The Path – Reworded for Modern Practitioners

| July 5, 2011 | 11 Comments

I was never comfortable with the wording in the Eightfold Path. The word Right xx always felt like it implied following of dogma rather than an action packed plan. Because Buddhism relies so heavily on practice and observation, I felt each part of the path was better reworded for me with verbs, and action statements.

The diagram below is not intended to be “the way.” It’s simply wording I found helpful for my own practice. I welcome your feedback on better ways of wording it. And, of course, many of you are hunky-dory with the classic wording and that’s fine too, because what’s really useful is going on this journey we call the Eightfold Path.

Below the diagram are some observations I’ve made for those of you who may not be familiar with the path.

Eightfold Path Reworded

The path is not practiced in linear fashion, but instead all areas are examined and practiced simultaneously to the best of one’s ability. Some activities of the path can not be practiced well without other parts.

For instance, mindfulness and effort is needed for all areas of the path, and through the development of mindfulness and effort, you naturally open to a more realistic view of yourself, others, and the world around you. Effort and mindfulness leads to being aware of your intentions, so you can direct them in a wholesome way and act with caution and skill. Acting skillfully also includes how we speak to people, treat others and animals, etc. All of this works towards developing wisdom, and wisdom of course aids in the entire path itself.

A special note on Seeing into experience, classically called Right View. To open to a realistic view, the practice is to examine the Four Noble truths and The Three Characteristics of Existence.

The processes of the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Seeing the discontentment, suffering, pain, and conditions of life
  2. Fully knowing craving, attachment, impermanence, not self, conditioned arising, and suffering
  3. Letting go of craving and attachment
  4. Entering and  practicing the Eightfold Path

The Three Characteristics of Existence:

Everything in the physical world, including mental activity and psychological experience, is marked with three characteristics:

  1. Impermanence
  2. Suffering
  3. Not Self

By examining desires and underlying attachments, including the clinging to the idea of self, beliefs, ideas, etc. we see directly how we create so much of our own suffering. As you explore through observation of the world around you, the inner landscape through meditation, you open to a realistic view that helps you in all other areas of the path.

Note in everything you observe, there is nothing that is permanent. To cling to that which is impermanent is to beg for suffering. Closely examine the various ways you suffer, see how you cling to a sense of self, and what exactly is it that you call a self?

The practice is one of observation, meditation, examination, and discovery. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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Dana Nourie

About the Author ()

Dana is Technical Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. She learned Buddhism through a DVD course on Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, followed by a two-year course in person. She then studied Theravada Buddhism through the Insight Meditation South Bay with teacher Shaila Catherine. She has been a practitioner now for over a decade. Dana has been working in the internet industry since 1992, has held the positions of web developer, technical writer, and online community manager. She is a geek girl with a passion for science and computing.

Comments (11)

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  1. frank jude says:

    Dana,

    I think your ‘action-based model’ has strong merit. Personally, I think as many varied ways into these concepts we have the better, as there is ultimately no single English word or phrase that captures the meanings of ‘samyag.’ Of course this goes for most Sanskrit and Pali words!

    As for the translation of ‘samyag’ as “right,” I tell my students we can think of this not so much as right in the dogmatic way you have responded to, but as “appropriate.” For example, if we’re looking to navigate the NYC subway system, the right (appropriate) map is one of the NYC subway, NOT a map of the Toronto subway system. This is not to say the Toronto may is ‘wrong’ per se, simply not appropriate for us getting to where we want to go. The Eightfold Path, as a path leading to freedom, lightness and joy, requires we have the ‘right/appropriate’ map!

    Along with the translation of samyag as “right,” “appropriate,” and “skillful,” I also sometimes note that it’s etymology can be taken to connote “complete” as opposed to “partial.” Complete as “integrated fully.”

    Samyak has the implication of “all flowing (or moving) in one direction.” (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/romadict.pl?page=173&table=macdonell&display=simple)

    This emphasizes the idea of congruence, coherence and coalescence. When looking at a river, we’ll see that the current in the middle flows swiftly. The water is powerful because it all flows in one direction. It is unified. If you watch the water at the edges of the river, you’ll see it move in vortices, and crosscurrents. One possible interpretation of the term “Middle Way” is this sense of unification of energy, all flowing together, not wasting energy or being divided against oneself. The Middle Way is not some meek compromise. It is living an authentic, congruent life of integrity.

