Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Eightfold Path, In Order

The Eightfold Path is the outline for a buddhist's spiritual practice, encompassing views, techniques and actions. What I learned last night at Craig Swogger's lecture at Dharma Punx was that there is a general order in which it is executed. The Eightfold Path is typically grouped into three trainings:

1st Training -- Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
These steps have to do with one's external behaviors. One simplifies and purifies one's life not because a higher power commands it, but because leading a simple moral life where one lives responsibly and guilt-free creates a stable mental foundation for the practitioner in their spiritual practice.

2nd Training -- Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Effort
This second training pertains specifically to meditation technique. One becomes an expert at getting into, staying, and getting out of calm, blissful meditative states. This, along with the first training, gives the practitioner a stable mental foundation, which is very important because the 3rd and final training is the toughest to approach.

3rd Training - Right Orientation, Right Motivation
This final training is a shift in one's deep-seated paradigm for life, and includes changing one's essential motivations for living and one's views on reality. The buddhist view of reality is unflinching -- it includes the impermanence of all things, the insubstantiality of the self, and the Four Noble Truths which says that life is suffering caused by our clinging to ourselves and things that are impermanent. But it's not enough to give lip service to these beliefs, they need to be understood and felt deeply, which can cause great distress, or on the other extreme apathy, to someone who is untrained in meditation and undisciplined in their personal life. So the 1st and 2nd Trainings provide a foundation for realizing the 3rd Training.

When the beliefs and attitudes of the 3rd Training are held by one who is able to be happy and peaceful anyway because of one's mental and physical discipline, then one achieves a deep-rooted, untouchable peace and happiness that buddhism calls Enlightenment. After all, if one can learn to be happy and peaceful in a world one fully accepts as impermanent and insubstatial, then there's not much the world can do to make life anything other than happy and peaceful. It is a very difficult thing to do, but even if one doesn't achieve enlightenment, one can make his life pretty damn nice, whatever it may be.