Welcome to part 2 of our little mini series, Buddhism in Buriram.
As you may have seen in the last article, here in Buriram we are fortunate to be witness to the fascinating facets of Buddhist culture every day.
Monks rising early in the morning to receive the kind gift of food, colourful pageant style parades, intriguing rocket festivals and spectacularly beautiful lantern festivals, to name just a few.
In an effort to understand and explain all of this, last time we briefly covered what the spiritual purpose of following Buddhist philosophy actually is.
We saw that the purpose of Buddhism, according to its beliefs, is to enlighten the practitioner and release them from both worldly suffering and the eternal cycle of life and death.
Buddhism says this can be achieved through acceptance of their Four Noble Truths and following their Noble Eight Fold Path. Having already covered the Four Noble Truths in the last Buddhism in Buriram article, let’s now take a look at the Noble Eight Fold Path.
What Is The Eight Fold Path And What Does It Do?
The eight fold path (also known as the middle way) is a method for controlling one’s actions, thoughts and emotions.
It is believed that by controlling actions, thoughts and emotions a person can travel down the long road to enlightenment.
Broken into three different sections, the eight fold path encourages the pursuit of knowledge (wisdom), ethical conduct (decent behaviour), and the correct overall mentality (meditation) in this spiritual journey.
Part 1- Wisdom/Knowledge – How to Gain The Knowledge Needed For Enlightenment.
1) Right View – Also Thought Of As The Right Perspective, Or Right Outlook or Right Understanding.
In Buddhist philosophy, the “Right View” would be to accept the Four Noble Truths. To look at the world from the perspective of those Four Noble Truths is seen as the initial step in understanding the origin of human individual suffering and just as importantly how to end that suffering.
By continuing to practice the eight fold path this understanding would become deeper and deeper until full wisdom and enlightenment is attained.
2) Right Intention – Following The Eight Fold Path With The Correct Desire
Desire to keep changing and improving as an individual is the “Right Intention”. To aspire to do no harm to other living beings, to aspire to reject the material, and to follow the spiritual path. At the same time being aware of and using the Right View to help get you there.
So, to set on the spiritual path with the will and desire to keep going and continually refine yourself along the way until you get there is the “Right Intention”. If you don’t give up, and keep following the guidance provided you will get to enlightenment.
Part 2- Ethical Conduct – The Correct Behaviours Needed For Enlightenment
3) Right Speech – How To Use Your Words Effectively
Going much further than the Christian “Though shalt not bear false witness”, Right Speech provides an entire code of ethics around the way to use your words correctly.
- If words are to offend, don’t use them.
- If words are of no benefit, don’t use them.
- If words are divisive, don’t use them.
- If words are false, don’t use them.
- If words are abusive, don’t use them.
- Also there is a particular time and place for certain words even if those words are of praise or of benefit.
In this way it is told that the practitioner of the eight fold path, by choosing their words correctly and the time that they are spoken, helps create peace within their own mind as well as peace and calmness in the people surrounding them.
Peace and harmony are the solid foundations of the road to enlightenment.
4) Right Action – How To Act Appropriately And In an Unharmful Way
Three simple rules make up right action.
- Don’t kill anything (including animals).
- Don’t steal anything that isn’t rightfully yours.
- Don’t engage in sexual misconduct. That is don’t become physically involved with anyone too young or who is married already.
A fairly simple set of rules, however when putting them together with everything else in the Noble Eight Fold Path, a fairly complete method of behaviour is certainly provided.
5) Right Livelihood – How To Make a Living or Conduct Business In An Honest and Unharmful Way
Following a just and morally sound method of making money is the “Right Livelihood” In the pursuit of enlightenment, it is thought to be unfit to make money from any of the following.
- Arms or weapons sales or manufacture or anything intended to harm another.
- Human Trade – slaves, prostitution, or the buying or selling of children or adults.
- Meat – buying or selling dead animals, or breeding them for slaughter.
