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The Noble Eightfold Path

Dukkha is existential angst  Humans face pain caused by birth, sickness, old age and dying/death.

These conditions exist for everyone and depending on the circumstances, karmica and otherwise, the impact on individual suffering (continued pain) varies. I like Matsuoka-roshi's statement when asked the meaning of something and his reply”… it depends.”

What is the dependence? Well, it is complicated. As everything in the universe is impermanent, we must be aware of this and take steps to address the impact of impermanence in our everyday life. The way Dukkha impacts this is presented as the Four Noble Truths. Impermanence creates the fertile ground of change and how these variables affect us is our (changing) conditions, and all phenomena are interrelated. Understanding thus, is awakening, e.g the moment. Which in turn enables us to see the path of Nirvana, a state of equanimity: The Noble Eightfold Path.

In the depiction above we see the path in vertical context. By the way the PATH is neither a path nor a pyramid. Just as a menu is not the FOOD. So I am offering the metaphor of a path through the simile of a pyramid. Another way to write this is as a koan…you can’t do the DANCE if you don’t know the steps (which are not the dance…)

Hojo Taiun Michael Elliston, my teacher and Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order, offers a wonderful diagram that adds the dimension of interconnectivity:

As to an in-depth review of the N8P, Doug Smith's approach is simple and useful. Sila is prominent  with the shift from classic Buddhism and evolution of science and terms used more frequently today with “Right.” 

That is most as we often begin with conceptual then go to experience, and the back and forth is prototyping that penetrates meaning of non-self: an affected state of mind:

The Noble Eightfold Path

Step 1: Right View is a precursor for the path and is Shakyamuni Buddha’s unfolding life as a teacher. It means to follow in the steps of, to see as he saw, to move beyond suffering. The focus is liberation from Dukkha as  presented in the  First Turning of the Dharma Wheel: liberation through knowing dukkha, seeing into the causes of dukkha, coming to understand that one can take certain steps and is willing to undertake them. This is a clarification of what and how: Right View—The Buddhist Eightfold Path - Buddhism

Step 2: Right Thought is the right intention(s). Just as the Three Marks of Buddhism provide a causal cosmic framework, Right Thought/Intention aligns view-thought-speech-action. Spending time on cultivating thoughts of wholesomeness, or thinking it through, forms less painful options of craving and desire. This includes Soto Zen’s evolution of thinking of Dogen’s Ugi or Being Time in Shobogenzo.  

Step 3: Right Speech is mindfulness spoken out loud. Our speaking is an opportunity to do good or do no harm– not embroiling ourselves in lying, slandering, or spreading disinformation for our gain. These three unfoldings propel conditions supporting Sukha. Sukha may be seen as abstaining from Dukkha.

Step 4: Right Action is to reduce suffering in self and others. It is prajna (wisdom) through enacting mindfully appropriate behavior. With tones of supportive volitional action one is actualizing morale values constituting or Sila  

Step 5: Right Livelihood is sustaining the first four steps in everyday life and implies how one provides time and energy in exchange for goods and services for sustaining one’s well-being. The interplay of these steps are either life affirming or avoiding. These five steps as Sila could be summarized as seeing-thinking-speaking-acting-engaging in each moment.

Step 6. Right Effort is appropriate application as just so, in an  efficient manner: Inmo or thusness. This is a statement of flow. It is a “Goldilocks Zone,” sometimes seen as effortless by those who are ignorant of the intricacies of the step.

Step 7. Right Mindfulness is a developmental process of mind recognition or processing: (sati; Satipatthana; Sampajañña): a quality that guards or watches over the mind;[44] the stronger it becomes, the weaker unwholesome states of mind become, weakening their power "to take over and dominate thought, word and deed."[45][note 2] In the vipassana movement, sati is interpreted as "bare attention": never be absent minded, being conscious of what one is doing; this encourages the awareness of the impermanence of body, feeling and mind, as well as to experience the five aggregates (skandhas), the five hindrances, the four True Realities and seven factors of awakening.[43] 

Step 8: Right Concentration = Meditation, is a state of being fluid and porous. Fluid as in awareness of phenomena without grasping with these entering and leaving one’s consciousness. We know of the body, speech, and mind of karma and it seems thus with our form of seated Shikantaza as well. Thus stated (word and body) the alignment arises. We are a pyramidal shape amidst stillness and quiet. This concentration is an emaluent-like preparation enabling view, thought, action, mindfulness to swirl about. 

I have been teaching zazen for twenty years now. Over the years my approach has softened in many ways. For example, I spend more time on identifying the benefits of the form of the seated posture as a vessel for the energy of the Zazen process (Right View). This alignment allows for less stress on bodily functions and as thus, as the senses of seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, tasting, and tactical awareness settle-down. It helps to read again Dogen Zenji:



Unshin Sangaku Dan Joslyn

Founder/Guiding Teacher

Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha

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