Week 5: The Eightfold Path

1. Wisdom (panna)
Right Understanding (samma ditthi)
Right Aspiration (samma sankappa)

The first step on the Eightfold path is about understanding and knowledge. After all, if we do not know, we cannot do.

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realize the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

The Big View

Only through seeing things as they really are, can we start on the path. Only by traveling the path, can we see things as they really are. Basically, if you think everyone is out to get you, then you will act furtively, and people will not trust you. Self fulfilling prophesy. By penetrating the veil of illusion, by seeing through the emotion and seeing what is really happening we can act appropriately. If our vision is clouded by emotion, we will see phantoms and act from fear and confusion.

We must move beyond simple understanding. We can intellectually understand that we have to see things correctly to proceed. We have to move beyond simple intellect however. To barrow a word, we have to grok right understanding. We have to be right understanding. It’s a tall order, and most of us will not reach it all of the time. We can strive for it, and in the striving we become better people. How do we strive?

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

The Big View

Part of understanding right sight is practicing it. This step on the path asks us to practice what we learn as we learn it, enabling us to learn more. By practiceing good intentions, we can learn how to see correctly, and by seeing correctly we can learn how to practice right aspiration.

This is follows the law of Karma: You reap what you sow. If you are a negative person, and treat others badly you will not find much happiness in the world. However if you are a positive person, then you will find that life seems easier.

By practicing Right Aspiration we start our selves down the road towards being more positive people. We start down the road towards peace and happiness.

29 thoughts on “Week 5: The Eightfold Path”

  1. NSV;

    What mystic is alluding to is that the entire bible is thrown into doubt if part of it is not true. It’s like the <a href="http://dictionary.law.com/definition2.asp?selected=795&amp;bold=%7C%7C%7C%7C&quot; rel="nofollow">fruit of the poisened</a> tree in legal circles. If X is not true, then X+1 cannot be true.

    I would suggest that there might be a grain of truth that the bible is based upon, but it has been diluted by thousands of years of re-telling.

    I also feel that the bible is telling us about two very diffrent spiritual systems. The old testiment is all turn or burn, fire and brimstone. The new testiment is about love.

    Perhaps Jesus was teaching a break from the old ways? If he was, then why even use the old scriptures as a basis for Christianity? Perhaps we should simply use the Old Testiment as a historical look at the culture that Jesus lived in?

    I dunno… but it’s a intresting thought.

  2. NSV,

    Now you are equating the Bible to Aesop’s Fables? Furthermore, you are claiming that the Bible is now teaching us (only in parts, of course) through hypothetical situations?

    Based on these latest revelations, I’m somewhat confused as to where you stand on your own religion.

    Let’s say a ¼ of the Bible is not to be taken literally, but only as hypothetical fables, doesn’t this ruin the credibility of the entire tome? I’m curious as to where you have researched your fable theory because I am really interested in your sources.

  3. What I said is that 1/2 of what the Old Testament says is not to be taken literally…not the whole Bible. The New Testament, however should. There is a spacific reason for the separation of the Old and New testaments and I think we’ve discovered a big part of that here. The ‘whole Christian faith’ is based the teachings from the Bible, true, but there are many different ways to teach something. For example, by ultimate truths and by example or hypathical senario. (refer to Asop’s Fables).

  4. <em>I don’t believe that 1/2 of what is stated there actually happened</em>

    So basically we’re all in agreement. The Bible has some good teachings in it, but it’s not to be taken literally.

    If not taken as 100% true, and is the basis for the teachings of all Christians, where does that leave the Christian faith?

  5. IMHO, the majority of what is written in the Old Testament is meant to be taken symbolically. I don’t believe that 1/2 of what is stated there actually happened, but there are some really good messages inclosed. The New Testament primarily deals with the life and lessons of Jesus. I know you do not believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, as Christians do, but I also know that you believe that he, the man, existed. He, as the bible states, taught many of the lessons and beliefs that Buddah taught and that you try to live your life by. How can you say that the Bible is wrong if it is teaching what you preach and believe to be the right way to live one’s life? If one reads the Bible from start to finish, he/she will realize the transformation of God’s dealings with ‘sinners’. It is almost as if he, himself, matured over the years. At first he was somewhat ruthless, but by the end, merciful.

  6. My main issue with Christianity is the bible. A lot of what it says is, IMHO, wrong.

    it preaches Turn or Burn. It also says that we are to dominate the natural world. It also says that if we stray, or do not do what God says, we are condemned to Hell (turn or burn, I guess).

