Finding Your Way – The Eightfold Path
Summary: Sathi outlines the Eightfold Path showing how each steps works with the others and highlighting the negative and positive approaches to each step.
To practice the Eightfold Path, you don’t have to claim yourself as a Buddhist. You only have to be a human being. Any human being can practice this and experience the results.
[Sathi] Today I already have my topic. So you don’t have to think hard. [laughing] Often we mentioned the Eightfold Path related to meditation and mindfulness practice. It is one of the basics of the Buddhist way of life, following the Eightfold Path. Some people call it the Middle Path. That is the topic for today.
The first step of this path is Harmonious Understanding. A common English translation is Right Understanding.
When you talk about understanding, it is about understanding our experiences, our sense experiences. Anything you experience in day-to-day life. When we try to understand something, we don’t see things as they are. We see or recognize with our own interpretation, our own ideas. Our own way of describing. That doesn’t allow us to see what is there.
As an example, if you hear a cellphone ringing during the meditation, or if you hear a bird during the meditation. Think about the difference in your response. Even if you happen to have a bad fellow meditator who keeps talking to another person during the meditation. Think about what is happening to you. There we make a judgment. If you happen to hear a cellphone ringing, you will say, “Don’t these people know how to shut off their phones?” You simply blame that person. But, what is [the actual] experience? You are [simply] hearing a sound.
Why do we respond differently from a cellphone and a bird [singing]? Because the bird is beyond our control. But when your friend is losing the responsibility, then you are blaming. That is why the cellphone ringing at the wrong time makes you uncomfortable.[Here is another example.] If you are expecting a phone call from somebody you really want to talk to, think about how fast you are jumping to the phone. If you are receiving a call from someone you hate, you don’t really want to answer the phone call. Think about how hard you push the phone away. But, what is your [actual] sense experience? You are only hearing a sound. But, you don’t hear a sound. You hear your concept.
When you see something you don’t see it. Think, you are seeing a picture. Think about looking at a group picture that has you in it. Where do you look first? You look at yourself first. Then, you are judging, “Oh, I’m not good here. We should delete this picture.” You don’t see anybody else in that picture. Most of the time you are seeing yourself. If it is a good shot, you will keep that picture. You don’t care how the other people look. As long as you look good, “Okay, this is a good picture.” [meditators chuckling]
So, do we [truly] see the picture? No, we don’t see it. We see the concept.
Harmonious Understanding will help you recognize this. How you are interpreting all these sense experiences. How do you bring yourself and your own ideas? You are trying to engage with something that isn’t there. If you don’t have Harmonious Understanding, you are always engaging in something which is not there. That is why some translations say, the Wrong Understanding and the Right Understanding.
See and understand things as they are.
If you have a Right or Harmonious Understanding, you will have harmonize thoughts. Right or Healthful Thoughts.
What is the meaning of other thoughts? Not Harmonious? Those thoughts involve with greed, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, all of those emotions. If you have [these types of] thoughts they will mislead you. You will not have clear thoughts. Your thoughts will be contaminated with things that are not helpful.
Think about how we describe things in the world, in your day-to-day life. That makes who you are. We judge others or ourselves. Think about how much we are defending our own way of thinking. How we defend our anger. Our greed. When we are defending it, we don’t see it. You will have thoughts to support [your current way of thinking].
Again, thoughts are the production of your mind, your Self. You don’t have somebody else’s thoughts. You have your thoughts. Sometimes even your thoughts are [inaudible]. When you talk about anxiety or fear, that is yours. It is generated in your mind, not somebody else’s mind. Anger, is generated in your mind, not in somebody else’s mind. Sometimes not only you can control your own feelings or thoughts. Even those thoughts are harmful to you.
Can you shut off your thoughts? No. But, you can redirect your thoughts.
Going a little beyond, the second step is not thought, beyond` thought: intention. Harmonious Intention.
You can see how intention is a foundation for your thoughts, actions, and your talk (verbal actions). If you have a harmonious intention, you will have harmonious thoughts and actions.
If you have Harmonious Understanding and Harmonious Intentions, then, of course, the next step would be Harmonious Speech.
Think about your speech. What do you say most of the time with your friends? With others? Most of the time we speak about useless things. Not all the time, but, [talking useless] doesn’t do anything.
We are living in a society that appreciates this useless talk. That’s okay. But, do it by knowing. Don’t get caught up in this. Especially think about how not to use harmful speech. Expressing anger and fear.
Think about what politicians do. They are simply promoting anger and fear. Whenever they can make someone fearful or angry, it is a win for the politician. They always create fear against their opposition supporters. They plant anger in their [own] supporters.
That is what speaking [unharmoniously] can do.
Going beyond, think about how much time we waste because of our useless or gossip. Most of the time in our society we have value for that. That is why we keep doing it. We get caught up in it. We don’t like silence. We want to break the silence with anything.
As a mindful person, you will start to stay away from unharmonious speaking. Especially not promoting anger, greed, hatred, or frustration. You don’t [want] to harm anybody verbally. You don’t abuse anyone.
There are a few categories we talk about with Harmonious Speech. Harsh words, swear words, gossip, and angry words.
That is the third step of this practice.
If you can establish Harmonious Understanding, Intention, and Speech, then what is happening to your life? What type of person are you becoming? You [are becoming] very mindful of yourself. As a mindful person, you will have a harmonious lifestyle. Because of your lifestyle, you will not harm anyone else directly or indirectly.
