I’ve found that people are often surprised to hear that Buddhism is really about finding happiness.
That the Buddha’s teachings aren’t about “everything is suffering” and rather are about showing you the path to transform suffering, uncover the truth, and realize true peace and happiness.
I shouldn’t be surprised though, my path wasn’t any different.
In college- what little college I did do- I majored in philosophy.
Being a naturally deep thinker and someone who had always been interested in studying life's deep questions, majoring in philosophy seemed like a no-brainer.
But, being that a degree in it would essentially amount to me living off ramen my entire life, some people didn’t quite understand my choice. But I didn’t much care about that, so I decided to take the plunge.
I knew very little about Eastern philosophy & spiritual traditions, but they greatly interested me nonetheless so I decided to take an Eastern Philosophy and Religion 101 class in my first (and only) year.
Unfortunately, I dropped out of college too early for me to be properly introduced to the beauty of the Buddha’s teachings (the class was very dull and the teacher knew very little about the actual teachings). This resulted in me spending the next 5 years with an unfortunate misunderstanding about Buddhism and the Buddha’s teachings.
What little knowledge I did acquire in the class resulted in me thinking that Buddhism was nihilistic. In other words, that Buddhism was essentially negative in its viewpoint and that the central idea was that everything was suffering and that we need to fully understand this to cope with life’s difficulties as best we can.
Luckily, there was still that ounce of me left that thought, “I really didn’t get a very good introduction to the topic, I’m sure I missed something”, or else I don’t think I would ever have had any interest in Buddhism or Eastern spirituality again.
5 years later, I was introduced to the Buddha’s teachings again, this time through the work of many venerable Buddhist (particularly Zen, at first) teachers who were adept at explaining Buddhist wisdom clearly and concisely.
Of everything that’s happened to me in my life, I feel most fortunate about that. If I hadn’t found Buddhism and the Buddha’s teachings, I know my life would be very different right now.
No matter who you are, the Buddha’s teachings resonate with a truth that strikes each of us closely because it has to do with the path each of us follows- the path to alleviating our suffering and realizing true and lasting peace and happiness.
For this reason, whether you’re religious, atheist, agnostic, or simply interested in bettering yourself, the Buddha’s teachings and his long 2,500-year lineage is something that can show you how to live more fully and freely.
Download How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path
Download a free PDF version of How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path to True Peace and Happiness and begin following the Buddha's path:
The Buddha’s 4 Truths
Before we get into the Buddha's 8-Fold Path, it’s important to cover the foundational teaching of all the Buddha’s teachings, and the teaching which the 8-Fold Path is included within- the Buddha's 4 Noble Truths.
The Buddha’s teachings can at first seem confusing and difficult to understand. Many Buddhist teachings have a lot of depth to them, but despite that the majority have a relatively simple and straightforward explanation.
The 4 Noble Truths can be explained simply as such, with a little extra explanation below each point:
1st Noble Truth: Identify suffering
The first Noble Truth is the identification of suffering. “Suffering is present”.
Use of the word suffering can be a bit confusing in English, where the word typically means some severe pain. When you properly understand the Buddhist use of the word suffering, though, it’s rather enlightening itself.
Suffering refers to a number of things such as what we feel when experiencing strong emotions, stress, and anxiety, but most notably it refers to the perpetual discontent we feel on an everyday basis (which you could call a subtler form of stress, in a way). It’s a basic lack of fulfillment- a lack of peace which can originate from a number of sources.
2nd Noble Truth: Identify the path to suffering
This is all about identifying what’s causing your suffering. Before you know exactly why you suffer, it's very difficult to be able to anything about your situation. Therefore, this step is about getting to the source of your suffering so that you can cut it off from the root.
Everyone suffers somewhat differently, so identifying our own suffering and the various intentional actions which are causing our suffering can be a very personal journey.
3rd Noble Truth: Identify well-being
The 3rd Noble Truth is like the first, but it’s about identifying the existence of well-being, or happiness (well-being is a generally more complete term when compared to happiness, but it includes it depending on how you define the word).
4th Noble Truth: Identify the path to well-being
Like the 3rd Noble Truth compared to the 1st, the 4th Noble Truth is similar to the 2nd but here it’s the path out, the path to well-being that’s being identified.
