2020-01-12: Wisdom and Meditation on the Eight Fold Path
2:23PM Jun 21, 2020
So these four noble truths is the Eightfold Path, the sometimes called the Noble Eightfold Path. And, and so I didn't really talk about that last time. So I'd like to talk about it today. And in thinking about the Eightfold Path today, I had a sense or a relationship to it as if it's a living and breathing thing. And, and as such, my relationship to it has changed over the years and my understanding of it was changed over the years and will probably continue to do that. And, and I was thinking that maybe I see this way of as a living, breathing thing, because they were the Eightfold Path is found is in each of us. We're living and breathing. And so it's really inseparable from us. And, and the idea in Buddhism is that the Eightfold Path expresses who we are when we're liberated and free. The full path is a path for those people who would like to be liberated. They walk that path by how they are the transformation in shy side, how we engage with ourselves in the world and different way. So it's intimately related to who we are. And so if you don't listen so much to his talk about the Eightfold Path, as if it's the Eightfold Path out there, and you could have a, you know, debate with it or, you know, argue with it or like it or not like it, you're welcome to do that if you want but that's not the spirit in which I'm giving this talk. And the Spirit is my hope is that if I do a decent job that you will, maybe see it in yourself that that the gloves in you as well. It's not something you have to import, but rather something you can recognize The the analogy for this eightfold path that I'm quite fond of, is a story that the Buddha tells it's kind of a is an allegory, he tells kind of a mythic allegory. And he says that back in the ancient world, there was or there was this or some point there was this woodsman, who would go into the woods, I guess regularly and one day this wichman came across the little traces of an ancient road that had been thoroughly grown over the woods of the jungle. And he was able to trace follow the traces of that road, deep into the jungle, where he found an ancient, ancient capital palace that had been also overgrown. Maybe the way that they find you know, whole cities and Yucatan are in Central America leftover from the Aztecs. And, and so then he went back to the monarchs of the realm and said, Look, there's this road going into an ancient capital. So the monarchs came to look and they saw it and they cleared it all out and follow the road all the way to this wonderful palace, capital and in the heart of the jungle and cleared it out and went to live there and everyone is happy ever after. And, and but what I like about this story is that it's an allegory for the Buddha being the woods person who found that traces of that ancient path and, and then the Buddha goes and finds the royalty the monarchs to tell them about this. And guess who the royalty is? It's us. A you know other people like us. Then Then it's our job to find it in ourselves. And to clear out the debris or the overgrown vines and bushes or whatever that's covering it over so we can find this path in ourselves. So I take this to be a very respectful orientation towards each of us that there's a sense of dignity and worth nobility. I don't know if you're like the idea of royalty, that is there that, that this is not diminishing or seeing human beings as being not so important. It's actually the whole idea of the Eightfold Path is because we're important or valuable or worthy, and we can really kind of re inhabit something that's all too easily gets covered over by too much screen time, or other things. And so
the Eightfold Path are eight sets of practices. That can be seen as kind of the core sets of practices that we can do in Buddhism. And they're these sets of practices are divided into three groupings. And there's the three groupings are called the three trainings, that Buddhism has a lot to do with training, it's not so much about understanding. It's more, you know, understanding and learning is certainly important part of it. But the primary emphasis in this early tradition is on practicing. And I was just reading essays by people who are training to be Buddhist teachers. And they were talking about how they're continuing to practice. And that's where the primary learning they're having, how their primary discovery understanding of Buddhism comes from just being on retreat, doing meditation, during the training, and so this way or that we're engaging in something, that we're involving ourselves. In something that's more holistic than simply learning ideas, and so we bring ourselves into it. So three trainings in which we bring ourselves into it and allow ourselves to be transformed. And these trainings are in ethics, in meditation, and in wisdom. And oftentimes it said that the path begins with ethics, meaning, path begins by how we live in our, in our, in our social life, in our life in the world that we live in. We get in line we get Get, get it, we get organized in our live life. So our live life doesn't cause harm. Not only that, but more than that, that will live life is one that brings benefit to the world. And Society of