four Noble Truths has entered a mind suffering in ignorance, that same mind can now hold the Right Intention to awaken. Your ego-personality’s strong resistance to letting go of wrong views can only be overcome by the foundation developed initially by Right View and Right Intention. Right View is your entry to Dhamma practice and Right Intention sets and holds your direction.
Initial Right View acknowledges The Four Noble Truths to be true.
Right Intention is the holding the intention to engage whole-heartedly with the Eightfold Path and recognize and abandon craving and clinging.
Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood are the virtuous factors of the Eightfold Path.
“When the mind is inclined towards the Dhamma, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.” [Anguttara Nikaya 11.12] Right View initially is being mindful of The Four Noble Truths beginning with the truth of stress. Clinging, craving, desire and aversion all cause unhappiness and stress. Right View then brings to mind the possibility of the cessation of stress. Understanding the cause of the distraction of stress, and the possibility to end stress, Right View develops mindfulness of the Path leading to the cessation of stress.
Being Mindful of Right View, Right Intention develops the presence of mind and the strong resolve to abandon craving and clinging. It is craving for or clinging to any object or view that perpetuates unhappiness and stress. It is clinging to all objects, views, and ideas that have arisen from ignorance that must be recognized and abandoned.
Mindfulness as presented in The Eightfold Path is developing mindfulness of all views of an impermanent ego-personality. It is craving for objects, views and ideas that support the establishment of an ego personality that initiates clinging. As understanding develops it becomes clear that preoccupation with views attached to an ego-self maintains stress. Once this process is recognized, and craving and clinging diminish, preoccupation and distraction lessens. As distraction lessens Samadhi, non-distraction increases. The practical benefits of the Eightfold Path begin to become apparent.
It is the preoccupation with stress that creates the distraction that continues wrong views. It is ignorance that gives rise to the belief that your ego-personality is who you are and all that you are. Having this limited and wrong view of yourself gives rise to grasping, aversion and delusion.
Out of this mental/physical aggregation an individual personality arises. It is this personality that makes choices and takes action based on attachment and perceived needs. The base need of the ego-personality is to continue to define and maintain the ego-self and its beliefs in all objects, views and ideas.
Mindfulness of Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood, the three virtuous factors of The Eightfold Path, shows clearly where attachments to an ego-personality have formed. The ego-self or ego-personality is consciousness influenced by physical senses and interpreting the sensory stimulation from the perspective of clinging conditioned mind.
This is why meditation alone cannot bring lasting peace and happiness. Without a framework grounded in Right View, meditation can reinforce craving, clinging, and hurtful views arising from an ego-self. Due to the nature of conditioned mind, the entire framework of The Eightfold Path is necessary to develop concentration, insight, and wisdom.
The Buddha taught: “A true and effective Dhamma practice must incorporate these three trainings. Which three? The training in heightened virtue, the training in heightened concentration, the training in heightened discernment (wisdom).” [Anguttara Nikaya 3.88] Right Speech is the third factor of The Eightfold Path. By mindfully integrating Right Speech it becomes clear how words are used to continue establishing a self that is prone to stress.
- Abstaining from lying, speaking truthfully
- Abstaining from divisive speech, including gossip, speaking with compassion for all
- Abstaining from abusive speech, speaking with kindness and tolerance
- Abstaining from idle chatter, speaking only what is necessary and helpful
Wrong speech arises from clinging, craving and aversion. It is often used to promote or defend the ego-personality. Wrong Speech can be very subtle at times. Gossip in particular is always hurtful and always arises from the desire to promote an ego-personality. It is best to only speak of others when they are present.
Idle chatter is used as much for distraction as for social interaction. Kalyanmitta means spiritual friendship. True friendships are friendships that are maintained without idle chatter. As wisdom develops, an understanding that spoken words will actually be helpful to someone or a situation will also show if they are necessary. Words that have no meaningful impact are part of idle chatter and can often prove divisive and will always be distracting.
Right Speech also pertains to what you are saying to yourself and should be considered within the same guidelines. Is your self-talk truthful, helpful, kind and compassionate? Are your thoughts a type of unnecessary idle chatter?
