2:4 THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
Along with the four noble truths, it is held that the noble eightfold path was part of the very first teaching of the Buddha upon attaining his “Awakening,” or “Enlightenment.” The noble eightfold path consists of eight interconnected elements or practices which lead to the attainment of nirvana: the experience of profound unity between oneself and the world which is associated with the cessation or elimination of the dualistic, ego-driven demands which give rise to dukkha.
Each of the eight elements of the path begin with the Pali word, “samma,” which can be translated in a number of ways depending upon its context: “complete,” “whole,” “coherent,” “perfect” “ideal,” “wholesome,” “wise,” “skillful,” “correct,” or “right.” These will be translated as “right,” as this word has strong connotations with such things as knowledge, belief, as well as with such things as conduct, behavior, action. To say that a thing is “right,” in the fullest sense, entails that it is both accurate in terms of knowledge and proper in terms of conduct. Scionics, with its rejection of all forms of mysticism and its complete adherence to rationality and reality, provides a rock-solid foundation of accurate knowledge as well as a rational, reality-based guide for one's conduct.
The elements of the noble eightfold path are often grouped together into three groups, depending upon the particular focus of the elements. Scio-Buddhism labels these as “noble wisdom,” “noble conduct,” and “noble concentration.”
In addition to the eight elements of the noble eightfold path, there are also two “acquired elements:” right knowledge and right liberation. These acquired elements are not things which are practiced, but things which are acquired or which result from following the noble eightfold path.
Noble wisdom, in the noble eightfold path, is represented by the elements of right understanding and right intention. These are essentially cognitive aspects of the noble eightfold path. Right understanding provides the overall “knowledge base” which informs the remaining eight elements. Knowledge without application, however, is static. Right intention entails the sincere aspiration for the proper application of this knowledge; only with such application can static knowledge by transformed into a powerful dynamic process with nirvana as its goal.
The phrase which is translated here as “right understanding” may also be translated as such things as “right view,” “right perspective,” “right outlook,” and the like. One’s methods for pursuing that which one values, and even for determining what things should be valued or disvalued, are greatly determined by one's overall understanding of the world and oneself. To the extent that one's understanding is wrong, one's methods for evaluating and pursuing things will be ineffective and wrong. To the extent that one's understanding is right, one's methods for evaluating and pursuing things will be effective and right.
Scionics entails rejecting mysticism and maintaining a rational, reality-based understanding of all things. There is no more effective path to right understanding than this. As specifically applied to the attainment of nirvana, this entails the right understanding of all concepts pertinent to the attainment of nirvana in a non-mystical, empiricorational way. These concepts are presented in various places throughout this writing.
The phrase which is translated here as “right intention” may also be translated as such things as “right thought,” “right resolve,” “right aspiration,” and the like. Right intention, from the perspective of Scionics, entails constantly aspiring to identify and reject all forms of mysticism, and to gain the widest possible rational, reality-based understanding of reality; this serves to protect mysticisms, misunderstandings and unnecessary ignorance from creeping into one's understanding of reality. As specifically applied to the attainment of nirvana, this entails having the intention or aspiration to cease those activities which promote ego-based duality, and to practice those activities which promote unitary consciousness.
One must therefore have the intention or aspiration to eliminate the pull of dualistic, ego-backed demands The best way of doing this is by closely examining the nature of these demands. As their nature becomes understood in detail, their power becomes diminished, and they fall away naturally, with very little effort.
One should also intend or aspire to good will and harmlessness, and concomitantly away from ill will and harmfulness. This is not done because of some abstract moralistic sense, but because this helps promote and reinforce the sense of unity between oneself and others. In fact, when one actually is operating in the unitary mode of conscious relation, such good will and harmlessness are one's natural, spontaneous approach to others.
“Noble conduct” consists of right speech, right action, and right livelihood; these may also be viewed as “ethical speech,” “ethical action,” and “ethical livelihood.” The ethical standard of Scionics philosophy consists of the guiltless empiricorational pursuit of hedonic value, integrated with the non-aggression principle of “live and let live.” This ethical standard fits perfectly into the noble eightfold path and the pursuit of nirvana, provided that one considers that nirvana is a transcendent hedonic value: the hedonic value of nirvana is the pleasure of being free from the drive for pleasure, so to speak. It is in this way that the ethical conduct of Scionics is transformed into the noble conduct of Scio-Buddhism.
It is in noble conduct that the essentially cognitive and static aspects of right understanding and right intention are translated into dynamic application in the world. This provides concrete experience with acts of non-duality. In this way, the static cognitive aspects of noble wisdom are reinforced by the dynamic behavioral and experiential aspects of noble conduct
Right speech is fairly straightforward. This is the prescription that one does not use one's speech in ways which are harmful. This includes lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle chatter.
