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A Beginners Understanding of the Eightfold Path

I have studied many religions, but can't find one that feels true. My main areas of knowledge are in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Paganism.

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Buddhism's Different Forms

The teachings of Buddhism came from Siddhartha Buddha, who lived in India about six hundred years before Christ was born. There are two doctrines of Buddhism, one is called Mahayana Buddhism. Maha is great in Sanskrit, yana is a sort of vehicle, so Mahayana Buddhism translates into “great vehicle”. This form is usually found practiced in Northern Asia, Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Japan. It is often compared with Theravada, or Hinayana, “little” vehicle. This form of Buddhism is found in Southern Asia, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.

The Theraveda is a much stricter form of Buddhism, and is usually practiced by monks. They try to live without any desires, such as girlfriends or wives. They cannot kill anything, so eat only vegetarian diets. They even strain their drinking water in case there are any little bugs in it, lest they kill any living thing by mistake. These monks spend most of their time in meditation until they attain nirvana, a total disappearance from the external world. Of course, the desire to not desire anything is a problem encountered in this situation.

Hinduism Practiced Outside India Is Buddhism

It is difficult to separate some cultures from their religions. What does Hinduism mean if you don't live in India? The form of Hinduism practiced outside of India is Buddhism. Humans have three ways of interpreting the world. The Western way is to view the world as an artifact, which was created, as an object would be if made from wood or clay. God supposedly made Adam of the dust, and breathed life into him. The Hindu way is to believe the whole world is a play, a great drama. God is the creator of the play, or drama, and separates himself (or herself) to be all of the players, or everyone in the world. That is why it can be said we all have divinity within us.

This goes on for 4,320,000 years, then the world stops, and then it begins again. It is actually more complicated and there are 4 world stages, but we will not need them for the purposes of understanding this writing. Then there is the Chinese view, which looks at the world as an organism, or body. Buddhism does not separate religion from the person, or the person from the world. Each person is a part of nature, their environment, and their religion.

Buddhists Believe the Universe Is Just a Thought Pattern

One idea very odd to the Western mind is that Buddhists believe the world is not a substantial place made of anything, but a perception that exists only in our minds. The Buddha’s original teachings are that our whole world of experience is just a perception of patterns, constantly changing and rippling, flowing from one thing to another. There is no substance at all. Another common idea in Buddhism is the Sanskrit doctrine of anatman, which means non-ego. There is no “I”, no thinker behind the thought, we are all one in Buddhism, no one person is separate. There is no person behind the experience, an experience is only the process of experiencing.

When a sensation is felt, we do not really feel it, we are it. So a similar illusion comes from the repeating patterns of our nervous systems, and we get the impression that there is an experience, which lasts from the past, into the present, and into the future. But there is no past or future, there is only the present. People gradually build up a resistance to what we experience, which causes us anxiety and frustration. This leads to a development of greed for events, more experiences, more life, and this is tiring. It becomes that vicious cycle of Samsara, the round of existence. The individual keeps being reincarnated into the world again and again, as long as there is an attraction for it.

Buddhism as a Way out of the Rat Race

So the original appeal of Buddhism offered a way to get out of the vicious wheel of life. But a fundamental point of Mahayana Buddhism is trying to get out of the way of thinking that there is a real person who is having an experience. This is an illusion. There is simply experiencing, just moving patterns, and a symbol of Mahayana Buddhism is the person no longer seeking to escape from the rat race of life. He realizes there is nothing to escape from, and is called in Sanskrit a Bodhisattva.

The most famous Bodhisattva was Kuan-yin, the Bodhisattva of mercy. Bodhisattva's are ones who come back into the world of mundane, everyday things, to live them fully, and to help other beings be delivered, even though at this point they do not have to do this. So the ideal Buddha is not an aloof hermit who shuns life, but someone who loves life and thoroughly enjoys it.

