How the Noble Eightfold Path Works in My Life
Archive for the The Noble Eightfold Path Category
Recently, we were asked on our Instagram page, “What can I do to help cultivate a commitment to regular practice?” The user also said, “…some ‘me time’ such as yoga or meditation would really benefit me, but my mind is rebellious and fights against the idea.” Another user added, “So hard to make it a regular practice.”
What a wonderful question. So many of us have seen the benefits of a meditation practice for ourselves, yet we somehow still resist. Even with the experiences we have had, we still can’t seem to sit regularly. When we are suffering, we think about meditating, but don’t actually get it done.
There are many ways to begin cultivating a commitment to regular practice. In the end, we all must discover what works for us. It may be different for you than for me. Here are a few tips we find helpful…
Find a Time
Finding a regular time to sit has been very beneficial for us. Some people enjoy sitting first thing in the morning, while others prefer sitting before bed. Maybe the middle of the day is best for you. Try to sit at different times to find what works for you. When something feels good, make it a part of your schedule.
For example, you may sit after waking, before eating breakfast. As you begin to do this more regularly, you may find that it becomes an important part of your daily routine. Meditation is a PRACTICE. It takes time and repeated effort. Finding a consistent time to practice every day helps us regulate our practice. Some people like to set alarms to remind themselves to sit during that day.
Sometimes, you just have to sit. One Instagram user, @merehut, contributed, “Some days are easy, some are not. Just don’t fret or judge your efforts.” Wise advice. We tend to get down on ourselves or anxious when we don’t want to sit. After years of meditation practice, there are still days when I have to drag my ass to the cushion.
When we sit, we are able to be present for this aversive feeling. Sometimes we sit in these circumstances and are not able to concentrate one bit. Other times we may gain some insight into our mind’s behavior. Whatever the case, sitting even when we don’t want to is a practice in facing our emotions head on.
Get a Meditation Buddy or Mentor
Having somebody to check in with about your meditation can be of great help. It may be just a friend. Having somebody else who meditates in your life is a great start. Connecting with this person, you can talk about your practice, and encourage each other to sit. We have found that making friends who also meditate benefits us greatly.
In addition to having a meditation buddy, you may find a mentor or teacher to connect with. This person doesn’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on meditation or Buddhism. Having somebody in your life that has a bit more experience than you do is incredibly beneficial. A mentor is somebody you can go to with your questions and thoughts. It is somebody to connect with and be accountable to. If you ever would like to check in, ask questions, or try to connect with one of us here, you may call or text us at (323) 790-6252. We do have both male and female mentors available to talk and text at no cost!
Join a Meditation Group
One way we can create a regular practice is to join a local meditation group. Many areas have groups that meet frequently. Building a sangha, or community, helps encourage us and drive our practice. We feel some accountability to practice, and often learn new techniques and practices.
Because we liked this question so much, we are starting a daily check-in routine for our meditations. Check it out and join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TESWmeditation/. You also may check out Insight Timer, an app for your mobile device. Insight Timer allows you to track your meditation sessions, connect with others, and listen to guided meditations. If you are unsure about meditation groups in your area, please feel free to ask us on our social medias or via email.
These are just a few suggestions. In the end, we have to buckle down and sit when we don’t want to. Maybe start with just 5 or 10 minutes every day. Be gentle with yourself, don’t judge, and allow yourself some wiggle room. If you really want to sit every day and get into the habit of a regular practice, you may have to experiment, and you definitely will have to deal with some discomfort.
Sitting down to meditate is greatly beneficial, but most of us don’t sit all day long. In order to enhance our spiritual lives, we must bring our practice off the cushion and into the real world. One aspect of our lives off the cushion that we may bring mindfulness to is our conversations. There are two parts to a conversation: speaking and listening.
One way that we may practice off the cushion is through Right Speech. Right speech is the practice of speaking mindfully, not creating suffering in ourselves or in others. Some questions you may ask yourself when considering speaking are: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it timely? What is my intention?
These questions help us look at our speech and see the reason we are talking. We have the opportunity to practice every time we speak. A teacher of mine recently suggested that we take a deep inhale and a deep exhale before speaking. If somebody begins speaking while we are inhaling and exhaling, we wait for them to finish, then take our deep breath again. Just as we meditate to decrease suffering, we may decrease suffering with our speech.
A few things we may be careful of while speaking are lying, exaggeration, and speaking about people who are not present. Often, these things are harmful and create suffering.
Although listening is not listed in the Noble Eightfold Path, it is incredibly important in our practice. When we listen mindfully, we are inviting the other person to speak openly. Mindful listening can be one of the most healing, compassionate things we can do. Just like sitting on the cushion, mindful listening is a practice. Our minds wander, we think about what we want to say, or we judge. Listening wisely, we simply provide a place for somebody to speak. Perhaps Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says it best:
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less.
Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva) is the practice of earning a living in a mindful and compassionate manner. At its foundation is not violating the Five Precepts. The Five Precepts teach us not to kill, not to steal, to abstain from sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to use mind-altering substances. In making our living, we must not violate these precepts. It has been explained by one of my teachers as not harming others in the way you make your living. We should not deal in arms, human beings, meat, intoxicants, nor unlawful labor.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says on page 104 of his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, “To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others… Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.”
As the Fourth Precept says, we should abstain from using false speech. As discussed in the Five Precepts article, this is more than simply not lying. It also involves not using half-truths nor exaggerating. We must be careful that our professions do not require us to violate this precept of honesty. If we are to observe Right Livelihood, we must make our living through honesty and Right Speech.
We also must observe the Second Precept and not participate in stealing in our work. More than just not stealing, we must “not take that which is not freely given to us.” Obviously, we should not steal from our employer, co-workers, or employees. We also must be conscious of the social impact of the business or industry we are in. If we are hoping to learn to live in Right Livelihood, we must not work in businesses that utilize inhumane labor, deceive customers or suppliers, nor take advantage of the ignorance or cravings of others.
In earning our living, we must be mindful of the people we may be harming. Are we dealing in weapons, intoxicants, or breeding ignorance? Our jobs cannot cause harm on others; we must be compassionate and loving with our work. Practicing loving-kindness in our career, we cannot possibly harm others in any way.
One important aspect of Right Livelihood is our work attitude. We must not waste our employer’s time by doing other tasks while on the clock, give co-workers negative attitude, nor come late and leave early. Essentially, we must practice Right Effort in the workplace. Keeping a right attitude is very important to right livelihood, as we must work with mindfulness and love.
All in all, Right Livelihood is the practice of earning a living with mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, and respect.
Equanimity is the practice of treating things neutrally. We don’t judge or react; we experience things exactly as they are and do not add on. Speaking with a teacher recently, we discussed the different ways that equanimity work in our lives, and he clarified two unique examples.
Equanimity with Others
Equanimity with my relationships with others was not something I had given very much thought to. In our relationships with others, we find ourselves either becoming attached or detaching harshly. We are sometimes often the equanimity phrase, “May you be in charge of your own karma.” In this way, we learn to let go of the results. Our prayers or good wishes for someone else will not change them; it changes us. Practicing equanimity, we recognize this and let go fo the outcomes.
In working with others, we often become attached to their progress. When a sponsee relapses, a child fails a class, or a loved one is in pain, we sometimes feel at least partially responsible. All we can do is practice metta, touch their pain with compassion, and appreciate the happiness of others. However, as the phrase we use says, others must take control of their own karma. Rather than see it as detaching, we are simply letting go of our attachment to their happiness. This end of the spectrum is essentially not being codependent. When someone is unhappy, we don’t blame ourselves. We do what we can and leave their suffering up to them. We continue to send metta and compassion his or her way.
At the other end of this is completely detaching. This is also not healthy. Sometimes when a child, sponsee, or loved one continues to create their own suffering (with drug use, poor judgement, anger, etc.) we become cold and calloused. We detach strongly, losing compassion and care. When they are suffering or make mistakes, we act with anger or even malice. The practice here is the same: we must act with love and compassion without becoming attached to the outcome. We may repeat the phrases in meditation or throughout the day, “May you be at ease,” “May you be happy,” “May you be free from suffering,” and “May you be in charge of your own karma.” These phrases are of metta, mudita, karuna, and upekkha.
Equanimity is also very applicable with our responses to emotions and thoughts. As commonly discussed, our natural reaction is to avert from unpleasant feelings and to attach to anything that pleases us. When we have unpleasant feelings, we label them as bad or negative. We do this similarly with pleasant feelings. Practicing equanimity, we focus on the direct experience.
With negative emotions, we label them as negative and bad. With equanimity, we must simply focus on the direct experience, rather than adding more things on. Sharon Salzberg calls these things exactly what they are: add-ons. These add-ons serve us no purpose. They are a product of our survival instincts and societal conditioning. When we add on, we are living in delusion and without compassion. Recognizing the truth, we see simply that an unpleasant emotion is just an unpleasant emotion.
We must so similarly with pleasant emotions. Rather than attach and crave more, we must recognize the pleasant feeling as just a pleasant feeling. A phrase offered to me by my teacher for this is, “May I treat things as they truly are.” It has to do with Right View, and seeing the true nature of our thoughts and emotions.
