Democracy on the Eightfold Path

Democracy on the Eightfold Path

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It is important to realize that a well-functioning democracy — a republic — depends not just on freedom from censorship, but also on a set of common experiences and on unsought, unanticipated, and even unwanted exposures to diverse topics, people, and ideas. A system of “gated communities” is as unhealthy for cyberspace as it is for the real world.” ~Scott Meyer

 

With the US midterm elections on the horizon, I thought that it would be a good time to reflect on what the teachings of the Buddha tell us about how we should approach voting and engaging in the democratic process in general. Right now, the political landscape is characterized by tremendous rancor and division. I believe that this situation results from not following these teachings. Perhaps looking at their application to engaging in the democratic process will help us in the future to begin to heal the deep wounds that have been opened and begin to engage in a more constructive and beneficial political process.

 

We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into solitary or monastic life. But it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time in the complexities of the modern world. I find that engagement in democracy is one of many wonderful contexts in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prerequisites for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Actions, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Engaging in democracy on the eightfold path can not only help our spiritual practice but also help further peace, happiness, and harmony in our society.

 

Engagement in democracy is a wonderful opportunity to practice Right View. The impermanence of everything is on display. No matter how bad or good the political situation is we can be sure that it will change. This is especially true with democracy where the ability to change the current laws or leadership is its strength. If we don’t like it, we have a route to try to change it. By recognizing this we not only practice Right View but also relax and accept what is. Democracy is also a situation that reflects how interconnected everything is. Engagement in democracy is a cooperative social venture. Without everyone’s cooperation, there would be political chaos. Each of us has only one vote. The outcome of an election depends upon the votes of many. But beyond that democracy can only function if everyone cooperates and accepts the decision of the majority.

 

In the context of democracy, if we take a moment to look, it is easy to develop Right View. We can view the transitoriness of our thoughts and emotions as they arise and fall away in response to the election process and political debate. We may become very worked up about an issue, but see that these feelings are only temporary and will subside in a short time. We can see that our political identity as Democrat or Republican, as conservative or liberal, or any other label is never truly accurate and is subject to change. We can see that there is no permanent thing that is our political self and that is also true for others. This is a tremendous learning experience and laboratory to not only personally develop Right View, but to help develop Right View in our society.

 

Engagement in democracy allows us to observe our suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and its roots. We seem to want our system and its outcomes to be exactly as we want them to be and when they are not we suffer. We want other voters to think the way we do, for our candidates to always win, we want the laws passed to always match our world view and beliefs, we want the media to always present arguments in favor of our positions, etc. In other words, we can learn, if we are observant of what is happening during participation in democracy, that our suffering is caused by our lack of acceptance of how things are. So, political engagement constitutes a laboratory to practice Right View. We can learn to accept things as they are, to see things without judgment, to view the others just as they are, and to understand how we vote has consequences, affecting ourselves and others, in other words, we learn Right View.

 

We can quite readily practice Right Intentions while engaging in democracy and this can lead to Right Actions.  Right Intentions involves targeting what we do to increase peace, happiness, prosperity, and happiness in ourselves and throughout society. These intentions include the abandonment of unwholesome desires. If we engage in the democratic process with anger, impatience, selfishness, resentment we are likely to harm others and ourselves. The harm may not be major or direct, but indirect by affecting the other citizens in negative ways. Perhaps interrupting another while arguing their position produces anger in them that causes them suffering and elicits anger and aggression from them toward the positions of others. Perhaps, not simply listening to others ideas may unnecessarily cause them to suffer and induce impatience and an inability on their part to simply listen to others. But sometimes direct physical harm to others can be produced as in the case of violent political protests or confrontations with people with whom we strongly disagree. But if we practice Right Intentions with sincere intentions to create good and happiness, relieve suffering in ourselves and others, and not harm any living thing, we will act and interact with our fellow citizens with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will. When listen deeply to another’s position and try to understand it or react to an aggressive political post on social media with patience and tolerance, we may have prevented harm. Had the reaction be angry or judgmental it might provoke even more divisive or aggressive actions in response, creating an upward spiral of anger and frustration. It is good to reflect on the ripples of good that may have been created through Right Actions with unknown consequences extending broadly well into the future.

 

Intentions are a key. They become our moral compass. They tend to lead us in the right direction even though we may at times stumble.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of our actions. It is also very difficult not to create some harm. Just the fact of taking positions and backing certain candidates can result in an ineffectual or even corrupt candidate being elected or damaging laws being passed. We need to try to not only have Right Intentions, but to discern and accept that even the best of intentions can sometime produce harmful outcomes. We have to sometimes balance the good we’re doing with the harm produced by the same actions. This requires Right Intentions. This is where engaging in politics can be such a great practice as we can learn what works and what doesn’t and become better at discerning what are the wholesome Right Actions from those that produce more harm than good. But, if we form Right Intentions and aspire to create good and happiness we’ll be better citizens and will produce more harmony and good will and more importantly will be moving ourselves along the eightfold path.

 

Verbal interactions are a fundamental process in a democracy, providing many opportunities to practice Right Speech. Political discussions, like any discussion include communicating ideas and feelings both verbally and also non-verbally. Non-verbal communications include facial expressions and body postures. I have a bad habit of often reacting with grimaces or looking away when someone presents a point I don’t agree with. This obvious non-verbal judgement of the others position can harden their position making it more difficult to truly discuss the issue. But, predominantly Right Speech is verbal. I have another bad habit of often getting very frustrated when in a discussion, someone presents, as true, a different set of facts than I believe to be true. It becomes impossible to have an honest discussion when the underlying facts differ. I often react reflexively with anger and frustration and blurt out something like “that’s not true.” This cuts off the possibility of listening deeply to the other’s ideas and short circuits the possibility of a reasoned discussion of the facts. This does no good and often aggravates others. Practicing Right Speech involves engaging in civil, respectful discourse. The facts, beliefs, and conclusions can be questioned and discussed but simply as a difference and not judged as good or bad, right or wrong, just simply a difference that can be investigated and resolved.  For me, this is a work in progress. I have a long way to go. But I can clearly feel the benefits for myself and for the quality of the interaction when I am mindful and engage in Right Speech.

 

Right Speech is non-violent and non-judgmental speech. So much political discourse involves trying to be right or to convince someone of your position. Right Speech, on the other hand, is directed to understanding and producing good feelings. Here, deep listening is a key. It is impossible to respond appropriately to another if you haven’t listened carefully to exactly what the other said. We, too often, spend our time while another is speaking composing our next speech for whenever they stop. This doesn’t allow deep listening and can poison a conversation. Political Right Speech involves listening as much as talking and what is said is directed to improving harmony and understanding. This is a lofty goal that few of us are able to achieve. But, striving in that direction will make us better citizens.

 

Being a politician can be itself Right Livelihood. It can be directed to creating good, helping people, keeping peace, and moving society forward in a positive direction. It is not ours to judge the “rightness” of politicians. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply. But representational democracy is a system that demands that members of the society make their living as the people’s representatives. This is important and can create great good for the society. If it is Right Livelihood and adheres to the seven other components of the eightfold path it helps the individual in their personal development and the development of the greater society.

 

Once again, engagement in democracy presents a fine context to practice Right Effort. It takes substantial effort to be an engaged citizen. If one simply assumes that their right without doing the hard work of learning the facts, there is little or no mindfulness and little or no effort. When we first engage politically we have to set the intention to act in such a way as to lessen suffering in ourselves and others. We need to interact with other people with kindness, compassion, patience, and courtesy, to drop fear, anger, hatred, and selfishness, and to bring to our political interactions with others the intention to promote well-being and happiness. This is hard and requires Right Effort.  But, we can try too hard. Right Effort involves acting according to the “Middle Way.” That is, not trying too hard and getting stressed about politics, but also not being lackadaisical, rather it involves relaxed effort. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted. But, nonetheless effort is needed. Democracy cannot function without an informed electorate and in today’s information age it can be devilishly difficult work to discern the truth. Right Effort on the part of citizens is not only needed but essential to the successful operation of democracy.

 

Democracy requires an accurate understanding of the nature of the current situation in order to determine what political steps are needed to promote good, happiness, and harmony. Unfortunately, mindless political engagement is probably the norm. Rather than seeing things as they are, we tend to view society through a lens of how it was in the past, or how we believe it should be. But, this can be corrected by the practice of Right Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” What better opportunity to practice this than in seeing what is present right in front of us right now in our society and with the people who compose it? Right Mindfulness makes us acutely aware of what is happening around us and how we’re feeling during every moment of our day; seeing the situation accurately, unclouded by beliefs or prejudgment. This allows us to better craft ideas and solutions to the ills of society. Seeing a welfare recipient, a homeless person, or a prisoner as a person and their situation as it actually is and not judging the individual based upon our political beliefs and social media memes, we can much better understand what is the truth and what can best be done to help. Right Mindfulness provides the data to engage politically. Right Mindfulness is not just part of the eightfold path it is a prerequisite for the practice of the seven other components of the path. So, being mindful is fundamental to all aspects of political engagement.

