THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
The Fourth Noble Truth is the same as The Eightfold Path, it's just a different name. The Fourth Noble Truth maps out eight steps to end Dukkha and be free from Karma (repetitions).
The Eightfold Path is self explanatory and seems relatively accurately transmitted over the years.
The steps of the Eightfold Path are broadly understood as Right Understanding or View, Right Thought or Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action or Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration or Absorption.
Of the oldest, trusted, Pali texts, the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna gives the most detailed explanation of these eight steps. This text suggests some ideas which are not included in short summary versions.
The First Step of The Eightfold Path : Right UnderstandingIn short summary versions, the first step Right Understanding can be easily misunderstood. However the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna is clear:
"And what, monks, is Right Understanding? It is this, monks: the knowledge of suffering, the knowledge of the arising of suffering, the knowledge of the cessation of suffering, the knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. This, monks, is called Right Understanding."
Suffering is the translation of Dukkha. Right Understanding does not refer to the right understanding of the Sun and Moon, or genetics, general philosophy or anything else except Dukkha
The Sixth Step of The Eightfold Path : Right EffortSummary: We are being asked to generate wholesome karma rather than unwholesome karma – to turn the wheels in a wholesome direction – as a prelude to being free from karmic repetitions.
Right Effort will probably always cause some debate. There are three different modern translations of the most important explanatory word. The same word has been translated as desire – will (implying will-power) – and intention.
Here, we can witness vividly the problems with translation even in modern times, we can only imagine how problematic this was with multiple translations in pre literate times.
In addition U Jotika & U Dhamminda give "makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently"; whereas Thanissaro gives "arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent". It must be noted that Thanissaro is translating from the Thai edition, which has its own translation history.
To summarise these rather confusing texts for easy understanding: Right Effort asks us to generate desire, or will, or intention, for wholesome states in four instances. 1. to stop unwholesome states arising, 2. to give up unwholesome states which have arisen, 3. to encourage wholesome states arising, and 4. to maintain wholesome states which have arisen.
There is no need to read the following three original texts thoroughly. Bold print is mine for speed reading.
"And what is right effort? There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen... for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen... for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen... (and) for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This is called right effort."
"And what, monks, is Right Effort? Here, monks, a monk generates the will to prevent the arising of unarisen evil unwholesome mental states; he makes strong effort, stirs up his energy, applies his mind to it and strives." ... (and continue as in the first translation through the four aspects of this approach to wholesome and unwholesome states of mind).
"And what, bhikkhus, is Right Effort? Here (in this teaching), bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to prevent the arising of evil, unwholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen."... (and continue as the first translation through the four aspects of this approach).
I believe Thanissaro is correct. Right Effort tells us to DESIRE wholesome states and to avoid unwholesome states.
Initially we may think that will power and concentration are the correct interpretation, because we think 'desire is the cause of suffering', and so we need to subdue desire.
But the idea of using the energy inherent in desire makes sense in the context of The Second Truth where we learnt that desire leads to repetition, and it is the repetition, the karma, which can cause suffering.
We are being asked to generate wholesome karma rather than unwholesome karma – to turn the wheels in a wholesome direction – as a prelude to being free from karmic repetitions.
And, we are being asked to judge for ourselves whether it's wholesome or not, so we are also generating something similar to what Christian's call conscience.
The pleasure of exciting things, promises, dreams, planning or hoping for the next future pleasure, are easy to fill ourselves with, and give us a sense of purpose which appears to satisfy us. Whereas feelings of contentment or satisfaction are not as exciting, they are not as vivid or noticable. So we need attention and time to reflect on our feelings and the quality of any pleasure.
(Question to scientists/psychologists: Is this the difference between what makes us generate dopamine or adrenaline? Adreniline seems easier for the body to produce than dopamine.)
Applying mindfulness to pleasure enables us to discern between things which do us good, and things which excite us. This generates 'right effort' in a wholesome direction.
Being aware of pleasurable feelings is not heretical. It is very basic Buddhism, it is the Second Foundation of Mindfulness.
The Seventh Step : Right MindfulnessIn Buddha's Eightfold Path, the Seventh Step is generally referred to merely by the title "Right Mindfulness". In the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna's version, this directs us specifically to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
The enquiring mind may also want to realise that in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna, Mindfulness of Dharma includes sections on the inner and outer six sense bases. From tipitaka.org The Section on the Sense Spheres, or from Jokita & Dhamminda Section on Sense Bases. In addition, it is possible to be mindful inside or outside the body in a focused way or panoramically.
The Eighth Step : Right AbsorptionThe text of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna's Eighth Step is clearly about absorption.
However the title given is Right Concentration. Throughout general literature and summaries in other Buddhist texts, Right Concentration is almost always given as the Eighth Step.
Concentration is completely different to absorption.
The simplest way to practice concentration is to focus one pointedly on something like the breathing, some Buddhists do this for hours at a time. The simplest way to practice absorption is with panoramic sensing.
English Translations, Ref 1: Pali Tipitaka
"And what, monks, is right concentration? Here monks, a monk, detached from craving, detached from unwholesome mental states, enters into the first absorption, born of detachment, accompanied by initial and sustained application of the mind and filled with rapture and bliss and he dwells therein. With the subsiding of initial and sustained application of the mind and gaining inner tranquillity and oneness of mind he enters into the second absorption, born of concentration, free from initial and sustained application of the mind, filled with rapture and bliss and he dwells therein. After the fading away of rapture he dwells in equanimity, aware with constant thorough understanding of impermanence, and he experiences in his body the bliss of which the noble ones say: "That bliss is experienced by one with equanimity and awareness." Thus he enters the third absorption and dwells therein. After the eradication of pleasure and pain and with joy and grief having previously passed away, he enters into a state beyond pleasure and pain, the fourth absorption, that is totally purified by equanimity and awareness and he dwells therein. This, monks, is called Right Concentration.