The exercise of right speech sometimes requires wisdom and loving-kindness. There may be times, for example, when a parent will tell a “white lie” to a child to protect that child from some emotionally upsetting fact. Sometimes divisive speech will be unavoidable, as even well-intentioned disagreements are natural events in human affairs. One should avoid these and other such “exceptions to the rule” of right speech as much as possible, however, and only resort to them when any other course of action would be likely to cause even greater harm.
Right action, like right speech is also fairly straightforward. This is the prescription that one does not act in ways which are harmful. This includes taking life, stealing, and sexual misconduct; sexual misconduct is defined as “cheating” on one's own sexual partner, or having sex with someone who is “cheating” on his or her sexual partner. Taking life, stealing and sexual misconduct are all highly dualistic in nature. They all pit one's own interests against that of another.
This is not to say, however, that there are no situations in which it is ethical to take a life, or to steal, or to have sex. One ethically can kill in self-defense, or to defend another person or group of people. One might be ethically justified in stealing a tiny bit of food, if one were in a situation where one was starving, or to feed some other starving person. As for sex, there is actually no general proscription against sex, provided that honesty prevails: hence the “no cheating” part of “right action.” One may choose celibacy, however, as a means for renouncing ego-driven demands, but this is certainly not a requirement of “right action;” nor should one ever feel guilty for engaging in healthy sexual activities.
The phrase which is translated here as “right lifestyle” is also translated as “right way of life,” or “right livelihood.” However translated, it encompasses such things as career, trades, or occupations, as well as other aspects of life. Keeping to a “right lifestyle” essentially entails working and living in a way which is in accord with the other seven elements of the noble eightfold path.
One should not work in a field or conduct business in a way which involves killing, dishonesty, or unethical behaviors, or which involves trading or profiting from: meats or animals bred for slaughter; weapons or poisons intended to harm; drinks and drugs of an intoxicating nature; or slavery, prostitution, or any other sort of buying or selling of children or adults. One should avoid entertainment which promotes duality or glorifies unwholesome thoughts and behavior. One make every effort to live in a way which has minimal negative impact upon others and the world.
These prescriptions for right lifestyle go beyond the basics of Scionics ethics. This is because they are not intended merely to enforce some moral standard, but to diminish dualistic, ego-based thoughts and behaviors, and to reinforce unitary thoughts and behaviors. As mentioned above, however, if one regards nirvana as a transcendent hedonic value, then this is perfectly in line with the Scionics standard of ethical conduct which consists of the guiltless empiricorational pursuit of hedonic value, integrated with the non-aggression principle.
Noble concentration consists of the elements of right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. While noble conduct, in the context of the noble eightfold path, is about the application of noble wisdom, this is an external application. Noble concentration, on the other hand, is the internal application of noble wisdom.
The phrase which is translated here as “right effort” is also sometimes translated as “right diligence.” Right effort may have a physical aspect, but it always has a mental aspect. An effort may entail some form of physical activity or exertion, but the decision to commence and continue this physical activity or exertion is mental in nature – an effort of will. Other efforts may be more purely mental in nature, such as exertions of thought, focus, concentration, and so on. Right effort (or any effort) always entails an effort of will.
Right effort is, in a way, the complement of right intention. Whereas right intention entails having the intention or aspiration to cease those activities which promote ego-based duality, and to practice those activities which promote unitary consciousness, right effort entails diligently putting forth the necessary effort.
One must therefore put forth the effort to eliminate the pull of dualistic, ego-backed demands, and to think and act with good will and harmlessness. This promotes and reinforces the sense of unity between oneself and others. Such good will and harmlessness actually begins to become one's natural, spontaneous approach to others, as one begins to operate in the unitary mode of conscious relation.
The phrase which is translated here as “right mindfulness” also may be translated as such things as “right awareness,” “right attention,” and the like. Right mindfulness entails maintaining a calm, objective, non-judging alertness regarding the state of one's mind and body, and the phenomena which affect them. It also entails beings mindful and deliberate in one's words and deeds and concomitantly not speaking or acting in an unthinking or inattentive manner.
A large part of right mindfulness often expressed as “be here now.” This means holding one's focus or attention upon the present moment, and not allowing it to aimlessly wander into thoughts of the past or future, or to engage in mindless fantasies or daydreams. This is not to say that there is not a time or place for such thoughts: there is obvious value in learning from the past, planning for the future, and for creative flights of fancy. The intent of right mindfulness is not to squelch such valuable endeavors of the mind, but to discipline the mind so as not to let it wander unrestrained when it should properly be focused on the present moment.
The phrase which is translated here as “right meditation” may also be translated as “right concentration.” Meditation generally involves concentrating one's full attention upon some “object of focus.” This may be some physical or visual object, a sound, a repeated phrase, one's own breath, one's own mind and thoughts, and so on. While all of these can be useful for the strengthening of one's power of concentration and focus, it is generally one's breath, mind and thoughts which are used as the object of focus. It really is one's mind and thoughts which one ultimately is endeavoring to observe and calm, while an initial focus on the breath helps gently center and calm one's mind.
