The Eightfold Path: The Way to Enlightenment in Buddhism

The Path comprises eight teachings Buddhists follow in their everyday lives

Golden Dharma Wheel

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The Eightfold Path of Buddhism is the means by which enlightenment may be realized. The historical Buddha first explained the Eightfold Path in his first sermon after his enlightenment.

Most of the Buddha's teachings deal with some part of the Path. You might think of it as an outline that pulls together all the Buddha's teachings.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is composed of eight primary teachings that Buddhists follow and use in their everyday lives: 

The word translated as "right" is samyanc (Sanskrit) or samma (Pali), which means "wise," "wholesome," "skillful," and "ideal." It also describes something that is complete and coherent. The word "right" should not be taken as a commandment, as in "do this, or you are wrong."

Another way to think of "right" in this case is in the sense of equilibrium, like a boat riding the waves and remaining "right."

Practice of the Path

The Eightfold Path is the fourth Truth of the Four Noble Truths. Very basically, the truths explain the nature of our dissatisfaction with life.

The Buddha taught that we must thoroughly understand the causes of our unhappiness in order to resolve it. There is no quick fix; there is nothing we can obtain or hang on to that will give us true happiness and inner peace. What is required is a radical shift in how we understand and relate to ourselves and the world. Practice of the Path is the way to achieve that.

Practice of the Path reaches into all aspects of life and every moment. It's not just something you work on when you have time. It's also important to understand that these eight areas of practice are not separate steps to master one at a time. The practice of each part of the Path supports the other parts.

The Path is divided into three main sections: wisdom, ethical conduct, and mental discipline.

The Wisdom Path

Right View and Right Intention comprise the wisdom path. Right View isn't about believing in doctrine, but about perceiving the true nature of ourselves and the world around us. Right Intention refers to the energy and commitment one needs to be fully engaged in Buddhist practice.

The Ethical Conduct Path

Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood are the ethical conduct path. They call us to take care in our speech, our actions, and our daily lives to do no harm to others and to cultivate wholesomeness in ourselves. This part of the path ties into the Precepts, which describe the way an enlightened being naturally lives.

The Mental Discipline Path

Through Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration we develop the mental discipline to cut through delusion. Many schools of Buddhism encourage seekers to meditate to achieve clarity and focus of mind.

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O'Brien, Barbara. "The Eightfold Path: The Way to Enlightenment in Buddhism." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, O'Brien, Barbara. (2020, August 25). The Eightfold Path: The Way to Enlightenment in Buddhism. Retrieved from O'Brien, Barbara. "The Eightfold Path: The Way to Enlightenment in Buddhism." Learn Religions. (accessed March 25, 2023).