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In Buddhism, there are several core precepts that provide structure and help guide its followers.
The Buddha gave a very important sermon a short time after his enlightenment in which he outlined what he called the Four Noble Truths.
The first Truth is that all life is suffering. When he said this, he was referring to how we eventually lose everything we have, like, want, and love.
The second says that this suffering is caused by attachment and desire. We suffer because we cannot let go and are caught up in a vicious cycle of want and need.
The third Noble Truth tells us that suffering can end and it is not necessary to live this way.
The final Truth promises there is a path to achieve this.
The Fourth Noble Truth is talking about what the Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path.
It is neither dogmatic nor an actual doctrine. In and of itself, it does not automatically lead to enlightenment either. Rather, it decreases and eventually eliminates suffering.
This path is more like a roadmap to righteous living and a practice in becoming a wholesome human being. By following the Eightfold Path, one aligns with the goodness and the truth of the universe.
The old adage, “cleanliness is close to godliness”, applies to the Eightfold Path; by living in the “right” fashion, we purify ourselves and are better able to recognize our inner light and shine that light into the world.
The Noble Eightfold Path:
The first step on the Eightfold Path means to see the world without distortions and understand the nature of the universe in which it was created. It is human nature to have blurred perceptions and see things the way we want them to be or believe them to be instead of how they actually are. When we like things, we exaggerate the good qualities, and when we dislike things, we amplify the negative traits. Being neutral allows us to see life clearly.
This step is about commitment and dedication to the journey. This step has a heartfelt quality and also means following the heart by having compassion and honoring all life as equal. These principles become a way of life. Practicing compassion begins with directing it towards yourself.
Speech is very powerful, and it must be recognized as such. Words can do incredible things. They can heal and nurture, or manipulate and demean. Practicing Right Speech includes honesty, both with yourself and others, and only using your words in kind or benign ways. Language that harms must be eliminated.
This refers to ethical living and is largely common sense. It means being moral in our actions and not doing things we know are wrong. It includes not stealing, killing, or lying. It also teaches not to misuse sex and to abstain from mind altering substances.
Most people work for a living, and this work must also be in line with one’s spirituality. The work we do must be respectful to life and never harm or take advantage of others for personal profit. It also includes giving back in the form of community service.
This step means working diligently without taking it too seriously. Simultaneously we learn to be both determined and enthusiastic about our efforts. Buddhism has a philosophy of moderation, so it is important to stay upbeat and cheerful, and avoid becoming too extreme in our work.
The buzzword of the day, this step talks about being present. Rather than mindlessly plodding along, we maintain clarity at all times. We stay focused and aware. Doing so helps us become conscious of the Now, and makes us more aware of our actions and thoughts. This increases insight and prevents many missteps. When we do make mistakes, being mindful helps prevent us from making the same mistake twice.
Concentration is the foundation for meditation and can be defined as the ability to focus one’s mind. The mind can be compared to light. In most of us, our thoughts are undisciplined and the light scatters every which way. When we learn to concentrate, the light is focused and becomes strong like a laser beam. When this occurs, we can cut through our obstacles and delusion easily.
Remember, Buddhism is neither radical nor conservative. It has a middle of the road philosophy, and an extremely practical one at that. It is not a religion, but a science of happiness.
Because of its pragmatic nature, Buddhism teaches that having goodwill and good intentions are not enough. Metamorphosis comes with application of the lessons and ongoing practice.
It is understood that the Eightfold Path is a vital component for transformation.