Right meditation, for a Scio-Buddhist, may thus involve either some form of breath meditation or some form of mindfulness meditation, or both. For someone new to meditation, a meditation session may simply consist of “counting one's breath.” The counting usually consists of something like mentally and silently counting each inhalation and exhalation (either individually or on pairs) from one to ten, and then starting over again from one. This is done while focusing on nothing other than the breath and the count alone. As other thoughts arise they are simply put aside without judgment, and the focus is continued upon the breath and the count. If the count is lost, it is simply restarted from one, without judgment, and without and sort of trying to “figure out” where it was left off, and the focus is again continued upon the breath and the count. This simply continues for the length of the session. (The solo practitioner may use a timer to signal the end of the session. This allows one to avoid the need to shift focus from the meditation to checking the time.)
When meditating, one should be comfortable. The traditional “lotus” position, with each foot resting upon the opposite knee, is perfectly acceptable, but not really necessary at all; this position is often used because it is seen as being very stable, and for those who are flexible enough it can be comfortably sustained for long periods without stirring. For those who don't possess the necessary flexibility, however, it can prove quit painful and distracting, making meditation nearly impossible. Sitting comfortably in a chair is also perfectly acceptable for the purposes of meditation.
Regardless of one's sitting position, it is often suggested that one put one's hands in one's lap, in a position known as “dhyana mudra,” or “meditation position.” Both hands are palm-up, and the left is rested on the right, with the tips of the thumbs just touching. This position is comfortable, and also provides a bit of physical feedback regarding one's meditation: the thumbs tend to separate when one loses focus and tend to push more together and upward when one is “straining” in one's effort to focus.
One's eyes should be half-open. This blocks out much of the distractions of the external world, without allowing one to fall asleep. Breathing should be in through the nose and out through the mouth.
As one progresses and gains proficiency and ease in breath-counting meditation, the counting may be dropped, leaving one to focus solely upon the breath itself. One may still find it useful to begin a session with a single count to ten, while focusing only on the breath and count; upon reaching ten, the count is simply dropped, and the focus remains on the breath for the remainder of the session. As always, when ever some extraneous thought arises it is simply put aside without judgment, and the focus continues on the breath.
One should continue in the fashion until one has reached a stage where one maintain a single-pointed focus upon the breath for sustained periods of time. Once such mastery of one's mind has been achieved, it is then possible to drop even the focus on the breath, and to focus on nothing at all other than the still, formless emptiness of one's own mind. This does not mean to focus on the concept of nothingness or emptiness, but to focus on the still, void-of-thought formlessness of one's own mind. Whenever some thought does arise it is simply put aside without judgment, and the focus continues on the still, formless emptiness of mind.
To focus on the still, formless emptiness of mind does not mean to contemplate the still, formless emptiness of mind. To contemplate would be to stir the mind; this defeats the purpose. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that to focus on the still, formless emptiness of mind is really to allow focus to fall away and to simply experience mentally being the still, formless, emptiness of mind.
Eventually one will reach a point where daily activities take on a meditative aspect. One will find that one easily and naturally adopts a single-pointed focus when performing common tasks. These tasks themselves become “active meditations.” Life itself will become a sort of ongoing meditation, and each instant an opportunity for insight.
Acquired Elements of Noble Wisdom
Diligently following the noble eightfold path leads leads to two other elements, known as “acquired elements:” right knowledge and right liberation. These elements are categorized with noble wisdom, in terms of the three groupings of the elements of the noble eightfold path. They were not included above in the description of noble wisdom, as right knowledge and right liberation are not elements to be practiced, but elements which are acquired by virtue of the practice of the other eight elements.
These may be thought of as the “goal” of the noble eightfold path, although one should not be fixated upon this goal during one's practice. Such fixation is, in itself, a form of ego-based dualistic thinking, and can actually hinder rather than advance one's progress. It is advisable, instead, to simply acknowledge that these acquired elements exist, and occasionally use their acquisition as a sort of gentle “prod” to keep one firmly on the path.
Right knowledge is seeing things as they truly are rather than how they may appear to be or how one may want them to be, and without delusion of any kind. It entails deep, direct, experiential insight into the ultimate nature of reality. Right knowledge goes beyond right understanding as it is knowledge which can only be acquired by direct personal experience. While this writing obviously cannot provide such direct experience, it can effectively direct one along a path to such experience.
Right liberation follows on the heels of right knowledge. It is the same “Awakening,” “Enlightenment,” or “Illumination” which was experienced by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. It is nirvana, the pinnacle of the noble eightfold path to liberation. Upon right liberation, nirvana, one may rightly be said to no longer be a Scio-Buddhist, but to be a Scio-Buddha – a fully and truly “Awake,” “Enlightened,” or “Illuminated” being.