8 Buddhist Beliefs to Live By

Following his enlightenment, The Buddha resolved to teach others the steps he had taken to attain his awakened state, so that they, in turn, would adopt these steps and apply them to reach awakened states themselves.

The Buddha incorporated several tools in his teachings to be adopted by his students and followers. Among these tools is the eightfold path also known as a teacher’s teacher. This is a tool designed to help the practitioner to overcome worldly habits and desires which are a leading cause of suffering and unhappiness.

According to Buddhist teachings, there is an inherent kind of suffering present in all human beings. This suffering is not the typical kind like grief, heartbreak, sickness and so on. This is a different kind of suffering. It is more like a vacuum, or emptiness, or a need inherent in all human beings, which can only be filled and satisfied through spirituality and spiritual practices.

Have you ever been after a goal or a particular object of desire which you felt that somehow after you get or achieve it you would be the happiest person in the world? But once you attained this goal or object of desire (like a house, or a car) instead of the happiness you thought you would experience was just an empty feeling on the inside. Or if you experienced some happiness it was only short-lived? This emptiness, this vacuum, this is the kind of suffering being referred to here, known in Buddhism as Dukkha.

The Buddha taught that it is only through the eightfold path that happiness and freedom from suffering (dukkha) could be attained.

The noble eight-fold path can be broken down as follows:

(a) Right View

For any person to get to their intended destination, they have to understand not only their current station or position but the nature and terrain of their journey as well. They have to understand the successive landmarks to be crossed as they advance in their spiritual practice. Without proper understanding of the journey to be embarked on, the individual risks getting lost in the futility of undirected movement. This is what right view is all about. Having a proper understanding of ourselves, where we are, the direction we are headed, and the ultimate destination. According to Buddhist teachings, right view lead towards right action and consequently towards freedom form suffering.

(b) Right Intention

The Buddha in his teachings broke down this second factor of the eightfold path into three categories; the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill, and the intention of harmlessness. He then came up with three parallel kind or opposites of the aforementioned three categories; intentioned propelled by desire (opposing intention of renunciation), intention propelled by ill will (opposing intention of goodwill), intention propelled by harmfulness (opposing intention of harmlessness). Each segment of right intention counters the corresponding segment of wrong intention.

While meditating in the forest prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha came up with this twofold division of right intentions countered with opposing parallel wrong intentions. For any though that crossed his mind, he classified it under any of the categories in the two divisions. Whenever he noticed thoughts of ill intention he realized that these thoughts culminate to harm for one-self and others, obstruct wisdom, and deny one a chance for liberation. Consequently, he banished such thoughts form his mind. But whenever thoughts classified under right intentions crossed his mind, he realized that such thoughts were conducive and beneficial to the growth of wisdom which ultimately helped in the attainment of Nirvana. He therefore reinforced such thoughts.

What kind of thoughts are you currently reinforcing? Are they beneficial or destructive? Are they leading you closer to your goals or further away from them?

(c) Right Speech

The Buddha’s teachings split right speech into four sub-categories; abstinence from slanderous speech, abstinence from false speech, abstinence from harsh speech, and abstinence from idle speech/chatter.

Though effects of careless talk in most cases cannot be immediately felt, the ripple effects can lead to enormous consequences.

The capacity for verbal expression both orally and in writing has often been viewed as one of the distinguishing marks of a human being. From this, we can endeavor to make this capacity the channel to human excellence rather than a means to human degradation as has always been the case.

In essence, what is being said here is that we should always strive to be impeccable in our speech through exercising truth and dignity. That our words should be a reflection of only that which is true, courteous, and above all loving towards ourselves and others.

(d) Right Action

Right action as taught by the Buddha refers to refraining from those deeds considered vile by using the body as the natural means to attain them.

The Buddha taught three components of right action; refraining from taking life, refraining from stealing, and refraining from sexual misconduct.

Taking a life comprise not only of oneself and other human beings, it enjoins all sentient beings which include animals and insects as well. As long as it is a being with some level of consciousness, the teachings caution against taking such life.

Abstinence from stealing is more self explanatory. That is taking that which does not belong to you and has not been given to you either directly or indirectly by its owner.

On sexual misconduct, the Buddha issues guidelines on the type of sexual partners we should stay away from. He says we should abstain from having sexual encounters with people; who are married to others, who are already betrothed, ordained nuns and monks, someone under the care of parents or guardians, someone who hasn’t given consent (forced sexual encounter). These are just but some of the sexual encounters that the Buddha warns against, the objective being to promote sexual purity, to overcome sexual desire in favor for spirituality, and to establish and promote the institution of marriage in high virtue and from external interference.

(e) Right livelihood

Buddhist teachings state that an individual’s way of earning a living must be righteous. The Buddha taught that gaining wealth can only be considered righteous if it falls within certain standards: It should be done legally, peacefully, and without violence or coercion. It should be done honestly and ways which do not violate the well-being of others.

(f) Right Effort

Each person is responsible for their own deliverance or liberation. The Buddha had already played his part by pointing out the path and issuing steps. It therefore follows that the practical application of the steps is up to each one set on this spiritual journey. It is a task which demands effort. This effort is to be applied in the cultivation of the mind which forms the basis of the entire path.

The starting point is the unstable mind, deluded, and afflicted; the goal is a liberated, steady mind, illuminated and purified by wisdom. In between is the unrelenting individual effort to make this transformation possible. No one can do it for us but ourselves. It is not easy but neither is it impossible. What it requires is sustained effort combined with right amount of determination and will.

(g) Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to observing and releasing hardwired habits of the mind that hold the illusion of a separate self. This includes accepting everything as it is free from judgments, interpretation, thoughts associations, and all other ways the mind manipulates experiences in an attempt to establish dominance.

Mindfulness anchors the mind securely in the present so that it does not wander into the past and the future with their regrets, hopes, and fears. It facilitates the achievement of both insight and serenity.

Mindfulness acts as the guard tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the mind does not lose itself in undirected random thoughts. It keeps watch over negative elements of the mind and expels them before they cause harm.

(h) Right Concentration

Right concentration is to maintain focus on a single aspect or object to the exclusion of others; it could be maintaining your focus on your breath, on a word, on a person, on a mantra, or on a thought to the exclusion of everything or everyone else. The process should aim at improving focus by avoiding distractions of the mind so that it is focused on one thing and one thing only; such a concentrated and focused mind is described as single pointed. Buddhism teaches that when this state is attained, an element of great peace and tranquility is produced within an individual.

The practice of right concentration is not a linear process where the practitioner gets better with each session of meditation. Rather it can be a highly variable process where some days are better than the others; today’s session could be better than tomorrow’s. Instead of getting frustrated at this, the practitioner should remain consistent in practice with an assurance that focus will get deeper over time and distractions will gradually get rare.

With continual practice, so will the level of concentration from rapture of the mind, to bliss, to one pointed-ness. Ultimately the mind becomes completely unified and focused on the object of meditation secondary to everything else. The attainment of this stage calms and quiets the mind allowing consciousness to set in on its own without interruption. As this happens, consciousness moves to deeper and deeper levels or states. Some practitioners by pass al the stages right through to the final stage, others gradually go deeper into the states, while others skip some stages and so on.

Regardless of these stages of deeper consciousness, the development of this process is of immense benefit to the everyday life of a practitioner. The ability of the mind to focus on a task without distraction improves the general life of a practitioner from work, to study, to relationships, to almost every other aspect of the day to day life.

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