Eightfold Path

The EightfoldPath is Buddha's prescribed way out of suffering (Dukkha) as caused by desire (tanha)

  1. Right Understanding (or Right View) - understanding the world and getting rid of wrongful expectations.
  2. Right Thought (or Right Intention) - wanting enlightenment, not to fulfill earthly desires.
  3. Right Speech - Avoiding unkind words as well as lying
  4. Right Action (or Right Conduct) - Do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not be unchaste, do not drink intoxicants
  5. Right Livelihood - Observe Right Action and Right Speech also in your daily livelihood. Do not take professions that are incompatible with spiritual completeness, such as prostitute, slave trader, arms maker, butcher, software development for war agencies
  6. Right Effort - Steadfastness, concentration and detachment.
  7. Right Mindfulness - Overcome ignorance and self-ignorance. Self-examination.
  8. Right Concentration - being completely absorbed in now-ness.

The underlying basis of the EightfoldPath is not consideration to others or fear of God, but being fulfilled with yourself and out of suffering. Buddhism does not use God or the supernatural as motivation for any of its original teachings. In its original form, it can be considered a religion without God and without the supernatural.

Why, then, do Buddhists pray? And to whom?

There are different schools of Buddhism. There are atheistic Buddhists, polytheistic Buddhists and monotheistic Buddhists. Some Buddhists don't pray, others do.

Some buddhists pray to personified symbolic ideals of various qualities - compassion etc. You could be mistaken for thinking that they are treating these symbolic ideals as gods. Some are. Some aren't. Some say you should avoid a literal interpretation of these either way - i.e. they are gods or they are symbols.

Often, when you read a synopsis of Buddhism, the author will say its tenets include "ridding oneself of desires". You seem to narrow this down some with Item 2, saying "earthly desires" are the undesirable kind. Isn't "wanting enlightenment" a desire? If so, is it the only acceptable desire? It seems they are saying one should desire to rid oneself of desire. Maybe this is explained better in their official documents? -- BrucePennington


Let's see if I can offer up any clarification to your insightful question. The problem with many texts, translations, and interpretations is two-fold:

First is the common interpretation that the intent is to extinguish all desires. Human desires are natural, and unstoppable. The problem is perhaps more about our clinging to outcomes. When we examine deeply our desires and their causes, they start to have less control over our actions. The goal, if there is one, is not to stop living this human life, but to live it with a greater maturity.

It's true that a desire to change one's self or one's life is what usually leads people into a Buddhist practice. The desire for enlightenment is often considered a sticking-point on the path. Often, teachers will choose not to talk about enlightenment at all (sort of like talking about sex - there's a time and a place for such discussions). The craving for enlightenment is also a natural desire, but it places enlightenment "out there" as something to obtain in the future. I wonder if one of our greatest obstacles is the idea that enlightenment is something special, or perhaps something mystical and supernatural, and that it doesn't really happen, and perhaps it never did. "Enlightenment" is a pretty word, but it does bring forth images of a glowing Obiwan Kenobi or something. The realization of the Buddha was nothing miraculous. Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. If the historical Buddha had not thought that others could see, he would not have gotten up off his ass and spent the rest of his life teaching. But the moment you try to grasp it, understand it, or measure it, it will elude you. There's no there there.

So, what we talk about in ZenBuddhism and probably other traditions is right effort. You apply a certain relaxed (or "effortless") effort to your practice. That effort is to sit on the cushion and let go of all hope for enlightenment, or to delve into the deep craving and suffering of your own human condition and take note that you are not alone there, or to ponder an unsolvable puzzle until you can express your own life, and your own true self.

In other words, the effort is to just sit.

-- RobMyers

PS: I checked out the link below to TheTenNewPrinciplesOfZen and didn't understand it. I'm familiar with TaisenDeshimaruRoshi, but... Well, anyway, yeah, the SermonOnTheMount would be a good read. Follow the path that calls to you. If you're unsure, look down at your feet, eh?

PPS (added much later): Don't listen to me.

Dogen, founder of SotoZen, often wrote about the "thought of enlightenment" and suggested that this was a key ingredient for your practice. So when I said that the desire for enlightenment is a common sticking point, I was full of hot air. Maybe. ;-) It's important that you have a strong, clear reason to examine your life, because it will guide you through the rough spots; and it's important not to cling to your preconceptions about how you need to change.

My teacher's teacher, "Hopeless Tozen," once gave a brief talk, followed by just a few minutes of zazen, and then asked us, "So? Were you successful?"

I asked, "How would I know?!"

Tozen grinned widely and said, "Don't worry about it."

True story, unembellished to the best of my abilities to recollect without the audio recording at my fingertips. -- RobMyers (12Oct2007)

What happens when "desires" is replaced with "compulsions" so that what one is ridding one's self of is not wanting foo but rather compulsively wanting foo?

Another "Eastern" principle in similar vein is the removal of effort, so that "hoping" and "wishing" and "longing after" and the accompanying effort are replaced with "knowing it is so."

Much of the effort in our lives is only held in place by the counter-effort we ourselves permit or create.

-- GarryHamilton

See also TheTenNewPrinciplesOfZen

See also SermonOnTheMount

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