    There are portions of it that are enlightened, but there are large tracts that are down right fundamental. Sodom and Gomorra, for example. God <em>Killed</em> two entire towns just because they would not follow his teachings.

    This is all based on a literal reading, and I know that some think that these are just fables – but if one part of the word of God is a fable, that throws the rest into doubt.

    And, I just say, Hail Dumbo, and I look forward to and accept my new large eared masters.

  7. In responce to Obidavekenobi’s most recent post, I think it is very harmful for anyone to judge a particular group’s belief system based on the rantings of fanatics, however, I also feel that it is just as detrimental to not follow your own path. By that I mean, do not be lead through the nose by the exclusive teachings of your particular group/church/organization. Be mindful and open to other’s views and opinions because, let’s face it, none of us really knows who is right when we die. For all we know Dumbo may be running our world from a spaceship far, far away in a galaxy unknown and we really go nowhere when we die! A little extreme, I know, but get’s the point across, I think!

  8. Okay…no more dead horses. :)

    It is sad that a loud minority does set a visible standard to the general public about Christianity. I swear, flip a channel on TV and there’s some 2-cent prophet telling you all about God’s will for your life, …"and please send God some money…like, to me!"

    It is also sad that because of current events many people are living in fear of a perceived Muslim menace to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There are Muslim extremists out there, and there are also Christian extremists, and Jewish extremists…

    Because I come from a Judeo-Christian religious background and have attended many churches (and spent some time in Bible college) I have just enough experience under my belt to have seen a LOT of narrow-minded, extreme, sick behavior by people saying that God has told them this-and-such, and now you should go forth and do likewise no matter how awful those things may be. It is one of the things that drove me out of organized religion in the first place.

    I do know where you’re coming from, Tsyko, because I’ve been inside of it. It is awful, and it does exist, but it is not the sum total of all the parts of Christendom and organized religion. Some folks (like me) choose a faith and get very sick at people who preach Christianity under a flag of "turn or burn." It’s awful, and I know very few people who changed their lives and chose a faith based on the "big stick" approach.

    Buddhism offers direction in finding answers to many of life’s questions, and I have really enjoyed seeing your posts. I have at least some better understanding of that way of life, now. Christianity, too, can offer some direction, as can Judaism, Hinduism, etc.

  9. Tsycho, I assumed that you intended no offense, and you did not offend me.

    I think the Christian belief, even amoung fundamentalists, is different than what you imply.

    Christians believe that God is real via Faith. Christians believe that God inspired the bible which contains many truths (some do believe that every word is literally true, but they are a minority.) One of the bedrock truths, undeniable to Christians, is that salvation is achieved only through Christ. Therefore, those who do not have faith in Christ will be condemned to hellfire.

    While this may seem to be the same idea as what you presented there are some differences. As an analogy, I believe in Gravity. I believe that anyone who jumps off the empire state building without a parachutte will fall, strike the ground hard and die a messy death. Am I condemning jumpers to death? If I share my vision of the world with people is it not a message of love? Is it a demand that they conform or be cast down?

    Now of course we can confirm gravity through empirical evidence and we cannot confirm God or his rules the same way. However, most believers claim various ways in which you can know that what they say is true. Your mileage may vary, but most of them believe that they have in fact confirmed these things to be true through the Holy Spirit etc. etc.

    Very few Christians over 20, and very very few of them who are in any way active about their Christianity do not claim to have tested and verified their faith in some way. It is possible of course that all of these people are decieved, or this ‘proof’ is an artifact of something else that they do not properly understand, but to call them sheep who never question would be categorically false. Almost all of them have questioned, and they feel that those questions have been answered.

    I also wonder what period of time you are referring to when America was ‘religion neutral’? My study of history has failed to find that time period. I would also point out that there is a fine line between ‘religion neutral’ and ‘Christian hostile.’

  10. On the intent:

    Thinking that a good intent will wash away bad acts is not correct. Intent needs to be coupled with acts.

    In mystic’s example we had good intent, good act, bad outcome (dam for power, built dam, damn broke, big dam problem). This is doing good.

    In mystic’s second example, we have bad intent, bad action. Still bad.

    I can sit and intend to do good all day and night, but with out the corrisponding acts, I get nothing.

    Intent is just a yardstick. Good intent, good actions = good Karma. Bad intent, good actions = bad karma. Good intent, bad actions = bad karma. Bad intent, bad actions = bad karma.