From the perspective of Right View and the direction provided by Right Intention, Right Speech develops to very subtle levels. Once gross wrong speech is identified and mindfully abandoned, recognition of speech that may have seemed helpful and altruistic may now be seen to be manipulative and designed to elicit a particular response or reaffirm an ego-personality, yours or other’s.
Being mindful of words expressed towards others will show the state of your well-being and understanding. Being mindful of self-talk will deepen understanding of craving and clinging and the further establishment of your ego-self.
“Be mindful of wrong speech and enter and remain in Right Speech.” [Majjhima Nikaya 117] This is the task associated with Right Speech.
Right Action and Right Livelihood follow the same moral, ethical and practical guidelines as Right Speech.
- Abstaining from taking life, remaining harmless to all beings
- Abstaining from taking what is not freely given, taking only what is offered
- Abstaining from sexual misconduct, acting with generosity and kindness
- Abstaining from selfish acts, Acting for the good of all
As with Right Speech, mindfulness of your actions will show your attachments and what you most closely identify with. Kamma means action and it is the unfolding of intentional actions moderated by mindfulness that determines the direction and overall experience of your life. (Kamma and Rebirth are explained in week nine.)
“Be mindful of wrong action and enter and remain in Right Action.” [Majjhima Nikaya 117] This is the task associated with Right Action.
- Abstaining from dishonesty, profiting from virtuous acts
- Abstaining from hurtful endeavors, contributing to the common good
- Abstaining from the sale of intoxicants
- Abstaining from the sale of weapons or harmful items
Right Livelihood is remaining harmless when earning a living while contributing to the common good. While many of us do not have a direct choice for our livelihood, the product of our efforts should fall within these guidelines.
“Be mindful of wrong livelihood and enter and remain in Right Livelihood.” [Majjhima Nikaya 117] This is the task associated with Right Livelihood.
It requires great wisdom coupled with compassion to know when to speak and take action, and when to practice restraint. Compassion without wisdom can often be hurtful. It is often less than skillful to speak or act solely to make others feel better about themselves or to further validate other’s wrong views. Throughout the Pali canon the Buddha presented the example of restraint of speech when speaking would only reinforce someone’s wrong views.
As virtue is developed, an understanding of the importance of bringing wisdom to compassionate thoughts, words and deeds develops. In the Ratana Sutta, the discourse on the Three Jewels, the Buddha and his attending monks first addressed the physical and emotional needs of a town that had been devastated by natural occurrences and disease. They then presented the Dhamma in a way that would have meaning.
The Ratana Sutta also shows that Dhamma practice is not effective as an isolated event practiced only on our cushions or “special” occasions or special situations. In order to develop virtue, concentration and wisdom, Dhamma practice is engaged in mindfully moment by mindful moment.
By maintaining mindfulness of your thoughts, words, and deeds without defense, deep insight into conditioned thinking arises. This is the practical mindfulness and insight that is necessary in order to abandon all aspects of the distraction of stress and to awaken.
Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood are grounded in Right View and Right Intention and are supported by Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation.
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation are the concentration factors of the Eightfold Path.
“There are the four developments of concentration. There is the development of concentration that leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the development of concentration that leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that leads to unbinding and the cessation of suffering.” (Anguttara Nikaya 4.41)
The Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s framework for developing understanding leading to the cessation of stress. It is a path that develops heightened wisdom, heightened virtue and heightened concentration, or heightened Samadhi.
Samadhi is a quality of mind of non-distraction. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of The Eightfold Path develops non-distraction from the effects of clinging, craving, desire and aversion.
I will use concentration to describe Samadhi.
Heightened wisdom is developed within the framework of The Eightfold Path with Right View and Right Intention. Initially, mundane wisdom inspires the mind to understand the validity and authenticity of The Four Noble Truths. This is a turning point in the ongoing distraction of unhappiness and stress.
A mind that has developed the mundane understanding that its view has been confused and distracted by its own clinging and craving can now develop wisdom and Right View. This same mind can now begin the process of abandoning all causes of confusion and distraction, all causes of stress and unhappiness.
From Right View, Right Intention develops. Right Intention is being mindful of abandoning all causes of stress. Being mindful of the intention to abandon craving and clinging leads to the development of the virtuous factors of the path.
Being mindful of, and abandoning, all that is not Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood, develops useful mindfulness of craving and clinging. Being mindful to maintain Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood develops the ability to diminish and finally abandon craving and clinging.
