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

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Not a Step-by-Step Teaching: Simultaneous Rights

“Right” might be the wrong word, an indelicate translation. It implies moral code and rules, which is not the true sense of the Eightfold Path. The word path might be slightly misleading too, because the “Eight Rights” are taken together as simultaneous and equally vital, meant to be transformative and complete. In other words, we don’t work on Right Speech first, then move on to Right Livelihood; they’re inextricably bound together. By taking them together, we bring the Dharma into our every-day lives.

The Buddha gives a teaching.

Buddha’s Word: The Eightfold Path

“This is the noble eightfold way, namely, right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right attention, right concentration, and right meditation.” — Shakyamuni Buddha at Deerpark

The word “right” (sometimes translated as “correct”) doesn’t imply there are also eight “wrongs.” There are no “thou shalt nots” in Buddhist teachings as a rule. This is an English translation of a concept that goes beyond right and wrong. It recognizes that action, in daily living, is Dharma.

As with all Buddhist teachings, we are asked to consider, contemplate and live the teachings. We are not asked to take anything on faith — it’s about self-discovery of the truth of the Buddha’s teachings.

Just as a quick overview, here is a tight synopsis of the eight “rights” — necessarily incomplete, but containing the gist.

In summary:

  • Right Understanding
  • Right Intent
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration.

1. Right Understanding

Right Understanding is clear knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, encompassing the “Three Basic Facts of Existence”: Anicca (Impermanence), Anatta (Pali for “non self” or “insubstantiality”; in Sankrit Anatman) and Dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness). These are big topics, and we look to the Dharma teachings and commentaries, our own teachers, our own insight meditations for guidance on “right understanding.” Without understanding the Four Noble Truths (the “diseases”) of what use is the “cure” (The Eightfold Path)?

The wheel classically symbolizes the Buddha’s precious Eightfold Path teaching.

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