    On another note, I’m one for not translating “dukkha” as “suffering,” because this psychologizes the concept, reducing it merely to mental anguish. But the Buddha clearly included “pain,” as well as things that happen to us, such as losing what we love, and receiving what we do not want. Aging (not merely our resistance to aging) is dukkha, as is illness and death.

    In a Naturalist approach to dharma, I do not think there is any way to ‘end’ dukkha, which I translate as “affliction.” Shit happens. Our conditioned reactivity makes things worse, so we practice the Third Noble Truth of nirodha — not as cessation, but ‘containment,’ and then our skillful, appropriate (to the situation), creative response IS the Noble Eightfold Path.

    Thanks again for your posts here on the blog!

    metta
    frank jude

  2. Larry Reside says:

    Hi Dana….

    I also like your model – it’s pretty good. I personally use and teach Complete instead of right and so the path becomes Complete View, Complete thought, Complete Speech, Complete Action, Complete Livelihood, Complete Effort, Complete Mindfulness, and Complete Concentration – the only thing that is troublesome is the term “Complete Livelihood” – I usually say that a Complete Livelihood, like thought, speech, and action is complete when it reflects a complete view of reality.

    The complete view of reality is that reality is both impermanent and continuous. It is suffering when combined with attachment and not suffering without attachment. We are independent and dependent at the same time (we are both all alone and never alone). And, there is a relative self, but no ultimate self.

    So far it seems to work……

    I also agree that we need to find more meaningful translations to some of these terms – many were translated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s by people who really didn’t understand a Buddhist context and who were also in a European context that doesn’t apply anymore.

  3. Volkuhl says:

    Are you worried that transforming a religious/philosophical system of thought without peer-review of the Sangha (a body which constantly contradicts, challenges and innovates in and of itself) is indicative of a privileged Western mindset that has its root in both Manifest Destiny and an id-fueled superiority complex? Or does it not trouble you to snub your elders?

    I am reminded of a man named Foucault whose philosophy was stolen from an old dead guy named Nagarjuna. I am reminded of Blavatsky “rewording” concepts of Hindu cosmology and putting forth an ideology blithely condoning a racist anthropological perspective which, in turn, inspired one of the most horrendous mass killings of humans in the 20th century. I am reminded of St. Patrick replacing the threefold goddess Tara with the Virgin Mary who, to date, has not lifted a finger for her Irish adopted sons. I am reminded of L. Ron Hubbard.

    • Larry Reside says:

      To me, this is all part of the Sangha discussion of proposing and debating terminology and gradually coming to a concensus of the way or ways that make the most sense to us. Buddhism for me is very democratic – every Buddhist has a say in what makes sense as an expression of the teachings – as long as it accords with the Buddha’s message, gradually it will be accepted by the majority. We don’t need to leave it to some “authority” as a particular body of people, ordained or otherwise. As the Buddha said, “take the Dharma as your refuge, take the dharma as your guide”. – If the description really accords with the Buddha’s Dharma, then it can be applied – regardless of who comes up with the idea. IMHO

  4. star says:

    What an interesting Catch-22 you’ve got yourself in, there, frank. First you posit that when the Buddha said, “dukkha” he meant more than psychological suffering, that he was including (literal) pain, aging, and death. And then you seem to be saying that *because* “dukkha” includes these things, the Buddha was mistaken in saying “dukkha” could end. You don’t see a problem there?

  5. earl says:

    To Larry and Frank, I really don’t care for “complete” view, since we can never have this. It is the assumption that the view being offered by the canon is “complete” which is what makes it dogmatic, I think and why people will reject that inherent dogmatism. I’m sure you’d agree that the entire canon and all the interpretations that will ever be made of it, is nothing compared to the ineffable richness of existence?

    Also Dana, I appreciate your enthusiasm for forging ahead and using English to attempt to make a modern, contemporary and truly living version of this antique and therefore necessarily largely mysterious text and formulation. To demystify the spiritual is a noble pursuit and of course is something which authenticity calls us to do with episodic recurring regularity as ages of convention give way to ages of iconoclasm.

