The development of the eightfold Path leads to the goal of the Buddha’ s teachings: the end of dukkha, suffering. As I explained in chapter 2, the Buddha taught the four noble Truths: the Truth of dukkha, of the cause of dukkha, which is craving, of the ceasing of dukkha, which is nibbāna, and of the Path leading to the ceasing of dukkha. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, The Great Chapter, Book XII, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, chapter II, §1) that the Buddha, while he was dwelling at Isipatana, in the Deerpark, spoke to the company of five monks:
Monks, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth as a wanderer. What two?
Devotion to the pleasures of sense, a low practice of villagers, a practice unworthy, unprofitable, the way of the world (on the one hand); and (on the other) devotion to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable.
By avoiding these two extremes the Tathāgata has gained knowledge of that middle path which gives vision, which gives knowledge, which causes calm, special knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbāna.
And what, monks, is that middle path which gives vision Nibbāna?
Verily, it is this noble eightfold way, namely: Right view^[ Right understanding of realities.], right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
When there is direct awareness and right understanding of any reality which appears in daily life, there is at that moment no devotion to sense pleasures nor self-mortification. One is on the middle way, and that is the eightfold Path. When direct understanding of realities has been developed stage by stage, the wrong view of self can be eradicated. Then it is clearly understood that what is taken for a person or self are in reality merely mental phenomena and physical phenomena which arise and then fall away immediately. When the realities which arise because of their own conditions have been understood as they are, as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, enlightenment, can be attained. At that moment nibbāna is experienced. Nibbāna is the unconditioned reality, the reality which does not arise and fall away. There are four stages of enlightenment and at these stages defilements are progressively eradicated. First the wrong view of self has to be eradicated because the other defilements cannot be eradicated so long as they are taken for "self". All defilements are eradicated when the fourth and last stage of enlightenment has been attained, the stage of the perfected one, the "arahat". He has eradicated ignorance and all forms of clinging completely, there are no more latent tendencies of defilements left. Ignorance and clinging are conditions for rebirth again and again, for being in the cycle of birth and death. When ignorance and clinging have been eradicated there will be the end of the cycle of birth and death, the end of dukkha.
The development of the eightfold Path leads to the cessation of dukkha. In order to know what the eightfold Path is, the eight Path factors as enumerated in the above-quoted sutta have to be examined more closely. They are mental factors^[In Pāli: cetasika.] which can accompany citta. As I explained before, there is one citta arising at a time, but it is accompanied by several mental factors which each perform their own function while they assist the citta in cognizing an object. Mental factors can be akusala, kusala or neither kusala nor akusala, in accordance with the citta they accompany. When the eightfold Path is being developed, the mental factors which are the Path factors perform their own specific functions in order that the goal can be attained: the eradication of defilements. From the beginning it should be remembered that there is no self, no person, who develops the Path, but that it is citta and the accompanying mental factors which develop the Path. As we read in the sutta, the eight Path factors are the following:
Right understanding is the first and foremost factor of the eightfold Path. What is right understanding of the eightfold Path? There are many levels and degrees of understanding. There can be theoretical understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on mental phenomena and physical phenomena. However, the Path factor right understanding is not theoretical understanding of realities. When it is developed it is the direct understanding of the true nature of physical phenomena and mental phenomena appearing in daily life. When right understanding begins to develop, however, it cannot yet be clear, direct understanding immediately. The mental phenomena and physical phenomena which appear in daily life have to be investigated over and over again. As I explained in chapter 7, not concepts but ultimate realities are the objects of direct understanding. The characteristics of seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, attachment or generosity can be investigated by right understanding of the eightfold Path. In that way they can be seen as only conditioned realities which are non-self. When there are conditions for the arising of right understanding it arises and investigates the reality which presents itself at that moment through one of the six doors. Right understanding arises and then falls away immediately together with the citta it accompanies, but it is accumulated and therefore there are conditions for its arising again. In this way understanding can develop; it develops, there is no person who develops it. Right understanding can penetrate the characteristics of impermanence, dukkha and non-self and it can eventually realize the four noble Truths.