    Taking hitler, He might have thought that he was doing ‘good’ by cleansing out the riff raff. However the actions were almost beyond bad. We will never really know what his intentions were – but I cannot belive that he actually thought that he was helping those people.


    Point taken, Justus. I am sorry if I offended.


    These days, we are exposed to the ‘radical right’ more often then not. I do not belive that every christian thinks that abortion clinic bombings are the way to go, however it does seem like a preponderance of christians do support a roll back of civil rights to match up with their belief structure.

    These might simply be a vocal minority, however they do have some sway.

    I guess that it’s like the problems that the Muslems are facing. People associate all Muslems with the extremest that blow them selves up in crowds of people. Extremeists are a minority.

    It would behove moderate Christians to become more vocal in opposing the radicals I guess. Get more face time.

    How does this tie into faith? The moderates very well might have a diffrent view of faith then the radicals. Here is my experince with what Faith means:

    God is real, because the bible says so. God wrote the bible, and if you do not agree with me, then you are condemmed to hellfire.

    Not really nice. But it’s what a large percentage of the Christians in this country seem to preach. It is not a message of love, it’s a message of conform or be cast down. They throw fits when we try and make this country religion-neutral again. They want to have their religion taught in schools, and cry foul when the tables are turned, and some other religion or philosphy is even mentioned.

    That is what I see as ‘Faith’, and where ‘Faith’ will bring us.

  11. I love the scene in Secondhand Lions where Hub is explaining about believing in things that may not be true. There is a lot of stuff in the world that may not be true that is worth believing in anyway.

    I would also say that calling someone else’s deeply held beliefs ‘a crutch’ is offensive and borderline boorish behavior. It would be hard for me to reconcile such an act with Buddhism or Christianity. I doubt that an examination of the ‘intention’ or the effect would lead one to the belief that it was a good act.

  12. Intent:
    I agree wholeheartedly that all the examples I gave of intent were awful human beings who did awful things. The point was that from their point-of-view they were doing good. They were doing things that had (for them) a good outcome. The things they did (genocide, for example) are not objectively good, but in their own minds these people were setting things right in the world. That’s why we have to be careful about intent. People can use it as an excuse to do awful things, even if by their own inner moral compass they are doing what’s right and good. If the intent is to do something good, but something evil results, the intent means a whole lot less and falling back on "my intentions were good" doesn’t wash so well.

    I do agree with what Mystic says, though, about the cumulative effect of good and bad deeds in your life. Some call it Karmic Influence, some might say that what a man sows is what he shall reap.

    If you ask your wife to make you a lunch is she a "crutch?" If you ask for help at school from your teacher is your teacher a "crutch?" If you seek advice and teachings to help you through life by studying Buddhism, is Buddhism a "crutch?" I do not believe that any human being can achieve their own personal peace and enlightenment without the aid/direction/advice/wisdom/knowlege of other human beings. We are social creatures with a great and wondrous shared history on planet Earth. No man is an island, and we achieve great things by working with and learning from each other. This does not make these things (and that would include religion and faith) a "crutch," it makes them a tool. There’s a difference between leaning on something for no good reason, and using something to help you out.

    History is replete with persons of faith who are free-thinking, highly-intelligent, logically-debating, empirically-minded human beings. There is plenty of "critical thinking" involved in religion and faith. It is often found under the title of Apologetics. The "Answers.com" definition is pretty good for a definition of BLIND faith, but to suggest that many of the world’s mainline denominations which function around faith in God "is the opposite of critical thought" is, I think, inaccurate. I would also not agree that "there is no logical or empirical evidence supporting it." That’s a pretty wild assertion, really, in light of a significant amount of historical and physical evidence supporting persons of faith in their belief in God as related in what is known as the Bible.

  13. I think that Intent is a very good measure of ‘goodness’. In all of the examples you mention, they do <strong>not</strong> have good intentions, unless you consider killing a good act. I, for one, do not.

    The exact quote is "<em>When one performs a good deed out of good intentions…</em>". For it to be a good deed out of good intentions, it must first off, not harm anyone. None of the examples you give pass that test.

    On to crutches :)

    If you think that something or someone can do something for you, and you rely upon that – that is a crutch. When you think that there is an all-powerful God that hands out blessings if you follow his obtuse and obscure rules – and that you can only be blessed if you follow his rules – that’s not only a crutch, but it’s a monopoloy as well.