 

Right Concentration” is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever arises, but concentration is paying attention to one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is usually developed during contemplative practice such as meditation and is nearly impossible to practice in real life. But, improvement in attentional ability is a consequence of practicing Right Concentration. This can lead to improved political engagement. It can reduce the impact of distractions and mind wandering, making us better at focusing on the topic at hand and increasing the likelihood that we’ll discern the best course of action. In addition, Right Concentration requires Right Effort, Right Intention, and Right Mindfulness so these can be developed while applying Right Concentration to our political activities. In a political discourse, there is often a jumping around from topic to topic without every reaching a conclusion about any of them. Right Concentration can be the antidote, allowing for focus and hopefully resolution.

 

Engaging in democratic activity on the eightfold path is not easy. But, remember that it is a practice. Over time I have gotten better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or my emotions get the better of me. But, by continuing the practice I’ve slowly progressed. I’ve become a better at discussing politics with others and I’ve become better at seeing what needs to be accomplished in our society. I’ve become better at seeing people with different ideas and beliefs not as the enemy but simply as worthy people who simply hold different opinions that I can learn from. I am learning to be relaxed with a smile on my face when I engage politically and enjoy being part of a democracy where diversity of people and ideas is not a problem but a strength.

 

Can we attain enlightenment through political engagement? Probably not! But we can practice the eightfold path that the Buddha taught leads there. The strength of engaging in democracy with the practices of the eightfold path is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. I like to keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, by practicing the eightfold path in our engagement in politics leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should definitely be included in our spiritual practice.

 

“To engage in politics—the system through which we take care of one another—is to bring mindfulness outward. To participate, to speak out, is to address the complexities of our modern world.” ~Lisette Cheresson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

The Noble Eightfold Path with Relationships

The Noble Eightfold Path with Relationships

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When we have closer intimate relationships, maybe a marital relationship or lover relationship where sexuality is involved, then we assume we want more from each other. And, there’s the rub. This is where the Buddhist idea of true love helps. True love is where you want the happiness of the beloved; it’s not that you want something from the beloved. You just want to give to the beloved. Shantideva said, “All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through wanting happiness for oneself.” – Robert Thurman

 

Probably the best place to practice the Eightfold Path is not on the meditation mat or in a cloistered environment but in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. There are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time embedded in the complexities of the modern world. In fact, the whole idea of practicing on the mat is to learn things that will apply to our everyday existence. What better place is there, then, than the real environment to practice them.

 

In previous essays, we discussed driving an automobile and the work environment as excellent venues for practice. In today’s essay we’ll discuss practicing in the midst of our relationships with significant others. This is an excellent context in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. It is filled with emotions, desires, sex, conflicts, suffering, compassion, and memories. In other words, our relationships have all the ingredients to practice and to put to the test all the principles of mindfulness and the Eightfold Path for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

 

There are many wonderful opportunities in relationships to practice the Right View idea of impermanence. Indeed, our relationships are constantly changing. One day is full of love, understanding and kindness and the next filled with conflict, resentment, and anger. No matter how bad or good the relationships are or the daily interactions between partners, they are sure to change. Sexual relations are a wonderful example of impermanence, with desires and feeling changing dramatically from moment to moment, but none of it can be held onto for more than a moment. They come and they go. They’re impermanent. This exemplifies the Right View idea of transitoriness. We all grow and develop and change throughout our lifetime and these changes can be challenging for relationships. There’s an old story about relationships that upon marriage, the woman believes that the man will change, but he doesn’t, while the man believes that the woman will never change, but she does! Adapting and coping with these changes requires that we understand impermanence, the Right View.

 

We can also practice the Right View idea of interconnectedness. Relationships are cooperative ventures. How interconnected the couple is, is on display. Relationships require consideration of the needs and aspirations of both partners by both partners. Acting alone would is a sure formula for chaos and conflict in a relationship. You affect your partner and your partner affects you, which affects your partner, which, in turn, affects you and so on. If there are children involved this interconnectedness becomes magnified. Keep in mind “If you want to be happy effectively, then think about other people’s happiness and you will be. Think about your own happiness only, and you will always be dissatisfied because you will never have enough.”  – Robert Thurman. Understanding and adapting to the dynamic interplay between partners requires that we recognize, adapt to, and work with this interconnectedness, the Right View.

 

In relationships we can also view and practice the Right View idea of no permanent self. This thing called self that you think of a permanent and static actually changes moment to moment in reaction to what transpires in relationships. How you view yourself and your beliefs about the supposed self can change in a flash depending upon what your partner says and does. You may think of yourself as a kind and loving person, but your partner treats you like a selfish and cruel person. This can change this idea of the self. A little mindful reflection regarding this reveals that this thing that we call the self was never permanent in the first place but changing and evolving, coming and going, just like everything else. The highly emotionally charged cauldron of relationships amplifies this and makes it clearer and clearer. This is a tremendous learning experience. Coming to grips with this requires that we develop the Right View of no permanent self.

 

It is hard to find a better context than relationships to develop the Right View idea of suffering and unsatisfactoriness, and their roots. In relationships we want everything to be exactly as we want it to be, and when it isn’t we suffer. We want our partners to understand us, we want sex to fulfill our fantasies, we want to always be agreed with, we want more excitement and less dull chores, we want our partners to acquiesce to all our decisions, we want to have space, we don’t want to deal with our in-laws, we want our partners to unconditionally love us, etc. When these things don’t happen, we suffer. In other words, you can learn, if you are observant of what is happening in relationships, that your suffering is caused by your lack of acceptance of how things really are in your relationship. So, relationships constitute wonderful laboratories to practice Right View. You can learn to accept things as they are, to see things without judgment, to view the relationship, your partner, and children just as they are, as individual human being with their own desires and needs. When you view them this way, the love grows, and the incredible wonder of life and loving begins to reveal itself. You can learn to understand that the way you act with them has consequences, affecting yourself and the rest of the family, in other words, you practice and develop Right View.

 

You can readily practice Right Intentions in relationships and this can lead to Right Actions. Intentions are a key. They become your moral compass. These intentions include the happiness of our partner. “True love is where you want the happiness of the beloved; it’s not that you want something from the beloved.”  – Robert Thurman. They tend to lead you in the right direction even though you may at times stumble.  But, it is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of your actions. Sometimes, even with the Right Intentions you can cause your partner to suffer. For example, you may want to provide a high standard of living for your partner and family and work long hours to do so. But, this may cause your partner to be lonely and unhappy or your children to feel neglected. You need to try to not only to have Right Intentions, but to discern how even the best of intentions can sometime produce harmful outcomes. The truly Right Intentions do not produce harm, only good. You have to sometimes balance the good you’re doing with the harm produced by the same actions. This requires Right View. This is where relationships can be such a great practice as you can learn what works and what doesn’t and become better at discerning what are the wholesome Right Actions from those that produce more harm than good.

 

Right Intentions also includes the abandonment of unwholesome desires. If you relate to your partner with anger, impatience, selfishness, resentment you are likely to harm them and yourself. The harm may not be major or direct, but indirect by affecting partner and children in negative ways. Perhaps your anger at your partner overdrawing a checking account causes you to lash out at your children. Perhaps, your selfishness causes you to neglect you partners requests or needs eliciting frustration or anger in your partner, or simply cause them to suffer. But sometimes you can produce direct harm to your partner. This can occur when anger and alcohol result in physical or psychological abuse or when your sexual desires cause you to force yourself on an unwilling partner.

 

On the other hand, if you practice Right Intentions with sincere intentions to create good and happiness, relieve suffering, you will treat your partner with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will. When our partners are treated with respect, compassion, and helpfulness or when a partner’s anger or frustration are reacted to with patience, kindness, and tolerance, harm and suffering have likely been prevented. A considerate sexual relationship, where the intentions are to love and satisfy your partner, the relationship will become more satisfying for both of you, particularly if your partner has the same Right Intentions. The happiness and love produced carries into everything that you do affecting how you treat you children, your friends, your coworkers, and everyone that you meet. It is good to reflect on the ripples of good that may have been created by the Right Actions producing positive consequences, which produce more positive consequences, producing more positive consequences, etc. well into the future. So, if you form Right Intentions and aspire to create good and happiness you’ll be a better partner and will produce more harmony and good will in in all of your interactions and more importantly will be moving yourself along the eightfold path.

 

There are many opportunities to practice Right Speech in relationships. This can include non-verbal communications such as facial expressions, body postures, etc., perhaps even holding hands or loving glances. But, predominantly Right Speech is verbal. You may have a bad habit of often reacting to a mistake with reflexive emotional expletives. This can occur in response to something as simple as dropping a glass of wine. This can also include gestures. These can occur reflexively or even without awareness but do no good and create harm in yourself and sometimes aggravate your partner. Keep in mind the advice “Have a fast ear and a slow tongue.” ~Mark Ward. Right Speech also involves refraining from gossip. Couples often gossip or repeat rumors about family and friends. This can hurt others in unpredictable and sometimes unknown ways. In addition, Right Speech is truthful speech. In communicating with your partner only speak things that you know are absolutely true. Even “little white lies” have a cumulative effect eroding trust and understanding, while always speaking the truth promotes trust, understanding, and harmony. Right Speech takes practice. We have years of training and daily multiple examples of wrong speech. So, be patient and practice. Slowly the effects and benefits will become apparent.