This step is about acknowledging the way out of suffering, the way to true peace and happiness- the entire point in the first place.
From the 1st Noble Truth on, a practitioner on the Noble path is working to identify and deeply understand their suffering, see how that suffering is being caused so that they can change those behaviors, identifying the source of well-being (the way to alleviate suffering), and working to understand how well-being is caused so that they can follow the path to alleviate their suffering by creating well-being.
When the 4 Noble Truths are broken down simply, they provide a straightforward path to discovering true peace and happiness in this life, through the very challenges and difficulties (your suffering) that you experience.
This, to me, is invaluable wisdom because it applies to all people, in every situation, and at all stages of life.
But what is the path to well-being? Isn’t that what everyone wants to know? Understanding our suffering is very important. In fact, understanding it deeply (it’s existence itself, even) is required to realizing true peace and happiness.
But the path to true peace and happiness as laid out by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago is just as important, and that’s included within the 4th Noble Truth. That path is the Buddha's 8-Fold Path.
How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path to True Peace and Happiness
Along with the 4 Noble Truths, the Buddha’s 8-Fold Path is the second of the two foundational Buddhist teachings.
There’s a lot of talk about the components of happiness, or well-being, nowadays. I find the 8-fold path both interesting and profound because it’s in many ways that, and it was established over 2500 years ago by the Buddha.
An easy way to understand the different schools of Buddhism is through the 8-Fold Path. It’s in the 8-Fold Path that is truly where the different schools differ because the 8-Fold Path is very much a blueprint for Buddhist practice.
How do they differ? All schools of Buddhism practice each fold on the path, but certain schools emphasize certain groups more than others.
Zen, for instance, emphasizes Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right Effort because the practice of Zen emphasizes the practice itself (of meditation and living with mindfulness).
Keep in mind a few things before we get into each path:
1. The 8-Fold Path isn’t a set of sequential steps. The 8-Fold Path is more of a web of interrelated efforts to focus on together as one body.
As I’ll point out repeatedly throughout my explanation of each part of the path, they all bleed into each other in countless ways.
2. Right means the right way to do that specific act conducive to cultivating liberation from suffering and true peace and happiness (or well-being). The word “Right” follows all 8 parts of the path. This is because what the 8-fold path entails is essentially 8 different “actions” of sorts, many of which you already do every day, which can be done in a way that they’re not conducive to well-being (which is something that can be observed in itself).
For that reason, it’s important to emphasize that we’re talking about the right way to do each of these things.
Keep in mind that for each point of the path I’ll be explaining what it is as well as how you can work on it in 1-2 practical ways that can immediately benefit you.
I’d also like for you to keep these 2 things in mind as you read through each point, to make it as productive and beneficial as possible for you:
- How am I doing in this? (that particular point) - How can I improve in this?
Remember, the 8-Fold Path is a practice, so you should approach it according to your own life. Your own stresses and difficulties (your suffering), what things truly bring you joy, and where you’re at in each area of the path. By doing this, you’ll take the most from it.
1. Cultivate Right View (or Right Understanding)
What is Right View? Right View, also called Right Understanding, is about cultivating wisdom or clarity and ultimately discovering the truth about ourselves and the world around us (all things as they are).
Exactly what’s included within right view or understanding? Most notably, understanding the 4 Noble Truths- understanding our suffering, how suffering is created, well-being, and how to follow the path to create that well-being and alleviate suffering.
As opposed to the knowledge you gain from reading a book, though, Right View emphasizes true understanding and clarity gained through insight, which involves direct experience with something.
This is where mindfulness comes in. It’s mindfulness which allows us to observe directly and clearly without obstructions.
Through mindfulness and sitting meditation practice (both Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration), you’re able to gain deep insights about the things you observe and interact with, and this leads to the cultivation of Right View.
In your everyday life, each effort you make to observe your daily challenges and difficulties and their causes clearly with the light of mindfulness is an opportunity to cultivate Right View.
Right View is powerful because it’s both a cause and an effect of all 7 other points on the path. Through practice, our view becomes clearer and we become wiser. And as our view or understanding deepens, so does our practice in all other areas.