- Intoxicants – making or selling alcohol or any other intoxicating substances
- Poisons – selling or making anything designed to poison and kill
It seems making money is deemed perfectly fine but it’s they way you do it that really counts. Making a living in a peaceful, harmonious, unharmful way will continue to advance you along the road to Nirava and never ending happiness.
Part 3 – Concentration – How To Achieve The Correct Amount Of Focus And Awareness For Enlightenment
6) Right Effort – Also Called Right Endeavor or Right Diligence
On the route to enlightenment and Nirvana, the cultivation of the correct types of thought is seen as another crucial aspect.
Encouraging good thoughts and preventing and or getting rid of bad thoughts is the end goal. Good thoughts are those that are useful to the practitioner and others around them.(Kindness, compassion, patience, stillness etc). Bad thoughts are of course the opposite. Jealousy, greed or wishing to exploit or harm others are some examples.
Thought is seen to be the beginnings of both words and actions. If the practitioner can control their thoughts to be good and kind then the others (words and actions) should follow as good and kind also. A nice little summary of the process is this:
- Prevent yourself having bad thoughts that you have not had already
- Let go of or throw out bad thought that you have already or have had in the past
- Encourage good thoughts that you have not had yet to emerge
- Nurture and encourage the good thoughts that you already have or have had in the past
By getting rid of bad thoughts and encouraging good ones the practitioner is also nurturing a peaceful and harmonious demeanor. This is all good material for that continued journey to outside of the physical realm and into Nirvana.
7) Right Mindfulness – Also Known As Right Awareness, Or Right Memory, Or Right Attention
How to have the correct level of awareness for enlightenment, is the purpose of Right Mindfulness. Nurturing the ability to stay here in the moment, right now. To be aware, but not to judge. To be present but not too involved. That is the clever plan.
To literally be a detached observer of all that is going in inside you and all that is going on outside of you. To be still and aware of all the body’s senses, but again with a sense of detachment.
To be still and aware of your surroundings with a sense of observing rather than being a part of it. To be still and calm, without distress or greed. For there only to be now, no past and no future. All the time observing with stillness and calmness within.
It is said that through the cultivation of this state of awareness, the detached observer of the present moment, can start to remove themselves from many of the ails of the physical world.
Stress, worry and anxiety are to disappear. No anticipation about the future exists, no regret of the past exists and no judgment of the present either. In this manner, the practitioner is released from attachments that an ordinary person may have to the past, future or present experience.
Another piece in the puzzle of enlightenment is hence complete.
8) Right Concentration – The Final Piece Of The Puzzle
The subject of much debate, Right Concentration is thought by some Buddhist teachers to be experienced as a consequence of mastering the other seven Noble Truths. Others say it is an integral part of The Noble Eight Fold Path that requires it’s own practice and refinement alongside all the others.
Debate aside, the acquisition of a state of concentration where joy and sorrow are not experienced is the “Right Concentration”. There is no desire or bad thoughts. There is an inner peace and tranquility and the practitioner feels at one with the world and universe.
Traditionally the pursuit of this mental state has been practiced by using various methods. By concentrating on one specific object, by focusing on breathing, or by chanting Buddhist mantras. What perhaps we might call meditation.
All of those methods are an attempt to get into the correct meditative/mental state. A state where an individual is free from all of our worldly human sufferings and thoughts.
Buddhist philosophy holds that, if the practitioner can achieve this correct meditative state along with all other seven Noble Truths, enlightenment and it’s consequent escape from the cycle of life, death and suffering will be attained.
At which point of course —————— Nirvana is yours!
So its seems it’s not that easy after all to get to Nirvana. A very complex set of thought, action, and knowledge criteria must be fulfilled before the Buddhist can transcend the physical world with all it’s suffering and enter into the Nirvana state.
However, according to Buddhists texts, monks, and scholars if an individual is willing to accept the Four Noble Truths and then commit to the Noble Eight Fold Path while continually refining their thought, speech and actions they will eventually achieve this wonderful heavenly state.