our relationship to others relationship to the world, lies in the traditional beginning of the path. Meditation is what many people associate Buddhism with and then wisdom also a Buddhism is often associated with. But the wisdom again is not the book knowledge like as you get a lot of wisdom, but the more books I read for it rather is to have a certain kind of learning how to engage. Are you developing a skill of the mind that the mind can discern or have insight into wisdom here and now we see it now for ourselves. We don't carry it with us, we can able to rediscover it any situation we're in. Ah, there it is. Now I understand. So, the three trainings today what I'm going to do is going to talk about first talked about the third training, the training wisdom, and then the training and meditation. And maybe we'll leave the first one and ethics for next week. Because atheists a lot to go through in our short time and And also to give some emphasis on these. So the now the way that the Eightfold Path is laid out, the first two practices have to do with wisdom. The second, the next three are the ethics. And the next three are the meditation. And that's a different order than the three trainings, which is ethics, meditation wisdom. This is wisdom, ethics, meditation. And many people have puzzled over this, why this is the case. And so what I'll talk about today is the first set and the last set. One of the reasons why it starts with the wisdom aspects is that wisdom is what we attain what we acquire from doing the practice. Once we acquire a certain kind of penetrating or transformative wisdom, the ability to see, you can't live your life the same anymore. You will be changed. You'll live a different way. And you'll engage in meditation in different way. And so it starts with wisdom, how we see how we understand, so that our actions and our meditation our minds can change in a deep way can move in the right direction. How do you get to that wisdom first? By doing ethics first and meditation first. And so it seems like circular kind of like chicken and egg things a little hard how it works, but it's not because the traditional
the Eightfold Path is meant to be equally accurate. appliable applicable to people who are beginning practice, and people who've already been transformed by it. And so to be able to equally relate to it, the people who are transformed by it, have a new insight, have a new way of seeing the world. That's where it all begins for them. Something has been awoken in them. And that new vision of the world new way of viewing the world is the foundation for everything that follows their act, their ethics, and their meditation. And so that schema is then applied to people who are beginners as well, that, that maybe, you know, understand something about what the Buddha was teaching. And once you understand the basics, then it makes a whole bunch of sense to engage with the ethical part and to engage in the meditation part. So we start the path The first of the Eightfold steps is called right view. And right view like in England, the word view in ancient Pali, the ancient Buddhist Buddhist language, as with an English word view, has two meanings. It means the view that you see, but it also means the, the opinions you carry. This that's my view, that's my opinion, or my understanding or my, my philosophy or something like that. And so it turns out that in ancient India, that the same word was used for both as well. And this is very evocative, the idea that it has both this meetings to see and how we understand because what we're really looking for in Buddhism is how to see And so began maybe with some understanding, but it's supposed to move into some personal direct seeing we have for ourselves. And so what do we see? What can we see and what is it to be seen? In what is a transformative seeing, that the Buddha was pointing towards. And there's a number of ways many ways in which this can be understood. It's like maybe maybe different, different angles from the same thing or different sides of the diamond or something. That so you'll hear different teachers and different Vietnamese talk at different times about what this right view is. But in short, 10 it's the view it's the orientation, the way of seeing that helps us to become free of suffering, liberate us from suffering. And, and this is lays at the heart of what the Buddha was teaching. that possibility that the forces of suffering inside of us a force inside of us and becoming contracted, being afraid, being caught up in greed, compulsivity, addiction, forces inside of us of being caught up in presentment anchors and hatefulness and such things that these actually can be brought to an end. They can be brought, brought to rest, they can be pacified, they can be settled, they can be removed. so remarkable possibility. It doesn't. It's not like a great cosmic understanding of the universe. But it's certainly a great cosmic event that a human being has managed to resolve for themselves. That kind of existential challenges of the heart, that people, all ages, I mean, all down through the ages have been struggling with and to really resolve that and be able to have a profound sense of peace in one's heart is in a very remarkable accomplishment.
