Thoughts on the Path
// November 21st, 2007 // Buddhism
One of the tougher concepts of Buddhism for me to get a hold of (and one I’m still really working on) is what the Noble Eightfold Path is and how to incorporate that into day to day life. This is the 4th of the Four Noble Truths: that the Path leads to the end of dukkha. To simplify down, by practicing the Path, you can lead a life that no longer causes you suffering, and helps others to find the same happiness. It is one thing to read the eight different ideas. I can read them. I know what the words mean. But to truly understand the meaning of the concept, to translate that into a lifestyle, now that is another matter all together.
One of my more favorite Buddhist blogs these days is The Middle Way. They had a brief post on this subject a few days ago, and it has spurred me to explore deeper into this matter to try and better my own understanding. It is this that I would like to share with you. In all actuality, I must also acknowledge that of late, I have not been mindful of studies into these matters due to my own stresses, and that is the time when they are most important. Sometimes the greatest feeling is that brief moment of clarity you can achieve when you are having a trouble, and you are able, if for just a moment, to see ever grain of the issue. You understand how they go together, and how they are not meant as a hurdle to your development. It simply is what it is, nature keeping balance. You address it, and move along. Like jumping into a river, if you jump in and fail to swim, you drown. But if you work with the river, learn to use it and float with it, then it will carry you from the start to the finish with little assistance or interference from you. The water might be cold or turbulent at times, but fighting it or giving up is a quick path to failure.
Okay, before I get to far off into a philosophical discussion I’m not prepared to handle, let me get back on the course. I do not intend to go into an academic discussion of each fine point of the Noble Eightfold Path. There are plenty of resources that Google can turn up for that. Rather, I’d like to just sit and consider, and breakdown some parts that make me think. There are three main groups of principles: Wisdom, ethical conduct, and mental discipline. Together they weave a fine net of control over how you react to your environment. Each group has components: Right speech, right intention, right mindfulness, and the like. These are not “right” in the sense that there is something that is “wrong.” Generally no such polar opposites exist. The whole point of the Middle Way is that it is in between. “Right” is to imply something more neutral or balanced. To say all is right with the world does not mean that everything is perfect and Utopian, it means everything is in equilibrium, and behaving as it should. In that same vein we should interpret the “right” concepts of the Path.
I would like to look at Right Speech as a good example. It is one of the easier areas to affect, in my opinion. However, as most of my friends will attest (those dirty bastards, I mean…loyal, caring people), I can be rather crude when the time doesn’t call for it. I never say mean things, or bad things, with any level of seriousness. Always in jest. However, the principle of Right Speech would dictate that even in jest, I should not engage in it. Old habits die hard, and too often I hear the words “Michael, you are a bad Buddhist.” That is equally as much a joke usually, at my expense, but in reality it is very true. I must consider how a bystander might take something that I consider to be a joke. My friends know when to call my bluff, a stranger does not. Following the Path means being present in every moment, and that means considering everything around you, strangers and friends alike. I also lie a lot. Not to mislead people for the purpose of furthering an agenda, just to be an ass mostly. I’m always leading people astray with crazy stories of high school football glory and sisters locked in suitcases in the attic. I can be very convincing.
I have friends who have problems in their lives. This is probably not unlike many of you. We all know people that feel as if the world is against them. I wish to help them, but that can be hard when a person will not help themselves. You cannot be their sole support, and even with a good supporting cast it is often not enough without them understanding their role in helping themselves. To those of you that feel like things are against you, and that you can never get ahead, I direct you towards the principle of Right View. Right View is a wisdom discipline, one of the first you learn that teaches you the Four Noble Truths. I won’t go into those in detail now, but in Right View, you learn these Truths, which deal with suffering, why we have it, and how to end it. The idea of “view” can be looked at to also mean perspective, vision, or understanding. By having Right View, you can learn to understand your suffering, its source, and how to get past it. You see influences and the world around you, and you learn what it means to see things clearly. The key being that anyone is capable of this. We have that power, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. It takes patience, and work, and acceptance that there are hard answers from time to time. But at its core, a hard answer is still just one more response in a sea of responses that you will find and use over a lifetime. After time, you learn that answers and solutions no longer require modifiers like “hard” or “easy.” It simply is what it is.
I could go on a lot longer, but I’ll save that for later. I hope that this helps you out. Questions and comments are 100% welcome.