Right thinking is another Path factor. Right thinking is not the same as what we mean by thinking in conventional sense. When we use the word thinking in conventional language we mean thinking of a concept, an event or a story. In the ultimate sense thinking is a mental factor which accompanies many types of citta, although not every type. Thinking "touches" or "hits" the object which citta experiences and in this way assists the citta in cognizing that object. The mental factor thinking experiences the same object as the citta it accompanies. The object can be a concept and also an ultimate reality, a mental phenomenon or a physical phenomenon. Thinking arises merely for an extremely short moment together with the citta and then it falls away with the citta. Thinking can be akusala, kusala or neither akusala nor kusala. When it is akusala it is wrong thinking and when it is kusala it is right thinking. The Path factor right thinking arises together with the Path factor right understanding. The object of the Path factor right thinking is an ultimate reality, the reality which appears at the present moment. In the beginning there will be doubt whether the reality appearing at the present moment is a physical reality, such as visible object, or a mental reality, such as seeing. When right understanding is only beginning to develop there is not yet precise understanding of the difference between the characteristics of these realities. The function of the Path factor right thinking is " touching" the reality appearing at the present moment so that right understanding can investigate its characteristic. In that way precise understanding of that object can be developed, until there is no more confusion between the characteristic of a mental reality and a physical reality. Right thinking assists right understanding to penetrate the true nature of realities: the nature of impermanence, dukkha and non-self. Thus we see that the Path factor of right thinking is essential for the development of understanding.
There are three Path factors which are the factors of good moral conduct^[In Pāli: sīla]: right speech, right action and right livelihood. They have the function of abstaining from wrong speech, wrong action and wrong livelihood. Wrong livelihood is wrong speech and wrong action committed for the sake of one’s livelihood. When there are conditions for abstaining from these kinds of akusala kamma the factors of good moral conduct perform the function of abstention. They arise one at a time. When there is abstention from wrong action such as killing, there cannot be at the same time abstention from wrong speech. The development of right understanding will condition good moral conduct, but only after enlightenment has been attained good moral conduct becomes enduring. The person who has attained the first stage of enlightenment has no more conditions for the committing of akusala kamma which can produce an unhappy rebirth. Thus, right understanding of realities bears directly on one’s moral conduct in daily life. As we have seen, the three mental factors which are the abstentions from evil moral conduct arise one at a time, depending on the given situation. At the moment of enlightenment, however, all three Path factors which are good moral conduct arise together. The reason is that they perform at that moment the function of eradicating the cause of misconduct as to speech, action and livelihood. Latent tendencies of defilements are eradicated so that they do not arise anymore. As I explained before, defilements are eradicated at different stages of enlightenment and it is only at the fourth and final stage that all akusala is eradicated.
Right effort is another Path factor. Effort or energy is a mental factor which can arise with kusala citta, akusala citta and citta which is neither kusala nor akusala. Its function is to support and strengthen the citta. When effort or energy is kusala it is the condition for courage and perseverance in the performing of kusala. Energy is right effort of the eightfold Path when it accompanies right understanding of the eightfold Path. It is the condition for perseverance with the investigation and study of the reality appearing at the present moment, be it a mental phenomenon or a physical phenomenon. Energy and patience are indispensable for the development of right understanding. There must be awareness of mental phenomena and physical phenomena over and over again, in the course of many lives, so that right understanding can see realities as they are, as impermanent, dukkha and non-self. When we hear the word effort we may have a concept of self who exerts an effort to develop right understanding. Effort is non-self, it is a mental factor which assists right understanding. When there is mindfulness of a reality and understanding investigates its nature, there is at that moment also right effort which performs its function. It does not arise because of one’s wish, it arises because of its own conditions.