 

The notion of Right Livelihood mandates that the couple’s occupations not only earns a living but also creates greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieves suffering. Conversely, they should not produce harm. Some occupations can be clearly seen as creating harm such as manufacturing, selling, or delivering weapons, cigarettes, or harmful drugs, human trafficking, or driving animals to slaughter. Some occupations clearly seem to create greater good and happiness, such as teacher, aid worker, nurse, etc. But, most occupations are a little more difficult to tell. Sometimes harm is produced indirectly, such as by damaging the environment, or resulting in layoffs from a competitor, or by producing goods or services that can be misused or used by others to create harm. Although rarely having direct effects upon relationships, engaging in Right Livelihood can do so indirectly. Feeling good about what you do for work can spill over bringing those good feelings home. Also, developing the discernment required to understand the impact of your occupations is a useful skill for understanding the impact of your actions upon your partner.

 

Relationships also present a great context to practice Right Effort. It takes substantial effort to interact mindfully. If you act automatically as most people do most of the time, there is little or no mindfulness and little or no effort.  When you first get up in the morning you have to set the intention to engage in your daily activities in such a way as to lessen suffering in yourself and your partner, to act with kindness, compassion, patience, and courtesy, to drop fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, and to bring to our interactions with our partner the intention to promote well-being and happiness. Right Effort is working the “Middle Way.” That is not trying too hard and getting stressed about interacting and loving properly, and also not being lackadaisical, but rather to try, but relax. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re not relating to your partner mindfully, but congratulate yourself when you do. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted.

 

Acting mindlessly is probably the norm. Most people perform their routine daily activities while their minds are elsewhere, ruminating about the past, planning for the future, or off in fantasy and daydreams. This provides you with a terrific opportunity to practice Right Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” What better opportunity to practice this than while your interacting with your partner? Right Mindfulness precludes focusing on social media or engaging in other distractions when with your partner. Right Mindfulness makes you acutely aware of what is happening and how you’re feeling during every moment together. Awareness of how you’re feeling and what’s producing those feelings, and how you’re reacting to them makes you better able to interact effectively without emotional outbursts that are non-productive and can hurt your partner. Right Mindfulness is not just part of the eightfold path it is a prerequisite for the practice of the seven other components of the path. So, relating mindfully is a fundamental practice and relationships are great situations for practice.

 

Right Concentration is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. This is developed during contemplative practice such as meditation. It is essential to effectively interacting with you partner. Our world is replete with distractions and interruptions. But, to truly be attentive and listening mindfully to our partner we must concentrate. Right Concentration in relationships includes making the effort to be there for your partner and deeply listen to them. There are very few more important things that you can do in relationships than to simply give your partner your full presence, your full attention, your full mindfulness. Improvement in attentional ability is a consequence of practicing Right Concentration. The ability to concentrate and screen out intrusive sounds, sights, speech and thoughts allow you to focus on your partner, producing a higher quality relationship. In addition, it is thought that Right Concentration requires Right Effort, Right Intentions, and Right Mindfulness and these can also be practiced and developed. So, interacting with our beloved is a wonderful situation for the practice of Right Concentration, benefiting each partner.

 

Negotiating the eightfold path in relationships is not easy. But, remember that it is a practice. Over time you’ll better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or your emotions will get the better of you. But, by continuing the practice you’ll slowly progress. you’ll become a better partner and have a more relaxed, loving, and happier relationship. Keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go. One of the keys in the practice is mindfully observing your partner and yourself. This allows you to discern the improvements even when they’re small and subtle.  Over time, these small improvements add up.  Without doubt, practicing the eightfold path lead to a terrific, happy, satisfying, loving relationship.

 

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~Lao Tzu

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Driving the Eightfold Path

Driving the Eightfold Path

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

 “We are not proving ourselves spiritually worthy of our material progress. We have not been neighborly, courteous, and kind upon the highway. Our lack of decency toward our fellow men is a definite black mark against us.” ~Cary T. Grayson

 

We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into solitary or monastic life. But it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time in the complexities of the modern world. I find that driving an automobile is an almost perfect context in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prerequisites for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Actions, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

 

Driving is a wonderful opportunity to practice Right View. The impermanence of everything is on display. No matter how bad or good the traffic condition we can be sure that they will change. By recognizing this we not only practice Right View but also relax and accept what is. Driving is also a situation that reflects how interconnected everything is including the thing we label self. Driving is a cooperative venture. Without everyone’s cooperation, there would be chaos on the roads. How other people drive effects how we drive at the moment and in the future. In this context if we take a moment to look, it is easy to develop Right View. We can also view the transitoriness of our thoughts and emotions as they arise and fall away in response to the experiences occurring while driving and our reactions to them, how this thing called self that we think of a permanent and static actually changes moment to moment in reaction to our experiences while driving. This is a tremendous learning experience and laboratory to develop Right View.

 

It is hard to find a better context than driving to observe our suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and its roots. While driving we seem to want everything to be exactly as we want it to be and when it isn’t we suffer. We want other drivers to drive the speeds we want so they are not in our way, we want traffic signals to always be green, we want the sun or other drivers’ high beams not to be in our eyes, we want a parking space to be available close to our destination, etc. In other words, we can learn, if we are observant of what is happening during driving, that our suffering is caused by our lack of acceptance of how things are. So, driving constitutes an ideal laboratory to practice Right View. We can learn to accept things as they are, to see things without judgment, to view the road and other vehicles just as they are, and to understand how we drive has consequences, affecting ourselves and others, in other words, we learn Right View.

 

We can quite readily practice Right Intentions while driving and this can lead to Right Actions. These intentions include the abandonment of unwholesome desires. If we drive with anger, impatience, selfishness, resentment we are likely to harm others and ourselves. The harm may not be major or direct, but indirect by affecting the other drivers in negative ways. Perhaps cutting another off produces anger in them that causes them suffering and elicits poor driving from them or anger and aggression toward others. Perhaps, not moving over to allow faster traffic to pass may induce impatience and elicit inappropriate passing on their part or simply to unnecessarily cause them to suffer. But sometimes direct physical harm to others can be produced as in the case of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But if we practice Right Intentions with sincere intentions to create good and happiness, relieve suffering in ourselves and others, and not harm any living thing, we will drive sober, with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will. When I move over to allow someone to pass or I react to an aggressive driver with patience and tolerance, I sometimes reflect that I may have prevented great harm. Had I aggravated the other driver their emotions could provoke even more dangerous driving or resulted in later anger or aggression toward others. I like to reflect on the ripples of good that I may have created with unknown consequences well into the future.

 

Intentions are a key. They become our moral compass. They tend to lead us in the right direction even though we may at times stumble.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of our actions. It is also very difficult not to create some harm. Just the fact of driving is producing carbon emissions contributing to global warming. We need to try to not only have Right Intentions,” but to discern how even the best of intentions can sometime produce harmful outcomes. We have to sometimes balance the good we’re doing with the harm produced by the same actions. This requires Right View. This is where driving can be such a great practice as we can learn what works and what doesn’t and become better at discerning what are the wholesome Right Actions from those that produce more harm than good. But, if we form Right Intentions and aspire to create good and happiness we’ll be better drivers and will produce more harmony and good will on the roads and more importantly will be moving ourselves along the eightfold path.

 

There are many opportunities to practice Right Speech while driving. This can include non-verbal communications such as the use of turn signals. This is a form of Right Speech on the roads, communicating for the greater good. But, predominantly Right Speech is verbal. I have a bad habit of often reacting to driving situations with reflexive emotional expletives. This can occur in response to something as simple as being caught at a red light to another driver’s dangerous actions. This can also include gestures. They do no good and create harm in myself and sometimes aggravate and harm others. By practicing Right Speech. I work toward alleviating the suffering my habit produces in myself and others. I’ve started to develop a habit of simply reacting, rather than with expletives, with words such as “be safe” or a recitation of the loving kindness meditation wishes for health, happiness, safety etc. It’s a work in progress, but I can clearly feel the benefit when I do.

 

Right Livelihood. only applies literally to a few drivers on the road, such as truck drivers, taxi drivers, police, tow truck drivers, etc.  But if we fall into the category of people who make their living driving it is good to reflect on the effects of our activities on others. Does our livelihood produce harm to others, such as delivering weapons, cigarettes, or harmful drugs, or driving animals to slaughter, or does it produce greater good and happiness? It is not ours to judge the “rightness” of other people’s occupations. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply by each of us. But driving is more frequently a secondary component of our livelihood, perhaps as a means to get to our workplace. So, it can be conceived as part of our livelihood. So, driving is for many an opportunity to reflect upon our Right Livelihood.

 

Once again, driving presents a great context to practice Right Effort. It takes substantial effort to drive mindfully. If one drives automatically as most of us do most of the time, there is little or no mindfulness and little or no effort. When we first get in the driver’s seat we have to set the intention to drive in such a way as to lessen suffering in ourselves and others, to drive with kindness, compassion, patience, and courtesy, to drop fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, and the survival of the fittest attitude, and to bring to our interactions with others on the road the intention to promote well-being and happiness. Right Effort is driving the “Middle Way.” That is not trying too hard and getting stressed about driving mindfully, and also not being lackadaisical, but rather to try but relax. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re not driving mindfully and congratulate yourself when you do. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted.

 

Mindless driving is probably the norm. Most people navigate the roads and traffic while their minds are elsewhere, ruminating about the past, planning for the future, or off in fantasy and daydreams. This provides us with a terrific opportunity to practice Right Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” What better opportunity to practice this than while driving? Right Mindfulness while driving precludes the dangerous activities of texting or engaging in other distractions that are known to amplify the dangers of driving. Right Mindfulness makes us acutely aware of what is happening and how we’re feeling during every moment of our drive. This makes not only for a more enjoyable drive, but also for much better driving. Awareness of how we’re feeling and what’s producing those feelings, and how we’re reacting to them makes us better able to drive safely without emotional outbursts eliciting unsafe behaviors. Right Mindfulness while driving is not just part of the eightfold path it is a prerequisite for the practice of the seven other components of the path. So, driving mindfully is a fundamental practice and driving is a great situation for practice.

