What is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
There is this Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before….
This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by cultivating the Path….
This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by cultivating the Path: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]
The Fourth Noble Truth, like the first three, has three aspects. The first aspect is: ‘There is the Eightfold Path, the atthangika magga – the way out of suffering.’ It is also called the ariya magga, the Ariyan or Noble Path. The second aspect is: ‘This path should be developed.’ The final insight into arahantship is: ‘This path has been fully developed.’
The Eightfold Path is presented in a sequence: beginning with Right (or perfect) Understanding, samma ditthi, it goes to Right (or perfect) Intention or Aspiration, samma sankappa; these first two elements of the path are grouped together as Wisdom (panna). Moral commitment (sila) flows from panna; this covers Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood – also referred to as perfect speech, perfect action and perfect livelihood, samma vaca, samma kammanta and samma ajiva.
Then we have Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi, which flow naturally from sila. These last three provide emotional balance. They are about the heart – the heart that is liberated from self-view and from selfishness. With Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the heart is pure, free from taints and defilements. When the heart is pure, the mind is peaceful. Wisdom (panna), or Right Understanding and Right Aspiration, comes from a pure heart. This takes us back to where we started.
These, then, are the elements of the Eightfold Path, grouped in three sections:
1. Wisdom (panna)
Right Understanding (samma ditthi)
Right Aspiration (samma sankappa)
2. Morality (sila)
Right Speech (samma vaca)
Right Action (samma kammanta)
Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)
3. Concentration (samadhi)
Right Effort (samma vayama)
Right Mindfulness (samma sati)
Right Concentration (samma samadhi)
The fact that we list them in order does not mean that they happen in a linear way, in sequence – they arise together. We may talk about the Eightfold Path and say ‘First you have Right Understanding, then you have Right Aspiration, then….’ But actually, presented in this way, it simply teaches us to reflect upon the importance of taking responsibility for what we say and do in our lives.