In the beginning, Prince Siddhartha lived in luxury and wealth in his father’s palace. After he renounced his privileged life and became a wandering monk, he experienced the hardship and difficulty of a life with nothing. He spent years torturing his mind with hard thoughts and solitude and starved his body, enjoyed no comforts and suffered all the experiences of a life without belongings.
Not long before he achieved his insights and attained enlightenment, he realised both these extreme ways of life were as fruitless as each other. He realised that the true way to happiness was to avoid these extremes, to follow a moderate a way of life. He called this way of living the Middle Path.
Buddhists describe the three ways of life by comparing them to strings of a lute. The loose string is like a life of careless indulgence and makes a poor note when played. The tight string is like a life of extreme hardship and denial, producing another bad sound when played and, worse, likely to snap at any moment. Only the middle string, which is neither slack nor tense, produces a harmonious note — it has the same qualities as the Middle Path. Those who follow this way, avoid the extremes of indulgence and denial. They do not seek endless pleasures, and they do not torment themselves with pain, lacking and self-torment. The Fourth Noble Truth is that the Middle Path leads to the end of suffering.
The Middle Path is the Buddha’s treatment for the problem of suffering in all of our lives. In the time he spent learning about the cause and nature of suffering he learnt also about its cure and set out to teach it. Buddhists describe the teachings as a formula which is described in simple steps and includes both physical and mental treatment for ridding a person of suffering. Like all Buddhist teachings, this formula, which is called the Noble Eightfold Path, can only work if a person chooses to apply it to their lives, and takes full responsibility for following the steps.
1. Right Understanding
To understand the Law of Cause and Effect and the Four Noble Truths.
2. Right Attitude
Not harbouring thoughts of greed and anger.
3. Right Speech
Avoid lying, gossip, harsh speech and tale-telling.
4. Right Action
Not to destroy any life, not to steal or commit adultery.
5. Right Livelihood
Avoiding occupations that bring harm to oneself and others.
6. Right Effort
Earnestly doing one’s best in the right direction.
7. Right Mindfulness
Always being aware and attentive.
8. Right Concentration
To making the mind steady and calm in order to realise the true nature of things.
Following the Eightfold path leads, ultimately, to a life free of suffering. This is the fruit the most dedicated follower of the teachings might hope to enjoy, however along the way to this goal the Eightfold path helps Buddhists in other ways.
The Path develops character and personality by showing the way to live a virtuous life, then to cultivate concentration, develop wisdom and finally to blossom into an individual complete with compassion and wisdom — one of the highest qualities of a human being in Buddhism. The Path is specifically aimed at developing behaviour, mind and knowledge and the eight steps are divided into those three ways of practice
The power of speech is a unique gift of man. It is a power which, when properly used, helps to bring harmony, happiness and wisdom. If it is abused it can bring ignorance, delusion, pain and deceit. Right Speech is about controlling the abuse of speech and cultivating its best potentials. Students of the Eightfold Path learn to control their words. They avoid lies, tale-bearing, harsh words and nonsense while practicing speaking truth, gentle words, and speaking sensibly and meaningfully.
Right Action is concerned with what we do; avoiding actions that damage ourselves and others and taking action that improves our sense of self, adds to a healthy society and brings goodness and culture, which lay the foundations for Mental Development and Wisdom.
Right Livelihood shows the way for a person to choose in which way to become a useful, productive citizen who contributes to his or her own welfare and the welfare of others as well as bringing about social harmony and economic progress. Buddhist Teachings advise against harmful professions such as trading in weapons, living beings, flesh, intoxicants and poison. Buddhists also avoid occupations of soldiering, fishing, hunting, and teach against cunning and persuasive practices as well as cheating and gambling.
Wisdom is Right Attitude and Right View. The practice of developing Right View is about distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad, and leads to a compete understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Right View is free from delusion and ignorance and moves very easily into deep wisdom, clear sightedness and acceptance.
Freedom from negative thoughts which distract, debilitate or lead to wrong speech, actions, effort, mindfulness or concentration is what Buddhists call Right Attitude. A follower of the Eightfold Path who follows Right View and Right Attitude may achieve the wisdom to understand things as they are, to perceive the relationship between cause and effect and thus to remove ignorance and craving and experience the end of suffering. This is the ultimate goal of the Eightfold Path and all eight ways of practice must be followed in order to attain it.
The Noble Eightfold Path is a very systematic and methodical approach to solving the problem of suffering in life, and achieving a state of wisdom, peace and Nirvana. The programme first develops character and personality, then develops ethical conduct and restraint which promote concentration. Concentration and mindfulness help make the mind free of hindrances that block it from blossoming into wisdom and accessing higher knowledge. Higher knowledge brings a clear understanding of the truth about how things really are. This leads craving and desire to turn into detachment, detachment brings freedom from suffering and the end of suffering brings Supreme Happiness.
The way to the end of suffering is called the Middle Path. It is an Eightfold Path involving understanding and practice of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Attitude and Right View. These eight elements can be divided into three ways of practice; Good Conduct, Mental Development and Wisdom. The goal of the Noble Eightfold Path is to bring a true understanding of the Four Noble Truths and deliver their ultimate Teaching – the end of suffering.