By Kristie Grasis • Teacher Blog Post
The Four Noble Truths dictate that:
1. Suffering exists,
2. Suffering is caused by our clinging (to thoughts, ideas, expectations, et cetera),
3. An end to suffering exists, and
4. The end of suffering can be found by following the Noble Eightfold path.
The Eightfold path is a practice that anyone can partake in. It consists of different factors that, when followed, can lead a person to a deep resounding inner peace.
One might ask, “how is something like Right Speech going to end my anguish? Me not being harsh might end someone else’s suffering, but how will that help me?”
That question can be answered with a story. Prince Gautama once said, “Suppose a cloth were stained and dirty, and a dyer dipped it in some dye, whether blue or yellow or red or pink, it would take the dye badly and be impure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was not clean. So too, when the mind is defiled, an unhappy destination may be expected.
“Suppose a cloth were clean and bright, and a dyer dipped it in some dye, it would take the dye well and be pure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was clean. So too, when the mind is undefiled, a happy destination may be expected. - Vatthūpam Sutta - Middle Length Discourses
If we have a plain white cloth and want to color it, we must clean it first; make the white cloth clean and bright. Otherwise, it will just be a stained colored cloth. The same can be said for our minds and heart. If we want to transform ourselves into a state of serenity and peace, then we need to cleanse our mind and heart first. We need to rid it of defilements (conceit, anger, jealousy, greed, ill will, envy, arrogance). The Eightfold Path is a guide to help us rid ourselves of the stains we carry. As these imperfections are cleared away, our mind becomes a clean and bright place.
The eight path-factors are usually broken up into three categories. Gil Fronsdal offers a simple translation of these three groupings: the head, the body, and the heart. It encompasses all aspects of our being.
“The Head” classification has to do with our fundamental understanding of what is needed to follow the Path: Right View and Right Intention. Wise View deals with understanding that “actions have consequences.” If we can see what actions we take to cause ourselves suffering, then we can stop doing it and bring ourselves peace from that suffering. Many of us go through life trying to navigate obstacles put in front of us: stress, depression, fear, anger, tension, despair. We traverse through all sorts of emotional difficulties and challenges. Right View shows us that there is a wise way to deal with this suffering. Wise Intention dictates that our choices matter. To live openly and to live a life of peace, we must have an attitude of compassion, loving-kindness, and we need to cultivate the ability to let go.
The second category of the Path is “The Body,” and deals with our external behavior. How we live and act in the world matters. Our external action is an expression of our inner life. This begins with Right Speech. As part of our external behavior, we do not: lie, speak divisively, speak harshly, or partake in idle chatter. Before speaking, we create space to be mindful that what we say is true, timely, beneficial, kind, and leads to concord. “The Body” portion of the Path also involves Wise Action. We learn to act in ways that do not cause us to regret. We avoid actively harming or killing any living being, we avoid taking what is not given, and we do not misuse our sexuality. Right Livelihood also falls within this middle section of the Path. We continuously ask ourselves if the way we live moves us forward toward peace and freedom. When we deal with the second part of the Path, “The Body,” we cultivate living in such a way that is in harmony with being at peace.
The last category of the Eightfold Path deals with aspects of “The Heart,” or aspects of our inner life: Right Mindfulness, Right Effort, and Right Concentration. Wise Effort helps us develop and maintain wholesome, skillful states and prevent and abandon unskillful states. Right Mindfulness directs our attention to four different areas. Being aware of the body, our feeling tones (pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral), our mind state, and the mental objects that trap and liberate our heart. Wise Concentration dictates that we need a stable, focused mind to find a real sense of peace. It cannot be scattered or distracted.
Following this Path aims to create the conditions that bring together our heart, body, and mind. Through this unification, we can achieve a sense of lasting peace. This realization becomes a deep knowing that comes from within you. It is not abstract; it is something you can understand for yourself. We all recognize when our mind is caught up in a defilement such as anger, hostility, or jealousy. We know for ourselves how when our mind is caught, it cannot settle, see clearly or understand. An agitated mind is not a mind that is useful in finding peace. It stains our vision and colors our world. We also know what it feels like to let go of that agitation, the peace it brings.
The EightFold Path is a guide to train the mind so that we can let it go when we are caught in an agitated state. The Eightfold Path is not just about learning how the mind is stained; it is about learning to have the flexibility and strength of mind to abandon those stains. Gil Fronsdal explained it like this:
1. You see the stain.
2. You let it go.
3. You see the relief and peace that comes from letting go.
4. You develop confidence in the practice based on your own knowledge.
As you remove the stains from your heart and mind, serenity follows.
My favorite example: I am late to work and hit a red light. There is tension. I let it go. There is a release. It is that simple. We start small, see it work, develop confidence, and then start applying it to other areas of our life. The more we apply it, the more it strengthens our mind’s ability to find peaceful states. As we develop mindfulness, we see our choices. In the space we create, we can ask ourselves, “Is this fear, anger, greed worth losing my peace?”
The Eightfold Path is a practical guideline that helps us clean the stains in our mind with moral, benevolent behavior. Following the Path sets our heart at ease, and in doing so, sets the conditions for an unwavering peace.