Right mindfulness is another factor of the eightfold Path. As I explained in chapter seven, there are many levels of mindfulness. There is mindfulness with each kusala citta and its function is to be heedful, non-forgetful of what is wholesome. Mindfulness is a factor of the eightfold Path when it accompanies right understanding of the eightfold Path. There may be theoretical understanding of realities acquired through reading and thinking. One may think in the right way of the phenomena of life which are impermanent and non-self. However, in order to directly experience the truth there must be mindfulness of the reality which appears at the present moment. The moment of mindfulness is extremely short, it falls away immediately. However, during that moment understanding can investigate the characteristic of the reality which appears, and in this way understanding can develop very gradually. Right understanding arises together with right mindfulness, but they have each a different function. Right mindfulness is heedful, attentive or conscious of the reality which appears but it does not investigate its nature. It is the function of right understanding to investigate and penetrate the true nature of the reality which appears at the present moment.
Right concentration is another factor of the eightfold Path. Concentration or one-pointedness is a mental factor arising with each citta. Citta experiences only one object at a time and concentration has the function to focus on that one object which citta experiences. Concentration can accompany kusala citta, akusala citta and citta which is neither kusala nor akusala. Right concentration is concentration which is wholesome. There are many kinds and degrees of right concentration. As we have seen in chapter 7, there is right concentration in tranquil meditation. When calm is developed to the extent that absorption is attained, there is a high degree of concentration which focuses on the meditation subject. There are no more sense impressions such as seeing or hearing and defilements are temporarily subdued. There is also right concentration in the development of direct understanding of realities. The Path factor right concentration accompanies right understanding of the eightfold Path. It focuses rightly on the reality which appears at the present moment and which is the object of right understanding. There is no need to make a special effort to concentrate on mental phenomena and physical phenomena. If one tries to concentrate there is clinging to an idea of "my concentration", and then there is no development of right understanding. When there are conditions for the arising of right mindfulness and right understanding, there is right concentration already which focuses on the reality presenting itself at that moment.
Some people believe that one should first develop morality, after that concentration and then right understanding. However, all kinds of kusala, be it generosity, good moral conduct or calm can develop together with right understanding. There is no particular order in the development of wholesomeness. Kusala citta is non-self, anattā. When one reads the scriptures one will come across texts on the development of right concentration which has reached the stage of absorption. This does not imply that all people should develop calm to the degree of absorption. As I explained in chapter 7, it depends on the individual’ s accumulations whether he can develop it or not. The Buddha encouraged those who could develop calm to the degree of absorption to be mindful of realities in order to see also absorption as non self. There are many aspects to each subject which is explained in the teachings and one has to take these into account when one reads the scriptures. Otherwise one will read the texts with wrong understanding. The Buddha’s teachings are subtle and deep, not easy to grasp. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, The Great Chapter, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, chapter II, §. 9, Illustration) that the Buddha said to the monks:
Monks, the noble Truth of This is dukkha. This is the arising of dukkha.This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha, has been pointed out by me. Therein are numberless shades and variations of meaning. Numberless are the ways of illustrating this noble truth of, This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of dukkha. Wherefore, monks an effort must be made to realize: This is dukkha, This is the arising of dukkha, This is the ceasing of dukkha, This is the practice leading to the ceasing of dukkha.
The eightfold Path must be developed in daily life. One should come to know all realities, also one’s defilements, as they arise because of their own conditions. One cannot change the reality which arises, it is non-self. Misunderstandings as to the development of right understanding are bound to arise if one has not correctly understood what the objects of mindfulness and right understanding are. Therefore I wish to stress a few points concerning these objects. Some people believe that a quiet place is more favourable for the development of right understanding. They should examine themselves in order to find out which types of citta motivate their thinking. If laypeople want to live as a monk in order to have more opportunity to develop right understanding, they are led by desire. It is due to conditions, to one ’s accumulated inclinations, whether one is a monk or a layman. Both monk and layman can develop understanding, each in his own situation. Then one will come to understand one’s own accumulated inclinations. The development of the eightfold Path is the development of right understanding of all realities which arise because of their own conditions, also of one’s attachment, aversion and other defilements. In order to remind people of the realities which can be objects of mindfulness and right understanding, the Buddha taught the "Four Applications of Mindfulness". These Four Applications contain all mental phenomena and physical phenomena of daily life which can be objects of mindfulness and right understanding. They are: Contemplation of the Body, which comprises all physical phenomena, Contemplation of Feeling, Contemplation of Citta and Contemplation of Dhammas, which comprises all realities not included in the other three Applications of Mindfulness. Contemplation in this context does not mean thinking of realities. It is direct awareness associated with right understanding. We read in the "Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta" (Middle Length Sayings I, 10) that the Buddha, while he was dwelling among the Kuru people at Kammāssadamma, said to the monks:
This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of nibbāna, namely, the Four Applications of Mindfulness.
