To achieve Nirvana, or the end of suffering, Buddhist followers must follow the Noble Eightfold Path as set forth by Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The eight steps of the path form the fourth truth of the Four Noble Truths, which are among the most fundamental of Buddhist teachings.
The Eightfold Path is often depicted as a Dharma wheel, closely resembling a ship’s wheel. The eight steps comprising the path or wheel result in a practical guide to ethics, mental rehabilitation, and mental deconditioning. By achieving these eight steps, a Buddhist follower will eliminate all suffering and reach the desired state of Nirvana. The follower does not have to complete the steps sequentially, but rather, he may obtain them simultaneously.
The steps include:
The Right Understanding is crucial to understanding the Buddhist belief system, particularly the identification, causes, consequences of, and through these eight steps, the elimination of suffering. The Right Understanding also conveys an understanding of the Buddhist philosophy of the non-permanence of the self.
To have the Right Thought, a follower should fully understand his purpose in following the teachings of the Buddha, as well as his outlook on the world and world issues.
The focus of the Right Speech is to avoid harmful language, such as lying or unkind words. It is far better to use gentle, friendly and meaningful words, even when a situation calls for a truth that may be hurtful, despite the follower’s best intentions.
The Right Action forms a list of fundamental ethical behaviors all practicing Buddhists should follow. These are the Five Precepts:
- To refrain from destroying living beings
- To refrain from stealing
- To refrain from sexual misconduct (adultery, rape, etc.)
- To refrain from false speech (lying)
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to heedlessness
Those seeking enlightenment should pick the Right Livelihood to support the other fundamentals of Buddhism. Followers should avoid employment in positions where their actions may cause harm to others, be it directly or indirectly.
Buddhists recognize that human nature limits the mind at times and causes ill thoughts. Unlike Right Thought, the Right Effort focuses on working to remove the bad thoughts and replace them with positive, more pleasant thoughts.
The Right Mindfulness, along with Right Concentration, is the foundation behind Buddhist meditation. Monks, or other followers, should focus their minds on their body, emotions, mental workings, and mental qualities, but not on worldly desire and aversion while meditating.
Coupled with Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration lays the framework for proper meditation. Rather than focusing on the mental aspects, the Right Concentration gives instructions as to how to work through the steps of focus in effective meditation.