    Then we might get on to a discussion of what it means to cultivate wisdom for example. It is actually a very different intellectual pursuit I think to parse ancient languages and texts for what they thought about wisdom. Certainly it is valuable, but to the extent that it entirely distracts us from using the language and metaphors of our time it does not fully live.

    • Larry Reside says:

      I guess that’s where we disagree Earl, because I do believe that we can have complete viewpoint. It doesn’t mean that we completely see everything at once. It really means that we completely see reality’s nature. For me, it’s like completely understanding the principles of tennis or the principles of chess, or even biology or computers. There are many manifestations which are continually varied, but the principles by which they operate are the same.

      I try to experiment in finding words for terminology in the scriptures that more accurately instill in me and my students what I perceive to be the underlying understanding implicit in the words of the scriptures. I translated Skandas as Collections. I translate Dukkha as Misery. I translate Karma as Dependent Arising. I use Complete instead of Right and I refer to “Not self” as opposed to “emptiness”. I call Bodhicitta the Awakened Heart as oppossed to the “mind of awakening”.

  6. star says:

    How about “wise”? Wise view, wise effort, wise action… Following the way the Buddha used words, this can incorporate “leading to wisdom” as well as eventually “acting from wisdom”.

  7. Dana Nourie says:

    Thank you all for your comments! Earl, I do plan to write some blogs on each of the areas in the eightfold path, as I am discovering all the time how some you just can’t do singly and have to combine with other parts, while some work quite well single and with others.

    I also find it fascinating how the Four Noble Truths and the The Marks of Existence fit in quite nicely with many parts of the path. As a whole it’s plenty to work with and will keep us busy for a lifetime.

  8. earl says:

    Larry, I love your experimenting with English words which certainly seem very good to me. And agreed also about the other part. I am expecting to always be surprised, and actually looking forward to that. But we may be agreeing more than words easily allow to be seen.

  9. NaturalEntrust says:

    I see much merit in what star suggest.
    Buddhism as a practice for wisdom of life?

    so wise fit in better than develop or right?

    My naive more cautious approach would be
    too timid for you guys 🙂

    Letting go of craving and attachment
    is way to strong from my perspective.

    Would it really be non-buddhist to add

    Let go of cravings and attachment that are known to be destructive

    You guys are optimists. I don’t trust that
    newcomers get such words like this

    Impermanence
    Suffering
    Not Self

    I still don’t get them at all.

    A lot of things are not impermanent. They are incredibly stable over time.
    Suffering is a way too strong word.
    Dissatisfaction due to unreasonable expectations are a bit better.

    False self is a bit better but one need a more easy to grasp
    way to say it. Unless it is part of the Hard to Fake Sing of Commitment
    to learn impossible concepts?

    the 4NT Seeing the discontentment, suffering, pain, and conditions of life
    and Fully knowing maybe should be about accepting what one can not change
    and taking responsibility and to be motivated to change what is possible to change?

    But I maybe go beyond my capacity here. I am not wise enough to think it through.

    I guess the choice of seeing refer to the neutral non-judging of what is?
    knowing maybe refer to to know what is impossible to change and knowing
    what can be changed I am not sure what it is supposed to say.

    I get the gut feeling that only those already familiar with it can interpret it?

    I or me personally would need a less abstract text. But I am a very naive person.

    I would write one if I understood it. Being as confused as I am
    there would be a very biased version of I gave it a try.

    crazy and hasty start??? My make shift version.

    Buddhism wants to be a practical wisdom of life.
    We tend to see and experience life through our own way
    of relating to it. We tend to wish for things that feel rewarding
    and to avoid things that feel like punishment and we easily
    feel bored when we get used to the novelty of it all.

    When we expect too get too much out of life then
    we feel dissatisfaction. Buddhism suggest a way
    out of such dissatisfaction and that is to have a
    way to relate to life that accept what we can not change
    and to strive for to find ways to change what can be changed.

    The Buddhist practice is to take in life as it is and to not
    ascribe too much of value to things that feel rewarding
    and to not get too disappointed about those things that
    feels like a punishment. This middle way has by experience
    made our lives more …

    Haha I have to give up. I have no talent at all for this.

    I am not satisfied about my crazy text but I at least
    get what is say but maybe it is not Buddhism.

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