The Buddhist Eightfold Path for Modern Times

Updated on May 10, 2017

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion based upon the teachings of Buddha, a sage who lived in India sometime between the fourth and sixth century BCE.

The Eightfold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. No matter what your religion (or even if you do not follow any religion), you will find the teachings of Buddha relevant to your life today.

The Eightfold Path

The dharmachakra wheel typically is used to  illustrate the eightfold path.
The dharmachakra wheel typically is used to illustrate the eightfold path. | Source

What are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path?

Buddha’s teachings are based upon the teachings of others who preceded him. He aimed to teach his disciples how to live an enlightened life and how to minimize human suffering.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  • The truth of suffering
  • The truth of the cause of suffering
  • The truth of the end of suffering
  • The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering

The Eightfold Path is part of the fourth noble truth which is the path that leads to the end of suffering. Buddha taught that the way to achieve enlightenment and to minimize human suffering was to live an ethical life.

Buddha placed all human behavior into one of eight categories or paths. Each path as designated by the term “right” meaning ethical or moral. He then described the types of behavior that were right for each of these categories.

The eightfold path has three main groups: two paths of wisdom (how we understand), three paths of conduct (how we act) and three paths of concentration (how we think).

The Two Paths of Wisdom

The two paths of wisdom on the Buddhist dharma wheel.
The two paths of wisdom on the Buddhist dharma wheel. | Source

What are the two paths of wisdom in Buddhism?

The two paths of wisdom are “Right View” and “Right Intention.”

“Right view” is sometimes called “right understanding.” It means to see things are they really are which means seeing them objectively and completely and understanding them fully. This requires accurate observation followed by study. In other words we must think about what we have observed. Only then can we have “right understanding.”

“Right Intention” is sometimes called ”right thought.” It means that we must not see things through the lens of negative emotions. We must free our selves of desire, greed, hatred, anger, and other negative emotions that can cloud our judgment. Only then can we have “right thought.”

The Three Paths of Conduct

The three paths of conduct on the Buddhist dharma wheel.
The three paths of conduct on the Buddhist dharma wheel. | Source

What are the three paths of conduct in Buddhism?

“Right speech” means that we must have respect for the truth. We must not lie; we must not slander;we must not gossip; we must not speak ill of other people. We must avoid harsh or cruel words which will lead to hurt feelings or quarrels. In essence, it means to treat others with respect when we speak and to consider the consequences of our words.

“Right Action” means beings respectful of all life and maintaining good relationships with others. We should not intentionally kill any living thing; not even a mosquito. We should not steal. (Stealing means we should not take anything that is not freely given; it includes not defrauding or tricking someone.) We should not “use” other people for our own benefit. We should not engage in sexual misconduct or adultery.

Right action means living in harmony with all the other aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.

“Right Livelihood” is an extension of “‘right action,” but the focus is on how we earn our living. We should not do work that involves killing (including the slaughtering animals) or dealing in slaves, weapons, poisons, or intoxicants (drug or alcohol).

This one may require some modification for modern times. If you do not wish to be a vegetarian, you should try to only eat meat from animals that have been humanely raised and slaughtered. Actual slavery has been abolished in most of the world, so we should take this rule to mean that we should not have “wage slaves.” Employees should be treated fairly and paid a living wage. We should be honest and ethical in how we treat our employees, our customers, our employers, and our competitors.

The prohibition of poisons and intoxicants I will adapt to mean that we must not be involved in the production of products that are harmful to human life and health or engage in practices that are harmful to the health of our planet. Further, we must not support people or companies that violate these precepts. Violations of this principle are so widespread, I fear that it is almost impossible to be 100% moral in this area. Perhaps the best we can do is to be aware of these violations, to help make others aware of them, and be careful not to vote for people who support immoral practices and businesses.


The Three Paths of Concentration

The three paths of concentration on the Buddhist dharma wheel.
The three paths of concentration on the Buddhist dharma wheel. | Source

What are the three paths of concentration in Buddhism?

“Right Effort” means keeping a positive attitude and approaching tasks with enthusiasm and cheerful determination. We must avoid becoming too intense in our work; but also avoid slacking off.

It also means avoiding unwholesome thoughts. It is “right action” for the mind.

“Right Mindfulness” means we should have awareness and focus as we go through our day. We should avoid having a distracted or confused state of mind. It means being able to focus on the task at hand with a calm mind without our mind wandering off or worries intruding.

It is not meditation, but like meditation it asks us to be aware of what we are doing physically and mentally. It means being aware of what we are doing, what we are feeling, and what are we thinking.

Have you ever been driving and you suddenly realize that you are at your exit and you don’t know how you got there? The monotony of highway driving can cause us to lose mindfulness. I have been making a conscious effort to keep my mind on the road.

Another example is eating in front of the TV. Have you ever done this and suddenly noticed that your plate is empty, but you don’t remember eating? Mindful eating is important to good health.

