Week Six

The Fourth Noble Truth

The path to the cessation of suffering can be presented in different ways. At times, it is simplified to ethics, meditation and wisdom. A life of ethical restraint provides the conditions for the calming of the mind which, in turn, allows us to see clearly and cultivate wisdom. The path can also be presented as having the eight aspects set out below. The elements of the path are mutually supportive and are represented as being spokes on a wheel.

The Eightfold Path

Right View

Wisdom

Right Intention

Right Speech

Ethics

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Meditation

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration

The teaching of the eightfold path begins with right view. The beliefs, assumptions and views we have about the world have profound implications for the way we experience life. For instance, the belief that well-being is a result of acquiring material goods, status or a certain set of experiences fuels a particular way of being. This belief leads to the search for those things or experiences that seem to promise complete fulfilment.

In contrast, right view sees through the illusion that complete well-being could ever be achieved through a project of endless acquisition of things, experiences or status. Right view illuminates the futility of trying to create a secure and permanent refuge out of conditioned phenomena. With right view, we understand suffering and how it arises in dependence on a craving for things to be a certain way. We realise the possibility of the end of suffering and it becomes possible to cultivate the path that leads to this. 

The clear seeing of right view unfolds into intentions of loving-kindness, renunciation and compassion. Harmful and greedy actions arise from the ignorant view that such behaviour has the potential to make us happy. When we see clearly, the pain and suffering inherent in harmful actions becomes apparent. Deep understanding of suffering and its origin becomes expressed in wholesome intentions towards ourselves and others.

The eightfold path shows how views affect the whole way we live. The way we see is expressed in our actions, speech and livelihood. In practice, it can be a profound challenge to find ways to embody our understanding in our everyday lives. The question of how we can find ways of working that express our deepest understanding and aspiration is not something that can be answered once and for all and dispensed as a formula. It is a question we have to live with and return to again and again.

Ethical speech, actions and livelihood provide a great support for the cultivation of stability and calmness of mind. The final three limbs of the eightfold path highlight different aspects of meditative practice, although this does not mean that their cultivation is limited to the time we spend on a meditation cushion. 

Right effort involves consciously cultivating what is wholesome and letting go of what is unwholesome. We can notice that our behaviour either feeds or undermines habits and use this insight to make wiser choices about the tendencies we wish to feed.

Right mindfulness highlights the transformative nature of awareness of our bodies, feelings, mind-states and mental patterns. With mindful attention to these different aspects of our experience we can begin to see habitual patterns and in doing so be free from the compulsion to follow them. 

Right concentration (samadhi) is about the unification and collectedness of the mind that can characterise meditation. This calmness and clarity of mind can help provide support for investigating our experience and further deepening right view. In this way, it is clear that the eightfold path is not a linear sequence of steps but a description of a liberating way of being in the world.

Reflections 

It’s helpful to memorise the elements of the eightfold path. You may wish to make a poster of them to help you do this. You can then begin to use the eightfold path as a framework to think about your own life. It’s also helpful to explore the connections between the elements. For instance, how does seeing clearly (right view) shape how we speak, act and earn our living? How do our patterns of speech affect the extent to which the mind feels calm, gathered and settled? Continue to practice the recorded meditations and to use your journal to reflect on what you’ve been learning.

Home Practice

Each day, practice the meditation on open awareness for twenty minutes.

Write brief notes in your journal about what you notice in your practice.

Reflect in your journal about how you might continue with your practice.  This could include attending days of practice, workshops and courses with Insight Meditation groups, going on retreat at Gaia house or elsewhere, reading Dharma books, listening to talks on Dharmaseed that expand on some of the themes you have found most interesting. You may also wish to find sitting groups to practice with. The support of others is invaluable as you continue to practice.