    Faith ( Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. as per <a href="http://www.answers.com/faith&amp;r=67&quot; rel="nofollow">Answers.com</a>) is the opposite of critical thought. It is simply accepting something no matter that there is no logical or emperical evidence supporting it. Faith is almost an anthema to the type of critical thinking that is required in Buddhism. Buddha himself instructed us to not take things on faith – but to think things out ourselves. To experment and try his teachings, and decide for our selves.

    For me, that is the major diffrence between Buddhism and most of the other religions out there. Buddhism stresses critical thinking.

  14. <em>Hitler thought his intent was pure. Koresh thought his intent was pure. Bin Laden thinks his intent is pure. Intent is not a good litmus test of doing the good.</em>

    Can I just say, ‘Huh?” ;)

    If you’re intent is to wipe out others, that is certainly a litmus test of your intent to perform evil. Just because someone has any intent, does not make their intent good. A purely evil intent is still pure certainly, but not good.

    What I think Tsykoduk is saying is something like this. If, for example, you build a damn to provide a source of energy for a city, yet the damn breaks and wipes out that very same city, the intent was to do good, but things didn’t turn out the way they should have. The intent was good, the outcome, no so good. :)

    If the intent was to build this damn so you can store a lot of water so that you could then blow the damn and drown the city, that would also be intent, but an evil intent. Although this outcome to you is good, the people who are now whitewater rafting toward the ocean may disagree with you.

    Doing good things will reinforce your positive and good thinking, and subconsciously make you a better person. Bad deeds will also imprint themselves on you and eventually take their toll on your psyche.

  15. Tsykoduk, you have a way of pushing buttons, but at least it encourages thoughtful discussion.

    A choice to believe in a "higher power" and to have faith and a specific religion does not mean that a person is using a "crutch." It does not mean that they cannot think for themselves, or discover truth on their own. Religion and faith can be a roadmap in a confusing and painful world (a world of suffering, and the Buddhists correctly point out).

    I do not necessarily believe I pay for the sins of my forebears, but I certainly believe I have done enough naughty on my own to merit some concern! ;)

    We have to be careful when we discuss "intent." Get past the reference when I say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Hitler thought his intent was pure. Koresh thought his intent was pure. Bin Laden thinks his intent is pure. Intent is not a good litmus test of doing the good.

    Faith and works can be connected, but aren’t always so. Some people are genuinely concerned enough for their fellow human being to do good for them without a faith-based system guiding them, but as Mystic pointed-out most religions focus on doing good. And again Mystic is correct in asserting that most of us all want the same thing in the end. For my part it’s peace and understanding. I believe I can gain a lot of that by studying many religions and many schools of philosophical thought and by using logic, but in the end I still choose a particular flavor of religion and faith to use as my roadmap in life.

  16. The nice thing about most of the various religions in the world is that they focus on doing good. Sure they all go about it in different ways, but the end result is that Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Mormons, all want to do good deeds.

    Karma seems to merely be the psychological effects of the deeds you perform. Whether Karma is good or bad is irrelevant. Karma is just a term to explain what we all already know. If you do good, you feel good, if you are bad, life seems to not be as happy for you then. Call it Karma, call it psychology, call it being a good Christian or a good Buddhist. The nice thing is that in the end, we’re all wanting basically the same thing.

    This is exactly why religion doesn’t do much for me. It often seems like a bunch of folks all arguing about the exact same things, but wanting their approach to be the only way. It’s back to the gang mentality. The gang you’re in is better then the gang that others are in. You’re right, they’re wrong. Yet, it’s all just the same.

    I loved the comment by obidavekenobi, <em>If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.</em>

  17. Buddhism <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%3D%3D&quot; rel="nofollow">==</a> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_religions&quot; rel="nofollow">religion </a>however.

    As to what choices we have, the Buddhist understating of Karma is based on Intent. "<em>Karma is one of the most important concepts in Buddhism. Karma is an imprint in one’s Mind. When one performs a good deed out of good intentions, the good intentions come from the Mind. Having done that good deed, the residues of these intentions stay in one’s Mind as "imprints", and that is "good karma". The opposite goes for evil deeds (or what the Buddha would call "unwholesome deeds") done out of greed, hatred etc.</em>" — <a href="http://www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/karma.html&quot; rel="nofollow">About Karma</a>

    So – I would say that our choices may be limited, but our intent is not. If we are trying to be ‘good’, but due to some handycap we cannot be, the intent is enough to help provide us with good Karma.

