Eightfold Path

Within the fourth noble truth is found the guide to the end of suffering: the noble eightfold path. The eight parts of the path to liberation are grouped into three essential elements of Buddhist practice—moral conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. The Buddha taught the eightfold path in virtually all his discourses, and his directions are as clear and practical to his followers today as they were when he first gave them.

Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
Right thought (Samma sankappa)
Right speech (Samma vaca)
Right action (Samma kammanta)
Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
Right effort (Samma vayama)
Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
Practically the whole teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during 45 years, deals in some way or other with this path. He explained it in different ways and in different words to different people, according to the stage of their development and their capacity to understand and follow him. But the essence of those many thousand discourses scattered in the Buddhist scriptures is found in the noble eightfold path.

It should not be thought that the eight categories or divisions of the path should be followed and practiced one after the other in the numerical order as given in the usual list above. But they are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.

These eight factors aim at promoting and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline: namely: (a) ethical conduct (sila), (b) mental discipline (samadhi) and (c) wisdom (panna). It will therefore be more helpful for a coherent and better understanding of the eight divisions of the path if we group them and explain them according to these three heads.

Ethical conduct (sila) is built on the vast conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings, on which the Buddha’s teaching is based. It is regrettable that many scholars forget this great ideal of the Buddha’s teaching, and indulge in only dry philosophical and metaphysical divagations when they talk and write about Buddhism. The Buddha gave his teaching “for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.”

According to Buddhism, for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion (karuna) on one side, and wisdom (panna) on the other. Here compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance, and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind. If one develops only the emotional, neglecting the intellectual, one may become a good-hearted fool; while to develop only the intellectual side [and] neglecting the emotional may turn one into a hard-hearted intellect without feeling for others. Therefore, to be perfect one has to develop both equally. That is the aim of the Buddhist way of life: in it wisdom and compassion are inseparably linked together, as we shall see later.

Now, in ethical conduct (sila), based on love and compassion, are included three factors of the noble eightfold path: namely, right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

Right speech means abstention (1) from telling lies, (2) from backbiting and slander and talk that may bring about hatred, enmity, disunity, and disharmony among individuals or groups of people, (3) from harsh, rude, impolite, malicious, and abusive language, and (4) from idle, useless, and foolish babble and gossip. When one abstains from these forms of wrong and harmful speech one naturally has to speak the truth, has to use words that are friendly and benevolent, pleasant and gentle, meaningful, and useful. One should not speak carelessly: speech should be at the right time and place. If one cannot say something useful, one should keep “noble silence.”

Right action aims at promoting moral, honorable, and peaceful conduct. It admonishes us that we should abstain from destroying life, from stealing, from dishonest dealings, from illegitimate sexual intercourse, and that we should also help others to lead a peaceful and honorable life in the right way.

Right livelihood means that one should abstain from making one’s living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating drinks or poisons, killing animals, cheating, etc., and should live by a profession which is honorable, blameless, and innocent of harm to others. One can clearly see here that Buddhism is strongly opposed to any kind of war, when it lays down that trade in arms and lethal weapons is an evil and unjust means of livelihood.

These three factors (right speech, right action, and right livelihood) of the eightfold path constitute ethical conduct. It should be realized that the Buddhist ethical and moral conduct aims at promoting a happy and harmonious life both for the individual and for society. This moral conduct is considered as the indispensable foundation for all higher spiritual attainments. No spiritual development is possible without this moral basis.

Next comes mental discipline, in which are included three other factors of the eightfold path: namely, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. (Nos. 6, 7 and 8 in the list).

Right effort is the energetic will (1) to prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising, and (2) to get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a man, and also (3) to produce, to cause to arise, good, and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen, and (4) to develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in a man.

Right mindfulness is to be diligently aware, mindful, and attentive with regard to (1) the activities of the body (kaya), (2) sensations or feelings (vedana), (3) the activities of the mind (citta) and (4) ideas, thoughts, conceptions, and things (dhamma).

The practice of concentration on breathing (anapanasati) is one of the well-known exercises, connected with the body, for mental development. There are several other ways of developing attentiveness in relation to the body as modes of meditation.

