Friday, January 31, 2014

An 8-Step Path to Reducing Suffering

"Each step along the Buddha’s path to happiness requires practicing mindfulness until it becomes part of your daily life. Mindfulness is a way of training yourself to become aware of things as they really are. With mindfulness as your watchword, you progress through the eight steps laid down by the Buddha more than twenty-five hundred years ago—a gentle, gradual training in how to end dissatisfaction."

- Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, “Getting Started” (Tricycle, Fall 2001)
Buddhism begins with the Four Noble Truths, as revealed to the Buddha in his moment of enlightenment, the first of which is that life is infused with suffering.
1. The Noble Truth of the reality of Dukkha as part of conditioned existence. Dukkha is a multi-faceted word. Its literal meaning is "that which is difficult to bear". It can mean suffering, stress, pain, anguish, affliction or unsatisfactoriness. Each of the English words is either too strong or too weak in their meaning to be a universally successful translation. 
2. The Noble Truth that Dukkha has a causal arising. This cause is defined as grasping and clinging or aversion. On one hand it is trying to control anything and everything by grabbing onto or trying to pin them down, On the other hand it is control by pushing away or pushing down and running away or flinching away from things. It is the process of identification through which we try to make internal and external things and experiences into "me and mine" or wholly '"other" than Me. 
3. The Noble Truth of the end of Dukkha, which is Nirvana or Nibbana. Beyond grasping and control and conditional existence is Nirvana. "The mind like fire unbound." The realisation of Nirvana is supreme Bodhi or Awakening. It is waking up to the true nature of reality. It is waking up to our true nature. Buddha Nature. The Pali Canon of Theravada, the foundational Buddhist teachings, says little about Nirvana, using terms like the Unconditioned the Deathless, and the Unborn. Mahayana teachings speak more about the qualities of Nirvana and use terms like, True Nature, Original Mind, Infinite light and Infinite life. Beyond space and time. Nirvana defies definition.

4. The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to Awakening. The path is a paradox. It is a conditioned thing that is said to help you to the unconditioned. Awakening is not "made" by anything: it is not a product of anything including the Buddha's teachings. Awakening, your true nature is already always present. We are just not awake to this reality. Clinging to limitation, and attempts to control the ceaseless flow of phenomena and process obscures our true nature.
This fourth truth, the path of awakening, is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. In my 20+ years as a Buddhist, I have found that simply trying to live according to these eight basic ideas is more than enough practice to increase happiness, decrease suffering, and make me more compassionate.

Here is one version of the 8-Step Path, organized into three basic categories of living - wisdom, moral discipline, and concentration.
1. right view
2. right intention
Moral discipline
3. right speech
4. right action
5. right livelihood
6. right effort
7. right mindfulness
8. right concentration
One need not be a Buddhist to benefit from these 8 Steps. Anyone can make an effort to change their perspective, purify their intention, develop right (skillful, as opposed to unskillful) speech, action, and livelihood, and increase skillful effort, mindfulness, and concentration. None of these foci require that someone give up the faith of their family or culture.

If you would like to learn more about these ideas, the links above offer a lot of information. One can also read The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi, which is available for free online.

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