 

Right Concentration” is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever arises, but concentration is paying attention to one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is usually developed during contemplative practice such as meditation and is nearly impossible to practice while driving. But, improvement in attentional ability is a consequence of practicing Right Concentration in other contexts which can improve driving by reducing distractions and mind wandering. In addition, it is thought that Right Concentration requires Right Effort, Right Intention, and Right Mindfulness and these can be practiced and developed while driving. So, although driving is not a situation for the practice of Right Concentration directly, the prerequisites for Right Concentration can be practiced and the benefits of its development can be appreciated.

 

Driving the eightfold path is not easy. But, remember that it is a practice. Over time I have gotten better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or my emotions get the better of me. But, by continuing the practice I’ve slowly progressed. I’ve become a better driver and I’ve become a more relaxed and happier driver. I arrive at my destination relaxed with a smile on my face as opposed to the anger and stress that used to accompany me there.

 

Can we drive ourselves to enlightenment? Probably not! But we can practice the eightfold path that the Buddha taught leads there. The strength of driving the eightfold path practice is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. I like to keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, driving the eightfold path leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should definitely should be included in our spiritual practice.

 

“It helps if you don’t see it as traffic but rather as thousands of individuals resolved to press on another day.” ~Robert Brault

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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The Eightfold Path at Work

The Eightfold Path at Work

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

 “So where do we begin if we want to improve our work life for ourselves and those around us? I suggest starting with the mind. Ask yourself: what is the quality of my mind at work? What’s happening in my mind as the hours at work go by day in and day out? Is my mind working at its utmost? . . . . Through mindfulness, we can train our minds to work better.” – Tara Healey

 

The work environment as an excellent context in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. It is filled with interpersonal interactions and clashes, task focusing, dealing with authority, frustrations, successes, self-worthiness, and emotionality. In other words, the work environment has all the ingredients to put to the test all the principles of mindfulness and the Eightfold Path for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

 

We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into a solitary or monastic life. Fortunately, it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time embedded in the complexities of the modern world. In a previous essay we discussed driving an automobile as an almost perfect venue for practice. In today’s essay we’ll discuss practicing in the work environment.

 

There are many wonderful opportunities at work to practice Right View. The view that all things are impermanent can be practiced. Indeed, the situation at work is constantly changing and no matter how bad or good the work conditions or the daily experiences are you can be sure that they’ll change; the business cycle is constantly changing as are the people you work with and for. By recognizing this we not only practice Right View but also relax and accept what is. Work is a cooperative venture. It’s a situation that reflects how interconnected everything is including the thing we label self. Working without consideration of our superiors or co-workers and their needs and aspirations would be chaotic and very unproductive. How you work effects how they work and vice versa. In this context if you take a moment to look, it is easy to develop Right View including the transitoriness of our thoughts and emotions. At work they arise and fall away in response to the ever changing experiences occurring at work and your reactions to them. This thing called self that you think of a permanent and static actually changes moment to moment in reaction to these experiences at work. This is a tremendous learning experience with work being a wonderful laboratory to practice and develop your Right View.

 

It is hard to find a better context than working to develop the Right View on suffering and unsatisfactoriness, and their roots. While working we seem to want everything to be exactly as we want it to be, and when it isn’t we suffer. We want meetings to be short, incisive, and productive, we want technology to always be working properly, we want to always be recognized for our efforts and accomplishments, we want less dull repetition and paperwork, we want our co-workers to be cooperative rather than competitive, we want a raise, we want a promotion, we want our bosses to always make the right decisions, we want everyone to like us, etc. When these things don’t happen, we suffer. In other words, you can learn, if you are observant of what is happening during working, that your suffering is caused by your lack of acceptance of how things are at work. So, working constitutes a wonderful laboratory to practice Right View. You can learn to accept things as they are, to see things without judgment, to view the job, your bosses, and other workers just as they are, and to understand how you work has consequences, affecting yourself and others, in other words, you practice and develop Right View.

 

You can quite readily practice Right Intentions while working and this can lead to Right Actions. These intentions include the abandonment of unwholesome desires. If you work with anger, impatience, selfishness, resentment you are likely to harm others and yourself. The harm may not be major or direct, but indirect by affecting the other workers in negative ways. Perhaps your anger at an unsatisfactory work situation causes the intentional sabotage of a project. Perhaps, your selfishness causes you to refuse to help a struggling co-worker eliciting frustration or worry about the security of their job, or simply cause them to suffer. But sometimes direct harm to others can be produced by greed resulting in your undercutting or obstructing their work in order to make yourself look better and step over them for promotion. But if you practice Right Intentions with sincere intentions to create good and happiness, relieve suffering in ourselves and others, and not harm any living thing, you will work cooperatively, with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will. When co-workers are treated with respect, compassion, and helpfulness or when a co-worker’s anger or frustration are reacted to with patience, kindness, and tolerance, harm and suffering have likely been prevented. It is good to reflect on the ripples of good that may have been created with Right Actions producing positive consequences, which produce more positive consequences, producing more positive consequences, etc. well into the future.

 

Intentions are a key. They become your moral compass. They tend to lead you in the right direction even though you may at times stumble.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of your actions. It is also very difficult not to create some harm. You have to consider that your competitive success may be causing others to lose their jobs, or that the manufacturing processes you’re using compromises the natural environment, or that trying to minimize costs, you use suppliers who employ people at less than a living wage. You need to try to not only have Right Intentions, but to discern how even the best of intentions can sometime produce harmful outcomes. You have to sometimes balance the good you’re doing with the harm produced by the same actions. This requires Right View. This is where working can be such a great practice as you can learn what works and what doesn’t and become better at discerning what are the wholesome Right Actions from those that produce more harm than good. But, if you form Right Intentions and aspire to create good and happiness you’ll be a better worker and will produce more harmony and good will in the work place and more importantly will be moving yourself along the eightfold path.

 

There are many opportunities to practice Right Speech while working. This can include non-verbal communications such as facial expressions, body postures, etc. But, predominantly Right Speech is verbal. A worker may have a bad habit of often reacting to a mistake with reflexive emotional expletives. This can occur in response to something as simple as dropping a part, to another worker’s dangerous actions. This can also include gestures. They do no good and create harm in myself and sometimes aggravate and harm others. Office gossip is rampant in the work environment. This often hurts others in unpredictable and sometimes unknown ways. Right speech involves refraining from gossip. At work frequently guesses and rumors are spread. Right Speech involves only speaking things that you know are absolutely true. This can promote trust and harmony in the workplace. By practicing Right Speech you can work toward alleviating the suffering produced in ourselves and others. Simply react, rather than with expletives, with words such as “be safe” or a silent recitation of the loving kindness meditation wishes for health, happiness, safety etc. Right Speech takes practice. We have years of training and daily multiple examples of wrong speech. So, be patient and practice. Slowly the effects and benefits will become apparent.

 

The notion of Right Livelihood mandates that your work not only earns you a living but also creates greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieves suffering in yourself and others. Conversely, you should not produce harm. This doesn’t discourage earning profits and accumulating wealth. It simply indicates that it must be done in the right way. It indicates that you should acquire wealth only by legal means, peacefully, without coercion or violence; you should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and you should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others. Some occupations can be clearly seen as creating harm such as manufacturing, selling, or delivering weapons, cigarettes, or harmful drugs, or driving animals to slaughter. Some occupations clearly seem to create greater good and happiness, such as teacher, aid worker, nurse, etc. But, most occupations are a little more difficult to tell. Sometimes harm is produced indirectly, such as by damaging the environment, or resulting in layoffs from a competitor, or by producing goods or services that can be misused or used by others to create harm. It is not yours to judge the “rightness” of other people’s occupations. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply to ascertain whether your practicing Right Livelihood.

 

Once again, working presents a great context to practice Right Effort. It takes substantial effort to work mindfully. If you work automatically as most people do most of the time, there is little or no mindfulness and little or no effort. When you first get to work you have to set the intention to engage in your work in such a way as to lessen suffering in yourself and others, to work with kindness, compassion, patience, and courtesy, to drop fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, and the survival of the fittest attitude, and to bring to our interactions with others at work the intention to promote well-being and happiness. Right Effort is working the “Middle Way.” That is not trying too hard and getting stressed about working mindfully, and also not being lackadaisical, but rather to try, but relax. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re not working mindfully, but congratulate yourself when you do. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted.

 

Mindless working is probably the norm. Most people perform their routine work activities while their minds are elsewhere, ruminating about the past, planning for the future, or off in fantasy and daydreams. This provides you with a terrific opportunity to practice Right Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” What better opportunity to practice this than while working? Right Mindfulness while working precludes focusing on social media or engaging in other distractions that detract from our efforts. Right Mindfulness makes you acutely aware of what is happening and how you’re feeling during every moment of your work. This makes not only for a more enjoyable work, but also for much better working. Awareness of how you’re feeling and what’s producing those feelings, and how you’re reacting to them makes you better able to work effectively without emotional outbursts that are non-productive and can damage the efforts of co-workers. Right Mindfulness while working is not just part of the eightfold path it is a prerequisite for the practice of the seven other components of the path. So, working mindfully is a fundamental practice and working is a great situation for practice.