“Right Meditation” means practicing meditation. This produces an inner tranquility and sharpens awareness at the same time. It is hard to do right and it requires faithful practice. It requires “emptying the mind” to achieve a total stillness of mind and body.

I attended a Buddhist meditation class, and I had great luck the first session. I was able to quiet my mind. When I left and drove home, I felt like I was “fully awake” in a way I had never been before. I was hyper aware of everything I was seeing and hearing and feeling, and I felt like I was actually driving the car. Usually, driving is so automatic, if feels like the car is driving me. (This may sound crazy unless you have experienced the difference yourself.)

A depiction of Buddha

Thee are 488 million Buddhists in the world, 7% of the world's population.
Thee are 488 million Buddhists in the world, 7% of the world's population. | Source

What is the Eightfold Path of Buddhism in a nutshell?

The most important thing to remember if you wish to follow the eightfold path is to be ethical in word, deed, and thought. Be a good, kind, positive, and moral person. Banish negativity and bring focus to all your activities.

You will be happier and more productive for having done so. The eightfold path may not be the path most travelled, but it is the one that is most likely to get you to where you want to go.

Learn more about Buddhism at About Buddhism


Which of the paths do you feel you need to work on the MOST?

See results

Enlightenment in Under Three Minutes

Questions & Answers

  • What are the wider implications of the beliefs of Buddhism?

    I'll answer briefly here because it is explained in more detail in my other article: "The Buddhist Eightfold Path for Modern Times":

    https://hubpages.com/humanities/The-Buddhist-Eight...

    Meditation can be very helpful for people. It reduces stress, and it can even help with depression and addiction. I have a friend who was very depressed. Medication wasn't helping him, so he tried doing daily meditation. It worked, and now he feels normal again.

    Buddhism can also be a guide for daily life. The 8-fold path teaches us to live in a "right" way. For instance, it reminds me to practice mindfulness and to be honest and respectful in my dealings with others.

    You don't have to go 100% Buddhist to get the benefit; even a little bit of Buddhist practice provides benefits.

  • If the original Buddhist teachings instructed us to do no harm, would it not be unacceptable for us to killing animals because we like the taste of meat when plant-based food is more accessible than it has ever been in the majority of the world?

    Buddha taught that human beings should not harm any living thing. We should even avoid stepping on an ant. As I explained in the article, he commended a vegetarian diet for this reason. (Plants are alive, but it is permissible to eat them, but we wanted humans to refrain from harming any animals. Not only should we not eat them, but we should not use any parts of their body for our own uses--no using hides or skins for clothes or shoes, no using bones for tools or ornaments, etc.

    I agree with this because if a person can mistreat an animal or take an animal's life because it suits him, then that person becomes coarsened and will thus be more likely to hurt other human beings.

  • Can one follow the Buddhist 8 fold path and still hold to the values of contemporary American society?

    It depends on what you mean by "follow" and what you mean by "contemporary American values." I find what works for me is to just keep Buddha's values in mind, so they guide me to make better choices.

    Remember Buddha was prescribing for another place and time when life was much simpler. That said, it is not hard to try to live mindfully and to treat others and yourself with respect. If you wish, you can become a vegetarian to avoid killing any living thing. You can refuse to participate in war and be an advocate for peace. You can learn to subdue your negative emotions.

    Walking the 8-fold path does not mean you have to walk around with a beggar's bowl and meditate for four hours a day. It might mean giving up the "lust" for the bigger house, bigger car, the newest and best electronics.

    In short, try to keep your life simple and your behavior good.

© 2015 Catherine Giordano

Comments

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    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      11 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Kari Poulsen: Buddhism is a practice and a philosophy, not a religion in the traditional sense. It is compatible with all religions and also atheism. I don't call myself a Buddhist, but I think it is useful to keep the 8-fold path in mind. It tells us how to be a decent human being.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      11 months ago from Ohio

      Great depiction of the eight fold path in modern life. Sometimes it is hard to think what it means to us today. I am Christian, but I think this path applies to my life also.

    • profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      12 months ago

      Julia.Wolfe: Sadly, slavery is still going on in the world today, even in the United States. Buddha opposed it 2600 years ago, and we need to still oppose it, and work to end, it today.

    • profile image

      Julia.Wolfe 

      12 months ago

      I'm ridiculously late to the party (actually it's over) but wanted to say thank you. This is very clear. I also think it's important to say that slavery has not been abolished. Human trafficking is slavery and that is sadly still happening. I say that because I think it's important to acknowledge that many people are enslaved - if we aren't aware of ills, we can't take right action to address them.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      vocalcoach: Thank you for your lovely comment. The more I learn about the teachings of Buddha, the more impressed I become with his straightforward philosophy. I feel like I am a candle yearning to be burning. Perhaps you feel the same.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      2 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thank you Catherine for sharing this beautiful hub. My journey and joy is to become the best I can be, to do good and to serve others. I live toward these Buddism principles each day. I am grateful and honored to be one of your followers and priviledged to learn wisdom and light from your articles.

