The Noble Eightfold Path in Practice

The Buddha’s Teaching – In His Own Words

Texts selected, arranged, and translated by Bhikkhu Ñānamoli

First Voice. One morning the Venerable Ānanda dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, he went into Sāvatthī for alms. He saw Jānussoni the brahman driving out of Sāvatthī in a chariot drawn by four mares, all in white: white steeds, white harnesses, white chariot, white upholstery, white sandals; and he was even being fanned with a white fan. When people saw this, they said: “What a divine vehicle! Now that is like a divine vehicle!”
On his return, the Venerable Ānanda told the Blessed One about it, and he asked: “Lord, can a divine vehicle be pointed to in this Dhamma and Discipline?”
“It can, Ānanda,” the Blessed One said. “’Divine vehicle’ is a name for the Noble Eightfold
Path; and so is ’vehicle of Dhamma,’ and so is ’peerless victory in battle’; for all the components of the Noble Eightfold Path culminate in the expulsion of lust, hate, and delusion.” SN 45:4

“(Once a child is conceived and with birth and the growth of youth) his sense faculties mature, then he becomes furnished and invested with the five strands of sensual desires and exploits them: forms cognizable through the eye that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust; likewise sounds cognizable through the ear, odours cognizable through the nose, flavours cognizable through the tongue, and tangibles cognizable through the body.
“On seeing a visible form with the eye, hearing a sound with the ear, smelling an odour with the nose, tasting a flavour with the tongue, touching a tangible with the body, cognizing an idea with the mind, he lusts after it if it is likable, or has ill will towards it if it is dislikable. He abides without mindfulness of the body established and with mind limited while he does not understand as they actually are the deliverance of mind and deliverance by understanding wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Engaged as he is in favouring and opposing, when he feels any feeling, whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-norpleasant, he relishes that feeling, affirms and accepts it. Relishing arises in him when he does that. Now any relishing of those feelings is clinging. With his clinging as condition, being; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition, ageing and death come to be, and also sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. That is how there is an origin to this whole aggregate mass of suffering.
“Here a Perfect One appears in the world, accomplished and fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of men to be tamed, teacher of gods and men, enlightened, blessed. He declares this world with its deities, its Māras and its Brahmās, this generation with its monks and brahmans, with its princes and men, which he has himself realized by direct knowledge. He teaches a Dhamma good in the beginning, the middle, and the end, with the meaning and the letter, and he announces a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure.
“Some householder, or his son, or one born in some clan, hears that Dhamma. On hearing it, he has faith in the Perfect One. Possessed of that faith, he considers: ’Household life is crowded and dirty, life gone forth is wide open. It is not easy, living in a household, to lead a holy life as utterly perfect and pure as a polished shell. Suppose I shaved off hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness?’
“And on another occasion, abandoning perhaps a small, perhaps a large fortune, abandoning perhaps a small, perhaps a large circle of relatives, he shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the yellow robe, and goes forth from the home life into homelessness.
“Being thus gone forth and possessing the bhikkhus’ training and way of life, he abandons
killing living beings, abstaining therefrom with rod and weapon laid aside; gentle and kindly, he abides compassionate to all beings. He abandons taking what is not given, abstaining therefrom by taking only what is given; expecting only what is given, he abides pure in himself by not stealing. He abandons in celibacy; he lives the celibate life as one who lives apart, abstaining from vulgar lechery. He abandons false speech, abstaining therefrom by speaking truth; cleaving to truth when he speaks, he is trustworthy, reliable and undeceiving of the world. He abandons slander.… He abandons abuse.… He abandons gossip … he speaks in season speech worth recording, which is reasoned, definite, and connected with good.
“He abstains from injuring seeds and plants. He eats only in one part of the day, refraining
from food at night and late meals. He abstains from dancing, singing, music, and theatrical shows; from wearing garlands, smartening with scents, and embellishing with unguents; from high and large couches; from accepting gold and silver, corn, raw meat, women and girls, bondswomen and bondsmen, sheep and goats, poultry and pigs, elephants, cattle, horses and mares, fields and lands; from going on errands; from buying and selling; from false weights, false metals, and false measures; from cheating, deceiving, defrauding, and trickery; from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, robbery, plunder, and violence.
“He is content with robes to protect the body, with almsfood to sustain the belly, so that
wherever he goes he takes everything with him, just as whenever a winged bird flies it flies using its own wings. Possessing this store of the noble ones’ virtue, he feels in himself a bliss that is blameless.
“He becomes one who, on seeing a form with the eye, apprehends no signs and features
through which, if he left the eye faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and grief might invade him; he practises the way of its restraint, he guards the eye faculty, gives effect to restraint of the eye faculty. (Likewise, on hearing a sound with the ear, smelling an odour with the nose, tasting a flavour with the tongue, touching a tangible with the body, and cognizing an idea with the mind.) Possessing this noble ones’ faculty restraint, he feels in himself an unsullied bliss.
“He comes to be fully aware when moving to and fro … and keeping silent.
“Possessing this store of the noble ones’ virtue, and this noble ones’ faculty restraint, and this noble ones’ mindfulness and full awareness, he resorts to a secluded resting place—to the forest, a tree root, a rock, a ravine, a mountain cave, a charnel ground, a jungle thicket, an open space, a heap of straw. On returning from his alms round after the meal, he sits down, folding his legs crosswise, setting his body erect, and establishing mindfulness in front of him.
“Abandoning covetousness for the world, he abides with a mind devoid of covetousness; he purifies his mind from covetousness. Abandoning ill will and hatred, he abides with no thought of ill will, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings; he purifies his mind from ill will and hatred. Abandoning lethargy and drowsiness, he abides with a mind free of lethargy and drowsiness, percipient of light, mindful and fully aware; he purifies his mind from lethargy and drowsiness. Abandoning agitation and worry, he abides unagitated with mind stilled in himself; he purifies his mind of agitation and worry. Abandoning uncertainty, he abides with a mind that has outgrown uncertainty, questioning no more about unwholesome states; he purifies his mind of uncertainty.” MN 38

