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Introduction

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The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
"The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma" Sutra
The Buddha's First Sermon

Lesson 5:  The Fourth Noble Truth: The Eight-Fold Path to the Cessation of Suffering

Before you read:



The Text



The Text

Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth
translated by
—anamoli Thera

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Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion
translated by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth
translated by
Piyadassi Thera

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"The way leading to cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is simply the  noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right  action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of  stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path -- right view, right resolve, right speech,  right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. "The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the  Noble Eightfold Path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought,  right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right  concentration.1

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1 Ven. Piyadasi Thera's note on "The Four Noble Truths":
The Perfect One, one attained

For a very comprehensive account of the Four Noble Truths read The Buddha's Ancient  Path, Piyadassi Thera, Buddhist Publication Society. Kandy, Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

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The Questions



 The Questions

To answer the Questions, please use the Comments page.  Please send your comments on this lesson by Wednesday, August 2, 2006.  (Comments are welcome any time; this "deadline" is just for those keeping pace with the study.)

Question #1: Examine the importance of each of the eight terms, from "right understanding" through "right concentration." (see responses)

Question #2: The "Eightfold Path" is often broken up into three groups. What are these groups? (see responses)

Question #3: What is the significance of the word "Right" in the designation of each step? (see responses)

Question #4: Are these supposed to be done in order, step by step? If so, why do "understanding" and "thought" come first, not last? (see responses)

Application #1: Look again at Question #3. Which of these eight is most important? Which is least? (see responses)

Application #2: Look again at Question #2. Which of these three is most important? Which is least? (see responses)

Application #3: Do you find this a practical way to address "tanha" (craving, desire, thirst)? (see responses)

Comments and questions regarding other aspects of this passage are also welcome.

Make your Comments here!



 



The Comments



The Comments



 


Question #1


Question #1: Examine the importance of each of the eight terms, from "right understanding" through "right concentration."

Response by James:

These definitions are taken from Nyanatiloka's Dictionary:

a. Right understanding (or right view) sammā-ditthi is the understanding of the 4 Noble Truths about the universality of suffering unsatisfactoriness, of its origin, its cessation, and the path leading to that cessation.

b. Right thought (or right motivation) sammā-sankappa thoughts free from sense-desire, from ill-will, and cruelty.

c. Right speech sammā-vācā abstaining from lying, tale-bearing, harsh language, and foolish babble.

d. Right [bodily] action sammā-kammanta abstaining from killing, stealing, and unlawful sexual intercourse.

e. Right livelihood sammā-ājīva abstaining from a livelihood that brings harm to other beings, such as trading in arms, in living beings, intoxicating drinks, poison; slaughtering, fishing, soldiering, deceit, treachery soothsaying, trickery, usury, etc.

f. Right effort sammā-vāyāma the effort of avoiding or overcoming evil and disadvantageous things, and of developing and maintaining advantageous things.

g. Right mindfulness (or right awareness) sammā-sati awareness or mindfulness and awareness in contemplating body, feelings, mind, and mental-objects.

h. Right concentration sammā-samādhi concentration of mind associated with advantageous kusala ['kammically advantageous'] consciousness, which eventually may reach the [highest levels of] absorption.

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Question #2


Question #2: The "Eightfold Path" is often broken up into three groups. What are these groups?

Response by James:

a. "Wisdom" is composed of right understanding and right thought.

b. "Morality" is composed of right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

c. "Concentration" is composed of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Question #3


Question #3: What is the significance of the word "Right" in the designation of each step?

Response by James:

We must be very careful about this word. In Pali it's sammā, in Sanskrit samyaŮc. There is no direct intention in this word of "moral correctness." This is not "right" as in "good, the opposite of evil." Rather, as numerous homepages attest, it "denotes completion, togetherness, and coherence, and which can also carry the sense of 'perfect' or 'ideal.'" This means it is the right, appropriate, expedient, or useful thing to do; not that it is "evil" to do otherwise. (Buddhism is always pragmatic.)

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Question #4


Question #4: Are these supposed to be done in order, step by step? If so, why do "understanding" and "thought" come first, not last?

Response by James:

Not really. The eight-fold path is better illustrated by a wheel with eight spokes (the "Wheel of Dharma") than by a set of eight stairs. They reinforce each other; they don't exactly build on each other in order.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which they are linearóbut with a twist.

As seen in Question #2, we can think of the eight "steps" in three parts: Wisdom, Morality, and Concentration. Many would say that Morality comes first: We cannot sit in fruitful meditation if we are angry with someone, or if we feel guilt. But others point out that, in fact, there is no impetus to Morality until we gain a certain amount of Wisdom. This is the entry-level attitude that makes it possible to pursue the others. This is bodhicitta, having the "mind of enlightenment" that is necessary for us to follow the path. Once we have attained to Concentration, however, we return to Wisdom at a whole new level of attainment. This constitutes enlightenment.

So it could be said that mundane Wisdom, plus Morality and Concentration, are like three "steps," but in fact they all reinforce each other, like the three legs of a three-legged stool; when their work is done, however, Perfect Wisdom caps these three legs like the seat, which would be meaningless without them.

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Application #1


Application #1: Look again at Question #3. Which of these eight is most important? Which is least?

Response by James:

As mentioned above, one standard image of the Noble Eightfold Path is the eight-spoked "Wheel of Dharma." One might as well ask, "Which spoke in a wheel is the most important one?"

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Application #2


Application #2: Look again at Question #2. Which of these three is most important? Which is least?

Response by James:

As with my comment on Application #1, they are all important. However, I think that in daily life, Sila (Morality) is paramount. It is foundational: an immoral person may find it hard to Concentrate the mind, and thus develop Wisdom.

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 


Application #3


Application #3: Do you find this a practical way to address "tanha" (craving, desire, thirst)?

Response by James:

If we stopped at Morality, much of the struggle with tanha would be addressed. Ascending up through Concentration to Wisdom takes this achievement from the mundane to the supermundane. So yes, I think that even the "baby steps" on the Path will go a long way toward eradicating craving.

(Posted August 4, 2006)


 

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..Contents other than translations (C) 2006 James Baquet

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