The 4th noble truth is there is a noble eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering. This is the middle path which is the antidote to suffering. The Path is called Middle because it lies between the two extreme paths of self-indulgence (kàmasukhallikanuyoga) and self-mortification (attakilamathànu-yoga), which had been practised by the Buddha prior to His Enlightenment. The futility of the two paths of practice for the realization of truth led the Buddha to reason out a new path for the purpose of achieving the desired end.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path, otherwise named as the Middle Path (majjhimà pañipadà), consists of eight factors. The factors of the Path are inter-related and to be practised simultaneously. Those factors are mutually inclusive and mutually supportive.
The Path is made up of three aggregates consisting of morality (sila), concentration (samàdhi) and wisdom (pannà). The three factors, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are included in the aggregate of morality. The three factors, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are included in the aggregate of concentration. The two factors, Right Understanding and Right Thought, are in the aggregate of wisdom.
So namely the 8 factors are: 1. Right Speech (sammà vàcà) 2. Right Action (sammà kammanta) 3. Right Livelihood (sammà àjiva) 4. Right Effort (sammà vàyàma) 5. Right Mindfulness (sammà sati) 6. Right Concentration (sammà samàdhi) 7. Right Understanding (sammà diññhi) 8. Right Thought (sammà sankappa)
Right understanding also called right which is the forerunner of the entire path, the guide for all the other factors. Right view is the understanding of the four noble truths: Suffering, Cause of Suffering, Cessation of Suffering and Noble Eightfold Path.
Primarily there are two, external and internal, factors conducive to Right Understanding. They are: 1. Hearing from others on information of dhamma 2. Thoughtful reflection after receiving information on dhamma which leads to understanding.
It is stated that when one understands that body, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness (5 aggregates) are impermanent, he is led to Right Understanding. The knowledge of this stage is called ‘knowing accordingly’ (anubodha), because the understanding at this stage is still mundane. Right Understanding and not yet free from defilements. This is developed by ordinary worldlings.
The Supra-mundane stage of Right Understanding appears only when one realises one or the other of the four stages of sainthood: Stream-winning, Once-returning, Non-returning and Arahanthood. This is only achieved by the Noble ones (ariyapuggala). This stage of understanding is at the highest level and unshakable.
Right Thought is defined as having mainly three constituents: renunciation or giving up of sensual enjoyment/desires; developing thoughts of loving kindness and goodwill without any kind of anger, delusion and hatred; and practising harmonious environment, abstaining from violence (ahimsa).
The thoughts must be free from lust and craving which hanker after pleasures of the senses. Buddhism discourages any kinds of violence.Buddhism encourages the development of loving kindness and non-violence towards all living beings. This shows that in addition to the practice of some of the other factors of the Path, Right Thought becomes meaningful in the context of a harmonious society.
Right Speech is the practice of correct speech, which means:
Abstain from lying and adhering to truth
Abstaining from tale-bearing or back-biting which paves the path for disagreement and disunity.
Abstain from using harsh language while cultivating courteous and gentle words in communication. This promotes social harmony
Abstain from irresponsible, vain talk such as gossiping and speak only what is meaningful and conducive to one’s and others’ welfare.
Practice honest, kind and conducive speech. In times of anger and jealousy, remain silent to avoid harsh, slandering and hurtful speech.
Right Action deals with abstinence of three kinds of bodily misconduct: taking life, theft and misappropriation, and sexual misconduct. The mundane Right Action produces wholesome worldly results whereas the practice of transcendental Right Action, avoiding those misbehaviours completely with pure mind intent upon the Path, is contributory to liberation.
Right Action guarantees the fundamental human rights of right to live, right to possess and right to maintain sexual relations within the confines of legally permitted boundary.
Right Livelihood is to reject wrong kinds of living and live by right means of livelihood. Wrong livelihood means gaining a living by earning wealth by devising ways and means detrimental to sentient’ beings. In this connection, usually five kinds of trade to avoid are: trading in arms, human beings, flesh, intoxicating drinks and poisons. Live by a profession which is honourable, blameless and harmless to others.
Right Effort is the Four Great Efforts. It enjoins the putting forth effort consciously in four ways: to prevent the arising of unwholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; to abandon unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen; to develop wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen; and to maintain wholesome thoughts that have already arisen by one who practises the Path of Emancipation.
Right Mindfulness deals with the four kinds of contemplation: contemplation of the body, of sensation, of mind and of mind-objects. It is said in the “the disciple dwells in contemplation of the body, of sensation, of mind and mind-objects, ardent, clearly conscious and attentive, putting away worldly greed and grief”. This refers to the setting up of mindfulness in four ways. The practice as given in the discourse leads to purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of pain and grief, to the entering upon the correct path and the realisation of Nibbàna.
Right Concentration is the attainment of meditative absorptions (jhàna). There are five hindrances that obstruct the path of deliverance. Through meditative absorptions one can overcome the five hindrances: desire for sensual pleasure, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry and skeptical doubt. When one attains the first meditative absorption, these hindrances are destroyed by the psychic factors of the meditative absorption (jhànanga).
Thus desire for sensual pleasure is destroyed by one-pointedness of the mind, ill will by joy, sloth and torpor by initial application, restlessness and worry by happiness and skeptical doubt by sustained application. The mind overwhelmed by the hindrances will not penetrate things as they really are.
Conclusion “This Eightfold Path is the way leading to the cessation of consciousness which is the ultimate bliss, Nibbana.”