The Bodhisattva is not afraid to assume any form symbolically, so represents the whole attitude of overcoming life not by escaping from it, but by accepting it. So there are deeds, but no doer, and experiences without one who experiences. The world is not made of stuff, it is illusion, and whatever we do, we become. This is what Buddhist philosophy calls shunyata, the empty void. It is not void because nothing is there, only because our minds have no idea of it.

The Way of Buddhism is called The Eightfold Path, because there are eight practices or components that are part of the last Noble Truth of Marga. The eight steps are normally divided into three phases, which do not have to be followed in a specific order. They are described by the word “samyak” which translates to “right” or more as a sum, or total.

Inspiring Words by the Dalai Lama

Buddhism's Eightfold Path

Right Understanding or Right View--Samyak Drishti

This is very important to understanding the Buddhist belief system, especially the identification, the causes, and the consequences of the elimination of suffering. Right Understanding shows that the person is familiar with the Buddhist philosophy of the non-permanence of the self. An important teaching in Buddhism is that everything in this universe depends on everything else, or The Doctrine of Mutual Interdependence.

Right Thought

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A follower has the right thought when he or she fully understands their purpose in following the teachings of the Buddha, and his view of the world and its issues.

Right Speech

This is a rule to avoid harmful language, such as lying or unkind words. It is always better to use gentle, meaningful, and friendly words, even if the situation calls for a truth that may be hurtful. Sometimes people will be hurt by our words even if we have the best of intentions. In the Seven Hermetic Laws, one hermit meditating on a mountaintop can achieve more good in the world than hundreds of people bussed to Washington, DC, to protest something they disapprove of. Why? Because the people in the protest are angry, and the hermit is not, and positive energy is always better.

I have a friend who sends a group email every Saturday evening, and asks everyone on the list to stop whatever they are doing at noon on Sunday, and pray for world peace. She strongly believes that if enough people do this, every week, we would be a much more peaceful world. It's certainly a worthwhile activity, and the power of prayer, or positive thoughts "sent" to a certain person or place to help overcome problems has been proven to be helpful.

Right Action has to do with the second phase of the Fourth Noble Truths. It has three more paths, right action, right livelihood, and right effort. If engaged in the Way of Liberation and one wants to clarify their consciousness, their actions must be consistent with that goal. Every Buddhist takes comfort in the Three Refuges and makes Five Vows. The Three Refuges are the Buddha, the Dharma or doctrine, and the Sangha, or the fellowship of all who are on their way.

These are the five precepts or the list of fundamental behaviors all practicing Buddhists should follow.

1. Refrain from destroying any living things.

2. Refrain from stealing, or taking what is not given.

3. Refrain from sexual misconduct (adultery, rape), or exploiting the passions.

4. Refrain from intoxicants which lead to inappropriate behavior. You may indulge in them, but not to the point of losing control of yourself.

5. Right Livelihood

People seeking enlightenment should try to pick the right jobs or careers to support the other fundamentals of Buddhism. Followers should avoid employment situations where their actions may cause harm to others, directly or indirectly. I’ll leave this one to your imaginations, I’m sure we all can think of many employers who have done tremendous harm to the Earth and to their fellow man.

6. Right Effort

Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we have negative thoughts about others and even ourselves. Right Effort means to focus on working to improve the bad thoughts and replace them with positive, pleasant thoughts, to whatever degree is possible. Just try to redirect the thoughts, think about something that makes you feel happy. This causes a change in consciousness. As soon as you catch yourself thinking negatively, try to think of something positive or happy.

8. Right Mindfulness or samyak smriti is when a person is completely alert and available in the present, the only place you can be in. Yesterday does not exist. Tomorrow never comes. One has to live in the moment and be "all there."

Right Concentration or samyak samadhi is integrated consciousness. There is no separation between the knower and the known, subject and object. You, as someone who is aware, along with all that you are aware of, are one single process. This is the samadhi state, which can be helped along by the practice of meditation.

This lays the foundation along with Right Mindfulness for proper meditation practices. The two together give instructions on how to work through the steps of focus in effective meditation. This is not easily learned, and can take quite some time before a person can turn off all those pesky thoughts and push them away, in order to clear the mind.