So right to you is that which helps us to see in order to settle the heart in order to free The heart of it suffering, and what is it that we can see? And this relates to the teachings last week, oh the Four Noble Truths. And I said last week, the Four Noble Truth itself has different ways different understandings. So certainly, one of the aspects of the right view is to have the clear understanding or the clear experience, that it is possible to have a peaceful heart or a peaceful mind, to have a head to really see or understand the difference between a mind which is caught up in afflictive tendencies caught up in tendencies which are harmful for ourselves and for others, and to experience for oneself, a mind that doesn't have that, that the Buddha said is revolutionary. Something probably most of us have, have experiences maybe by accident, have you know that we're really peaceful and happy and you No, nothing's really troubling us. I think the Buddha said, Just pay attention to that. And appreciate that this is a possibility. I appreciate that this is a better way of living and being than then being caught up again and again and again. And all the preoccupations, all the fears, all the ambitions, all the expectations and needs and that human beings being caught up and and to pay attention to that and see that as a possibility and be inspired by that. Wow. This is possible. It's possible to live this peacefully or live this openly or at ease or settled or at home with oneself or at home in the world. Wow. That's quite something. And another with the right view is to see that how how thoroughly we live In a world where things are always changing, sometimes changing for the worst, sometimes changing for the better. But things are always in flux, always changing and moving a certain kind of way. And this idea of meditating and sitting still and meditation, paradoxically, and one of the purposes of it, we sit still to see how everything is moving. To see how everything's changing moment by moment, like we're sitting in the middle of the stream of life. And there's something about really seeing and feeling the stream of change of life moving and flowing, which for the Buddha was liberating was freeing. We can maybe understand it, that if you go you're sitting at the river of life, watching a nicely go by you, and then you decide that you want a piece of it. And so you take a bucket into the river and you fill it with with water and go back to the village with a bucket. Look, I have the river For of life, you don't. Now you have a bucket of water. And you can't grab, you can't hold on to the river of life. As soon as you grab it. You look, you've lost it. And so there's something about really in a meditative way, seeing how they are another way sometimes, if you know, human Nexus existential change, someone dies, things change in a radical way that really shows people how much they were clinging to things and shows them or requires them almost to let go. And so to change, to see change in such a way that changes change helps us to release the grip in the mind the grip in the heart that we have. That's another aspect of right to view. A third aspect of right to you is The understanding that what we do is consequential. What we do with our actions, what we do with our words, and what we do with our minds, our thoughts and beliefs, these are not inconsequential, even if they go on the privacy of your own mind. All these things carry with them momentum. All these things carry with them are part of the conditioning aspects of what conditions or shapes or forms the ongoing shape of our hearts and minds that there's nothing you know, everything is conditions, what follows everything has shapes in some way. So, if
if, you know, if you leave here today and if you came say You came on the train and and you just missed the train when you get to the train station so that's happens. Just trains are going by all the time and most trains that go by the Redwood City train station have no thought about you. The train the train stop doesn't think about you and your timing and the train doesn't think about it. It's just like the train station is completely free and liberated of your preoccupation. And when you show up with your you know, oh, look, the train left. Okay, that's nice. That's nice. I guess that's our or it's unfortunate. Or it can be Gee, Gil Fronsdal talk too long. And it's his fault that you know that did I miss the train and you know, this Buddhist should be more mindful of the time and you know, this guy and you Just fuming about, you know, the Buddhist concept of time and all this stuff. And so and finally the next train comes comes by, but you've had a lot of time to be fuming and and so you the train doors open and you're still kind of preoccupied and caught up and you're going to show the world something and you kind of step is kind of high on the train and you step up and you miss it and you fall to the ground and terrible things happen. Maybe you're embarrassed. So the missing of that step is because of Gil Fronsdal. Speaking too much. Or is it because you spent 45 minutes at the train station with an attitude of fuming and being caught up? And that's it. No one else sees it everyone. See You're sitting there quietly with your eyes closed. But inside, it's like you're doing all this mental proliferation. And it's so shaped how you were and how you saw the world and yourself and what you're doing, that you didn't have a presence of mind to really notice where the stuff is in the train. How you were thinking shaped how you went out to the next activity. So I don't know if that was a good example. But I hope it was good enough. If you can fill in all the blanks for all the different ways that our actions are consequential, they make a difference. And this is both the good news and the bad news of Buddhism. The bad news is that if you're not careful with what you say, do and think the consequences are unfortunate for yourself and maybe for others as well. But if you are careful, then the consequences can be better for yourself and for others. reason why this is so important as right view in this eightfold path is that because it's good news, it means that we can start doing the things that have create the right conditions, the better conditions, the better consequences for us, to help us move along the path towards freedom. And so Buddhist practice then is to engage in like the Eightfold Path as creating better conditions for to really grow and develop in this movement towards freedom and wisdom and compassion. So you come to a train station, you miss your train, you sit down on the bench, and you see you think what about this eightfold path? Well, I am irritated. I'm upset. Okay? But that's okay. Let's look at it. Right View. This is not really healthy for me to fume about being late. Trey's not gonna come back because of that. So let me look at maybe, maybe look at maybe this is a good time to meditate. Maybe it's a good time to calm down and see what's going on. And so I do that for my 45 minutes, and the next train comes and when the train comes Wow, that's a beautiful silver shining thing and it came in so slowly just stopped right in front of me. Wow, this amazing doors open.
