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8 Rights: The Noble Eightfold Path — the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

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The Noble Eightfold Path distinguishes itself from many teachings in its positive, affirmative nature. Many spiritual teachings consist of “dont’s” — don’t do this, don’t do that. The Noble Eightfold Path speaks in positive, warm terms. Implied within the concept of “right” might be its opposite, “wrongs” — but Buddha taught self empowerment, not prohibitions. He taught the Eightfold Path in his first teaching at Deer Park.

(The full text of that teaching is at the end of this feature. It is short and makes a good “daily” read. In this teaching he introduced the Four Noble Truths, the concept of the Middle Way, and the Eightfold Path.)

Virtuous acts of compassion exemplify the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Here, Buddha, often metaphorically called the “Doctor” helps a sick monk.
Buddha taught the “cure” to the disease of suffering, not by trying to govern us with “can’t” dos — but by coaching us on what we can do.

(In other words, in our concise examples below, illustrating the eight “rights”, if we say “do not swear” or “do not lie” this is a western cultural bias on our part. Buddha taught in much more affirmative terms. It’s just easier to say, “for example, do not lie” when we’re speaking about right speech.)

The Disease of Suffering and the Medicine of the Noble Path

Most precious in Buddhism are the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. As practicing Buddhists — regardless of school or level of practice — we take refuge in the Three Jewels each day. The Buddha is often described with the metaphor of “the Doctor”, the Dharma as “the medicine” and the Sangha as the supporting caregivers. Underlying this concept of medicine is the Buddha’s original and core “prescription” (Dharma teaching) — the Noble Eightfold Path. This path is not as simple as we’re about to map out, but having a high level “essence” view of the entire path, in as concise a form as possible, can be very helpful to practice.

Death, old age, suffering are expressed in the Four Noble Truths — along with a “prescription” for overcoming this suffering.

Before giving the “prescription”, Buddha first taught the Four Noble Truths, the Truth of Suffering, metaphorically, the “disease” we are treating.

“What, monks, is the truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, decay, sickness and death are suffering. To be separated from what you like is suffering. To want something and not get it is suffering. In short, the human personality, liable as it is to clinging and attachment brings suffering.” [1]

If this suffering is the disease, the prescription was the Eightfold Path. Although described alternately with the metaphor of “path” and “steps on the path” this teaching is not linear.

Contents of Feature (click to navigate)

Not a Step-by-Step Teaching: Simultaneous Rights
Samatha, Panna, Vipassana

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