The Noble Eightfold Path

Dharmachakra

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes represented symbolically as the eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel. And just like each spoke of a wheel does not work on its own, completely independently and in isolation from the rest, but rather they all act together as a support for the entire wheel, so too, each step on the Noble Eightfold Path acts in conjunction with the rest as a support in ones life for the Dharma. Remove one spoke and the wheel is not as strong. Remove several spokes and the wheel may even collapse. They are all equally important. To follow the Noble Eightfold Path means to be mindful of each of these ‘spokes’ or steps, to put them into practice, day in and day out. Gradually, over time, if we persist, each area of our lives will become more in line with the Dharma until ultimately we are free of suffering and liberated from the unsatisfactory nature of samsara.

The Noble Eightfold Path has been further grouped into three sections, sometimes called the Three Higher Trainings. These are Wisdom, Ethical Conduct and Meditation. Right View and Right Intention are part of Wisdom. Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are part of Ethical Conduct. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are part of Meditation.  Continue reading

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The Four Noble Truths

Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddha Shakyamuni

It was Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince of the Shakya clan, child of King Shuddhodana and Queen Mayadevi, who became the Buddha, the Awakened One. There were many spiritual teachers before him and there have been many spiritual teachers that have come since. So what makes Gautama special? What makes him the Awakened One? To know this, one can examine the nature of the Buddha’s claims and see if there is any truth to them. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings, what he realized while meditating at the Bodhi Tree, is contained in the Four Noble Truths. These Four Noble Truths are:

The Truth of Suffering
This realization is easy to see, yet we attempt to mask it from ourselves all the time. That is part of the problem. The First Noble Truth is that there is suffering – the pain of birth, aging, sickness, death, association with the unpleasant, losing or not getting what we desire – all these are forms of suffering. This is part of everyday life.

The Truth of the Origin of Suffering
Suffering has a cause, an origin. The cause of all suffering is craving. This means desire to hold on to pleasurable things or experiences and to be rid of unpleasant things or experiences. This is further elucidated by the Three Poisons, which are ignorance, attachment and aversion.

The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
The Third Noble Truth is that suffering and its causes can cease. There is a way out of this mess. There is a possibility of complete and total liberation, an end to suffering.

The Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering
The Fourth Noble Truth is the path that leads to the end of suffering. This is called the Noble Eightfold Path.

Renunciation

Release

Renunciation is the root of liberation. It is the decision to be free from the repeating cycles of rebirth, sickness, old-age and death, to be free from the uncontrollably spinning wheel, to be free from samsara. Liberation becomes possible when renunciation has arisen in your awareness.

I learned from my teachers that one possible translation into English of the Tibetan word for renunciation is “definite emergence”. There is a sense of great urgency about renunciation. A metaphor that is sometimes used is that your renunciation—your decision to be free from samsara—should be as strong as if you were standing in a fire and wanted to get out of it. There is no debating (Do I want to get out? Maybe I will get out tomorrow?), it is direct, immediate, and determined. Sometimes this immediacy is described as being a ‘”spontaneous” motivation, meaning that it arises naturally and without obstruction. More often, renunciation is something that requires cultivation.

Deeply and carefully reflecting on the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward the Dharma—the precious human rebirth, impermanence and death, the nature of suffering, and karma—aids in the cultivation of renunciation. Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is only possible with renunciation, because you must first be determined to be free of suffering before you can actively and meaningfully embrace the Three Jewels as reliable supports for liberation. In addition, we need renunciation to be able to generate Bodhicitta, the Mind of Enlightenment, or the Great Compassion.