The teaching on the factors of the eightfold Path as well as the teaching on the Four Applications of Mindfulness pertain to the development of right understanding of realities in daily life, but they each show different aspects. The teaching on the Path factors shows us that for the development of right understanding there are, apart from the factor right understanding, other Path factors which are the conditions for right understanding to perform its function in order that the goal can be reached, the eradication of defilements. In explaining the Four Applications of Mindfulness the Buddha encouraged people to be mindful in any situation of their daily life. In the Contemplation of Citta is first mentioned citta with attachment and this can remind us not to shun akusala as object of mindfulness. The Buddha explained that there can be mindfulness of realities no matter whether one is walking, standing, sitting or lying down, no matter what one is doing. Those who develop tranquil meditation and attain calm, even to the degree of absorption, can be mindful of realities. The Buddha showed that there isn’t any reality which cannot be object of mindfulness and right understanding. When one develops right understanding of any reality which appears there is no need to think of the Four Applications of Mindfulness or of the Path factors.
The Buddha’s teaching on the development of right understanding of realities is deep, it is not easy to grasp what mindfulness and right understanding are. For this reason I would like to give a further explanation of objects of mindfulness which present themselves in daily life. Some people believe that mindfulness is being conscious of what one is doing. If one is conscious of what one is doing, such as reading or walking, there is thinking of concepts, no awareness of realities. There is clinging to an idea of self who reads or walks. No matter what one is doing there are mental phenomena and physical phenomena and understanding of them can be developed. When one, for example, is watching T.V., there can be thinking of a story which is being enacted. However, there is not only thinking, there are also seeing, visible object, hearing, sound, feeling or remembrance. Most of the time there is forgetfulness of realities, there is thinking of concepts. However, in between the moments of thinking there can be mindfulness of one reality appearing through one of the six doors, an ultimate reality which is either a mental reality or a physical reality. The characteristics of different realities can gradually be learnt. When we read a book we think of the meaning of the letters and of the story. But there are also moments of seeing merely what is visible, of what appears through eye-sense. It is because of remembrance that we know the meaning of what we read. Remembrance is a mental factor arising together with the citta, it is not self. Also remembrance can be understood as it is. It seems that thinking occurs at the same time as seeing, but they are different cittas with different characteristics.The characteristics of different realities can be investigated, no matter whether we are seeing, reading, hearing or paying attention to the meaning of words. When this has been understood we will see that objects of awareness are never lacking in our daily life. There are six doorways, there are objects experienced through these six doorways and there are the realities which experience these objects. That is our life.
Right understanding develops very gradually, it has to be developed during countless lives before it can become full understanding of all realities which appear. There are several stages of insight in the course of the development of right understanding. Even the first stage of insight, which is merely a beginning stage of insight, is difficult to reach. At this stage the different characteristics of the mental reality and of the physical reality which appear are clearly distinguished from each other. At each higher stage of insight understanding becomes keener. The objects of understanding are the same: the mental phenomena and physical phenomena which appear, but understanding of them becomes clearer. When conditioned realities have been clearly understood as impermanent, dukkha and non-self, there can be the experience of nibbāna, the unconditioned reality. The citta which experiences nibbāna is a "supramundane" citta^[In Pāli: lokuttara citta.], it is of a plane of citta which is higher than the plane of cittas which experience sense objects or the plane of cittas with absorption. All eight Path factors accompany the supramundane citta at the moment of enlightenment. Defilements are subsequently eradicated at four stages of enlightenment. The supramundane cittas which experience nibbāna arise and then fall away immediately. The person who has not yet attained the fourth and final stage of enlightenment, still has defilements, but there are no more conditions to commit akusala kamma to the degree that it can produce rebirth in an unhappy plane of existence.