You know, this is pretty cool. I mean, this just everything seems so sparkle and alive and still and you step up into the train and you notice that people are there and you just delight and seeing people on the train. You find a nice seat and you're really there to experience the whole thing. So applying the Eightfold Path creates a very different train ride for this life of ours. Then if we, if we, you know, can do some of the other unfortunate things that human people do. So right view is the first of the Eightfold Path. And so what's the orientation which the understanding what's the perspective that we use? And the perspective is based on the idea Yes, it is possible to live a life that lessens suffering brings suffering to an end. And that's to the view for that the orientation towards that. The second factor in the Eightfold Path, the second aspect of wisdom, nowadays, I like to call it right attitude. Sometimes it's called right intention, or like right attitude. Because it attitude is something you can bring with you to everything you do. No matter what other intentions, you have purposes, you have. What you're doing your life, the attitude with which we do it can contain these three qualities. It can have the attitude of non harming, not to harm. The end, the word is related to the word some of you know the Indian word himsa. There's a little different prefix, but it means the same thing. v himsa. And so the attitude of being non harming And whatever you do, if that's all we do for life, why winter with different world we live in. The other is to do the attitude of kindness, or friendliness to everything that we deal with in everything we do. And the third, which is a little bit maybe a little hard to appreciate the depth of its value is his attitude of renunciation. So what does that mean? I think I like to just say it's an attitude of not being attached to whatever we're doing whenever we having to not grip onto things not hold on. But to appreciate that there's something very wonderful about having an open, relaxed hand. And the hand that's open and relaxed, is available to the world in many different ways than the hand that's knotted up in it in a fist. And so the same is true for the mind. So the attitude, let's go through whatever we're going to do, and we might even do it with great passion, the attitude of not gripping onto anything not holding on not being attached. So that's right attitude. So whatever we're doing whatever we think is important to do. Can we do it with those three attitudes, not to cause any harm to do it too. A kind friendly way, and to not grip onto it. So then we have right meditation the last three steps today toolpath. The first one is called, took me a long time to come around to translate it this way. Because I'm slow. It's an example. It's living, breathing thing that keeps changing. But now I like to translate it as right endeavor. I used to think of it as right effort. But efforts implies in my mind a little bit more the idea of the degree of effort we make, you know, like, I like to really strive strive or push or something or be relaxed. But endeavor is more to do with what we're doing with a purpose we're doing the endeavor that we're engaged in means the kind of activity we're doing and the purpose of it and, and the writing endeavor is defined in, in, in the kind of vision, you know, informally on the streets of Redwood City. As
don't make it worse, make it better. So whatever you're doing, make it don't make it worse, make it better. It's a little bit more formally how it's worded. If you're making it worse, stop. If you're not yet, not yet, making it worse, don't start. If you are making it better, keep doing it. If you are not yet making it better start and this idea of this a very simple kind of idea is that you have some sense of what is better and worse. There is In evaluation, there is a vision of view and perspective in Buddhism, that we would have some clear sense of what is better, and what is worse. sitting on the bench, having missed the train, have some sense that you make it worse if you spent the whole 45 minutes fuming about being late. You make it better by sitting there and meditating, for example. And that to see that that which is beneficial, it's not any different than stepping on a thorn. What is better here to keep walking with a thorn in the soles of my feet or pulling it out? It's better to pull it out. And so to have that orientation to where's the harm done? Where's the lack of harm done the improvement done? This is a very deep part of the Buddhist tradition, this early Buddhist tradition. The idea of rediscovery Non harming the idea of not causing harm not being for oneself and for others, orienting ourselves in the life really around this perspective of harm and not harm being harmless, really paying attention to this in a careful way. Now the classic language. Buddhism is not about to make it worse or make it better, but they uses the word is it skillful or unskillful? The word is sometimes translated in English as wholesome or unwholesome. And that has a little different connotations than, than worse or better, which is so vague and what does that mean? skillful means that is it helpful. Is it skillful for a particular purpose? Is it helpful for the purposes of freedom from suffering? Is it a skill we're developing? The skill is something you have to do over and over and over again. So are we developing the skill sets that are being becoming skillful in this path towards