You won’t harm anyone in your family, directly or indirectly, including yourself. Because you don’t belong to yourself, even though you think you belong to yourself. If you belong to yourself, you should be able to control everything. You should be able to control your birth, aging, and the way your body is changing. That is why in the world suicide is commonly recognized as a crime.
Therefore, you need to take care of yourself, as well. You have to be compassionate for yourself. You don’t have permission to destroy yourself. As a mindful person, you have to take care of yourself.
This is considered as the fourth step of this Eightfold Path, Harmonious Livelihood
The fifth step is Harmonious Career. Sometimes people choose a career which can be harmful to some other living beings. Directly talking about selling weapons, drugs, and medication to kill others. Slavery. Today, slavery is not happening but it there is still human trafficking happening. Selling or raising animals for meat.
Those are the five types of businesses that are discussed in the Buddhist teachings not to do.
When you talk about career you have to think. Is this really my career. Because I’m choosing to support myself, is it really destroying or indirectly or directly harming other living beings? Because when you have strong mindfulness, you will not choose something that you don’t give value to.
All of those things are supported by Harmonious Effort. This is about using your mindfulness to recognize the good things you are doing. You use Harmonious Effort to support and cultivate those good things you are doing. Maintain it and cultivate it.
The second stage, you are finding the other good things you can do and you are introducing those new actions [to your life].
This is the positive side in two different stages: maintaining and introducing.
The third stage, what are the things you are doing that are harmful to you or others. You are making an effort not to maintain [these actions]. Without effort, it will not happen automatically.
The example, that we discussed earlier, smoking. Even though one of you said that you know that it is bad for you, but, you are trying your best. Even when you know that it is bad. But, we can recognize it.
When you talk about noble friends, they always encourage you to do good. Noble friends will not say, “Oh yeah, that’s okay. It is okay to do it now.” That’s not the word of a Noble Friend. Noble Friends are always encouraging you not to support your weaknesses.
The fourth stage is not to introduce any negative things into your life. Even though you have had them introduced you are making an effort not to do them. [Knowing ] that that is not a good action for a person like me. You stay away from [those negative things]. Maybe it is coming from a very good friend. Still, you are trying to stay away from [those things].
The seventh one is Harmonious Mindfulness. When you talk about mindfulness, is it really harmonious mindfulness? Is there wrong mindfulness? Yes. Mindfulness is not always good.
There might be somebody who is mindfully stealing. [laughing] Without mindfulness you cannot break [into] a bank, right? You have to be really mindful. Without mindfulness, there are a lot of things we do mindfully that can be harmful to you or harmful to others.
People often say, “My meditation is working.” That isn’t considered Harmonious Mindfulness. That might bring you comfort, swimming, horseback riding, fishing. (Directly fishing is harming another living being.) But, in Minnesota, hunting is a big thing. Right? You take a picture holding a big fish, proudly frame that picture. Not only you, but your mother and father are very proud of you because now you can catch a fish. [meditators chuckling]. This is okay for 200 years ago. At that time you only survived by hunting. But now, you don’t have to hunt to be a provider.
Harmonious Mindfulness is the practice that allows you to purify your inside. Upgrade yourself. Bringing you more happiness which you won’t even blame in the future. Think of your past actions. Sometimes, while you are doing it, you are very happy. But, later, you [have] regret. It may be criticized by your wife. Criticized by others. While you are doing it, you feel like a big person. You are a wonderful person. You are respected. You become a popular person by doing it. But, later, even you will blame yourself. That’s because of harmful mindfulness.
Harmonious Mindfulness will keep you on the path and allow you to cultivate yourself.
The eighth step of the path is Harmonious Tranquility. There are people who try to lose themselves or who think they are going into a trance, or living in a happy moment, being a happy being by doing something strange. Eating some strange food, or using drugs. They simply lose themselves. But, there is a pleasure in it. Even some people use that tranquility [by saying] “I am having a tranquil mind.”
That is not a Harmonious Tranquil mind. A Harmonious Tranquil mind, you are very much aware of it. It is the next step beyond Harmonious Mindfulness. Harmonious Tranquility can only be accessed through meditation.
Sometimes, after meditation, people will say, “I had a very good meditation today. I am very calm, and feel joyful.” What is that? Then, the next time people come to meditation by thinking of that experience. They want to have the same experience again. I have heard some people say, “Bhante, today, with my meditation, I got into that very sweet place. Very happy place. How can I get into that place again?”
That’s the result of your practice. You need to go back to basics again and maintain it. Keep having that state of mind until you get familiar [with it]. Then, once you get familiar you will get into that place quicker because that is something that you are gaining or have accumulated.
That is called Harmonious Tranquility.
Those are the eight steps that we can practice and maintain. We call it the Eightfold Path. To practice this, you don’t have to claim yourself as a Buddhist or Buddhism doesn’t matter. Only you to be a human being. Any human being can practice this and experience the same.
That’s the Eightfold Path.
So, I wish, may you be able to follow that Path. May you have experienced the result in your life by following this path.
Thank you very much for being here today. Thank you.
The Noble Eightfold Path
- Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
- Right thought (Samma sankappa)
- Right speech (Samma vaca)
- Right action (Samma kammanta)
- Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
- Right effort (Samma vayama)
- Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
- Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
These eight areas are not meant to be followed and practiced one after the other in the numerical order. Instead, use them together, as much as possible, based on who you are as a person and who you want to be. Each of these areas folds into the others forming a circle of full living.
You can read more about the Eightfold Path on the Tricycle website (https://tricycle.org/magazine/noble-eightfold-path), a popular Buddhist resource.
Recorded on March 2, 2020 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mankato, Minnesota.
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