      May you walk in love and light.

      Audrey

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      jonnycomelately: Easy for you to say. I find it next to impossible to quiet my mind, relax, and just be in the moment. I tried meditation about a dozen times, sometimes in a group setting and sometimes alone, and then I finally gave up. Perhaps if I stuck with it, but I'm impatient by nature. Thanks for your comment. Maybe all the study I've done to write this essay will get me back to it.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 

      2 years ago from Tasmania

      If your meditation seems too hard, then you may be trying to hard.

      The secret is in letting go; relax into it; let be.....just as you are, perfect in the moment, a Love Affair with your Self.

      May it last for ever.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Umbrosus: Thanks for your comment. The meditation is the hardest. I managed to get it right just once--beginner's luck. It was a magical experience. I really felt "awakened."

    • profile image

      Umbrosus 

      2 years ago

      Absolutely good article, I need to work on everything. I think the meditations gonna be the most difficult to me, my mind seems to be in high revolutions always....Thank you very much for the post!

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      jonnycomelately: Thank you so much for your cheerful upbeat comment. it is a pleasure to read it and respond to it. I too have noticed how I stumble upon the exact thing needed sometime. The universe works in mysterious ways. Continue on your path.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 

      2 years ago from Tasmania

      Catherine, this hub (oh! so lately!) is just the very connection I needed when departing from "that" discussion you are having about the historical accuracy of the bible.

      I am just reading again Lobsang Rampa's novel, "The Saffron Robe." The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path are gone into considerable detail there, so the Universe has its way of getting us to focus on what is important for "this Moment."

      Then to click on the YouTube for "Enlightenment in Under Three Minutes" was perfect nectar for me!

      It brings us back to realise all the enlightened beings of history have all indicated the same principles: Our Enlightenment comes from within, it will be reflected from without.

      Keep up the good work.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      AudreyHowitt: Thank you. I plan to do one or two more about Buddha.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      3 years ago from California

      So well done Catherine--really a great article on the subject!

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thish: Thank you. I especially value your opinion since you are a Buddhist and live in a country where Buddhism is the main religion. I simplified it for people who may not know anything about Buddhism because I feel this is good advice for anyone no matter what religion they belong to. I'm glad to know that you think that I got it right.

    • Thish profile image

      Ohla 

      3 years ago

      I am born as a Buddhist and practice Buddhism. I live in a country where Budhdhism is the main religion. 8 fold path is common for everyone and it is 100% true for any religion. Glad to see there are many who understand this noble truth. Up.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you toknowinfo. I'm so pleased that you want to reread many times. A rereading will often give you something that you missed the first time. It is amazing how relevant the teachings of Buddha can be today. I think his teachings underlie the teachings of all major religions. it is the same moral values.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 

      3 years ago

      Fascinating, wonderful, and amazing article! I can keep writing praise about how good this article. I learned so much and am bookmarking this because it certainly needs to be read again and again. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your comment, peachpurple. We do not need to be Buddhists in order to see the wisdom in some of the teachings of Buddha. I hope you show this hub to your husband. I'd love to know what he thinks of it.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wow, you studied a lot about buddhism, my hubby is a buddhist but not as loyal as others.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks DDE for letting me know that you found my article about Buddhism interesting. The philosophy of Buddhism is compatible with most religions.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A sound religion and so interesting.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      MsDora: I'm glad you use the word enlightening. Most of us know this stuff; it is the foundation of the major religions of the world. I think it is useful to remind ourselves sometimes of these principles also so as to appreciate them anew.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      FlourishAnyway. I agree I'm all for "Buddhism Light." I think the Eightfold Path is wisdom that everyone can use.I want to take from it what I find useful.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      A very good job on the explanation of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Thanks for introducing this enlightening teaching.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      I've always been fascinated with Buddhism and have read some on the subject. I describe myself sometimes as a failed Buddhist -- a bit too intense but the philosophy completely appeals to me.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your comment, poereyman6969. I tried to practice the wisdom paths and make this as easy to understand as possible for the person who just wants to know little more about Buddhism.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 

      3 years ago

      A very clear presentation of a belief system.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks a lot billybuc for your comment. Did you do the poll about which area you need to work on? For me, it is concentration. Perfection is like the horizon--you can never reach it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Just when I think I'm perfect I read an article like this and discover I have some work to do. :) I always find your articles fascinating and this one was no exception.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks seraphic for your compliments. Isn't it wonderful how sometimes the universe sends us exactly what we need when we need it. I hope I have inspired you to get to work. Maybe focus on one path a day for the next 8 days and then see where you are.

    • seraphic profile image

      Seraph 

      3 years ago from Canada

      I need to work on everything, kind of ironic you posted this as I was just on the phone chattering away to a friend regarding healing and workign on "self". Excellent Hub, voted Up!

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