freedom? If it's unskillful, and you're doing it, stop doing it. If you have, you're not doing anything unskillful don't start. If it is skillful, keep doing it. And if you haven't started doing something skillful, do something skillful. So again, is sitting on that bench waiting for the next train. What is the skillful thing to do? What is the wholesome thing to do? What's the helpful thing to do is to let go of the fuming, the anger, the irritation, it's to maybe to find a very different mindset to relax, to settle to unwind to do something different that's skillful, wholesome moves you in the direction of peace moves you in direction of freedom. Not for that it only for that moment. But you're developing a skill that's consequential what you're doing. You're developing yourself growing. And it could be that you come to IMC every Sunday for the next year. So for next 52 weeks and every time you just missed the train, you're somehow or other you're, that's what happens. And, and so you have 50 to 45 minute periods at the train station. And what you did was every time you went there, you did. Let's say you practice loving kindness to all the other people in the train station. And you hated it didn't really like doing loving kindness. For the first 10 weeks, the next 10 weeks you're kind of okay with it. The next 10 weeks you kind of got a sense of what this loving kindness practice is. The next 10 weeks you kind of like what this is actually quite nice. And I go on the train
and frankly, and then the last 12 weeks like, wow, this is like the best thing going
a year from now. That time would have just passed quickly, and you'd be so glad you did it. From looking from today out into the next year. That's like a huge sitting there in the bench today having missed the train. Like Why should I do that? That's crazy. But you can develop it you can grow and do the skillful thing. Then there's a right mindfulness, which is the seventh of April Pap, which for now When I just mentioned say very kind of simplistically that it's cultivating the ability to be in the present moment. So we can really study what's going on we can really see clearly what's going on here. We can understand a lot about life but not being in by not being in the present moment. But we can't really understand ourselves in a deep way. Unless we're really able to stay here and really see without skirting away from what's happening moment by moment. And that really allows us to see right view and allows us to have right attitude allows us to have this right endeavouring is to really kind of connect to what's happening here, for no other reason. Is that where we that's where we see we have choice, a choice to act differently here in the moment. And then we come to the last of the Eightfold Path factors, which is right somebody's often translated into English as a right comment. centration the words somebody probably shouldn't be translated into English as concentration, if we understand that to mean a singular laser like focus of the mind. The Indian word has very strong connotations, meaning unification becoming collected. I like the word integrated. Samadhi is a practice of integration, of integrating all of who we are. So we all become you become, we've become whole, we're not divided with it against each other, are divided in ourselves. We're not ignorant or blind to our aspect of ourselves, that all of ourselves comes together in harmony, to be skillful, to have the right attitude. All of us comes together in the service of this right view. This idea of becoming whole for this purpose. being integrated as that is a function of Samadhi really helps with this process of opening and integrating, holding together. And, and it's a beautiful thing to include all of ourselves. No Park left out to all of us can be included in this path. And the Eightfold Path is eight sets of practices are all together. Each of them is a contribution to this process of integration. The fact that there's eight different things some people might complain like laughter a lot of stuff to do. These Buddhists keep me busy. But another hand, we are multifaceted multi dimensional human beings. And these eightfold path is eight sets of practices, speak to all these different dimensions of who we are in different times different ones of them are relative relevant, and so but the Indian them they do is they all become whole, they all become contribute to the whole and symbol for that whole in ancient India is a wheel, a wheel which is well constructed, well rounded ArrayList will roll beautifully. Just keep rolling if the momentum is there and nothing stops it. And so the idea that there's a dynamism and dynamic aspects of this eightfold path when we become whole there within that we begin to roll in our live spin our lives without any kinks without any, you know, oscillations that there's a dynamism and freedom and peacefulness that's represented by the still center of the circle at the hub the peaceful center May you discover your peaceful center of the wheel that you are, and may you set your wheel free so it can roll through this world freely, peacefully, for the health, the welfare and well beings of all the people you encounter. May the Eightfold Path be for the benefit of all beings. So thank
you. And since we had the tea and we have a few minutes before the end, if you wouldn't mind turning to one or two people near you and just say hello and, and maybe there's one little thing you'd like to say in response to this talk today.