    When we have enough good Karma, we can make the choices that lead to liberating Karma. Then we can reach <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satori&quot; rel="nofollow">Satori</a>

  18. It would sure be a tragedy to bring religion into a discussion on Buhdism.

    I think you partially misunderstood my point Tsykoduk. While I certainly believe we have choices, it is not always apparent what choices we have. It is especially not apparent what choices another person has.

  19. Dave;

    I would propose that with or with out the crutch of a higher power, the choice to know good is just that – a choice. Each of us can make it. We might be limited in the level of goodness that we can reach, however we can strive to be the best that we can.

    Part of the 4 Noble Truths is "<em>Realizing that suffering exists is the first step in obtaining happiness. Understanding it is the first step towards real compassion. When we see and understand that Suffering is the common human bond, we can start to feel real compassion. It’s sad, but I think that unhappiness is the primary motivator for most people out there. Their actions are trying to fill a void.</em>"

    You could say that to not know goodness is to suffer. When some one sees suffering in another, they should be compassionate and do what they can to help.


    I do not need the hope of some third party coming down to save me. I have the hope of reaching satori, and knowing that I did it on my own. I guess that is the difference between what I believe and Monotheism. I do not think that I need saving. I am not encumbered by Sin that I did not personally commit.

    I also disagree about faith and works. Works and Faith are not connected. Works (bringing compassion and love into the world) are not dependent upon some faith (belief in something that cannot be proven). Faithless people have done great things in the world.

    When we invoke Heaven, Hell, God – we are setting a thought scape. Like it or not, Heaven is associated with Christian Faith in this country. By using those charged works, we bring religion (espc. Christianity) into the discussion.

  20. Looks like I need to elaborate…

    "Heaven help us" is, in this case, just a colloquialism, not an invokation, though I do profess a faith in the Christian God. This faith provides me with something I often have none of: hope. Human "understanding" be damned; "Logic, logic, logic. Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris. Not the end." -Captain Spock, ST VI: The Undiscovered Country

    Socrates meant this: if a person has a true understanding of "the good," and they truly know and understand that "the good" is good for all (including themselves) then they will do the good automatically. Those who do not do the good do not truly know the good, because knowing is more than a mental ascent and an intellectual nod; it is action. Anything else is pretending. Forgive that this is a one paragraph summation of a semester of Philosophy 101.

    As Paul might say, works follow faith, not the other way around (like the Mormons and some other folks believe).

    If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. ;)

  21. Whether you believe in God or not, it is pretty clear that we don’t have the same talents and the same challenges.

    It might be easy for you to ‘know good’ while very tough for me. While that concept can lead to becoming a crutch, where we blame all our failing on things outside of our control, the reverse has dangers as well, where we judge another for being weak where we are strong and lack compassion.

    So I would say, heaven or genetics or good luck and good friends or whatever help us to know the good. And help us also to not judge to harshly those who do not. We can never truly walk in anothers shoes or know the challenges they face. Most people do the best with what they have. If some fail more than others, let us be thankful for lesser challenges not contemptuous.

  22. Heaven has nothing to do with if we know good or not. That is a personal choice.

    This is one of the reasons that I really am drawn to Buddhism. The onus is on the person. There is no higher power to blame or rely upon.

    It is up to us to be good, and to spread good. :)

  23. :)

    I believe very firmly in the psychological explanations for Karma in the here and now. It’s a verifiable fact that people with positive outlooks, who treat others with compassion and love are more at peace and happier then those who act out of anger, aggression and malice.

    As far as a universal constant, I really do not know. I see how it could be part of the universe, however I personally do not have any evidence of it’s action. I try and stay away from ‘spooky actions at a distance’, however they do have a place in modern physics. Take for example the duality of photons as particles and waves. How does a photon’s know what we are looking for, and present the correct view?

    Personally, I believe that there is a lot that we do not understand about the universe. Neither Science nor Religion nor Philosophy alone will give us all of the answers. Buddhism tries to bridge that gap – by giving us a philosophy and religion based on observation, provable facts. And, if that were not enough, it tells you just about at every turn to process it, think on it, and make up your own mind.

    So, I feel that the jury is out on a universal law of Karma. Also on reincarnation. I tend to be a realist.

  24. What are your views on Karma? Is it more a natural force explainable by psychology as in your examples or more a supernatural force (controlling future reincarnations etc.) with some aspects having psychological effects?

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