With regard to sensations and feelings, one should be clearly aware of all forms of feelings and sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, of how they appear and disappear within oneself. Concerning the activities of mind, one should be aware whether one’s mind is lustful or not, given to hatred or not, deluded or not, distracted or concentrated, etc. In this way one should be aware of all movements of mind, how they arise and disappear.

As regards ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things, one should know their nature, how they appear and disappear, how they are developed, how they are suppressed, destroyed, and so on.

These four forms of mental culture or meditation are treated in detail in the Satipatthana Sutta (Setting-up of Mindfulness).

The third and last factor of mental discipline is right concentration, leading to the four stages of Dhyana, generally called trance or recueillement. In the first stage of Dhyana, passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded, and feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities. Then, in the second stage, all intellectual activities are suppressed, tranquillity, and “one-pointedness” of mind developed, and the feelings of joy and happiness are still retained. In the third stage, the feeling of joy, which is an active sensation, also disappears, while the disposition of happiness still remains in addition to mindful equanimity. Finally, in the fourth stage of Dhyana, all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and sorrow, disappear, only pure equanimity and awareness remaining.

Thus the mind is trained and disciplined and developed through right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The remaining two factors, namely right thought and right understanding, constitute wisdom in the noble eightfold path.

Right thought denotes the thoughts of selfless renunciation or detachment, thoughts of love and thoughts of non-violence, which are extended to all beings. It is very interesting and important to note here that thoughts of selfless detachment, love and non-violence are grouped on the side of wisdom. This clearly shows that true wisdom is endowed with these noble qualities, and that all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred, and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom in all spheres of life whether individual, social, or political.

Right understanding is the understanding of things as they are, and it is the four noble truths that explain things as they really are. Right understanding therefore is ultimately reduced to the understanding of the four noble truths. This understanding is the highest wisdom which sees the Ultimate Reality. According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding. What we generally call “understanding” is knowledge, an accumulated memory, an intellectual grasping of a subject according to certain given data. This is called “knowing accordingly” (anubodha). It is not very deep. Real deep understanding or “penetration” (pativedha) is seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label. This penetration is possible only when the mind is free from all impurities and is fully developed through meditation.

From this brief account of the noble eightfold path, one may see that it is a way of life to be followed, practiced and developed by each individual. It is self-discipline in body, word, and mind, self-development, and self-purification. It has nothing to do with belief, prayer, worship, or ceremony. In that sense, it has nothing which may popularly be called “religious.” It is a Path leading to the realization of Ultimate Reality, to complete freedom, happiness, and peace through moral, spiritual, and intellectual perfection.


Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths”I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach”, declared the Buddha 2500 years ago.

The Four Noble Truths contain the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. It was these four principles that the Buddha came to understand during his meditation under the bodhi tree.

  1. The truth of suffering (Dukkha)
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya)
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha)
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)

The Buddha is often compared to a physician. In the first two Noble Truths he diagnosed the problem (suffering) and identified its cause. The third Noble Truth is the realization that there is a cure.

The fourth Noble Truth, in which the Buddha set out the Eightfold Path, is the prescription, the way to achieve a release from suffering.

  1. There is suffering. The First Noble Truth with its three aspects is: “There is suffering, [dukkha]. Suffering should be understood. Suffering has been understood.
  2. There is a cause of suffering. The Second Noble Truth states that there is an origin of suffering and that the origin of suffering is attachment to the three kinds of desire: desire for sense pleasure, [to feel good] desire to become something we are not, and desire to get rid of something we don’t like, [aversion].
  3. There is an end of suffering. There is the cessation of suffering, of dukkha. The cessation of dukkha should be realized. The cessation of dukkha has been realized.
  4. The Fourth Noble Truth, like the first three, has three aspects. The first aspect is: ‘There is the Eightfold Path, the way out of suffering.’ It is also called the Noble Path. The second aspect is: ‘This path should be developed.’ The final insight into Enlightenment is: ‘This path has been fully developed.’


