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What is the Eightfold Path?

By A.E. Jaquith
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Eightfold Path is a set of tenets created by Sidhartha Gautama, the founding father of Buddhism. Through the Eightfold Path one can reach enlightenment. It promotes a healthy mind and ethical compass, as well as wisdom.

The first tenet of the Eightfold Path is "right view." This teaches us that we must see things as they actually are, not as we wish them to be. By understanding the nature of objects and worldly thought, we are better able to make the right decisions.

The second concept of the Eightfold Path is "right intention." This concept deals with intellect and wisdom. By being adverse to violence or anger and avoiding physical and mental desire, one follows "right intention." When right view and right intention are combined, the teaching of wisdom is attained through the Eightfold Path.

The third tenet of the Eightfold Path, "right speech", deals with ethical conduct. By following right speech, one agrees not to lie, use harmful language to offend others, and not participate in meaningless conversation. Right speech is important to moral discipline, as Sidhartha Gautama realized the power words have over our lives, and the lives of others.

Continuing along the ethical avenue, "right action", the fourth tenet of the Eightfold Path, refers to using physical expression in a beneficial manner. Essentially, the Buddha stated that unwholesome actions can lead to an unhealthy mind, and vice versa. By not taking life, not stealing, and keeping sexual activity healthy and pure, one is following the path of right action.

"Right livelihood", the fifth tenet, teaches us that we should create our living in a peaceful, beneficial, and legal manner. The Buddha gave four activities that should be avoided. One should not make their living by selling weapons, living creatures, working as a butcher or operating a slaughterhouse, or sell poison (alcohol, drugs, etc).

In the Eightfold Path, intention is key. "Right effort" tells us that we must do things for the right reasons. Helping someone because it is the right thing to do is an example of right effort, whereas helping someone out of personal gain shows selfishness, and is therefore against the Eightfold Path.

By being mindful of our impressions of ideas and others, we follow "right mindfulness." Making initial judgments and perceptions is part of being human, but by being aware of how we perceive things, we can ensure that our perceptions are fair. The Buddha outlined four steps to attaining "right mindfulness." We must be aware of our body, the effect of the phenomena on our emotion, the effect on our state of mind, and and the nature of the phenomena itself.

The final aspect of the Eightfold Path, "right concentration", is sort of a culmination of the entire Path. Only by maintaining wholesome concentration during our meditations can we truly ensure that our thoughts and actions themselves are wholesome. By concentrating on the object or concept at hand, and devoting one's entire being to it, we can determine its true nature. By continuing this practice during meditation, it will eventually become second nature and subconscious.

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