 

Right Concentration is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. This is developed during contemplative practice such as meditation. It is essential to effective work. Very few people have the luxury of working in quiet isolated circumstances. Most work in environments that are replete with distractions and interruptions.

Improvement in attentional ability is a consequence of practicing Right Concentration  improves focused attention on the work, reducing distractions and mind wandering. The ability to concentrate and screen out intrusive sounds, sights, speech and thoughts allow you to focus on your work, producing higher quality work while being more efficient and productive. In addition, it is thought that Right Concentration requires Right Effort, Right Intentions, and Right Mindfulness and these can also be practiced and developed while working. So, working is a wonderful situation for the practice of Right Concentration, benefiting the individual and the quality of the work.

 

Working the eightfold path is not easy. But, remember that it is a practice. Over time you’ll better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or your emotions will get the better of you. But, by continuing the practice you’ll slowly progress. you’ll become a better worker and a more relaxed and happier worker. You then can leave work at the end of the day relaxed with a smile on your face rather than angry and stressed.

 

Through engaging in the eightfold path at can we achieve enlightenment? Probably not! But we can practice it and the Buddha taught that it leads there. The strength of practicing the eightfold path at work is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. Keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, practicing the eightfold path at work leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should be included in our spiritual practice.

 

“As an executive coach and physician, I often sing the praises of mindfulness approaches and recommend them to clients to manage stress, avoid burnout, enhance leadership capacity, and steady their minds when in the midst of making important business decisions, career transitions, and personal life changes.” – David Brendel

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Concentration

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Concentration

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Concentration relates closely to the final limb, mindfulness. Both are different forms of awareness, but of the two concentration is more deliberate and narrow, mindfulness broader, more spontaneous and more open and receptive.” – Clearvision

 

Mindfulness is an openness to all experiences no matter what comes up. On the other hand, concentration is to focus on only one or a small subset of what is present. So, Right Concentration is a different aspect of mind training from Right Mindfulness. It is the eighth and last component of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. But, all of these components are interconnected and depend upon one another. So, it’s position is arbitrary and should not be construed that it’s the least component. They are all important in the integrated interdependent whole of the path.

 

A good example of Right Concentration is focused meditation where a single aspect or select set of aspects is concentrated upon to the exclusion of other aspects. This is often the breath but can also be a mantra, a special word, a particular person, or basically anything that can be separated from everything else. Concentration filters out everything but the object of concentration. So, the mind is not distracted. A concentrated mind is described as single pointed, focused totally on one thing and one thing only. The Buddha taught that when one pointedness is attained it produces a state of great tranquility and peace. Hence, the two primary features of Right Concentration are unbroken attentiveness to an object and a consequent tranquility.

 

There are many levels of concentration and as the practice of focused meditation develops the individual moves through deeper and deeper levels. As the practice begins, the mind will inevitably wander. When the meditator becomes aware that the mind has strayed, s/he simply gently returns to the object of concentration. It is sometimes helpful to congratulate yourself on returning rather than feeling bad about wandering. The idea is to reinforce and strengthen being concentrated rather than punishing the mind for doing what it naturally does. This will make it more and more likely that the meditator will return quickly once the mind wanders and stays focused longer and longer.

 

The development of Right Concentration is not a linear process with the meditator getting better and better with every meditation. It is rather highly variable with concentration easy and prolonged one day followed by another day when it is difficult and short-lived with mind wandering the rule. Rather than being frustrated with this the practitioner simply needs to continue practicing with assurance that over time concentration will get deeper and deeper more and more often and un-concentrated meditation will get rarer and rarer.

 

As practice continues concentration will deepen going through a number of stages, initial application of mind, sustained application of mind, rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness. The initial application of mind is settling and acquiring the object of meditation and focusing on it alone. This slowly becomes a sustained application of mind, where the focus on the object is held for a prolonged period of time. Rapture and happiness begin to become a by-product of the sustained attention as the practitioner feels joy and happiness with successful concentration. Finally, the concentration develops to the level of one pointedness, with the mind unified and completely focused on the object of meditation to the exclusion of everything else.
The attainment of one pointedness relaxes the mind with its activities greatly diminished. As the mind quiets, consciousness is allowed to be on its own without interruption and it begins to move into deeper and deeper states on consciousness. The meditative absorption deepens and consciousness moves into various stages known as the “jhanas.” The first and second being one pointedness accompanied by joy and happiness, the only difference between the two is the level of refinement of the concentration. The third “jhana” involves a continuation of one pointedness and happiness but with the addition of clear comprehension and equanimity, where things are seen just as they are without judgment or valuation. The fourth “jhana” involves solely one pointedness, a state of pureness of consciousness, unmarred by feelings.

 

These stages of Right Concentration should not be seen as an unwavering roadmap to deeper states of consciousness. These stages occur to some but not others. Some, jump around, skip stages, of bypass them completely. But, Right Concentration inevitably leads to deep and deeper states of awareness. The Buddha describes even deeper states of absorption as the practitioner moves towards enlightenment. So, Right Concentration is seen as the doorway to the culmination of the path, attaining enlightenment.

 

Regardless, of these deeper states of consciousness, the process of developing concentration is very beneficial in everyday life. The ability to stay with a task without distraction or the mind wandering away improves work, study, or even relationships, virtually everything.  So, practice Right Concentration and move forward on the path toward spiritual enlightenment.

 

“Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness‚ is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions.” – Buddha

 

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The Noble Eightfold Path – Right Mindfulness

The Noble Eightfold Path – Right Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Buddhism began by encouraging its practitioners to engage in smrti (sati) or mindfulness, that is, developing a full consciousness of all about you and within you — whether seated in a special posture, or simply going about one’s life. This is the kind of meditation that Buddha himself engaged in under the bodhi tree, and is referred to in the seventh step of the eightfold path.” – C. George Boeree
The predominant iconic image of the Buddha is of him sitting in blissful meditation. This results in the popular conception that meditation is at the center of Buddhism.  But, as is evident from the first six components of the Noble Eightfold Path, at the center is how one goes about one’s life. This is evident in Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort and Right Concentration. The real center of Buddhism is contained in the seventh component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the basis for all of the other components on the path. Unless one is mindful, there cannot be a right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, or concentration. The Buddha used meditation as a practice to develop mindfulness, thereby allowing progress on the path and eventually attaining enlightenment. So, meditation is a means to an end and that end is mindfulness and beyond.

 

Mindfulness is all about presence of mind or paying attention. But, it’s a particular kind of attention. We are forever paying attention to something. Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. Paying attention to memories, daydreams, ruminations about the past, thoughts about the future, planning, problem solving, dreaming, visualizing, etc. are not mindfulness. Rather it is paying attention to the sensations from inside the body and from the outside environment, to the momentary thoughts floating through the mind, and to momentary awareness itself. In addition, it is intentional paying attention, doing so on purpose, and witnessing what is transpiring in the present moment without judgment, without consideration of it being good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant, or smart or stupid, rather, simply letting things be as they are. It can be thought of as thoughtless awareness, pure awareness of now, or bare attention, without reference to the past or the future or for that matter without any processing of the information whatsoever.

 

Mindfulness helps to lead to serenity, insight, deep concentration, or wisdom. It makes sure that the mind does not slip away and get lost in random undirected thoughts. Its primary tasks are to observe, to note, to discern phenomena with utmost precision until their fundamental characteristics and nature are brought to awareness. In order to attain these deeper understandings, the Buddha directed his followers that they should concentrate on four types of mindfulness being mindful of the body, feelings, mental states, and mental contents.

 

A sad aspect of our lack of mindfulness is an unawareness of the body. With the mind occupied with thoughts, ruminations, plans, etc. it is easy to lose track of the body and its physical state. It is eye opening when introducing people to a simple body scan, how amazed they are that they’re so unaware of it. So, to be truly in the present moment an acute awareness of the state of the body needs to be developed. This involves a number of components. Mindfulness of the body includes recognizing the position of the body, whether standing, sitting, lying down, and the various parts of the body, from toes to scalp and everything in between. Mindfulness of the body also includes a recognition of its composition of matter, air, and water, that are acquired from the environment, and thereby recognizing the body’s dependence and integration with the greater world. Finally, it involves a recognition of the body’s ever changing, impermanent nature, including its growth, development, deterioration, and eventual cessation in death. Yes, mindfulness of the body includes recognition of its mortality.

 

There is not only a lack of awareness of the body itself but also of the sensations from the body, including those associated with emotional states and how we evaluate, judge and respond to them. Mindfulness of feelings includes bring to awareness the sensations and feelings from the body and all its parts in the present moment, including feelings of temperature, pressure, pain, tingling, etc. As this awareness emerges so can an awareness of how we are judging these feelings as pleasurable, likable, distasteful, unlikable, or neutral and how we are reacting to them of doing things to develop or hold onto pleasant feelings and to eliminate or abbreviate unpleasant feelings. These are all deeply imbedded in human nature, but often appear to occur unconsciously. Mindfulness of feelings brings them into the light of awareness.

