If you have read any of my earlier posts you were exposed to the Four Noble Truths and each of the steps in the Eightfold Path. I like to look at the Eightfold Path as the process and guidance that can help you end suffering and lead an ethical life. I attempted to provide some detail about each of the steps in the Eightfold Path that relate to living in this world, although what the Buddha taught is as applicable in this age as it was then. As I studied each of the steps I found the concepts to be fairly straightforward, but difficult to implement. The benefits far out way the challenges, and it may take years before you master all the steps, or you may already be living a life that puts you very close to attaining enlightenment. Of course there is no specific time table for any of us, and the journey should be viewed as a great reward unto itself. You can read about each of the steps in the path by following these links:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
I hope this post will help you has it has helped me be more centered and live in the present. I am still working on each of these steps, and need to review them periodically as my own journey has just begun.
The last step in the Eightfold Path is right concentration. Once we use right mindfulness to become aware of what is going on around us, we can then use right concentration to focus on whatever we desire. We can use right concentration to focus on any object which gives us an understanding of the object as it actually is not what we previously perceived it to be.
Use right concentration to focus on things, with the benefit that you are now living in the present, freeing you from worries of the past and future. Practicing right mindfulness and right concentration is essential to meditation, awareness, and focus in your life.
To practice right concentration you might spend a few minutes focusing your eyes and mind on:
- A full or half moon
- The stars
- A candle
- Water as in a river, lake, or ocean
- A plant or tree
- An animal, reptile, or insect
- A figurine of the Buddha
These are just examples, really anything that appears interesting to you could become a target of your focus. In this act of concentration you are in fact meditating. Later on you might turn your attention from an object to a concept. You might focus your concentration on:
There are really no limits to using right concentration, other than you should use right concentration help you see things as they really are, and there needs to be a positive intent.
The seventh step on the Eightfold Path is Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is about being aware of the world around you and focusing on the present. For most of us this is very difficult to do, as we are always obsessing over what happened yesterday or what we need to do tomorrow.
Through Right Mindfulness we are looking to create a greater awareness of everything around us, not hiding from it, but fully absorbing it. We are seeking to understand our true nature by being fully aware. Right Mindfulness then also implies focus and concentration. Maybe you have found this through playing an instrument, writing, or playing sports. This was a time when you were totally focused on one thing, in the zone if you will. The question for us is are there ways we can cultivate Right Mindfulness? Let me give you a few examples of simple ways that at least might set the stage for it:
- When you go to a meeting leave your phone at your desk.
- When you are talking with someone, stop and listen to them instead of formulating what you want to say next.
- If you are reading at home turn off the television.
- Turn your phone to silent mode, and stop looking at it every 5 minutes.
- Turn off email notifications.
- Go take a walk and use your eyes and ears.
- Stop worrying about the future, it will soon be here, and worrying is pointless.
- Seek out a hobby or activity that requires concentration as this will help you focus on the present.
If you like to worry about the future, remember there is no better preparation for the future than to be completely focused on the present. Great things are accomplished now, not yesterday, or tomorrow.
Right Mindfulness can lead to an uncluttered mind and this sets the stage for the ability to focus on the present. In my next post I will write about Right Concentration.
The sixth step in the Eightfold Path is Right Effort. What are some of the attributes of Right Effort?
- Positive Thinking
- Cheerful Determination
- Not being impatient
- Understanding that to follow the way is a marathon not a sprint
Applying right effort requires a dogged determination to follow the way especially during difficult times in our life. Plowing ahead towards our goal and using the Eightfold Path to lead us forward. You probably know people like this that are always moving forward with a positive attitude, not mired down in self pity. A Buddhist understands that life has its ups and downs, but by living with right effort they will ride out the storm and continue their journey down the path overcoming the causes of suffering.
Remember right effort will increase happiness, make you more effective in a non spiritual sense, and help attract the best things to your life. As you become more effective at practicing right effort you will notice that you are not only enhancing your own piece of mind but, you will have the power to positively influence others.
In my next post I will write about Right Mindfullness.
The fifth step in the Eightfold Path is Right Livelihood. This means for followers of the path that certain professions do not align with the teachings of the Buddha, particularly anything that does not respect the equality of all living beings and life. For instance this would include professions that involve intoxicants, firearms, or the destruction of animals. If we think about professions in our time, then here are a few examples of those that are not considered Right Livelihood:
- Brewing beer or liquor
- Owning a liquor store
- Bar tending
- Member of the military
- Making or selling guns
- Cattle farmers
There are many more of course, but if you think about cherishing equality and life, then you can figure out what type of work does not support these precepts. It is also common that one reserves some time part of their time for community service.
Practicing Right Livelihood builds on Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, and Right Action all steps in the Eightfold Path. In my next post I we will explore Right Effort.
The fourth step in the Eightfold path is Right Action. For followers of the path Right Action guides what we do in this world. Right Action asks us to follow an ethical approach to life that considers how we treat each other. Right Action follows the five precepts of Buddhism:
- Do not to kill
- Do not steal
- Do not lie
- Avoid sexual misconduct (adultry, rape, etc.)
- Do not take drugs or other intoxicants
So it is not enough to have good intentions towards others, you must also follow through with actual behavior. The five precepts may appear fairly simple, but dig a little deeper and you find that they are not so easy to follow. For instance to not kill is not reserved for humans but for every living being. Have you ever lied about something? Do you drink or smoke marijuana? Most of us must come to grips with the behavioral changes that it will take to truly live a life of Right Action.
The third step in the Eightfold Path is called Right Speech. As we travel the Eightfold Path we often find that the steps build on each other. In Right View we learned about adopting a realistic view of the world and with Right Intent we would adopt a mindset that values all human life and act with compassion. As much of our communication is centered around speech, we must understand the impact that our words have on each other. The power of our words and what we say to each other can have a positive influence or be extremely detrimental. Here are a few examples of Right Speech:
- Being truthful
- Refraining from gossiping and spreading rumors
- Speaking with kindness not anger
- Not criticizing people
- Speaking words of encouragement
These are just a few examples of Right Speech, but I think you get the idea. Right Speech should be speech that first does no harm. This requires a great amount of self control and relies heavily on to what degree you have mastered Right Intent. In my opinion you can also apply Right Speech to the written word as the overall goal should be the same.
How many times have you let your anger get the best of you and blurted out some hurtful language even to those you love? When was the last time you criticized someone to another behind their back? How often have you been fast and loose with the truth? I know that I need to work on Right Speech and I’m guessing it will take a while before it is mastered. If it were easy we would all reach enlightenment in a matter of days, but we should be grateful that the Buddha provided the path for us to follow, which will guide us along the way.