2. Cultivate Right Thinking (or Right Intention)
What is Right Thinking (also known as Right Intention)? Thinking is very much the speech of our mind, so Right Thinking is about doing the right kind of thinking and refraining from the wrong kind.
The average person spends more time in their heads than they do being fully present. Of course, thinking itself isn’t bad, but most of the time the thoughts we’re occupying our minds with are nothing more than unproductive wanderings of mind.
So Right Thinking is, most importantly, refraining from this kind of mindless wandering, or distracted unintentional thinking, and instead only thinking when it’s necessary and holds a purpose, otherwise, we should be mindful of the task at hand.
When Right View is developed in us, Right Thinking is present because it’s those views and our understanding that fuels our state of mind. And Right Thinking is needed for Right Action because it’s often thinking which leads to action.
Mindful breathing is important here because it allows us to come back to the present moment when our mind wanders off or becomes fixated on something unwholesome.
In this way, our mindful breathing is a tool to help train our minds away from the mindless wandering it’s so naturally adept at or the harmful fixation it's stuck on.
What’s the best way to work on cultivating Right Thinking? The Buddha said it’s by being a part of a community who practices as such.
In modern terms, this could simply be a group of focused individuals working towards a united goal, both positive as well as realistic in their outlook. Ideally, though, this is a group of people who practice mindfulness.
Whether it’s mindful breathing, mindful walking, or a more extensive practice, even meeting once a week with a group of 2-3 people for one hour will greatly help.
Another important thing to keep in mind with Right Thinking is that wrong perceptions (which are included within Right View) can influence and color our thinking.
When we’re going through a difficult experience, it can be very beneficial to simply question the experience and ask ourselves “Is this really how it is?”, “Am I sure?”.
This is beneficial because it’s often our perception of the experience which is causing us to suffer, not the experience itself. In this way, we can break wrong perceptions and gain clarity about difficult situations.
3. Practice Right Speech
Traditionally, Right Speech refers to exactly what it sounds like: speaking in a way that’s conducive to your liberation from suffering and well-being and conducive to others liberation and well-being as well.
But communication has become very sophisticated in the past half-century. Now there’s more than just face-to-face speech, there’s phone calls, text chat, online forums, and social networks.
For that reason, perhaps this could now be more properly described as Right Communication.
Right Speech consists of 4 main efforts as presented by the Buddha:
- Speak truthfully - Don’t speak with a forked tongue. This refers to telling one person one thing and another something else, usually out of fear for what others will think or to try and manipulate another. - Don’t speak cruelly. Don’t say things to others that may hurt them, under any circumstance. - Don't exaggerate or embellish. Don’t misrepresent and deceive, essentially.
Right Speech is based on Right Thinking, because our speech originates in our thinking. Mindfulness can then work as a sort of editor for our speech, making sure we speak wholesomely.
The major idea to keep in mind here is that you should be working on changing your speaking habits so that your speech arises from your innate Buddhahood (your “highest” state of being- imagine the most wholesome version of yourself to help you do this), not from what’s often referred to in Buddhism as “unwholesome seeds”.
By unwholesome seeds, I’m referring to things such as bias or attitudes or deep-rooted anger or fear which will color how you speak and act.
To work on Right Speech in a very clear and simple way, you can adopt mindful speech and mindful (or deep) listening. These two practices are very important in Right Speech. You can read about both practices in my guide, The Mindfulness Survival Guide.
4. Practice Right Action
Right Action might sound a little confusing at first because technically most of the points on the path can be considered actions, but Right Action is most notably about the practice of non-violence towards ourselves and others.
Because of this, Right Action is a lot about cultivating compassion for ourselves and others.
Right Action is based on Right View, and the basis of the practice of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness- mindfulness of action.
This is because it’s mindfulness which helps guide our actions and identify when we’re doing something that is harmful to ourselves or others, allowing us to course-correct.
Some of the most basic principles of Right Action sound very much like a moral code. Refrain from:
- Taking/Stealing - Exploiting - Hurting
And living in a way that you prevent those things from happening in the first place. But really the purpose of this is to not sew bad karma, which has the ability to ultimately affect your well-being by planting bad karmic seeds.
If all that sounded confusing, don’t let it be. By karma, I’m simply referring to the invisible string of cause and effect which exists in the world.
For example, by hurting someone else you not only affect someone else’s well-being but you lead yourself to potentially having your well-being affected by planting seeds of violence in your mind.
A big part of Right Action is also mindful consumption, which applies to multiple points on the 8-Fold Path, but is most applicable here.
By mindful consumption, I’m referring to mindfully or consciously consuming through each of your 6 senses (in Buddhism, the mind is a sense).
The general idea with mindful consumption is to make your best effort to only take in the kinds of things that nourish your body and mind.
This includes your associations, the information you take in via the internet, T.V., and movies, food and drink, and anything else you take in via your senses.
It’s easy to follow and begin cultivating right action within our everyday life. You can protect and nurture life, practice generosity, behave responsibly, or both consume and live mindfully.
5. Practice Right Diligence (or Right Effort)
Right Diligence, also called Right Effort, is about the quality of your effort. In other words, working towards or on something in a wholesome way.
On the flip side, wrong diligence is about working towards something that is unwholesome or causing you or someone else suffering.
Within Right Diligence is included 4-Fold Right Diligence, which are the 4 types of effort you can make towards cultivating Right Diligence:
- Preventing unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness which have not yet arisen from arising. - Helping the unwholesome seeds which have already arisen to go back to our store consciousness. - Finding ways to water the wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen. - Nourishing the wholesome seeds that have already arisen so that they will stay present and grow stronger.
Store consciousness in Buddhism represents a sort of potentiality. There’s always the potential for anger, fear, hatred, joy, excitement, and peace but they’re not always apparent because the seeds aren’t being watered. Or in other words, our actions aren’t creating the conditions for them to arise.
This is important to keep in mind because when wholesome seeds aren’t present you can remember that you always have the ability to water them because they’re never truly gone.
And when unwholesome seeds aren’t present, it’s important to remember that they’re not necessarily gone forever and you need to nourish your mind and body daily to keep those unwholesome seeds in your store consciousness and out of your life.
Examples of unwholesome seeds include:
- Wrong views
When we embrace unwholesome seeds with our mindfulness, allowing them to rise to the surface and then being present for them in the spirit of an open and compassionate acceptance, they lose much of their strength and eventually go back to our store consciousness. This is an example of Right Diligence in action.
Examples of wholesome seeds include:
- Peace & equanimity
Good seeds should be watered on a daily basis. This is the basis for a nourishing and healing daily practice.
Ultimately, Right Diligence is about following the Buddha’s Middle Way. What that means simply is not being too lax, but also not pushing yourself too hard. Ease and joy are 2 of the 7 factors of awakening (the conditions for awakening to arise in Buddhist practice), so they need to be present for Right Diligence to blossom.
It’s important for your daily practice of mindful living to be joyful and pleasant. If your practice itself seems strenuous and a cause of suffering in itself, that’s not Right Diligence.
A lack of Right Diligence often means you haven’t found a way of practice which works for you or you don’t yet see the benefit.
A simple way to practice Right Diligence is to sit and meditate, drink a cup of tea mindfully, or do something you enjoy like reading a good book (with positive, nourishing themes). Preferably, on a daily basis.
6. Practice Right Livelihood
Right livelihood is about supporting yourself in a way that doesn’t harm you or others and preferably contributes in some positive way to the well-being of others.
The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self or a source of great suffering for you and for others. Clearly, it plays a pretty important role in the grand scheme of our lives.
In traditional Buddhist teaching this includes general categories such as selling:
It also includes making prophesies or telling fortunes and not to live with material requisites in excess of one's immediate needs.
But right livelihood isn’t always so cut-and-dry.
Aside from the general categories, there are other things to be mindful of nowadays such as privacy, harming the environment, and whether your company's practices are based on deceiving (as some companies literally make a business model out of doing) or mistreating others.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to face Right Livelihood, especially when we’re deeply rooted in something we think may be Wrong Livelihood.
An important point about Right livelihood is that it's a collective matter, it’s not just about the person or people who do the act but also the demand or desire placed upon the thing which causes your livelihood to arise.
This is the far-reaching effect of karma, which is about more than just your individual actions affecting your life, but about the actions of all people affecting each other.
Right Mindfulness is an important part of Right Livelihood as well. It’s not enough just to work, you need to work with the energy of mindfulness. To do something beneficial for yourself and others but to work mindlessly isn’t enough.
