The eightfold path/method is the heart of Buddhist practice. The path is intended to be a guide for everyday life. In following the path, you will learn to see life as it really is. The path is depicted as a wheel with 8 spokes because the path is not linear and each area is equally important.
The eight points of the path are:
The middle way view means seeing the world as it is. What are your views of the world? Do you cling to your views? Seeing all things as impermanent and interdependent will help you to have a skillful view of yourself and the world.
Intention means understanding what the true intentions are behind our actions. Our thoughts, words, and actions are all driven by intentions. For example, when our intentions stem from anger, fear, resentment, or greed we are more likely to do harm with our thoughts, words, and actions. A great way to practice is to ask ourselves questions about intent like:
Why am I thinking this?
Why caused me to say that to my spouse?
What made me angry enough to throw the remote?
Once you are aware of your intentions, it’s easier to try to set new ones and to replace old intentions.
Skillful action means acting or behaving in a way that is not harmful to ourselves or others. Wholesome intentions help lead to wholesome actions.
Skillful speech means communicating with others in a way that doesn’t cause harm. Lying, gossiping, and hurting other people feelings is not wholesome speech. This covers all forms of communication (speech, texting, emailing, writing, etc). This doesn’t mean withholding opinions or ideas, it means we are mindful of of the intention behind the communication to decide if what we are going to say will do more good or more harm.
Skillful livelihood addresses how we earn a living. We must determine for ourselves if what we do for a living is causing harm to ourselves and others, or if it is neutral or helping. Skillful livelihood also includes how we interact with others while doing our jobs.
A skillful effort is what it will take to be able to put into practice all the other parts of the path. Without effort, there is no practice. We must be determined to put into practice all the other points of the path if we want to experience any kind of positive change. Skillful effort affects all of our interactions in the world.
Skillful mindfulness means paying attention to everything we think, say, and do. It’s important that mindfulness should be anchored in the present. With proper intention, effort, and mindfulness, you can train yourself to be present in everything you do. Skillful mindfulness goes hand in hand with all the other points of the path. Example: Skillful speech will determine what I’m saying to someone when I’m talking to them…skillful mindfulness will prevent me from checking my phone while I’m talking to someone in person. Meditation is the tool to develop mindfulness. As you develop mindfulness in the quiet, still environment of meditation, you then extend mindfulness to include all your daily life.
Skillful concentration is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one thing. Like mindfulness, concentration is a tool to anchor us in the present. Concentration improves through meditation and it requires the use of effort, intention, and mindfulness. Once mindfulness and concentration are established, then you can develop greater insight overall because your mind is no longer cluttered with thoughts that inhibit wisdom.
The eightfold path is something we need to practice continually. You’ll notice how various segments of the path overlap and rely on each other. “Walking the path” is an ongoing lifetime effort that will bring many rewards and improve the overall quality of life.