Practicing equanimity, we are able to live in a neutral, joyous position. We don’t cling to pleasant feelings nor avert from unpleasant ones. We also are not letting our joy rest in the hands of others. We are able to live freely and joyously.
The Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.
A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, “To focus one’s thoughts.” Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one’s thoughts.
One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, “I feel anxious” has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.
The Quality of Our Actions
Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.
A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.
Along with the actual quality of our actions, we also must investigate our true intentions. Sometimes we do “good” things with bad intentions, or we make mistakes when our intentions are pure. When we notice resentful, selfish, or averting intentions arise, we must recognize them, for if we don’t we will act on them. When we perform a good deed, we also must gently praise ourselves for keeping pure intentions.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When we find ourselves making a mistake or acting in an unwholesome manner, we must be accountable. We cannot afford to let ourselves get away with everything; we must deal with our mistakes before they deal with us. However, there is a gentle way to go about this. We must practice the principle of compassion with ourselves in these cases. Everyone makes mistakes, and they truly are opportunities to learn. If we hurt others, we must make amends promptly. We also must make amends to ourselves by diligently working to change the behavior.
It truly is not easy to practice these principles in the fast-paced world where not everyone is working a spiritual program. However, this is not an excuse to behave poorly. It is a true test of our abilities and growth.
Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.
The “Golden Rule” says we should treat others how we wish to be treated. The Buddha phrased it several different ways, such as “One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.” (Dhammapada 10. Violence) The Lord’s Prayer reminds us to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In this context, the word as signifies “to the extent to.” The idea here is that when we open our hearts and forgive, treat with compassion, and accept, we invite forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance from others.
When we open our hearts and treat others with compassion, we allow ourselves to be treated with the same compassion. In the same way, when we judge others, or treat others with a cold heart, we are inviting the same into our lives. When we are angry toward others, treating them without respect nor compassion, we are inviting ourselves to gain resentments.
In order to invite compassion into my life, I must begin by acting with compassion toward those around me. Compassion starts through my Right Mindfulness, Right View, and Right Action, and slowly begins creating Right Thought. When I am mindful of my actions, and am able to see where they originate from within me, I am able to recognize where I am acting with compassion and where I am acting selfishly, out of attachment, out of desire, or in any other negative way.
When I practice Right View, I am able to see these origins of my actions. I am able to see how my own actions are causing suffering to both me and others. When I see the truth of my actions, I can practice Right Action. For me, I often have to act compassionately in order for the compassionate thinking to arise.
The key to inviting compassion into my life is acting with compassion toward others unconditionally. Practicing loving tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion daily have helped my compassionate seed grow. Also, I pray for compassion and the ability to help others. Finally, in meditation, I send my love to those who are suffering around me, especially those whom I hold resentments against.
Right Effort (samyak pradhana) is also referred to as Right Diligence by some. Focusing on where we spend our energy and with how much effort we exert ourselves, Right Effort is the practice of utilizing our energy mindfully.
There are four practices of Right Effort, and these practices are known as the Fourfold Right Diligence. Before discussing these practices, we must understand the principle of our “store consciousness.” Our store consciousness holds all of our emotional seeds, from serenity to anger, love to hate, and joy to sorrow. Some seeds are wholesome and some are unwholesome. Wholesome seeds are seeds that come from a loving, compassionate heart, and encourage ourselves and others to find liberation. Unwholesome seeds are the opposite, leading to the suffering of us and those around us.
The first of the Fourfold Right Diligence practices is preventing unwholesome seeds from arising. This is done through the practice of Right Mindfulness. As we go about our day, we do not engage in activities or thoughts that will water our unwholesome seeds. With Right Mindfulness, we see what these activities and thoughts are, and we us our energy to steer clear of them.
The second practice is recognizing where unwholesome seeds have already risen, and working to return them back to our store consciousness. Being mindful of where these seeds have arisen, we acknowledge them and let them fall back down. As is discussed in Right Mindfulness, we use our mindfulness to recognize, accept, and let go of unwholesome seeds without pushing them away. For those in Twelve-Step programs, this may be similar to your Tenth Step Inventory.
The third of the Fourfold Right Diligence practices is to water the wholesome seeds in our store consciousness. This can be done through anything that is encouraging toward liberation. Meditation, mindfulness, helping others, eating healthy, and smiling are all actions that work with this practice. Our wholesome seeds are always with us; we must put the effort forth to bring them out.
The fourth and final practice is nourishing our wholesome seeds, encouraging them to stay in our mind consciousness and to grow ever stronger. This practice is recognizing our wholesome seeds that have risen using Right Mindfulness, and encouraging them to continue growing. For example, if you feel present and joyous after meditating, you should continue to meditate, s you can be confident it will help those seeds grow even stronger.
