Tuesday, December 13, 2005


The Eightfold Path is a clarification of Buddhism’s ethical precepts. It’s a practical way to wisdom, to moral conduct, and to intellectual development. It’s a passage to awareness. It is aimed at freeing oneself from attachments.
The Four Noble Truths form the cornerstone of The Eightfold Path.
  1. Suitable Understanding, also called Right View. Suitable understanding means to understand thoroughly The Four Noble Truths. It means to recognize the nature of suffering and dissatisfaction. It also means to not be sidetracked by false appearances, and to see clearly in yourself what is off-kilter.

  2. Suitable Intention. Suitable intention means to decide you want to do something about what you see is wide of the mark. You want to fix the breakdown.

  3. Suitable Speech. Suitable speech means to avoid verbal distortions, empty words, and discourteous words. To tell the truth, to speak in a courteous manner, and to talk only when necessary. It also means to speak in a positive, hopeful way in regard to yourself and to all others.

  4. Suitable Behavior, also called Right Action. Suitable behavior means to conduct yourself positively, being honest with yourself as well as with others. It also means to respect all life.

  5. Suitable Vocation or Livelihood. Suitable vocation has to do with having an occupation that is satisfying for you and which does not harm others.

  6. Suitable Effort. Suitable effort means to keep your mind calm and unruffled in order that you can see into your own true nature.

  7. Suitable Mindfulness. Suitable mindfulness means to be aware of your condition constantly without griping about the issue to others.

  8. Suitable Meditation. Suitable meditation means to meditate with the deep mind, to the exclusion of all thoughts. Here we start to approach Zen.
     Anyone is capable of practicing the first six steps on the Eightfold Path. Anyone can learn to think and speak with care, and be truthful. Anyone can abide by basic moral laws, earn a living in ways that are not harmful to others, and maintain the pursuit of one’s goal.
     Achieving awareness and being in charge of one’s mind through deep meditation takes some doing. But by doing, one gains freedom from the ego and from harmful behavior. Then, when one has gained that freedom, one realizes the complete harmony of being.
     This is what—in Buddhism—is called enlightenment or Nirvana.
The Buddha was not interested in precise rules and regulations, or in behavioral itemizations. These lists were produced by followers. The Buddha was once asked if a true disciple should live a hermit’s life, and he answered, “If you want to live in the forest, live in the forest. If you want to live in the city, live in the city.”
     What matters is not where one lives, but how one continues in the path of enlightenment.
In Part One of this talk I said The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path represent the elemental principles of Buddhism. They are not rules but guidelines, bits of wisdom fundamental to living a full life and to participating in the ideal state of being.
     Consider using a rowboat to cross a river. Once you’re on the other side you don’t need to carry the rowboat with you. The boat is not the point. The point is crossing the river. Once you do that, you can forget how you did it.
     This is awareness.
     This is Zen.

Monday, December 12, 2005



One way of uncluttering and systematizing thoughts is to neaten them into interrelated lists. Traditional Buddhism has lots of matter-of-fact lists that go way back in time and offer excellent guidance. But because Zen is more intuitive than practical, Zen offers comparatively few lists, unless you count Dogen’s rules for monastic life, or the ten ox-herding pictures.
     For now, let’s stick with Buddhism, and see if it leads to Zen.
You’ve probably heard of, or read about, two sorts of lists in Buddhism. One is referred to as The Four Noble Truths; the other is called The Eightfold Path. They are reputed to have come from the mouth of Guatama Siddartha himself, as his first sermon after his awakening experience. This may be a legend—a tale handed down—or it may be a factual account.
Remember how the Buddha came to recognize that suffering is a fact of life.
According to legend, he encountered an elderly person, an ailing person, and a dead body. Through these brushes with reality, he became conscious that life is not permanent, and that, in one form or another, suffering is the fate of humanity.
     Where ever the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path came from, they are not edicts. They are not commandments. They are not decrees.
     They are guidelines, bits of wisdom fundamental to living a full life and to participating in the ideal state of being. The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path represent the elemental principles of Buddhism.

Noble Truth Number 1.  Human existence involves suffering.
Suffering doesn’t mean we go around in a wretched condition, though some people are victims of self-infliction. You know the sort of people. They perceive gloom and misery everywhere, especially in their own life. They seem actually to enjoy distress. They aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. They suffer in their own way.
Perhaps a better word than suffering is dukkha. That’s a Sanskrit term that means anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction with life. It’s an unrequited quest for perfection, in all things, including one’s self.
But, as you know, there’s no such thing as perfection.
Distress, anguish, and heartache are part of existence. We catch a cold, or we whack our finger with a hammer, or we have to put up with difficult people, who themselves are unhappy because of their own dissatisfaction. We lose a job. We endure ice storms in the winter and heat waves in the summer.
We expect everything, including nature, to go our way, and it seldom does.
Face it. That’s life. For some people, it can be a hell of a life. And by the time they get used to it, life is over.
Frustration, dissatisfaction—call it what you will—is a real part of living. The Buddha recognized this, and he found the cause. The cause isn’t someone else or somewhere else. The cause is you, and your attachments.
Do you remember Pogo Possum’s words? “We have found the enemy, and it is us.”

Noble Truth Number 2. The cause of dissatisfaction is craving—that is, attachment.
In short, we want more than we have. We are discontent because we constantly long for something, or because we are too attached to what we have.
By being materialistic and possessive we bring misery on ourselves. By being self-inflicting, we generally get what we deserve—more distress.

Noble Truth Number 3. Attachment—that is, possessiveness—can be understood and overcome.
     Aha! There is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. If only we can navigate the tunnel without stumbling over our own feet and falling on our faces. Dissatisfaction can be overcome by recognizing and removing the cause of attachment. Dissatisfaction can be brought to a close by abandoning attachment.

Noble Truth Number 4. The overcoming of dissatisfaction—dukkha—is achieved by following a certain pattern of behavior.
     This behavior pattern is a course of action termed The Eightfold Path. It spells out eight requirements that liberate us from dissatisfaction—or at least they alleviate dissatisfaction—by leading us to a true knowledge of our selves.
     Think about these Four Noble Truths and reflect on their validity in your own life.  
Part Two of this talk addresses The Eightfold Path.