“Suppose a man borrowed a loan and undertook works and the works succeeded so that he repaid all the money of the old loan and there remained over some extra for his wife and children; then on considering that, he was glad and joyful; or suppose a man was afflicted, suffering and gravely ill and his food did not sustain him and his body had no strength, but later he recovered from the affliction and his body regained strength; or suppose a man were imprisoned in a prison-house, but later he was released from imprisonment safe and sound with no loss to his property; or suppose a man were a bondsman, not self-dependent but dependent on others and unable to go where he wanted, but later he was freed from that bondage and was self-dependent, independent of others and a freeman able to go where he wanted; or suppose a man with property and goods entered on a road across a desert, but later he crossed over the desert safe and sound with no loss to his property; then on considering that, he was glad and joyful; so too, when these five hindrances are unabandoned in himself, a bhikkhu sees them
respectively as a debt, a disease, a prison-house, a bondage, and a road across a desert; and when they are abandoned in himself, he sees that as unindebtedness, health, release from prison, freedom from bondage, and a land of safety.” MN 39

“Having abandoned the five hindrances, mental imperfections that weaken understanding, then quite secluded from sensual desires, secluded from unwholesome states, he enters upon and abides in the first meditation … the second meditation … the third meditation … the fourth meditation.
“On seeing a form with the eye, hearing a sound with the ear, smelling an odour with the
nose, tasting a flavour with the tongue, touching a tangible with the body, cognizing an idea with the mind, he does not lust after it if it is likable; and he has no ill will towards it if it is dislikable. He abides with mindfulness of the body established and a measureless state of mind while he understands as they actually are the deliverance of mind and deliverance by understanding wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having thus abandoned favouring and opposing, when he feels any feeling, whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant, he does not relish that feeling or affirm or accept it. “When he does not do that, his relishing of those feelings ceases. With cessation of his relishing, cessation of clinging; with cessation of clinging, cessation of being; with cessation of being, cessation of birth; with cessation of birth, ageing and death cease, and also sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; that is how there is a cessation to this whole aggregate mass of suffering.” MN 38

The Means

“Suppose a man wanting a snake saw a large snake, and when he wrongly grasped it by its coils or its tail, it turned back and bit him, on which account he came to death or deadly suffering— why? because of his wrong grasp of the snake—; so too, some misguided men learn the Dhamma without examining the meaning of the teachings with understanding, so they acquire no liking for meditating upon them. Learning it instead for the sake of carping and rebuttal of criticism, they fail to appreciate the purpose for which the Dhamma is learnt, and they find that the teachings being wrongly grasped by them, for long conduce to their harm and suffering.
“But suppose a man who wanted a snake saw a large one, and when he caught it in a forked stick and rightly grasped it by the neck, then for all it might wrap its coils about his hand or arm or limbs, still he would not on that account come to death or deadly suffering; so too some clansmen learn the Dhamma and examine the meaning of the teachings with understanding, so that they acquire a liking for meditating upon them. Not learning it for the sake of carping and rebuttal of criticism, they appreciate the purpose for which the Dhamma is learnt, and they find that those teachings being rightly grasped by them, for long conduce to their welfare and happiness.
“Bhikkhus, suppose a traveller saw a great expanse of water, whose near shore was
dangerous and fearful and whose further shore was safe and free from fear, but there was no ferry or bridge. Then after considering this, he collected grass and branches and twigs and leaves and bound them together into a raft, supported by which, and making efforts with his hands and feet, he got safely across. Then, when he had got across, he thought: ’This raft has been very helpful to me since by its means I got safely across; suppose I hoist it on my head or load it on my shoulder and go where I mean to go?’ Now would he be doing what should be done with a raft?” — Vo, Lord.” — “What should he do with it? If, when he got across, he thought: ’This raft has been very helpful to me since by its means I got safely across; suppose I haul it up on dry land or set it adrift on the water and go where I mean to go?’, then that is how he is doing what should be done with the raft. So I have shown you how the Dhamma resembles a raft in being for the purpose of crossing over, not for grasping. Bhikkhus, when you know the Simile of the Raft (then even good) teachings should be abandoned by you, how much more so bad teachings.” MN 22 (condensed)

The End

“Cessation of lust, of hate, and of delusion is the Unformed (Unconditioned), the End, the
Taintless, the Truth, the Other Shore, the Subtle, the Very Hard To See, the Unweakening, the Everlasting, the Undisintegrating, the Invisible, the Undiversified, Peace, the Deathless, the Superior Goal, the Blest, Safety, Exhaustion of Craving, the Wonderful, the Marvellous, Nondistress, the Naturally Non-distressed, Nibbāna, Non-affliction (Unhostility), Fading of Lust, Purity, Freedom, Independence of Reliance, the Island, the Shelter, the Harbour, the Refuge, the Beyond.” SN 43:1–44


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