- Basic Buddhism
- A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching
- by Dr Victor A. Gunasekara
- CHAPTER 4
- 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
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
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
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.