Meditation Is the Key

Almost any Buddha figure you ever see is in meditation, sitting there quietly, aware of what is going on, but not commenting or thinking about it. When a person stops talking, putting things in categories, and talking to themselves (I’ll have to work on that one), the difference between the knower and the known, self and other, vanishes. There is no longer a thing called difference, it is just an abstraction. It does not exist in the physical world.

When you let go of conceptions, you will be in a state of Nirvana, for reasons it appears nobody can explain. When you get here, what will well up within you is karma or compassion. This is a sense that you are not separate from everybody else, but that everybody else is suffering as you are, in solidarity. The person who reaches Nirvana does not withdraw from the world, but comes back from samadhi into it and all the problems of life, with renewed passion and compassion for everyone. And this is the great secret of the Middle Way. You cannot be saved alone, because you are not alone.

Reference Sources

Watts, Alan Buddhism The Religion Of No-Religion 1999 Tuttle Publishing Boston, MA

Watts, Alan Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life Collected Talks 1960-1969 New World Library Novato, CA Part One Chapter 2 Mahayana Buddhism pgs. 13-22

Part Two 1963-1965 Chapter 4 Mysticism and Morality pgs. 35-48 Chapter 6 The Relevance of Oriental Philosophy pgs. 65-80

Part Three Chapter 8 From Time To Eternity 1965-1967 pgs. 99-114 Chapter 10 Philosophy of Nature pgs. 123-138

Part Four 1968-1969 Chapter 15. Not What Should Be, But What Is! pgs.209-226

Chapter 16. What Is Reality? pgs. 210-227

Batchelor, Stephen Buddhism Without Beliefs 1997 G.P. Putnam, NY

Ground Part 1 pgs. 3-49 Path Part 2 pgs. 57-84 Fruition Part 3 pgs.93-109

The Effects of Meditation


© 2011 Jean Bakula


Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on February 05, 2015:

Hi Catherine,

I have a little trouble with that aspect myself. What I gain is that I need to be living in the moment more, and that the middle way, or path of moderation in most things is good. I also don't get how Buddhism and Hinduism say nothing is real. We're here, and what we experience everyday seems real enough to me. I just like to explore different religions. I think there is something good to be taken from all of them. Thanks for writing in.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on February 04, 2015:

The belief that nothing is real always disturbs me. I feel it is meaningless. If it feels real it is real. How is saying that it is not real going to help me in any way. it may be an interesting argument for philosophers to bat around , but it has no practical value.

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on September 26, 2014:

Thank you for reading and commenting. It took me a while to understand the concepts, so I appreciate your words. Best Wishes.

muhammad abdullah javed on September 26, 2014:

Hi jean a good hub about buddhism, this is one of the major religions of the world orginated at a region called - MadhyaMandala - in view of Buddahs teachings, one can say that these values, reveals a bright future,

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on April 22, 2012:


I didn't number the last three very clearly, since the concepts were longer. I changed it, thanks for pointing that out. Take care.

buddhaanalysis on April 22, 2012:

while mentioning eight fold path,you have provided only 5 points ,i guess

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on March 26, 2012:

Thanks Hippie-Girl,

It's new to me, so I was learning as I was writing. I'm happy to know it makes sense to another person! Take care, Jean

Janelle from Oklahoma, USA on March 26, 2012:

I love Buddhism. I have been studying Buddhism for 3 years now and it is a wonderful path to follow. Thank you for the words, you did a great job. Namaste.

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on February 25, 2012:

Thank you Anamika S!

This study is also new to me, and I like the teachings quite much. It feels right to have behaviors that make you true to yourself, and to the people you interact with, rather than because you fear a wrathful God or going to Hell! I have been reading much about Buddhism, and Alan Watts is very good. He began as a Christian minister, and realized his parishoners did not really understand Christianity. It's a confusing religion, because it requires one to take on faith what you know is not logically possible. Maybe faith demands that at times. But not for a lifelong commitment! Much of it is myth, though history does prove Jesus existed. I don't understand how so many can blindly believe, yet not be able to explain what exactly it is they believe. Take care.

