The Noble Eightfold Path was and is the fundamental basis for achieving enlightenment, it is a part of all Buddhism, if not all faiths to some degree, it is believed that all parts are of equal importance and that it is a good approach to foster them together, although they can also be done in sequence or focusing on specific parts more than others.
In this article I will attempt to give a general description of the path, but also my interpretation as a Westerner and also someone of the current, younger Y generation. There are by no means any limit to the interpretations that can be made of Buddhist teachings, and there will always be ways that are better for some than others, but it is my hope to give some basis for people to start there own exploration from.
The Eightfold path is made up of eight facets, these being:
Correct thought: avoiding greed, jealousy, the wish to harm others and wrong views (such as doubt, ignorance and anger)
It is important to in ones belief, realize that we are but one among an infinite number of lifeforms seeking happiness, and as such it is very important that we foster in ourselves an understanding that harm done to others is ultimately harm to ourselves, our integrity and our conscience, and also to learn to rejoice in the success and happiness of others, to be able to be happy for them and thus ourselves rather than focus only on what they have and the fact that we have not achieved it. Once this has been achieved, it is then important to foster a desire for greater understanding of the world, as it is only through understanding that we can truly make the best decisions and foresee the consequences of all our actions.
Correct speech: avoid lying, harsh or discriminatory speech and idle gossip.
In our speech it is also important to actualize those beliefs of equality, honesty and kindness that we have fostered in our minds, and to direct all of our speech to some benefit of the world, while idle speech with no meaning is not harmful, it should not take place in preference to speech that could instead be of some benefit to ourselves and others.
Correct actions: avoid killing, violence, stealing and sexual misconduct
In our actions to, it is important to recognize just how much of an impact a negative action can have on ourselves and those around us, also, while an action without intent may not produce as much negative karma as one with intent, it can be helpful to treat it as those it does, so as to foster a natural tendency against negative actions. While our thoughts may hinder our own development, our actions can severely harm that of those around us, and ultimately, we cannot succeed in the betterment of ourselves, if, in the process we harm others.
Correct livelihood: try to make a living with the above attitude of thought, speech and actions.
This step, more than anything, shows the importance of adopting all of the correct attitudes to our thoughts, speech and actions as a whole, it represents that they are all of equal importance, even if there effects may be entirely different, from thought mainly effecting ourselves, to actions and speech that effect others.
Correct understanding: developing genuine wisdom.
It is only through a proper understanding of how the world works, and how our actions and interaction with it will effect it that we can ever hope to make lasting impacts in the way that we wish too.
There is a story in Buddhism of a young group of monks who wish to help poor people in poverty, and so raise money to give to the poor people. However, they only find one man and believe that they can help him by giving him all that they raised, the man does not know what to do with all he is given and wastes it. The monks realize the next day that had they properly understood the situation they would have realized a ‘better’ way to help him, such as to give him food.
Another saying to think of is the one about giving a man a fish, or teaching him to fish. While given help we can often make the right decisions, once those guidelines, (or perhaps a teacher) are taken away, we can only continue to make the right decisions if we have enough understanding to be able to see how our actions will effect the world.
The next three are mainly focused on meditation, but they can also be applied to other circumstances, for example learning.
Correct effort: it is necessary to make consistent effort and have the desire to continue doing so.
In meditation, it is important to make a consistent effort, it should not be something that we just do out of obligation, but it is also something that we should not just do on a whim, whenever we feel like doing it. In order for this to be possible we must first foster a desire to continue our meditation, after this has occurred we are then able to continue to our efforts for as long as we need, as we are doing it not out of a sense of obligation, but a desire to better ourselves and our understanding.
Correct mindfulness: try to be aware of the “here and now”, instead of dreaming in the “there and then”.
It is important in life to accept the past as the past. This does not mean ignoring it, but instead just allowing things to happen and then cease to happen, without clinging to them and trying to prolong them. Rather bend life to our whim, and trying to live when we think we have found something, it is beneficial to instead, live through, and within life, as if it is instead a flowing stream, life never stops, and if we stop, we tend to miss a lot of things.
Correct concentration: to keep a steady, calm and attentive state of mind
If we are to be able to have correct mindfulness, we must also have a mind clear of clutter, clinging and detached from emotions to what we observe and experience, ie. the correct concentration. This does not mean to say we should feel no emotion, just that instead of letting our emotions decide how we see things, we should decide our emotions based on how we judge what we see. This allows us to prevent missing things based on a subconscious decision our mind might have made about it and to instead see things clearly and base our reaction on how best to approach it, often allowing us to prevent negative emotions from arising. Also for mindfulness we must be able to treat each experience as one we have never had before, not attaching any preconceived clutter to it based on previous experiences. This doesn’t mean to avoid learning, but to avoid biasing our thoughts based on the past, just because one tree is rotten does not mean all are rotten.