Your thoughts and resulting actions, when mindfully observed, provide clear insight into the your current state of understanding.
As your thoughts, words, and deeds become more peaceful your mind is naturally more peaceful.
As clinging begins to diminish, a practice of developing heightened concentration becomes effective. Right Effort is the first of the three factors of heightened concentration.
Right Effort is generating the skillful desire, actions, and diligence to:
- Avoid inappropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have yet arisen.
- Abandon inappropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have arisen.
- Develop appropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have yet arisen.
- Maintain appropriate thoughts, words and deeds for continual development of non-confusion and skillful qualities that have arisen.
Right Effort emphasizes the importance of abandoning non-virtuous acts. Being mindful of Right Effort brings understanding that it is by strong attachment to the ego-personality that non-virtuous acts occur. As current non-virtuous behavior is abandoned, virtuous behavior can be further developed. Through mindful awareness of what is to be developed and what is to be abandoned, appropriate thoughts, words and deeds are now the foundation for continued Right Effort.
This is a refined application of mindfulness that is developed and maintained in the Dhamma. Being mindful of what is to be abandoned and what is to be developed is the essence of Right Mindfulness.
Right Effort is one factor (of eight) in developing the path of liberation and freedom from the confusion and distraction of stress. It is part of a cohesive method of understanding The Four Noble Truths. Dhamma practice begins at the point of accepting the First Noble Truth, the Truth of Unhappiness and Stress.
From this initial Right View, acceptance of the necessity to change ego-centered views becomes apparent.
Right Intention follows to bring to mind the resistance to changing views that conditioned thinking maintains. It takes mindful determination to overcome the effects of the confusion and distraction that your ego-personality has developed.
Right Effort will develop the qualities needed for liberation from stress and unhappiness. Engaging in Dhamma practice should not lead to harsh judgments on past behavior.
With the perspective of Right View, Right Effort is an intentional change in the way your thoughts, words and deeds affect your development of understanding. Right Effort is the mindful turning point from conditioned reaction to the people and events of your life to being mindfully and dispassionately present with what is occurring. Right Effort develops a mindful and skillful presence arising from developing wisdom.
A mindful and dispassionate quality of mind is not aloof disengagement from the people and events of life. Dispassionate mindfulness is being fully present with whatever arises without discriminating thoughts of craving, clinging, avoidance, or aversion.
The Eightfold Path is not a sequential training, beginning at Right View and ending at Right Meditation. The foundation of understanding begins with Right View and progresses through the next seven factors. As understanding develops, all eight factors of the path are integrated into your life as a cohesive Dhamma practice.
Right Effort also refers to the practical development of the remaining two concentration factors of the path.
Right Effort is developing a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Buddha. The implication here is that wrong effort is being distracted by activities or teachings that create confusion and further the establishment of ego-centered views.
You are engaged in Right Effort in your study of the Dhamma. Right Effort is the mindful effort to develop the entire Eightfold Path.
“One efforts to abandon wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, wrong, action, wrong livelihood, wrong mindfulness and wrong meditation and develop Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation. This is one’s Right Effort.” (Samyutta Nikaya 45.8)
Right Effort also refers to organizing one’s life for Dhamma practice. Organizing time for meditation practice and quiet time is Right Effort. Engaging in a meditation practice that develops tranquility and insight is Right Effort. Right Effort is being a supportive member of a sangha that maintains focus on The Four Noble Truths, if possible. Right Effort is effort spent understanding and developing The Four Noble Truths.
Developing the path leading to the cessation of dukkha is Right Effort.
The Buddha describes Right Effort succinctly:
“Abandon what is unskillful (craving and clinging) and develop what is skillful (The Eightfold Path). If it were not possible to abandon what is unskillful and develop what is skillful, I would not teach this. If it were harmful to abandon what is unskillful and develop what is skillful, I would not teach this. Apply your efforts to develop what is skillful.” (Anguttara Nikaya 2.19)
“Be mindful of wrong effort and enter and remain in Right Effort.” This is the task associated with Right Effort.
The focus of your thoughts will determine experience. Thoughts preoccupied with clinging, craving and aversion will lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts well-concentrated on mindfulness of the Dhamma will bring lasting peace and happiness.
