The Eightfold Path in Buddhism

Buddha Statue at Borobodur Temple in Indonesia

Having established the reality, cause, and end of suffering, in the final noble truth the Buddha taught his disciples the eight-step path to awakening. Because they represent the actions and comportment of one who lives in accord with the dharma, these eight aspects of Buddhist practice are described as “wise,” “skillful,” “correct,” or simply, “right.”

  • Right View: A true understanding of how reality and suffering are intertwined.
  • Right Resolve: The aspiration to act with correct intention, doing no harm.
  • Right Speech: Abstaining from lying, and divisive or abusive speech.
  • Right Action: Acting in ways that do not cause harm, such as not taking life, not stealing, and not engaging in sexual misconduct.
  • Right Livelihood: Making an ethically sound living, being honest in business dealings.
  • Right Effort: Endeavoring to give rise to skillful thoughts, words, and deeds and renouncing unskillful ones.
  • Right Mindfulness: Being mindful of one’s body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities.
  • Right Concentration: Practicing skillful meditation informed by all of the preceding seven aspects.

This formulation of the Buddhist path to enlightenment appears in what is regarded as the Buddha’s first sermon after his enlightenment, the “Setting Forth the Wheel of Dharma.”

The Buddha argued that the middle way is the eightfold path, which, like the four truths, he calls “noble.”

These eight steps are considered to be of three types:

  1. right view and right resolve are related to our development of wisdom;
  2. right speech, right action, and right livelihood to ethical conduct;
  3. and right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration to meditation.

The noble eightfold path receives less discussion in Buddhist literature than do the four noble truths (of which they are, after all, a constituent). Indeed, in later formulations, the eight factors are presented not so much as a prescription for behavior but as eight qualities that are present in the mind of a person who has understood nirvana.

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