When one reads the words "enlightenment" and "supramundane", one may imagine that enlightenment is something mysterious, that it cannot occur in daily life. However, it is the function of right understanding to penetrate the true nature of realities in daily life, and when it has been developed to the degree that enlightenment can be attained, the supramundane citta which experiences nibbāna can arise in daily life. Enlightenment can be attained even shortly after akusala citta has arisen, if right understanding has penetrated its true nature. We read in the Psalms of the Sisters (Therīgāthā, Canto I, 1) that a woman attained enlightenment in the kitchen. When she noticed that the curry was burnt in the oven she realized the characteristic of impermanence inherent in conditioned realities and then attained enlightenment. Events in daily life can remind us of the true nature of realities. If understanding could not develop in daily life it would not be true understanding. We read that people in the Buddha’s time could attain enlightenment even while they were hearing the Buddha preach or just after his sermon. One may wonder how they could attain enlightenment so quickly. They had accumulated the right conditions for enlightenment during innumerable lives and when time was ripe the supramundane cittas could arise.
The development of understanding from the beginning phase to full understanding is an infinitely long process. That is the reason why many different conditioning factors are needed to reach the goal. The study of the teachings, pondering over them, understanding of the way of development of the eightfold Path are conditions for mindfulness and direct understanding of realities. However, apart from these conditions there are others which are essential. Ignorance, clinging and the other defilements are deeply rooted and hard to eradicate. Therefore, in order to reach the goal, the eradication of defilements, all kinds of kusala have to be accumulated together with the development of right understanding. The Buddha developed during innumerable lives, even when he was an animal, all kinds of excellent qualities, the "Perfections". These were the necessary conditions for the attainment of Buddhahood. Also his disciples had developed the Perfections life after life before they could attain enlightenment. Since the accumulation of the Perfections is essential in order to be able to develop the eightfold Path I would like to explain what these Perfections are.
The ten Perfections are the following:
good moral conduct
The Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisatta, developed all these Perfections to the highest degree. For those who see as their goal the eradication of defilements, all these Perfections are necessary conditions for the attainment of this goal, none of them should be neglected.
First of all I wish to give an illustration of the development of the Perfections by the Bodhisatta during the life when he was the ascetic Akitti. We read in the Basket of Conduct (Cariyā-piṭaka, I, Conduct of Akitti) that the Buddha spoke about the Perfection of liberality he accumulated in that life. Sakka, King of the Devas (divine beings) of the "Threefold Heaven" came to him in the disguise of a brahman, asking for almsfood. Akitti had for his meal only leaves without oil or salt, but he gave them away wholeheartedly and went without food. We read:
And a second and third time he came up to me. Unmoved, without clinging, I gave as before.
By reason of this there was no discolouration of my physical frame. With zest and happiness, with delight I spent that day.
If for only a month or for two months I were to find a worthy recipient, unmoved, unflinching, I would give the supreme gift.
While I was giving him the gift I did not aspire for fame or gain. Aspiring for omniscience I did those deeds (of merit).
Akitti performed this generous deed in order to accumulate conditions for the attainment of Buddhahood in the future. The commentary to this text, the Paramatthadīpanī, states that Akitti accumulated all ten Perfections while he was giving his gift.