 

Emotions always involve both mental and physical components. Mindfulness of feelings is generally seen as pertaining to the bodily sensations accompanying emotions. It’s quite striking as mindfulness of feelings emerges and develops the degree to which they often occur without awareness or even recognition. Anger and fear are accompanied by a physiological activation, including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tone, blood moving away from the skin and gut to the muscles, and facial expressions. Yet, these are frequently not recognized. In developing mindfulness of feelings, the feelings produced by emotions are brought to awareness and felt deeply. This produces an ability to recognize the emotional state before it elicits a reaction that might harmful or regretted later. Mindfulness of feelings, then, allows for not only recognition but also the control of emotional reactions.

 

The mind is constantly interpreting and judging experience. These processes are responsible for forming ideas about these experiences, sometimes called mental formations, because they are formed in the mind. In psychology it is recognized that what emotion is felt is determined not only by our physical state but also how the mind interprets the environment. For example, fear is thought to occur when a physiological reaction occurs within what the mind interprets as a fearful context, e.g. the presence of a threat. Mindfulness of mental states involves firstly recognizing the state, e.g. anger, happiness, boredom, etc. and observing the workings of the mind that produce these mental formations. By watching how the mind interprets experience the practitioner becomes more and more aware of how the mind effects how experience is perceived and interpreted and the roots and conditions of these experiences. It may underline how the interpretation of the experience is based upon prior experiences or memories or how they are interconnected to other things in the environment. As the practice continues, it becomes easier and easier to see experiences in the raw, without interpretation, devoid of judgment, disconnected from prior experiences.

 

Every experience contains objects that are detected by our senses. Mindfulness of mental contents involves bringing these objects into awareness in all their aspects. This involves not only seeing and perceiving the object exactly as it is at the moment but also observing its impermanence and it interconnectedness to everything else. It’s seeing the object as an absolutely unique and ever changing expression of the entire universe. Deep mindfulness of an object includes perceiving how it is dynamically changing from moment to moment. An apple has a particular immediate appearance but this is just a snapshot of the apple which has changed moment to moment, from a seed, earth, and water, to a tree, to a bud, to an unripe piece of fruit, to its current state as a one of a kind apple. It is also to see that this apple will continue to change to overripe, to rotten, to garbage on the ground, to its component elements of soil and water, to its return to the earth. In other words, mindfulness of mental contents involves seeing the object as a transitory impermanent expression. In addition, it is to see how it is connected to everything else, the sunlight, the rain, the soil, the evolution of apple trees, the farmer, the machinery, the inventors of the machinery, the metal, plastics, and gasoline in the machinery, etc. In other words, it’s to see the apple as and ever changing and interconnected to all of existence. When objects are viewed in this way, they are truly seen mindfully.

 

So, Right Mindfulness is the development of an accurate and precise awareness of the present moment uncolored by ideas, memories, beliefs, expectations, etc., just the experience as it is. This is essential to progress on the path as it’s impossible to develop the other seven components of the path without being able to accurately perceive exactly what is actually transpiring in the present moment. It is the essential foundation for everything else. With it we have hope of progressing toward enlightenment, without it, we’re lost in delusion. So practice resolutely to develop mindfulness and move forward on the path.

 

 “When right mindfulness is developed and made much of, one realizes what one should do and should not do. Whether one should speak or not speak. When one speaks, what should be spoken and not spoken. Right mindfulness is the basis for the development of the right path that culminates in knowledge, wisdom, contentment and the highest happiness.” – Mithra Wettimuny

 

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The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Effort

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Effort

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The Fourfold Right Diligence is nourished by joy and interest. If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

In order to progress on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, effort must be exerted. One cannot simply sit back and wait for something to happen, one has to practice, one has to work at it. To some people that means working very, very, hard, perhaps meditating for hours on end, day after day. This comes from the Western work ethic that teaches that the harder you work, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve your goals. This is also the case in some Zen schools. A meditation teacher once described a Zen retreat as “Buddha boot camp,” requiring extreme endurance and perseverance. For many people this simply does not work and may lead to them abandoning practice and the path completely.

 

“Right Effort” sometimes called right diligence is the sixth component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” The idea of “Right Effort” is that the effort exerted in practice and in life needs to be “Right.” It needs to be finely tuned, neither too lax, nor too effortful. The Buddha taught that practice should be like a well-tuned string instrument. If the strings are too loose, they won’t play a sound. If they are too tight, they will break. Practice should be nourishing, not draining. So, “Right Effort” actually points precisely to the Buddha’s “Middle Way.”

 

The notion of “Right Effort” is not just for meditation practice but for how we conduct our lives. It calls for us to develop and encourage good qualities, ones that will lead forward on the path, and reduce or discourage bad qualities, ones that interfere or block progress. There are many good qualities to be cultivated but the ones that the Buddha particularly targeted were mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.

 

This suggests that we should work to develop mindfulness, paying attention, on purpose, without judgment, to what is occurring in the present moment. After all, how are we going to progress on a spiritual path if our minds are lost in thought, memories of the past or projections of the future? Only by being attentive to what is happening right now, do we have any hope of seeing things as the truly are. Mindfulness can be developed by engaging in contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, mindful movement practices, etc. So, “Right Effort” mandates that we practice to cultivate our mindfulness, but do so with energy and striving, but not too much or too little. We need to practice on the “Middle Way.”

Investigation of phenomena needs to also be cultivated. Whereas mindfulness is observing what is, investigation is probing into the nature of what is. Investigation involves exerting concentration and energy to search out the characteristics, conditions, and consequences of the phenomena we observe with mindfulness. So, we look carefully as to what exactly composes a feeling, what leads up to the feeling arising, and what is produced by the feeling. So as anger arises, we look with mindfulness as to how exactly it feels in the body and mind, we look at what produced the anger, and we look at what consequence it might have for our actions and thoughts. If we can truly see these aspects of anger, we can better recognize it when it begins to arise, control it, and manage its consequences to lead away from harm and toward greater wisdom and happiness.

 

Fundamental to the entire process is energy. It must be cultivated and distributed carefully as there is only a limited amount available. We must first develop the energy to initiate mindfulness and investigation. It is impossible in real life to be constantly in the present moment and probing its nature. But, we must have the energy to return to these healthy processes whenever we have the opportunity to come back. Once mindfully engaged it is important to cultivate the energy to persevere and remain mindful as long as possible. Finally, we have to learn how to hold some energy in reserve so that when we reach a significant juncture in our practice we can focus our energy to break through and make a leap forward.

 

All of this energy can be built and cultivated by making our efforts joyful. Joy will replenish and charge our batteries for use when we need it. So, practice with joy, allow yourself to experience the beauty and awe available in every moment, and refrain from pushing too hard and losing the joy and happiness of practice. If we are careful and follow this joy, it will build and build and reach crescendos of bliss. This fuels our progress on the path. But, it is impossible to remain in a state of continuous bliss. Eventually the practice leads to tranquility, a peacefulness that comes from knowing the joyfulness of existence and practice. This tranquility now can allow the practice to proceed with knowing serenity. This peacefulness is the foundation for ceasing seeking and quieting the mind. Maintaining this stillness requires concentration. Once stabilized equanimity develops, an inward poise, free from the extremes of inertia and excitement. A state is reached like when driving a car with the cruise control on, neither having to press the gas peddle harder nor letting up on the peddle, just rolling along enjoying the scenery, without effort or striving, just observing things as they are. Just moving along the “Middle Way.”

 

It is wonderful to be cultivating positive qualities but at the same time it is necessary to prevent bad qualities from hindering progression on the path. There are also many bad qualities to be discouraged or removed but the ones that the Buddha particularly targeted were sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. As part of pursuing “Right Effort” on the path effort should be exerted to prevent these bad qualities from arising and if they do to refrain from pursuing or reinforcing them so that they can diminish or extinguish on their own.

 

Sensual desires is actually a broad category that includes cravings for all those objects or states that are pleasing, sights, sounds, emotions, feelings, tastes etc. The actual experiences are fine and need not be avoided. It’s the pursuit of them and the attempt to hold onto them that produces hindrance. “Right Effort” involves not seeking them out, but if they arise letting them come and go without striving to hold onto them. Just letting them pass by like a sunrise or a sunset, looking, seeing, appreciating, and letting go. Trying to hold on only produces unsatisfactoriness and frustration.

 

At times negative feeling arise toward objects or people. These can be a hindrance also if they are focused on, held onto, or pursued. Feelings such as hatred, anger, resentment, repulsion, jealousy, etc. arise at times in the normal course of life and in our practice. This is normal and need not be actively pushed aside. This will only tend to strengthen them. They should simply be let go, allowed to dissipate on their own, noticing, taking note, sensing the feelings and releasing them. Situations and people who tend to evoke these feeling should be avoided as much as possible. It is easier to handle them if they never arise. So, if someone should cause you harm and anger and resentment begin to arise, let them. Just observe them with mindfulness. Feel the feelings and the mental anguish. Don’t avoid it, but don’t pursue or react to it. This can be difficult, but the more it is practiced the easier and easier it becomes. This is how to exert “Right Effort” toward these ill feelings.

 

Dullness and drowsiness are often indicators of too little rest and sleep or too much exertion.  “Right Effort” involves staying on the “Middle Way” and getting sufficient rest and sleep and not overdoing anything. These states of dullness and drowsiness are actually very good indicators and guides to return to the “Middle Way.” So, when tired, rest, when sleepy, sleep, and when dull, relax and recharge. Similarly, restlessness and worry are indicators of straying from attention to the present moment and wanting things to be different than they are, ruminating about the past, or fantasizing about the future. These states can also be useful as signposts and guides leading back to the present moment. “Right Effort” is to use these states to assist in maintaining energy, staying with mindfulness, and concentrating. The more they are used in this way the easier it gets to sense straying from the path and the sooner the return can happen.

