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Basic Buddhism
A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching
by Dr Victor A. Gunasekara

The Buddhist Path

The Buddha's path of practice is called the Noble Eightfold path. The eight components of this path, as presented in traditional order, could be briefly described as follows:


1. Right View (Understanding).

This is the right way of interpreting and viewing the world. It involves the realisation of the three signata in all phenomena, and of the Four Noble Truths as being applicable to the human condition. More generally it involves the abandonment of all dogmatically held wrong views.


2. Right Intention (Thought).

The Buddha argued that all human thought and action spring from basic "intentions", "dispositions", or "roots", which are capable of deliberate cultivation, training and control. The three roots of wrong, unwholesome or "unskilful" action are: Greed, Aversion and Delusion. The right intention which the Buddhist path requires, is an intention which is free from these roots. The Buddha called the intention "that is free from greed and lust, free from ill-will, free from cruelty".


3. Right Speech.

Since speech is the most powerful means of communication, the Buddha emphasises the cultivation of right modes of speech. These have been described as avoiding falsehood and adhering to the truth; abstaining from tale-bearing and instead promoting harmony; refraining from harsh language and cultivating gentle and courteous speech; avoiding vain, irresponsible and foolish talk, and speaking in reasoned terms on subjects of value. Naturally right speech includes in the modern context right ways of communication whatever the medium used.


4. Right Action.

This refers to wilful acts done by a person, whether by body or mind. Under the former it involves such forms of ethical conduct as not killing (or harming) living beings, theft, sexual wrong-doing, etc. (14) On the positive side right action, also called wholesome deeds (kusalakamma), involves acts of loving-kindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), sympathetic joy (mudita), generosity (cāga), etc.


5. Right Livelihood.

This involves not choosing an occupation that brings suffering to others, e.g. trading in living beings (including humans), arms, drugs, poisons, etc.; slaughtering, fishing, soldiering, sooth-saying, trickery, usury, etc. This provides the economic blueprint for a truly Buddhist society.


6. Right Effort.

This has been described as "the effort of avoiding or overcoming evil and unwholesome things, and of developing and maintaining wholesome things" (Ńyānātiloka). Right effort enables an individual to cultivate the right frame of mind in order to accomplish the ethical requirements under right speech, right action and right livelihood. It is generally presented as a factor of mental training, enabling individuals to develop the sublime states of loving-kindness (mettā) compassion (karunā), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). However it has a general applicability and the effort could be directed to all wholesome activities.


7. Right Mindfulness.

This is the basic Buddhist technique of cultivating awareness. The classic sutta on the subject is the satipahāna sutta which will be considered briefly in the next chapter. Although viewed as a meditation component in fact right awareness has a wider applicability.


8. Right Concentration.

This is the concentration of mind associated with wholesome consciousness which could be achieved through the systematic cultivation of meditation. Progress along this line is indicated by the achievement of the different levels of "absorption" (jhānas). (15)

Of these eight components of the Path, the first two have usually been grouped under wisdom (pańńā), the next three under morality (sīla), and the last three under mental development (bhāvanā). This classification is not quite satisfactory, but it does present a broad grouping that is useful in many contexts.

The first of these components (right view) is generally considered the most important, but there is no particular order of importance when it comes to the others. However different traditions and exponents have put different degrees of stress on the different components. It will be seen that there is no single component of the path that can be called "meditation". However in course of time the component of mental development came to be regarded as meditation. In view of the importance attached to meditation, particularly in Western practice it is necessary to examine this subject in the special subsection. This is done in the following section.


Updated: 1-2-2001

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