The Perfection of liberality is developed in order to have less clinging to possessions. We cling to material things because we want the "self" to be happy. If we do not learn to give away material things, how could we ever get rid of clinging to the concept of self? Akitti also accumulated good moral conduct, wholesomeness by action and speech. He was helping the brahman in giving him food. He accumulated renunciation. Renunciation is not merely renunciation of the household life. All kinds of wholesomeness are forms of renunciation, of detachment. One renounces clinging to oneself, to one ’s own comfort. Akitti renounced his own comfort when he went without food for three days. Akitti accumulated the Perfection of wisdom. The Perfection of wisdom is not only right understanding of the eightfold Path, it comprises all levels of wisdom. The Bodhisatta, even when he was an animal, accumulated the Perfection of wisdom. He knew akusala as akusala, kusala as kusala, he knew the right conditions for the attainment of Buddhahood. When he gave food to the brahman, there was energy or courage, which is indispensable for each kind of kusala. Energy strengthens the kusala citta so that good deeds can be performed. He had patience, he was glad to endure hunger for three days, and had there be an opportunity for a longer period of time to give away his food, he would have fasted longer, even for one or two months. He also accumulated the Perfection of truthfulness. Truthfulness has several aspects. It is not only truthfulness in speech but also sincerity in action and thought. Kusala must be known as kusala and akusala as akusala. One should not delude oneself with regard to one’s faults and vices, even when they are more subtle. It should be known that when one is giving a gift with selfish motives, there is no sincere inclination to kusala, that one may take akusala for kusala. Akitti had a sincere inclination to give and did not expect any benefit for himself. The Perfection of truthfulness is indispensable for the development of right understanding. One has to be sincere with regard to what one has understood and what one has not understood yet, otherwise there cannot be any progress. The Bodhisatta accumulated determination, he had an unshakable determination to persevere with the development of understanding and the other Perfections until he would reach the goal. He had loving-kindness, he thought of the brahman’s welfare, not of himself. There was equanimity, he had no aversion even though he went without food for three days. He had equanimity towards the vicissitudes of life. Right understanding of kamma and the result of kamma conditions equanimity.
This text illustrates that the Perfections can be accumulated when a good deed is being performed. As we have seen, there are ten kinds of good qualities which have been classified as the Perfections. Good qualities are not always Perfections. They are Perfections only when the aim of the performing of kusala is the diminishing of defilements and eventually their eradication at enlightenment. The accumulation of the ten Perfections together with the development of right understanding of realities is the application of the Buddha’s teachings in daily life. There may not be mindfulness of ultimate realities very often, but there are many opportunities to accumulate other kinds of kusala, the Perfections. It is encouraging to know that all kinds and levels of kusala can be Perfections, helpful conditions to reach the goal. Even when we help other people in giving them good advice or in consoling them when they are in distress can be an opportunity for the accumulation of the Perfections, conditions to diminish selfishness and other defilements.
The Development of the eightfold Path which leads to enlightenment seems to be far-fetched for an ordinary person. It is such a long way before the goal can be reached. There will be more confidence in the Buddha’s teachings when one sees that what he taught can be verified and applied in one’s own life. The development of understanding can only be very gradual, just as learning a new skill such as a foreign language has to be very gradual. The Perfection of patience is indispensable for the development of right understanding of realities. Learning about the Path-factors which each perform their own function helps us to see that no self, no person develops right understanding. We do not have to adopt a particular life-style for the development of understanding. Understanding can develop when it is assisted by the other Path-factors and supported by other conditions, including the Perfections. There should be no discouragement about the long way which lies ahead. There can at least be a beginning of understanding of the reality appearing at the present moment through one of the six doors.
The Buddha taught the conditions for the development of what is good and wholesome and the conditions for the eradication of defilements. In developing the Buddha’s Path one will come to know one’s ignorance of realities, one’s selfishness and other defilements. The change from selfishness to detachment, from ignorance to understanding is immense. How could such changes take place within a short time? It is a long process. Also the Buddha and his disciples had to walk a long way in order to gain full understanding of the four noble Truths and freedom from the cycle of birth and death. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Kindred Sayings about the Truths, chapter III, §1, Knowledge) that the Buddha, while he was staying among the Vajjians at Koṭigāma, said to the monks:
Monks, it is through not understanding, not penetrating four noble Truths that we have run on, wandered on, this long, long road, both you and I. What are the four?
Through not understanding, not penetrating the noble truth of dukkha, of the arising of dukkha, of the ceasing of dukkha, of the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha, we have run on, wandered on, this long long road, both you and I.
But now, monks, the noble truth of dukkha is understood, is penetrated, likewise the noble truth of the arising, of the ceasing of dukkha, of the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha is understood, is penetrated. Uprooted is the craving to exist, destroyed is the channel to becoming, there is no more coming to be...