 

The path can be difficult and progress is haphazard, improving one day, falling back another. It can sometimes be difficult to tell that progress is actually being made. This can lead to doubt that the “Eightfold Path” is the right way toward spiritual development. When doubt arises don’t fret. This is normal. It signals that questions should be asked of others, particularly those who have navigated the path. This can help to elucidate that the up and down course of practice is normal and if energy is invested in persistence, progress will be made. Doubt also signals that studying the teachings, reading, and contemplation may be needed to strengthen resolve and provide direction. This is truly “Right Effort.”

 

Obviously, there’s a lot to “Right Effort.” But the keys are joyful practice and the “Middle Way.” Look carefully at discursions from the path of unhealthy desires, bad feelings toward others, sleepiness or restlessness, worry, or doubt. There’s no need to feel bad about them. They are part of being human and everyone from time to time experiences them. Rather than regretting them, let them be pointers to returning to the path. Slowly, improvement will occur and falling off the path will happen less and less often, the good qualities will be present more and more often for longer and longer periods, and forward movement will occur on the path toward awakening and enlightenment.

 

“Enlightenment is not your birthright.
Those who succeed do so only through proper effort.”
– Ramana Maharshi

 

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The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D/

 

“Given that almost everyone’s life includes an economic dimension, work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist. Most of us spend the majority of their waking lives at work, so it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support not a hindrance to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?” – Sangharakshita

 

Most people need work to earn a living to support themselves and a family. For most, this is not a choice, it is a necessity for survival. But, what we do to make that living can be a choice and the nature of the occupation chosen can have a major impact on the psychological and spiritual development of the individual. The Buddha’s notion of “Right Livelihood” emphasizes the nature and importance of this choice.

 

Unless you’re a hermit, making a living is a social endeavor. It involves an array of people and it impacts on many others. A manager of a grocery store has to hire and coordinate the activities of many employees, has to work with upper management, suppliers, government regulators including the health department, and has to interact with customers. The manager’s activity impacts a wide array of people. This will also be true for most of us in our work. So, again the choice of occupation can have far reaching effects, not only on the individual, but on a wide network of interconnected people. Positive and/or negative effects of our occupation can thereby have many direct and indirect effects on our happiness and well-being as the effects on others feedback and affect ourselves.

 

“Right Livelihood” is the fifth component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” “Right Livelihood” is actually a subcategory of “Right Action”, but is so important that it like speech is singled out for its own step on the path. It’s particularly important because of its cascading impact on others. What we do and how we do it can make important contributions to the well-being of many or it may produce widespread harm. Having an occupation that produces good and doesn’t produce harm is as important to our own spiritual development as can be to the well-being of others.

 

The notion of “Right Livelihood” mandates that we should engage in an occupation that not only earns us a living but also creates greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieves suffering in ourselves and others. Conversely, we should avoid occupations that produce harm. The notion of “Right Livelihood” doesn’t discourage earning profits and accumulating wealth. It simply indicates that it must be done in the right way. It indicates that we should acquire wealth only by legal means, peacefully, without coercion or violence; we should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and we should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others. This means that in performing our work we should fulfil our duties diligently and conscientiously, not wasting or misrepresenting the hours worked, or stealing, we should pay due respect and consideration to employers, employees, colleagues, and customers, and we should engage in business transactions truthfully without deceptive advertising, misrepresentations, or dishonesty.

 

In the choice of occupations to pursue there are some obvious jobs to aspire to. These are occupations that on their face create good and promote well-being. They include professions such as physician, social worker, peace negotiator, relief worker, therapist, etc. Of course, even these occupations can cause harm, as mistakes can and do happen, but the intent is to relieve suffering, and that’s what counts. Similarly, there are occupations that rather obviously create harm and should be avoided, such as drug dealer, arms merchant, professional criminal, etc.

 

Most occupations, unfortunately, are not so obviously good or harmful. Many can have harmful effects, not by immediate actions, but indirectly. For example, working as an accountant for a cigarette manufacture. Accounting is not itself harmful, but in this case would contribute to the distribution of a product that has been demonstrated to be harmful to people’s health. But, most occupations are even trickier to evaluate. Working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico produces a product, energy, that is needed for the well-being of virtually everyone. Without affordable energy, every aspect of the economy would collapse. So, working on the oil rig could be seen as promoting well-being and relieving suffering. On the other hand, there is potential for great environmental harm, including oil spills that directly pollute sensitive environments, or contributing to carbon dioxide emissions that can indirectly create great harm by contributing to global warming.

 

So should someone on the eightfold path accept or reject a job working on an oil rig? The answer cannot be given by anyone other than the individual themselves. It is imperative that the individual look deeply and objectively at what they’re doing and determine for themselves if they are doing more harm than good. On the eightfold path, the primary spiritual impact of “Right Livelihood” is on the individual engaging in the occupation. So, the decision has to be theirs. That is not to say that experts or friends can’t or shouldn’t be consulted, but that ultimately the individual must decide for themselves and be willing to accept the potential consequences.

 

Is it “Right Livelihood” to raise cattle, or chickens for consumption, to be a butcher, or sell animal products? At the surface this might seem simple as it involves the destruction of sentient beings which should be avoided. But, like everything, it’s sometimes not so simple. Firstly, killing out in self-defense is regrettable and should be avoided however possible, but if necessary is not a problem. In fact, there is a long history of lethal self-defense techniques being taught and practiced at some Buddhist monasteries. Killing and eating meat might be seen as self-defense and when other foods are not available for sustenance it’s defensible. In fact, the Buddha and his followers occasionally ate meat and taught that once killed animal products should not be wasted. But, in general, for most people in affluent situations, being involved in the raising, slaughtering, and distribution of animals would not be considered “Right Livelihood.” It may well have negative consequences on the individual and others.

 

In my own career, before I started on the eightfold path, I engaged in research projects using animals. At the time, it seemed to be a noble endeavor, increasing scientific knowledge for the good. But, I believe that I was harmed by this. I now look back with deep regret and guilt that I was responsible for the deaths of literally hundreds of animals. It doesn’t matter that they were lab rats. They were beings who should not have been used and harmed for my own selfish reasons to advance my scientific career. I remember those days long ago vividly and feel terrible that I could have created so much harm. It is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I paid and am paying the consequences on violating “Right Livelihood.”

 

We spend so much of our lives at work, that the choice of the wrong occupation can be a major impediment to our spiritual growth. Conversely, the choice of the right occupation can be a major asset. It can create greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieve suffering in ourselves and others. This is a major step on our spiritual path. So, engage in “Right Livelihood” and move forward toward enlightenment.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

“A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.” – Buddha

 

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The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Actions

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Actions

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D/

 

“Right Actions” is the fourth component of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” It follows directly from “Right View”. When one sees everything just as it is and understands how everything is impermanent and connected to everything else, that life involves suffering, that there are causes to that suffering, and that there is a way to escape from suffering, this leads directly to “Right Intention”, the aspiration to create greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieve suffering in ourselves and others. “Right Intention” then is the driver of “Right Actions,” actually engaging in activities that produce the desired results. “Right Actions” like all the components of the path is dependent upon and affects all the other components of the path.

 

In order to know what actions will actually produce greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieve suffering requires discernment dependent upon “Right View.” Without that understanding of how things really are we can easily take an action that we think will be productive only to find that it was destructive. On retreat, there are often participants who are crying and appearing to be distraught or in despair. Our initial instinct is to go to the individual and to try to console them and help them through their difficulties. But, that, in fact, will do more harm than good, preventing the individual from addressing the core problems that have arisen in retreat. Consoling them actually disrupts one of the beneficial aspects of retreat which allows deep and repressed issues to come forth, be experienced, accepted, and dealt with. In this case “Right Action” is to simply make sure that they are physically all right and leave them alone to work though their issues. On the surface, it seems cruel. But with discernment it can be seen that this will in the long run produce the relief of suffering.

 

There are some rather obvious “Right Actions” that are parts of most religious and moral teachings. These include not killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and abusing intoxicants. These are actually “Right Non-Actions.” The “Right Actions” would be protecting life, generosity, engaging in healthy loving sexual activities, truthfulness, and sobriety. The “Right Action” of telling the truth has been discussed with “Right Speech” and need not be repeated here. The present essay will focus of the other four.

 

Protecting life, not killing, means more than just protecting the lives of human beings. It extends to all sentient beings. We can have honest differences as to what constitutes a sentient being from all living things, to only humans, to some point in between. But taking the life of a sentient being produces suffering and deprives it of an opportunity to experience life and happiness. It would thus violate the “Right Intention” to promote greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieve suffering. If it can’t be determined which animals are sentient and which are not, then it would seem to be the best course for producing happiness and relieving suffering to err on the side of caution and refrain from killing any animal.

