Friday, July 23, 2010

The Knowable Truths, Part 5

The Knowable Path

The final component of the Four Knowable Truths is what is often referred to as the Eightfold Path. The eight steps on this path, in the order in which they are usually taught, are:
Wise Understanding
Wise Thought (or Intention)
Wise Speech
Wise Action
Wise Livelihood
Wise Effort
Wise Mindfulness
Wise Concentration
For our purposes, I would like to commit what some in the world of Buddha Dharma might consider heresy, and start the path at Wise Effort. The effort needed in the realization and eventual actualization and utilization of the Knowable Path is exerted in our meditation practice. This is the doorway that most people enter through in the beginning, and therefore, this is why I have decided to use Wise Effort as the embarkation point.

Wise Effort is often defined as "diligent wholeheartedness." This definition helps to differentiate this kind of effort from the grunting, sweating kind of exertion that we often associate with effortfulness. We want to bring to our meditation practice a sense of wholehearted diligence, but also a sense of peace and ease.

If we look at the Path as a series of naturally arising events, rather than eight more things that need to be attained, then this kind of wholehearted diligence will spontaneously give rise to Wise Mindfulness, the next step on the path. Wise Mindfulness is the ability to know life as it is happening, both in meditation practice, and in daily living. We can know more fully what we need to be paying attention to moment-by-moment, and this will help us in reducing our suffering. This is especially the case in regards to knowing the truth of the present moment through the senses, rather than through the colorations of the mind.

Through moment-to-moment mindful attention, we begin to cultivate Wise Concentration. Concentration in this sense does not connote a "bearing down," headache-inducing concentrating, but rather (through Wise Effort and mindful attention) an experience that the mind is "becoming concentrated." In other words, the mind can concentrate itself; it has no choice. When, through our diligent, wholehearted effort we pay attention to the present moment, the mind has no choice but to gather and collect around the object of concentration, thus becoming concentrated. One analogous definition of the word that I like to use is that of separating gold from worthless ore. This is the kind of Wise Concentration we are looking for.

Wise Understanding (which, as noted above is usually termed the starting point on the Path) means that we understand the previous three Knowable Truths (see 7/19 to 7/21 blogs for more details). Through the insights cultivated from reflection and practice with these Truths in our meditation practice, we come to penetrate them, and then utilize them in daily living to reduce our suffering.

When we understand the nature of things more clearly, then we can develop new relationships with the way our mind works. Wise Thought (or Wise Intention) is the natural outgrowth of this. We see our thoughts more clearly as thoughts, not as facts, and we can begin to see and experience how the mind creates our suffering. Then our bright and wholesome intentions in the world can shine forth and lead us away from even more suffering by helping us make more skillful and effective choices.

One skillful choice that we make through Wise Thought/Intention is Wise Speech. When our thoughts are seen more clearly, we might not act out as automatically and use harmful words toward others, or toward ourselves. We might refrain from idle gossip, or saying bad things about others when they are not present. Likewise, bright intentions will also help us to speak truthfully about all things, because we have nothing to hide. In other words, unwise speech merely leads to more suffering.

Wise Action is directly related to how we understand the world (based on our wholehearted meditation practice), knowing our thoughts more clearly, and speaking more skillfully. Along with speaking truthfully, Wise Action includes not harming others or ourselves, not stealing (e.g., taking things that have not been freely offered), avoiding the use of sexuality in ways that cause harm, and avoiding the use of intoxicants in ways that lead to harmful action.

When we act responsibly, we then want to find more skillful ways in which to make our living. Wise Livelihood is the final step on the path, and it basically means earning money in conscious ways that are aligned with our deepest beliefs and core values. When we make a living in this way, we suffer less, and we are providing another positive force in the world that will lead to a reduction of suffering of all.

Of course, our livelihood must also be imbued with a quality of wholehearted diligence, and so we find ourselves back where we started at Wise Effort. In this way, we see that the Knowable Path is circular, and is not leading so some supreme attainment, or even toward an end. It is a continuing, ongoing process for the rest of our life.

I hope that this exploration of the Four Knowable Truths has been insightful and useful for you. I welcome your comments, questions, confusions, or concerns.


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