Right Effort is not just using our energy wisely,it is also using our energy to its fullest potential. When we practice these four principles or any other practice, we must use our full effort. Inversely, we must no think we are practicing Right Diligence fully if we are just putting a lot of effort forth; we must look at where the effort is being directed.
Finally, to practice Right Diligence, joy and ease must be present. Practice should not be forced, and really shouldn’t be strenuous. Our practice should be comfortable and pleasant. If there seems to be a lot of resistance, much of our effort is wasted. the energy is wasted twofold. First, we waste energy creating the resistance within, then we waste even more overcoming the resistance. Practicing Right Effort, we don’t resist, and allow our energy to be spent more wisely.
Right Speech, or samyag vac, is well-covered in the Fourth Mindfulness Training. Telling the truth, cultivating love and joy, and deep listening are all integral parts of Right Speech.
The first point of Right Speech is telling the truth. Obviously, this encompasses not lying, but also goes deeper. In addition, we must not exaggerate, embellish, or lie by omission. Right Speech is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The exception to this is when our speech may harm another. We don’t lie when asked a question such as, “Did you cheat on your exam?” However, we may be asked a simple question like, “Does this make me look fat?” Using Right Mindfulness, you will be able to distinguish what is Right Speech in these situations.
Another aspect of Right Speech is being consistent, or not having what is sometimes called a “forked tongue.” It is not Right Speech to say two different things to two different people. Being inconsistent causes discord rather than harmony.
A very important part of this practice is to understand Right Speech arises from Right Thinking. Our speech is the presentation of our thoughts, as our thoughts are essentially speech to ourselves. Practicing Right Speech, we remember the bodhichitta from Right Thought, and keep our words from harming. We should avoid speaking cruelly, using possibly offensive language, and encouraging any negativity. The practice of Right Speech teaches us to use our bodhichitta to create harmony and compassion with our words.
The final piece of Right Speech is deep listening. Listening is a critical part of this practice for several reasons. First, if we cannot be mindful enough to listen deeply, we will speak selfishly. If we are not able to truly touch another’s feelings, we will not be able to speak appropriately. Second, when we listen deeply, we allow compassion to take control over judgement and resentment. IT is inevitable that if you are listening deeply, you will identify with feelings, feel connected, and have a more compassionate heart and mind, again allowing yourself to speak with more compassion. Finally, by deeply listening, we are often allowing another to practice Right Speech. Deep listening encourages dep though and speech. By listening with compassion, we bring out Right Speech in the other.
Right Action (samyak karmanta) refers to what we do with our body. It includes every movement of our body, from waking up in the morning to falling asleep at night and everything in between. Right Action is often associated with some of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, specifically the first, second, third, and fifth.
The First Mindfulness Training is about protecting the sanctity of life. We must not harm other living beings, nor contribute to the harming of others. For example, we should not fight, eat meat, or pollute the environment. With practice of the First Mindfulness Training, Right Action is beginning to take shape.
The Second Mindfulness Training covers the principle of generosity. What this Training suggests is that we share our resources, time, energy, and love in order to benefit others. Furthermore, we will not use more than we need to, nor encourage others to do so. When practicing this, our actions are more loving, generous and take us away from self. An important concept of Right Action is contained in this Training: Right Action means acting for the benefit of everything and everyone, not just ourselves.
The Third Mindfulness Training revolves around sexual responsibility. As many of us know, sexual misbehavior can be absolutely devastating to those involved. Studying and practicing this Training keeps us from engaging in any sexual conduct unless love is truly present. Right Action includes the idea of sexual conduct because we must not use our actions in this way to fulfill our own desires while hurting others or ourselves.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about what we consume (mentally and physically). Most obviously referring to what we eat and drink, this Training teaches us to take care of ourselves. This Training encourages us to eat healthier, and not consume alcohol or other intoxicants. Essentially, we may call this Right Eating and Drinking. The other half of the Fifth Mindfulness Training is to be mindful of what we consume mentally. What we watch on television, hear on the radio, or read in magazines should be helpful, loving, and encouraging. These phenomena influence our thinking and perceptions, and a vital part of Right Action is not subjecting ourselves to these harmful forms of media. We being to focus our consumption on more nourishing phenomena.
Practicing Right Action, we become mindful of our actions all day every day. At the root of Right Action is Right Mindfulness. When we are mindful of our action, we begin to uncover where our actions are hurtful and where they’re being helpful. Right Action includes our sex lives, non-violence, consumption, and generosity. Of course, every action we take has the potential to be Right Action. A good place to start is by practicing Right Mindfulness and keeping a bodhichitta or “mind of love.”