V Final – Yamantaka (Conqueror of Death) – (Final)

V Final – Yamantaka (Conqueror of Death) – (Final)
(While waiting for guest, thought might be good idea to finish this series, so here is final … final? There ain’t no final old woman, haven’t you learned anything?! Wheee! )
Am sitting on balcony overlooking the ocean at the end of an intense three years of practice tearing my heart out but filling it with renewed hope that someday… Someday. Before the Intensive I had gone through 25 years of studying, breathing, living Christian Mysticism, Sufism, Shaivite Hinduism, and now I picked up a book that had a strange familiarity a strange but compelling whisper that this Tibetan Buddhist tradition might bring me… home.
Personal Journal 1980: RECOGNITION
“O Nobly-born, whatever terrifying and fearful visions thou mayest see, recognize them to be your own thought-forms.”
If the deceased does not recognize the wrathful deities, then they will take the form of the Lord of Death, Dharma-Raja, himself. By not recognizing his own thought-forms, he is destined to wander in this earthly consciousness, samsara.
It doesn’t matter ‘how learned thou may be,’ or ‘practicing religion’ for many years, if one recognizes ‘one’s thought-forms and be frightened,’ . . . ‘one obtaineth not Buddhahood.’
If only by one word, one moment of recognition of his own thought-forms, the deceased will obtain Buddhahood.
And now, still not recognizing his own thought-forms, he sees the Lord of Death, and this is the most horrible vision imaginable. He comes in many bodies, . . . having their upper teeth biting the bottom lips; their eyes glazing; their hairs tied up on the tops of their head; big bellied, narrow-waisted; holding a karmic record in the hand; giving cries from the mouth of ‘Strike!’ ‘Slay!’; licking human brain, drinking blood, tearing heads from corpses, tearing out the hearts;” and so they came, filling all the worlds.”
I continued reading fascinated—this was it, the culmination of the three year Intensive, the ultimate truth that would set me free! My heart was pounding, filled with gratitude—I did not yet know what this truth was . . . but it was closer, closer.
I put the book down for a moment opened to the passage that I knew would bring me there; I let it lay across my chest and looked at the full moon rising above the ocean.
“Thank you, my Beloved, oh thank you.”
As if a joy almost unbearable in its intensity, I hesitated to go on. But I could wait no longer. Nothing could stop it now. I was to know—finally! I read:
“O nobly born, when such thought-forms emanate, be thou not afraid, nor terrified; the body which now thou possesses being a mental body of karmic propensities, though slain and chopped to bits cannot die.”
The words blew up out of the page: CANNOT DIE!
“Because thy body is, in reality, one of voidness, thou needest not fear. The bodies of the Lord of Death, too, are emanating from the radiance of thine own intellect; they are not constituted of matter; voidness cannot injure voidness.”
Does this mean that every negative emotion that I feel: fear, anger, doubt, despair, all suffering, all pain—all pain—are only thoughts from my mind?! There is never anything to fear. It is all just thoughts?! Knowing was coming home: there isn’t any reality except the thoughts from my own mind! Even my own body is nothing but thought-forms!
My mouth dropped open; nectar oozed from its corners; tears blurred my eyesight. I could barely make out the rest . . . “Thus knowing this, all the fear and terror is self-dissipated, and merging into the state of at-one-ment, Buddhahood is obtained.”
My head fell back until my chin pointed to the sky; all life energy left my body and concentrated in my head. I could not move, tears streamed down my face, tears of indescribable joy. I knew! I knew! That even death, the ole Lord of Death was just a thought from my mind!
Immersed in the Stillness of Who I truly was, who we all truly are: Stillness! Then, not a sound, not a thought, but a Knowing shouted beyond Knowing:
I am the Void!
I am Thou!
I am my Beloved!
Oh, my God! That was it! I am . . . my Beloved.
And so it was over . . . and had just begun.
Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Siddhi Hum!



Conqueror of Death

How Does Yamantaka Help Us Overcome the Fear of Death?

This question depends upon the meaning ascribed to the term “death” – but one way in which this ability can be identified is through the enlightening activity of wisdom.

