The Noble 8 Fold Path

The topics offered on this site are organized using the integral and progressive stages of the 8 Fold Path, the fourth noble truth of the Buddha. Some say that the 8 Fold Path is not in any order and in some practices the path is not even divided into 8 parts.

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It’s hard to say if any way is right or wrong, however it is good to pick an established and proven system to study deeply. Committing to a path for deep study leads to the more profound type of learning. Here we will use the system advised by Namgyal Rinpoche and others. In “Body, Speech and Mind” Namgyal Rinpoche is recorded to have said about the 8 Fold Path:

You see, beings with two feet have to do thing in the correct order. The correct way, the one direct way to liberation from suffering, from dukkha, is inculcating awareness in being, but in a certain blossoming, in a particular order. First is the development of awareness of the body. You must always move from crude to subtle understandings – not that the body is crude, but certainly the way it is perceived by many beings is crude.

[…] Basically, you have to fulfill the Path in the order given by the Buddha in his teaching, by starting with wisdom, developing morality and then working with meditation. It is possible to start with wisdom because you are inseparably in and of the universe, because you are already possessed of the understanding of dharma. All dharmas of the universe flow in your being. You are a manifestation of universal law. All beings have an intuitive knowing of their at-one-ness. At no time do you ever depart from union with truth. And it is not “you”, it is the evolutionary process of the universe which decides to go for enlightenment.


The 8-Spoked Wheel

gold-ornate-dharma-wheelThough the path is described by the Buddha to flow in an order, it is much like the 8-spoked wheel where each spoke plays a role in making up a whole. Cecile Kewait, a Dharma teacher and student of Namgyal Rinpoche, said that no parts on the path are separate.

Cecile Kewait said this on how the sections of the 8 Fold path are not like chapters in a text book that you read and are done”:

You don’t finish one part of the path and then that one is finished. It extends through everything, especially the first one – view. You don’t ever perfect just one of them, it’s a matter of appreciating the beauty of how they revolve together.

Speaking of “revolve”, looking at the symbology of the dharma wheel representing the 8 Fold Path, Cecile said:

There is only the dance. And the dance only exists because of the still point. How does a wheel turn? Because of the still point. The spokes are the different selves. When it moves fast you can’t see the separateness, they move very fast. Because circumstances are changing all the time, aren’t they?

Cecile also compared the different sections of the 8 Fold Path to facets of an incredible crystal:


the cure for suffering

In the book “Body Speech and Mind” Namgyal Rinpoche gives a translation of the 8 Fold Path:

‘The 8 Fold Path’ is translated from ‘dukkha nirodha gamini patipada’. ‘Pada’ means ‘foot’, and also ‘step’.

From this translation you can divulge that the 8 Fold Path is intended to be walked, to be lived. And that is the emphasis that this site – the 8 Foot Path – hopes to establish.

In looking at what the 8 Fold Path is, Namgyal Rinpoche points out that there are different types of suffering, or craving, which the 8 Fold Path addresses by the three categories of the 8 Fold Path: panna, sila, and samadhi:

“Sila, samadhi and panna each work to counteract a type of tanha [craving]. Sila counteracts kama-tanha; samadhi alleviates bhava-tanha; and panna, vibhava-tanha. These three are the summation of the methods used for an orderly liberation from negativity, from unwholesome states of greed, hatred, and delusion or dullness. Greed and hatred are actually two sides of the same coin – when you want some particular thing, you don’t want something else. Dullness is when the coin won’t drop on either side.”

Each section of the 8 Fold Path falls within one of three categories:

  1. Panna (Wisdom) is comprised of Whole Aspiration and Whole View.

2. Sila (Calm) is comprised of Whole Actions, Whole Speech, and Whole Livelihood.

3. Samadhi (Absorption) is comprised of Whole Concentration and Whole Mindfulness.


Right vs. Whole

You may have noticed the use of the word “whole” above as opposed to “right”. Namgyal Rinpoche addressed the significance of this prefex for the 8 Fold Path:

“The prefixing of each of the eight sections of the path with “right” is again not an entirely satisfactory translation. In Pali, the word used is samma, which should not be understood in terms of right as opposed to wrong. There is rather the feeling that anything which brings you to a state of calm, to concentration, an experience of totality is samma. […] I prefer to translate samma not as “right,” but as “total, complete”: the unfoldment completion. As you practice the Eightfold Path, you become complete. Your aim should be to become the complete act of living.”

Simply the use of the word “whole” instead of “right” makes a big difference in the meaning of the 8 Fold Path. The Venerable Anzan Hoshin Roshi uses the translation “complete”. He is recorded to have said in a discourse:

[…] it is characteristic of our practice to realize that what is needed is not to be ‘right’, but to be complete and to look into how we might realize this completeness, this wholeness through seeing and developing insight into how we scatter and break this wholeness into fragments of hope and fear. And so we say “complete”, which means unbiased, thorough, whole.

Click here to start exploring the 8 Foot Path with Panna (Whole Wisdom). 

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