Friday, July 30, 2010

The Eightfold Path (Addendum)

I've been doing a lot of reflection on the Knowable Eightfold Path lately, and I've been given some interesting, and potentially useful, insights.

The Path sometimes seems to be an "add-on" to the other three Knowable Truths (see blogs from the week of July 19 for more background into these Truths). However, when we look at the Path as a continuation out of the first three Truths, and also as categories of suffering that we can use for practice, we might be able to see them with a little more clarity.

As I have mentioned, the first step on the Path is usually considered to be Wise Understanding. When discussing the Path in the context of practice, however, I prefer to start from Wise Effort, because this is what brings us to the cushion and guides our practice so that we can know the Path more clearly.

Wise Effort (or wholehearted diligence) leads us to Mindfulness, the next step on the path, which in turn cultivates Wise Concentration. Now we are ready to contemplate and reflect upon the Path during practice. The first two steps on the Path, Wise Understanding and Wise Thought (or Intention) help us cultivate wisdom. The next three steps, Wise Speech, Wise Action, and Wise Livelihood, help us cultivate wholesome moral and ethical conduct.

These five steps are also areas in which we can experience suffering, and then have them be objects of practice as we utilize the first three Knowable Truths to come to our rescue. Here's what I mean:

When we misunderstand the nature of things by thinking that something will actually bring us lasting satisfaction, we are opening ourselves up to suffering. When we don't know about, or misunderstand the first three Knowable Truths, we have no way out of the suffering. So when we find ourselves caught in the monkey trap of clinging or aversion, we have a perfect object for practicing using the first three Knowable Truths to release us.

If we do not recognize that our thoughts are the cause of our suffering, then this suffering will continue. When we have thoughts that cause us suffering, and we understand that these thoughts are not facts, then we have another object for practice as we release attachment to these suffering-inducing thoughts.

When we speak unwisely or injuriously, we will suffer. For example, if we tell a lie, we will eventually suffer, if not from exposure of the lie then from our own inner guilt. Therefore, unwise speech becomes a category that can be a realm of suffering. Likewise, if we act heedlessly, this unwise action will also lead to suffering. Finally, many people are suffering because their livelihood is either unwholesome or not aligned with their core values. Because they want the present moment to be other than the way it is, they will suffer.

All of this suffering, in all of these categories, feeds back into the first three Knowable Truths. By applying these Truths to each experience of suffering in these categories, we can then learn how to deal more skillfully with the suffering of every day life.

To apply the first Three Truths, you simply need to know 1) that you are suffering, 2) that the cause of the suffering is clinging to something, or aversion toward something else, and 3) that you are releasing the clinging and disengaging from the object of the suffering.


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