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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Buddhism: The Eightfold Path

Abstract:  A rigorous system of habit formation as a course of practice in life is explained  as part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path.

Preliminary Step to the Eightfold Path often mentioned by Buddha is right association.  Training for a life of the spirit is made less arduous if you can be with others who seek the same things.  As Huston Smith points out, health is as contagious as disease, virtue as contagious as vice, and cheerfulness as contagious as moroseness.

I.  Right Knowledge:  some convictions are necessary to achieve a good life.

    A. Understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is, itself, what is meant. Especially noted are the resolution to overcome suffering by leaving aside selfish cravings and, instead, develop compassion for others.

    B. The use of reason as restriction--the middle way, the doctrine of the mean to avoid harmful things.

    C. Intellectual knowledge is conditioned by concepts and principles of a system. The intellect is inferior to the understanding, and direct insight results from seeing things just as they are without interpretation..

      1. Consider the futility of reducing a person to the categories of "tall," "Republican," "dark-haired," and so on.

      2. Wisdom is the direct apprehension of a thing--not propositional knowledge of labels or categories in standard form.

    D. If we can make up our mind as to what life's problems actually are, we can indeed fulfill the conviction that we can be happy.

II. Right Aspiration: decide what it is that we really want.   Is it enlightenment?

    A. One common feature of people of greatness is the passion by which they pursue their interest.  Although they might do other things well, it is this passion which motivates their lives and gives it significance.

    B. We should seek enlightenment with the intensity and single-mindedness to overcome life's dislocation.

    C. Cf., biographies of persons you find significant.

III. Right Speech: the first of the triggers of our lives.

    A. Language and speech patterns show us a lot about ourselves. (Cf., "How to Talk: Some Simple Ways.")

    B. Our speech acts affect how we think.

      1. First, watch how our speech deviates from the truth in everyday life--how when we tell stories we emphasize different aspects to make a point.  Sometimes, in the retelling, we lose sight of the truth.

      2. In truth, we should not fear revealing to others what we really are--use authentic speech.

      3. Cf., below the Noble Silence.

    C. Consider the person who makes himself angry by his own speech--he reminds himself through triggers. Consider the effects of the following statements:

      "That's not fair."
      "I deserve better."
      "He/she doesn't really care what I think."
      "He/she should be made to do it."
      "Why should I do that for you? You would never do that for me."
      "What you ought to do is ..."
      "I don't want to."
      "I hate it."

    D. We tend to find what we look for in others, yet we don't blame children for being short or alcoholics for drinking (that's what alcoholics do).

IV. Right Behavior: a kind of paradox results from considering that often behavior precedes states of mind, but actions in themselves have no moral worth in Buddhism--only the intentional struggle or lack of it has moral worth..

    A. The Five Precepts: similar to the ethical (second) half of the Ten Commandments:   Do not kill, steal, lie, be unchaste, or drink intoxicants. 

    B. Self-analysis: examine your motives. In all behavior you inquire as to who, what, where, when, and why.

    C. Ultimately, one can practice according to the doctrine of non-effort --this is the heart of Buddhism.

V. Right Livelihood:  your occupation should be in accordance with, and not interfere with, your path.

    A. The question should not be whether or not you are to be a CEO or an accountant, but whether you are to be centered.

    B. Your choice of livelihood should be wherever you can experience support for your personal program.

    C. Specifically, avoid being a tax collector, a brewer, and arms dealer, or a caravan trader.

VI. Right Effort:  what William James called "the slow dull heave of the will."

    A. Buddha laid tremendous stress on the will: especially in transcending harmful mental states. Psychological pain is much more difficult to deal with than physical pain.

      a. Attempt to overcome crippling sentiments such as taking offense at the remarks of others.

      b. Tao Te Ching (pronounced roughly like "dow day jhing"): "He who takes the longest stride does not walk the fastest."

      c. Cf., Karma yoga for other aspects.

    B. Right effort entails doing things at the "staying speed."

      1. E.g., don't exercise too much or too little or exercising will be difficult to continue.

      2. The story of the ferryman carrying an old man and boy carrying books: "You can make it though the gates of the city before they close, if you do not hurry."  Unfortunately, they hurried, stumbled, spilled the books ...

VII. Right Mindfulness:  their mind leads people into disharmonious living.

    A. Our imaginations make things more or less than they really are and is the cause of excessive desire (tanha).

    B. Watch your emotions come and go. What is it that you just "have to" have? We need not crave or cling to any thing.

    C. Dhammapada: "All we are is a result of what we have thought." (The beginning verse of the most accessed Buddhist writing.)

      1. As Carl Rogers pointed out, "When man's awareness of experience is operating, his behavior is to be trusted."

      2. If we fully understand ourselves and life itself, neither would be a problem.

      3. Awareness is truth; see things as they are, not what you fear or want them to be. (How does a small child view dogs after that child is bitten  by one?)

    D. Intensive Self-examination:  in Buddhism, we go wrong through ignorance, not sin.

      1. The greatness of a person is in proportion to self-knowledge. 

      2. Everything we experience (esp., moods and emotions) should be traced to its cause. (Cf., psychoanalysis.)

      3. Relate your actions through the overself or "second-self":  that who thinks of that who reads this sentence.

      4. E.g., "Why do I feel as I do now?  Did someone say something?, am I attempting to repress something?, am I covering up something? ..."

    E. Other recommendations.

      1. In the beginning, keep your mind in control of your senses and imagination rather than the other way around.

      2. Mediate on fearful and disgusting sights until you overcome your aversions.  Seek acceptance of "what is."

      3. Picture vividly your goal (not all desire is mistaken).

      4. Set aside a special time of the day for undistracted self-analysis--occasionally withdraw from life for several days.

VIII. Right Contemplation: the ceasing of Samsara by the extinction of individuality or personality, as one blows out a candle. Nirvana is a condition of the mind. 

    A. The Noble Silence: silence the mind--do not speak of soul or Atman; hesitate to talk of Brahman.  (Cf., Right Speech.)

    B. Raja yoga is the royal road to re-integration by psychological experiment with prescribed mental exercises. One observes their effects with respect to getting beyond the pitter-patter of daily existence (Samsara).

    C. The main steps:

      1. mastery of the breath
      2. completely shut out the external world
      3. mastery of concentration
      4. mastery of meditation
      5. union with God (yet, there is no "self")

Eightfold Path Summary Axioms of the Good Life
1.  Right Knowledge (Views) Wisdom
2.  Right Aspiration (Resolution)
3.  Right Speech
4.  Right Behavior (Action) Ethical Conduct
5.  Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort Mental Discipline
7. Right Mindfulness
8.  RightAbsorption  (Concentration)

 

 
     

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