Yesterday we discussed two common descriptions of the Four Noble Truths. In the other common expression of those Truths the final stanza is different from those discussed yesterday in that it tells you that the path to the cessation of suffering is The Eightfold Noble Path, which relates to the Truth’s daily manifestations. In short, you must live in daily alignment with your spirituality lest your spirituality be a hollow theory rather than enacted enlightenment.
Right View merely means that you must perceive things as they truly are, which are manifestations of your thoughts about reality. Your ego must not colour reality and then react to itself rather than to the world. Your opinions about people are not those people.
Right Intention relates to the respect contained within your intention. This is why some people can use what gets called a racist word in a non-racist way; people are confident of their intention and so the word’s meaning can be altered. Likewise, people can use all of the right words but still fail on The Eightfold Path because they maintain status-based intentions, even if that’s just who’s right and who’s wrong.
Right Speech means that your words must heal and not harm. This gets trickier when it comes to telling people painful truths like talking to them about an addiction but, even in those situations, if we calm ourselves we will know those times when the only thing preventing us from speaking up is that our ego wants to be liked more than our spirit (which is the same in all of us) wants to be respected. Use your words to heal and not harm.
Right Action is to take the same positive attitude with behaviour that you take with communication, so if your friend is going to leave a party drunk and drive home then you have to not only say something, you have to take the keys too. You cannot worry about your ego being liked the next day; you have to do the right thing in the moments you’re in and not wish you did them later. Most guilt comes from non-action.
Right Livelihood is one of the trickiest ones for people because we can get good at justifying things when they reflect well on our ego and make our material life better. When it comes to relating Right Speech and Right Intention and Right Action, to our work, it’s suddenly easy to understand why Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.” There’s a lot of people who pray regularly who will still comfortably prey on a fellow human being. Those would be useless and hollow prayers.
Right Effort means that you want to move in increasingly more loving, nonjudgmental and cooperative ways so that Right Action and Right Words flow more naturally from the direction your life is always pointed.
Right Mindfulness relates to your internal thoughts. Are you an ego talking to itself in words, or are you your spiritual self; a wordless observer who acts wholly based on the steps above? Without proper mindfulness it would be impossible to maintain the other aspects of the path. Your mind must be quiet and your understanding of The Four Noble Truths must be solid.
Right Concentration means that your mind needs to practice the underlying focus for all of the other steps in the Path. If you cannot maintain a relatively steady and active understanding of The Four Noble Truths then you cannot see those steps manifested in your path even though they may be right in front of you.
Look at your life. See where it does not align with these behaviours. You will feel a resistance within yourself wherever your behaviour requires justification. You might be able to explain it to yourself using ego-based words about what’s good for you, but in the end we all know we can feel when we’ve done something wrong. So in the end, when he said “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad. That is my religion,” even Abraham Lincoln proved he was living by The Eightfold Path even though he wouldn’t have ever heard of it.
The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are not difficult concepts to understand. They are challenging to live on a daily basis if we function from a place of ego, so make sure you quiet that frightened, judgmental voice within you and your path will appear before you. From there it’s really just a matter of you deciding to be as absolute as possible about sticking to your path, and even that’s not hard when you get to see the kind of people walking that path alongside you.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.