Anamika S Jain from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India on February 25, 2012:

Ever since I have learned about the Noble Eightfold Path, I have been a 'fan' to the teachings of Buddhism. Wonderful writeup, Thumbs up!

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on November 27, 2011:

Hi, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. I have been reading a lot of stuff on Buddhism lately, and it is eye opening!

newday98033 on November 26, 2011:

Thank you, this was interesting, especially the "thought pattern" section. Another way to look at this place is as a created reality system. (the same thing as above, described differently)

We see and create at the same instant, including a time stream. Sorting out creation and reality by slowing the time stream is useful. So is seeing one thing till completely understood (at one’s level of understanding) as this also seems to open the doors. Either stops unconscious creation which is the bedevilment.

Regardless, the system is not quite what we experience generally on earth. Nothing is wrong, God is in it for interest. But the individual can play too.

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on October 14, 2011:

Hi Knowing Truth,

Thanks for stopping by! I am reading lots, but every author explains Buddhism differently, and there are many terms new to me. Although I titled it a Deeper Look, I realize that's only to a beginner such as myself. I think I'll be writing more on this topic, as I absorb it myself. Take care, Jean

Knowing Truth from Malaysia on October 13, 2011:

Hi Jean welcome to Buddhism! The original dialect used by Buddha was Pali, a popular dialect used by people in north central India at that time. Example Kamma in Pali (Karma in Sanskrit), Nibanna in Pali (Nirvana), Bodhhisatta (Boddhisattva), Dhamma (Dharma), Sutta (Sutra)

Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on October 08, 2011:

Hello Deborah,

Thanks for stopping by. I really liked the 18 rules for living too, and have been reading a lot on Eastern Relgions. Take care, Jean

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on October 08, 2011:

Jean, I appreciate your wonderful insight. This is a very well written hub. I appreciate the Dali Lama's eighteen rules for living. Thank you for sharing this.


Jean Bakula (author) from New Jersey on September 26, 2011:

Hello lyndapringle,

Thank you for your very kind comments. I really didn't know anything about Buddhism before I read 2 or 3 books about it lately. So it's been a learning experience for me too! Some of the concepts are a little tough to understand. I suppose some of it has to do with language, even though people in India speak English, these truths were in Sanskrit. I really liked that 18 rules to live by video myself. The idea of karma to me was more just you reap what you sow, so also the "compassion" aspect is a different point of view. I have found that writing on HP has become a journey for me. I began with Astrology and Book Reviews. But as I read books about things I was thinking about in my own life, I found writing about them helped clarify certain things for me. Alan Watts used to have a radio series in NJ, and my husband used to listen to the lectures. He was very knowledgeable about Eastern religions, although he began as an Episcopalian minister! I think your analogy of the meditation to help another person to the praying with the Rosary is right on the money! Many religions are more alike than different. Too bad more people didn't realize that. Thank you again. Meditation is healthy, I came by it from a physical therapist while in my 20's (long ago)! as I have a back problem, and it relaxes you.

lyndapringle on September 26, 2011:

Also thank you for the links for the beautiful videos especially the peaceful lotus ones.

lyndapringle on September 26, 2011:

Some of this was a bit much for me to absorb at once but I understood the gist of it which is the most important. I loved the video about the 18 rules to live by. I have shared that one both in my personal journal and Facebook. Many folks believe that Buddhism is easy meditation but, in fact, it is not. It advocates constant forgiveness and turning away from harm and this is not so easy to do do when the human nature is retribution and revenge. It was interesting to learn that "karma" is not "payback" how we all think of it but compassion - the opposite of revenge. I haven't read that section yet but plan to after I write this note. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I suppose this sort of Buddhist meditation is akin to the Catholic methodology of praying the Rosary.

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