 

We need to protect our own life. Killing in self-defense is “Right Action” provided we have done everything possible to avoid it. Part of that self-defense is obtaining proper nourishment. It would seem reasonable that to eat, but not kill a sentient being, we should become vegetarian. But, the growing and producing of vegetables inevitably involves killing other animals. The process of harvesting crops inevitably results in the death of many rodents, birds, and reptiles. It is, in fact, virtually impossible to not in some way directly or indirectly produce or contribute to the death of animals in order to maintain one’s own life. Discernment tells us that trying our best to protect life and minimize the harm we might do in the process of preserving our own life is “Right Action.” The practical impossibility of being perfect leads to the conclusion that intention and effort to preserve life is the best we can do and that is enough.

 

Honoring the property of others, not stealing, means more than simply not taking what is not intentionally given. It also implies generosity. “Right Action” is giving freely of our time and resources where needed to promote happiness and relieve suffering. This could be volunteer work at an abused children’s shelter, monetary donations to the needy, or simply picking up groceries for an infirmed neighbor. We should not hoard our resources but share them generously. “Right Action” can also mean doing things to promote social justice. We obviously shouldn’t directly abuse the rights of others. Rather we should stand up and oppose the abuse of rights perpetrated by others or society. Hence “Right Action” could even include civil disobedience. Certainly, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King understood this. But they also understood that civil disobedience should occur only with care, deliberation, and discernment. “Right Action” demands our action, but, carefully considered action that isn’t motivated by anger, hatred, or revenge. In other words, we should not stand by as others rights are stolen. We should defend them, but do so in a responsible manner with “Right Intention.”

 

There has been immense harm caused to individuals, families, and society by sexual misconduct. It can have a devastating and permanent effects on the principals and those that surround them. It can produce lasting traumas, destroy families, and permanently scar children. It is no wonder that sexual misconduct is so important to prevent and sexual activity approached with “Right Actions.” This results in the prohibition of sexual activity by monastics. But, for the vast majority of people the middle way, between celibacy and licentiousness is called for. In other words, healthy loving sexual relations that is consensual and non-exploitive are “Right Actions.” The primary guiding principle is that the action produces greater harmony, happiness, wisdom, and well-being, and relieves suffering. So, engagement in sexual activity should be loving, caring, and sensitive, with the intention to produce good for all involved. That is right sexual action.

 

The “Right Action” of not abusing intoxicants, of sobriety, is also important as great harm can be done to the self and others by misuse of drugs and alcohol. The perils of alcoholism and the destructive power of drug addiction are well documented. But, the “Right Action” of sobriety extends to much lower levels of intoxicant use. To the extent that these substances can cloud the mind, impede judgment, and interfere with discernment, they can lead to improper or insensitive actions that can harm. So, “Right Action” calls for, if not complete prohibition, low level and judicious use of intoxicants. But, “Right Action” with intoxicants actually extends well beyond alcohol and drug to engaging in experiences that can induce harmful thinking and lead to wrong actions. This can include “ingesting” disturbing movies, books, TV shows, etc. that can induce disturbing thoughts and possibly even lead to wrong actions. “Right Action” calls for us to be careful what we consume to make sure that no matter what form it comes in, it is healthy and leads to happiness and well-being.

 

These are some specific and obvious “Right Actions.” Most actions are not so obvious. So “Right Action” calls for us to be vigilant and approach our behavior with discernment to insure, as best as possible, that our actions improve happiness and well-being and decrease suffering. But making the effort and spending the time and thoughtfulness involved in insuring that actions are “Right” can produce considerable benefits. It can make each of us and those around us happier, more content, and more fulfilled and less worried, anxious, and dissatisfied. Beyond its impact on everyday life, it can lead us to higher states as we pursue the eightfold path. Doing the “Right” thing sure has its advantages!

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Communications

The Noble Eightfold Path: Right Communications

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D/

 

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” – Buddha

Communications is the key to the dominance of the human race. Because we developed language and speech we’ve been able to share knowledge and build upon prior knowledge. Speech and language are so important that a substantial amount of the human cortex is devoted to it. As important as language is we still have not mastered communications. We are often misunderstood, use language inappropriately, use it to bully, or lash out in anger. We harm and hurt others by our speech both intentionally and also innocently. Communications between humans is so powerful and important that the Buddha made it a component of his eightfold path to enlightenment.

 

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of “Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.” – Buddha. In previous posts “Right View” and “Right Intention” were discussed. Now we will discuss the third component “Right Speech” which is also known as “Wise Speech” or “Virtuous Speech.” Since, the word “Speech” here is used very broadly it would probably be better interpreted as “Communications.” So, for the purpose of this discussion we’ll use “Right Communications.” These include not only speech, but writing, signs and signals, emails, texts, tweets, social media posts, and even non-verbal communications provided by posture and facial expressions. To simplify the discussion, we will focus only on speech.

 

“Right Communications” urges us to communicate in ways that promote harmony among people, to only communicate what we know to be true, to use a tone that is pleasing, kind, and gentle, and to communicate mindfully in order that our speech is useful and purposeful. It asks us to refrain from false, malicious, harsh, or cynical communications and from idle chatter or gossip. All of this sounds straightforward, but can be devilishly difficult to implement. We’ve been trained from a very early age to be critical, skeptical, cynical, and to talk about one another incessantly. To practice “Right Communications” we must work to overcome all of this conditioning.

 

An essential component of “Right Communications” is deep listening. It is nearly impossible to communicate “Rightly” with another without a clear understanding of the other person. It is easy to hurt or harm someone unknowingly when we lack knowledge of the other person’s history, aspirations, sensitivities, fears, etc. In order to understand them we need to be able to listen carefully, attentively, and deeply to what the other communicates to us. Most of the time most people are not carefully listening to another when they’re communicating, instead waiting their turn and mentally composing their response. Practicing “Right Communications” requires that we not do this, but instead focus on the other’s communication and process its meaning completely and to ask for clarification when it is not clear. The intent of listening should be to provide the deep understanding of another to allow for mindful, kind interactions.

 

“Right Communications” is truthful. Obviously this means no lying. But this can be subtler, as it demands that we really know something to be true before stating it. How much of what we say are we really 100% sure of its truth? Probably very little as much of our speech includes speculation, guesswork, reports of what we’ve heard or inferred, and idle talk. “Right Communications” demands that we be very careful and verify the truth of what we communicate. If we’re unsure of the truth of what we’re saying we should make it clear that we are unsure, that makes it truthful. That the communication is truthful does not mean, however, that it should be said. The old expression “the truth can hurt” is an important reminder. Sometimes it is better to not speak at all rather than hurt or harm another with a truth that they are not ready to hear. “Right Communications” requires discernment and deep listening to the other person to be sure when to speak the truth or remain silent.

 

“Right Communications” promotes friendship and harmony among people. This means refraining from slanderous speech that is aimed at producing division and dissention and instead communicate in way that unites people and creates mutual understanding. This form of communications emanates from loving kindness and compassion for others. When we communicate we do so to benefit everyone involved. This does not mean that there should be no differences in ideas or opinions between people. Differences, in fact, can be a source of creativity and learning. It means, though, that communications celebrate, accept, and value the differences allowing their expression to produce greater understanding. So, a healthy political debate can promote understanding and harmony as long as it’s engaged in with loving kindness, tolerance, and friendliness, where the debate is not competitive or designed to belittle another or heighten one’s self-esteem, but to learn from an exchange of views. Once again, this requires discernment and deep listening to know what words will heal and promote goodwill and which will divide or harm.

 

“Right Communications” is pleasing, kind, and gentle. It is designed to set a tone which can make the communication enjoyable and produce wholesome results. This, includes non-verbal components. A smile while communicating produces positive feelings that a frown does not. This means refraining from harsh speech, including swearing and angry speech. We must be vigilant to prevent communications when anger arises. I find this particularly difficult, as expletives explode forth when my anger is tripped. “Right Communications” is positive and encouraging and not critical or discouraging. So, it emphasizes the positive and primarily passes over the negative. “Right Communications” involves meeting angry, hostile, critical, or sarcastic communications from others with loving kindness and understanding. It means that we don’t retaliate, instead we meet it with kindness. This requires practice as it is difficult to control our emotions and deep conditioning to respond to threats with anger and aggression. But, if we are successful in “Right Communications” we will generally find that the results are far more pleasing, other people like us and like to be around us more, and we and everyone around us are happier.

 

“Right Communications” also involves purposive communications. This is where “Right Intentions” come to bare setting the directions for the communications. “Right Communications”

Involves a judicious use of language only when it will promote good. It “is like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied by reason, moderate and full of sense” (Bhikkhu Bodhi). This means that we should inhibit idle chatter and especially gossip. Idle chatter communicates nothing of value and uselessly occupies the mind interfering with mindfulness making it more likely that we’ll communicate something harmful. Gossip is of its nature critical of others and shallow. It demeans others and causes harm. It lacks loving kindness and compassion. Hence, practicing “Right Communications” means not gossiping and not responding to gossip communicated by others. Words are precious and powerful. We need to use them pointedly to create happiness and harmony both in ourselves and others.

 

“Right Communications” requires mindfulness. It requires us to review our words before we actually speak them, so that we can apply discernment and insure that they promote harmony and understanding. “Right Communications” is thoughtful communications that we’ve determined ahead of time is likely to produce good. This requires considerable practice. It is not easy. But life provides numerous occasions every day to practice “Right Communications.” Rest assured that the effort is well worth it. You and everyone around you will discover its benefits promoting happiness and harmony and development along the eightfold path toward enlightenment.

 

 “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech ( and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. . . . I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch