The Eightfold Path is a way that leads to the stopping of suffering and the achievement of self awakening. This instrument was brought forth through the teachings of the Buddha, Gautama Buddha. He taught his disciples how to follow this path how he did, so they may have self awakening and liberation. The eight steps in the Eightfold Path are as follows: Right belief, Right purpose, Right speech, Right conduct, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, and Right meditation or concentration.
In Buddha’s time, if a potential Arahat strayed from the Eightfold Path or the Four Noble Truths, he would have to confess his sin or sins to the public. They followed it very strictly and took it very seriously for they wanted to be able to reach Nirvana. Nirvana is “the unconditioned state of liberation, release from the cycle of rebirth-redeath” (Noss, 2008, 2003: 185). In present time, we live in a very fast-paced, high-stress environment. I wonder if a present day Buddhist would be able to live life in accordance with the Eightfold Path.
The first step in the Eightfold Path is Right belief. The Right belief can also be translated as “right perspective”, “right vision” or “right understanding”. It is the right way of looking at life, nature and the world as they really are. It acts as the reasoning for the practitioner to start practicing the path. It gives direction and efficacy to the other seven path factors (Encyclopedia, Aug. 2006). Another way of looking at the Right belief phrased in a contemporary form is: First you must see clearly what is wrong (Soccio, 2007: 51).
The second step is Right purpose. In this step, the Arahat should constantly try to succeed at ridding themselves of whatever qualities that they know are wrong and immoral. Correct understanding of Right purpose will help the Arahat to distinguish the differences between right intention and wrong intention (Encyclopedia, Aug. 2006). A contemporary definition of Right purpose is: Next you must decide that you want to be cured (Soccio, 2007: 51). The third and fourth step, which are I found have been lumped together in all of my reading, Right speech and Right conduct.
One must love all creatures with the right sort of love in word and deed (Noss, 2008: 182). When practicing steps three and four, Arahat’s must make good use of their words and train themselves to not bring harm to themselves or to others. You must act and speak so as to aim at being cured is a contemporary form on steps three and four (Soccio, 2007: 51). Right means of livelihood is the fifth step of the Eightfold Path. In this step, the Arahat’s are not to participate in occupations that can cause harm to human beings.
This would include occupations that deal with weapons, the buying or selling of sex, killing animals to sell as food, and making or selling alcohol. Historian and philosopher, Gerald Heard, modified this step into a contemporary version meaning: Your livelihood must not conflict with your therapy (Soccio, 2007: 51). Right effort is the sixth step. In this step, the Saints should make a die hard effort to desert all the wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds they might have.
Instead they should be persevering in coming up with thoughts, words, and deeds that would be good and helpful to others and themselves (Encyclopedia, Aug. 2006). “That therapy must go forward at the “staying speed”, that is, the critical velocity” (Soccio, 2007: 51). The seventh and eighth final steps of the Eightfold Path are Right mindfulness and Right meditation or concentration. In these steps, the Arahat’s should constantly keep their mind alert to developments as they are affecting the body and mind.
They should be aware and careful, making sure not to act or speak through the power of carelessness or forgetfulness. During the practice of right concentration, the practitioner will need to investigate and verify their right view; in the process right knowledge will arise and then followed by right liberation (Encyclopedia, Aug. 2006). The contemporary definition of these steps is: You must think about it incessantly and learn how to contemplate with the deep mind (Soccio, 2007: 51).
Now having listed and clearly defined what each step is, I have concluded that it would be impossible for a present day Buddhist to live a life in accordance with the Eightfold Path. Even the most open-minded person would still fail at one or more of these steps. Following the Eightfold Path in today’s society would make it pretty much impossible for a person to be a productive member of the community. Just look at how choosing a college major would be affected by following the Path. If someone aspired to be a Police Officer, the Eightfold Path would prevent that due to the possibility of taking a human life.
Or if a present day Buddhist wanted to become a lawyer, that would be halted since the Right Speech prohibits one from speaking in any sort of abusive or divisive manner. No one would be able to properly argue their point of view. In today’s electronic driven, media everywhere, fast-paced world I don’t see how the Eightfold Path could be a successful practice to a contemporary Buddhist. It is a very strict instrument to follow for the Path of Nirvana and I believe that at least one or more steps would be broken even by the most devout Buddhist.
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