The wise mind is able to perceive that death has no intrinsic, concrete existence: our understanding of death emerges solely from the conventions of the world. Also, when we achieve the same realization of Yamantaka – who is an emanation of the Great Bodhisattva, Manjushri – then we have transcended death.

There are three types of death spoken of in the Yamāntaka Tantra: Outer Death; Inner Death; and Secret Death.

1) Outer death is the regular end of life, which is embodied by Yama, Lord of Death.

2) The inner death is ignorance of the true nature of non-dual reality. Instinctive habitual grasping and aversion to objectively “real” objects and subjects arises from this ignorance.

3) The secret death is dualistic appearance on the subtlest level of clear light mind and illusory body.

With the practice of Yamāntaka one overcomes those types of death and gains immortality as a Buddha.

(to be continued)

Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum!

Yamantaka, Conqueror of the Lord of Death


Conqueror of Death

How Did Manjushri Become Yamantaka?

There was once a yogi who lived in isolation in a cave in the mountains where he practiced meditation with determination. One day, while sitting in profound samadhi and just about to achieve Enlightenment, two cattle thieves dragging their prize of a dead water buffalo just happened to find the cave. Thinking they were alone, they began to butcher the meat by first removing the head from the rest of the carcass.

When they noticed the ascetic, who would certainly be able to identify them to authorities, they smoothly and swiftly beheaded him, too. The siddha, in a fury that his objective — so near in that lifetime — had been thwarted, reached out and grabbed the closer of the heads lying there, and with a twist of his wrist, installed the missing part. It happened to be that of the bull.

Thus, his prior spiritual attainment combined with his anger, frustration and animal fury to cause him to take on the form of the most ferocious of the devas, Lord Yama, god of Death.

Having assumed this form he not only slaughtered the two cattle rustlers, but went on a rampage that threatened the population for miles around.

In desperation, followers of the Buddha-dharma appealed to the Great Bodhisattva, Manjushri, for help. Jampel Yang (as Manjusri is known in Tibetan,) having both wisdom and compassion, as well as superior knowledge, used like to conquer like.

He assumed a fierce bull-headed form himself and in their battle, everywhere Yama turned, he found infinite versions of himself. Manjushri as Yamantaka defeated Yama and turned him into a protector of Buddhism.


Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum!


“A moving technique for arousing compassion (in preparation for
Tonglen) for a person who is suffering is to imagine your brother or
daughter or parent or best friend in the same kind of painful
situation. Quite naturally your heart will open, and compassion will
awaken in you. What more would you want than to free them from their
torment? Now take this compassion released in your heart and transfer
it to the person who needs your help. You will find that your help
is inspired more naturally, and that you can direct it more easily.

People sometimes ask me, ‘If I do this, will the friend or relative
whom I am imagining in pain, come to some harm?’ On the contrary,
thinking about them with such love and compassion can only be of help
to them, and will even bring about the healing of whatever suffering
and pain they may have gone through in the past, may be going through
now, or have yet to go through.

The fact that they are the instrument of your arousing compassion,
even if it is only for an instant, will bring them tremendous merit
and benefit. Because they have been responsible, in part, for the
opening of your heart, and for allowing you to help the sick or dying
person with your compassion, then the merit from that action will
naturally return to them.

You can also mentally dedicate the merit of that action to your
friend or relative who helped you to open your heart. And you can
wish the person well, and pray that in the future he or she will be
free from suffering. You will be grateful toward your friend, and
your friend might feel inspired and grateful too, if you tell the
person that he or she helped you to evoke your compassion.

So to ask, ‘Will my friend or relative I am imagining in the place of
the sick and dying person come to some harm?’shows that we have not
fully understood how powerful and miraculous the working of
compassion is. It blesses and heals all those involved: the person
who generates compassion, the person through whom that compassion is
generated, and the person to whom that compassion is directed.

As Portia says in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice:’

‘The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes…'”

~Sogyal Rinpoche
From the book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”

Freedom Quote

“Even in the worst situations, the heart can be free. ˜ We who lived in the concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread…. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from us but the last of human freedoms … the freedom to choose our spirit in any circumstance.”

~Viktor E. Frank

From the book Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.