Distracted thoughts focused on fleeting desires, achievements, and acquisitions can only lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts and actions that create additional self-identities, even altruistic self-identities, can only lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts that establish and reinforce the ego-personality in any manner, in any realm ,can only lead to more distraction, confusion and stress.
This includes the modern “Buddhist” concepts of an inner Buddha-nature, achieving Buddhahood, or rituals and practices engaged in with the intention for more favorable experiences and rebirths.
These are concepts introduced in the later-developed Buddhist religions that adapted the Buddha’s teachings to accommodate individual and cultural influences. Often, continued establishment of the ego-self, continued I-making, is the result of these accommodations.
Mindfulness in the context of The Four Noble Truths is to abandon the distraction of stress arising from craving clinging, and remain focused on The Eightfold Path. Mindfulness of the entire Eightfold Path develops understanding that will end the confusion and suffering born of ignorance of The Four Noble Truths.
Many useful applications of mindfulness have been developed. Some applications of mindfulness techniques have greatly enhanced the health field in dealing with pain and stress. There is no need to abandon any mindfulness technique for specific health issues as long as they do not reinforce your ego-personality.
It is not skillful to equate the mindfulness of the Dhamma with modern applications of mindfulness. The generally stated purpose of modern mindfulness techniques is to manage mental and physical pain, and stress. Mindfulness techniques when applied in this context are often successful in achieving this purpose.
The mindfulness of the Dhamma is to develop understanding of The Four Noble Truths and the complete cessation of stress.
Mindfulness is to recollect or to hold in mind.
- Be mindful to abandon wrong view and enter and remain in Right View
- Be mindful to abandon wrong intention and enter and remain in Right Intention
- Be mindful to abandon wrong speech and enter and remain in Right Speech
- Be mindful to abandon wrong action and enter and remain in Right Action
- Be mindful to abandon wrong livelihood and enter and remain in Right Livelihood
- Be Mindful to abandon wrong effort and enter and remain in Right Effort
- Be mindful to abandon wrong mindfulness and enter and remain in Right Mindfulness
- Be Mindful to abandon wrong meditation and enter and remain in Right Meditation (Samyutta Nikaya 45.8)
These are the tasks associated with Right Mindfulness.
The refined mindfulness that is so effective in developing the entire Eightfold Path is simply to remain mindful of the Eightfold Path as your life unfolds, moment by moment.
Holding in mind the Eightfold Path is bringing the framework of the Eightfold Path into your life. As the path becomes integrated into your life, your life becomes an expression of heightened wisdom, heightened virtue, and heightened concentration.
The result of your Right Effort is a life of lasting peace and happiness.
Right Meditation – Right Concentration
You have been using Shamatha-Vipassana meditation throughout this course. As you have progressed you have begun to develop understanding of The Four Noble Truths and integrate the supportive framework of the Eightfold Path.
The Buddha taught that Right Meditation was Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practiced within the supportive framework of the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path provides the proper application of deepening concentration and refined mindfulness.
It is important here to remember that the purpose of The Eightfold Path is to understand unhappiness and stress and abandon clinging, craving, desire and aversion. To that end the Buddha taught a very simple and very profound and effective meditation practice.
Prior to settling on Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, the Buddha studied with the foremost meditation teachers of his time. He was taught and practiced the most advanced meditation techniques.
These techniques developed mind-states of nothingness and non-perception, still common meditation practices today. The Buddha found these techniques to lack the intention and framework necessary to develop understanding and cessation.
He found them lacking in developing a tranquil mind that would support gaining insight into impermanence, stress and the ego-self.
The Buddha found them all ineffective in developing Samadhi, a non-distracted quality of mind.
The Buddha found them lacking in developing knowledge of The Four Noble Truths.
Right Meditation will quickly develop two conditions that are essential to achieving the understanding of stress and the cessation of stress. These two conditions are Shamatha and Vipassana. Shamatha means serenity or tranquility, a quiet mind. A quiet and non-reactive mind is a mind resting in equanimity. Vipassana means insight. This is not an analytical type of insight but a dispassionate mindfulness of the true nature of stress, impermanence and the ego-personality within the framework of the Eightfold Path and in the context of The Four Noble Truths.
What you think, what is generated in your mind, is what you will experience. This is why quieting your mind and gaining insight into thoughts and thought constructs is so effective in developing understanding and wisdom.
