Magga-Vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Path

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Introduction

In the Nagara Sutta [1] the newly awakened Siddhartha Gotama, now a Buddha, explains the path he discovered and then taught as the path to becoming free of ignorance and become Rightly Self-Awakened:

“In this way, I saw a timeless path to be traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones. And what is this timeless path traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones? Just this noble eightfold path:

Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation.”

The Eightfold Path is the Fourth Noble Truth, [2] the truth of the path developing the cessation of confused and deluded thinking ignorant of Four Noble Truths. It is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that results in all manner of distracting, disappointing, and unsatisfactory experiences.

“Timeless” refers to the timeless nature of these Four Truths. These Four Truths remain true throughout the unfolding of time. Ongoing ignorance requires a reference to linear time, a mind constantly reverberating between past experiences and future desires, distracted from what is occurring. (Thank You, Jen for this description!)

The Buddha awakened to Dependent origination which clearly states that from ignorance of Four Noble Truths all manner of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing suffering (Dukkha) arises. Everything the Buddha would teach for his forty-five-year teaching career was taught in the context of Dependent Origination [3] and Four Noble Truths to develop profound insight of Three Marks Of existence. [4]

The singular path the Buddha taught to overcome ignorance of Four Noble Truths is this Eightfold Path. Adapting, accommodating, embellishing, diminishing, or dismissing outright the Eightfold Path only results in a “spiritual” or “religious” practice that can only ignore an awakened human being’s teaching. This is a common,  subtle, and powerful strategy of a mind rooted in ignorance of these Four Truths to continue to ignore its own ignorance.

The simple and direct path that an awakened human being established as the “Heartwood of His Dhamma” brings a calm and peaceful mind, a mind resting in equanimity, to anyone who avoids distraction and wholeheartedly engages with the path.

The title of this sutta literally means Suffering-Analysis.

Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

The Analysis of the Eightfold Path Leading to Cessation of Suffering

Samyutta Nikaya 45.8

I have heard that at one time the Buddha was staying in Savatthi at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery.

There he addressed those assembled:

“Friends, I will now give you a detailed analysis of the Noble Eightfold Path. Listen mindfully.

This is the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Meditation

And what is Right View?

  • Knowledge with regard to stress
  • Knowledge with regard to the origination of stress
  • Knowledge with regard to the stopping of stress
  • Knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the stopping of stress

This, friends, is Right View.

And what is Right Intention?

  • Being mindful of the intention to recognize and abandon wrong views
  • Being mindful of the intention to remain free from ill will
  • Being mindful of the intention to remain harmless to all beings

This, friends, is Right Intention

And what is Right Speech?

  • Abstaining from lying
  • Abstaining from divisive speech
  • Abstaining from abusive speech
  • Abstaining from gossip
  • Abstaining from idle chatter

This, friends, is Right Speech.

And what is Right Action?

  • Abstaining from taking life
  • Abstaining from taking what is not freely given
  • Abstaining from sexual misconduct

This, friends, is Right Action.

And what is Right Livelihood?

  • Right Livelihood abandons dishonest livelihood.
  • Right Livelihood is honest Livelihood.

This, friends, is Right Livelihood.

And what is Right Effort?

  • Right Effort is effort developing the skillful desire and ongoing persistence to avoid unskillful qualities that are not present.
  • Right Effort is effort developing the skillful desire and ongoing persistence to to abandon unskillful qualities that are present
  • Right Effort is effort developing the skillful desire and ongoing persistence to  establish skillful qualities that are not yet present
  • Right Effort is effort developing the skillful desire and ongoing persistence to  end confusion and increase the full development of skillful qualities that are present

This, friends, is Right Effort.

And what is Right Mindfulness?

  • Right Mindfulness is remaining mindful of the body free of distraction, ardent, alert, and mindful of abandoning greed and reaction to worldly events.
  • Right Mindfulness is remaining mindful of feelings arising and passing away free of distraction, ardent, alert, and mindful of abandoning greed and reaction to worldly events.
  • Right Mindfulness is remaining mindful of mental qualities arising and passing away free of distraction, ardent, alert, and mindful of abandoning greed and reaction to worldly events.
  • Right Mindfulness is remaining mindful of the quality of mind arising and passing away free of distraction, ardent, alert, and mindful of abandoning greed and reaction to worldly events.

This, friends, is Right Mindfulness. [5]

And what is Right Meditation?

  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases and they withdraw from the need for sensual stimulation
  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases and they withdraw from unskillful mental qualities
  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases and they enter and remain in the first Jhana, the first level of meditative absorption, which is joyful engagement and pleasure in the Dhamma born from withdrawal, and accompanied by directed thought and mindful evaluation.
  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases and their directed thoughts and mindful evaluation quiets. They enter and remain in the second Jhana, the second level of meditative absorption, which is joyful engagement and pleasure born of deepening concentration free from directed thought and mindful evaluation and confident within.
  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases and their joyful engagement fades. Equanimity arises with mindfulness of pleasure in a mind united with the body. They enter the third Jhana. The wise know this as equanimous and mindful – a pleasant abiding.
  • For one who has developed Right Meditation their concentration increases, their mind rests in equanimity, neither pleasure nor pain have a footing. They enter and remain in the Fourth Jhana. Their mindfulness and equanimity is pure, free of wrong views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

This, monks, is Right Meditation.” [6]

This is what the Buddha declared. Those gathered were gratified and delighted at his words.

End Of Sutta

The  Buddha’s description of Right Meditation is a description of Jhnans. [7] Jhanas are ever-increasing levels of meditative absorption. Jhanas are often portrayed as extraordinary, almost mystical levels of meditative absorption achieved by only a very few “advanced” meditators. As seen here, Jhanas are ordinary, though profound levels of meditative absorption developed by any mediator engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation [8] within the framework outlined here – the framework of the Eightfold Path.

 

  1. Nagara Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths
  3. Dependent Origination
  4. Three Marks Of Existence
  5. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  6. Anapanasati Sutta – Breath-Awareness
  7. Jhanas
  8. Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation

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 Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, 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 contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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