Awareness into the confusing, impermanent, and delusional nature of your conditioned mind is the “insight” gained in vipassana. Always preceded by shamatha, a tranquil mind, you are able to be mindful of your conditioned thinking and put your conditioned thinking aside. Nothing else needs to be done or should be done with these fragments of conditioned thinking.
Conditioned thinking causes wrong perception or wrong view, which causes an unskillful reaction. This reaction creates further conditioned thinking. By using the insight gained by Shamatha-Vipassana you are able to recognize and let go of reaction and interrupt the cycle of discursive thinking.
No further analysis of your reactive thoughts or feelings is necessary, or even effective in breaking this pattern. Analysis of conditioned thinking during meditation can often strengthen reactive thinking.
Using any meditation practice to change the ego-self or seek pleasant mind states or mystical experiences will create more conditioned thinking. One can spend eternity in this pursuit, constantly creating the perception of change and understanding and never realizing a peaceful and non-distracted mind.
The purpose of shamatha-vipassana meditation is to put aside all conditioned mind states. Within the framework of The Eightfold Path, shamatha-vipassana meditation will develop Samadhi and profound and useful insight.
A mind easily distracted will be unable to recognize conditioned mind states. Conditioned mind arises and is reinforced by discriminating thoughts of craving and clinging to what brings pleasure, and aversion to disappointment, pain and suffering.
Shamatha-Vipassana meditation quickly develops the concentration necessary to recognize discursive and delusional thinking. Recognition of discursive and delusional thinking allows for the possibility of putting aside the cause of the stress and confusion that would otherwise continue to generate endless conditioned mind states.
Samadhi is a fundamental quality of mind that is essential to developing understanding of The Four Noble Truths. Developing understanding of The Four Noble Truths brings lasting peace and happiness. Samadhi means unwavering concentration. Samadhi is a non-distracted quality of mind that is developed through The Eightfold Path.
The Buddha identified the most basic human difficulty as dukkha. Dukkha is a pervasive and continually reoccurring phenomenon arising from ignorance and continued by craving and clinging.
Due to a belief and attachment to an ego-personality a distracted mind will constantly seek experiences that bring sense-pleasures and constantly avoid that which diminishes pleasure or brings disappointment and unhappiness. Not-Self or the ego-personality craves constant sensory stimulation. Often even momentary interruption to sensory stimulation brings an unsettled quality of mind known as boredom. Much of life is spent in activity simply to avoid boredom.
A significant difficulty in beginning a shamatha-vipassana meditation practice is boredom. Boredom is your ego-personality’s need for constant sensory fulfillment not being fulfilled. When boredom arises in your mind simply acknowledge that boredom has arisen and return your mindfulness to your breath. This directly interrupts your conditioned mind’s need for constant stimulation.
This need for constant stimulation is the distraction of dukkha. The Buddha understood that the continual reestablishment of the ego-personality in every thought maintains stress and unhappiness. The preoccupation with dukkha prevents lasting peace and happiness.
The Buddha considered carefully how he could teach this understanding. He taught The Four Noble Truths as a way to develop wisdom and understanding.
To reiterate, the purpose of shamatha-vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path is to put aside the distraction of dukkha and develop Samadhi, a non-distracted quality of mind, and insight into impermanence, not-self, and stress.
The Buddha taught Samadhi in numerous Suttas, always describing the result of Samadhi. What is clear in all these teachings is the quality of mind the Buddha describes. These are qualities of an awakened mind fully present in the phenomenal world.
“Wise & mindful, you should develop immeasurable concentration. When, wise & mindful, one has developed immeasurable concentration, five realizations arise right within oneself. Which five?
“The realization arises within oneself that ‘This concentration is blissful in the present and will result in bliss in the future.
“The realization arises within oneself that ‘This concentration is noble & not connected with the baits of the flesh.’
“The realization arises within oneself that ‘This concentration is not obtained by base people.
“The realization arises within oneself that ‘This concentration is peaceful, exquisite, the acquiring of serenity, the attainment of unity, not kept in place by the fabrications of forceful restraint.
“The realization arises within oneself that ‘I enter into this concentration mindfully, and mindfully I emerge from it.
“Wise & mindful, you should develop immeasurable concentration. When wise & mindful, one has developed immeasurable concentration, these five realizations arise within oneself.” (Anguttara Nikaya 5.27
Mindfulness, as it relates to an awakened mind, is described here. One enters into Samadhi with mindfulness AND emerges from Samadhi with mindfulness. This means that deep concentration is developed with Right Mindfulness and that Right Mindfulness remains during the day-to-day mundane activities of life.
This last answers the question of what becomes of the ego-personality upon awakening. The ego-personality, or Not-Self, is let go of, often called unbinding. A now fully-awakened human being remains mindful moment-by-moment, free of the distraction of dukkha.
In response to a question by Punnaka, a monk in the Sangha, regarding how to arrive “at the far shore” of awakening the Buddha again spoke of developing a non-distracted quality of mind:
“Friends, these are the four developments of concentration. Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now.
“There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision.
“There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness.
“There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of stress and unhappiness.
“And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now? One remains ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding in the here & now.” (Anguttara Nikaya 4.41)
Here again the Buddha is describing the quality of an awakened mind, a mind settled in equanimity abiding with mindfulness of life as life occurs and within the context of The Four Noble Truths. By putting aside the cause of the distraction of dukkha one develops lasting peace and happiness.
“Friends, develop concentration. A concentrated mind discerns in line with what has come into being. And what does he discern in line with what has come into being? The origination & disappearance of feeling, the origination & disappearance of perception, origination & disappearance of fabrications, the origination & disappearance of consciousness.
“In short the origination & disappearance of the five clinging-aggregates (the ego-personality).” (Samyutta Nikaya 22.5)
The Five Clinging Aggregates are explained in week eight.
Insight is recognizing conditioned thinking and the impermanence of all things including thoughts. Being mindful of the breath brings tranquility which allows for recognition of distraction and discursive thinking. Refined mindfulness is the ability to dispassionately maintain Right View and to remain in a non-distracted mind state.
Your ego-self, what the Buddha teaches is anatta, not a self, constantly seeks to establish itself in every object, event, view, or idea that occurs. As all objects, events, views, and ideas are impermanent and unsatisfactory, constant distraction becomes the remedy for the underlying unsatisfactory nature of life. This is dukkha.
A well-concentrated mind resting in dispassionate mindfulness seeks nothing and remains free of distraction driven by the needs of an ego-personality. This is the end of craving and clinging. This is an awakened mind.
Establishing and maintaining shamatha-vipassana meditation within the framework of The Eightfold Path will develop lasting happiness and peace.
Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is a simple method with profound and transformative results. It is a method that anyone can integrate into their lives. Within the framework of The Eightfold Path, shamatha-vipassana meditation will develop the insight necessary to put aside all delusional and discursive thinking.
The Eightfold Path is the framework for putting aside the distractions caused by desire. It is the distraction and confusion arising from clinging that perpetuates dukkha and blocks awakening.
This simple though profound practice of developing heightened wisdom, heightened virtue and heightened concentration is the most precious teaching of the world’s most insightful thinker.
“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right meditation.” (Samyutta Nikaya 56.11)
Remember, with Shamatha-Vipassana meditation you are not seeking a trance-like state or an avoidance of thinking. You are not attempting to develop a mind-state of “nothingness.” While it is possible to set an intention to use meditation to manipulate a mind-state of nothingness, nothingness is a mind-state similar to unconsciousness. This mind-state may even seem pleasant as it is an escape from what is occurring.
There is no useful development of insight into The Four Noble Truths or Impermanence, Not-Self, and Stress from a mind-state of nothingness, or similar mind-states. Useful and effective insight is developed with Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path.
The purpose of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is primarily to develop concentration. Every time you find yourself caught up in your thinking and then return your mindfulness to your breath you are interrupting conditioned thinking and deepening concentration.
The wisdom of The Eightfold Path, beginning with Right View and Right Intention, supported by virtuous behavior, develops heightened Samadhi. A non-distracted mind is a mind at peace. A mind at peace, free of the constant need to maintain an ego-personality abides in lasting happiness.
Right Meditation is informed and supported by the other seven factors of The Eightfold Path. Samadhi is the quality of mindfulness that rests in the understanding of The Four Noble Truths.
Developing samadhi, non-distraction, using Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path is the task associated with Right Meditation.
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.