The best thing you can do to work on Right Livelihood is to work with the energy of mindfulness and then ask yourself these questions:
- Does my work harm me or others? If so, how? - Does my work help me or others? If so, how?
By working with mindfulness and really taking the time to look deeply into our livelihood we can discover great clarity about our path in life and further deepen our practice along the way.
7. Practice Right Mindfulness
For those that have practiced mindfulness, you may be wondering what right and wrong mindfulness actually is. Even within mindfulness practice, there’s a right way to practice and a wrong way.
For the most part, Right Mindfulness refers to the fact that mindfulness practice should be done with the intention of looking deeply to discover insight, transcend suffering, and discover peace and happiness as opposed to just being mindful for the sake of being mindful.
Right Mindfulness is very important because when it's present, the other 7 parts on the path are present as well. This is because to live mindfully is to express our very Buddha nature, our “highest" state of being.
Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the major benefits of mindfulness practice as the "7 Miracles of Mindfulness”, the first 4 having to do with Samatha (calmness of mind), the first aspect of meditation, and the last 3 having to do with the second aspect Vipassana (clarity of mind):
- Right Mindfulness allows us to touch the joys in our life. With Right Mindfulness we literally have the ability to generate joy.
- Right Mindfulness allows others to become more present through the living example of our presence influencing others around us.
- Right Mindfulness allows you to nourish the object of your attention through presence. For this reason, mindfulness is a very powerful energy in our relationships.
- Being fully present for others through Right Mindfulness allows you to relieve others suffering.
- Right Mindfulness allows you to look deeply in your everyday life to discover key insights.
- From looking deeply arises understanding, the 6th miracle of mindfulness. Understanding is the very foundation of love, so this is very important.
- Finally, Right Mindfulness allows us to transform ourselves by touching our suffering deeply, looking and seeing deeply, and understanding deeply.
Right mindfulness is also the energy which allows us to bring light to our habit energy and gradually transform our lives. In this way, it helps us relieve much suffering and bring much peace and joy.
The 4 Establishments of Mindfulness are a very important teaching to keep in mind with regards to Right Mindfulness as they're the basis of mindfulness practice. They guide the entire practice of mindfulness. They are:
- Mindfulness of the body in the body. This is about being mindful of physical forms in various ways.
- Mindfulness of feelings in feelings. This is about being mindful of painful, pleasurable, and neutral feelings and beginning to separate these feelings from the experience itself.
- Mindfulness of the mind in the mind. This is about being mindful of the 51 other “mental formations” such as anger, frustration, joy, and jealousy (feelings are the 1st) in Buddhism.
- Mindfulness of objects of mind in objects of mind. This about being mindful of objects of mind, which includes anything you perceive. That perception creates an image in your mind. That mental image is an object of mind.
With the 4 Establishments of Mindfulness followed, your mindfulness practice will be Right Mindfulness practice and lead you on the path towards peace, happiness, and liberation.
8. Practice Right Concentration
Right Concentration is about learning how to utilize concentration in a wholesome way. It’s what allows us to act with our full being in any moment and discover deep insights about the world around us.
This is particularly concerned with meditation, an important part of nearly all Buddhist practice, but due to its nature can also be linked to all other parts of the path because to use what you've learned properly concentration should be applied.
For that reason, both adopting a regular meditation practice and applying yourself to the 8-Fold Path are ways to begin working on Right Concentration.
There are 2 types of concentration:
- Active concentration. Active concentration is placing your focus on things as they come. This is a shifting concentration and welcomes whatever may come. This is what I generally refer to as “Expanded Awareness”.
- Selective concentration. This is what we traditionally identify with concentration- choosing one object and focusing on it. This is what you do when you follow your breath while in meditation.
The primary function of concentration is to make ourselves deeply present, which is very important in mindfulness and sitting meditation practice.
Mindfulness is again an important aspect of another part of the path. Right Mindfulness brings about Right Concentration and Right Concentration leads to Right Action.
Concentration helps us to look deeply in our everyday lives and see the intimate connection between things and people.
The path as one
Keep in mind that as I mentioned before, the 8-Fold Path isn’t a set of sequential steps but rather a web of interrelated efforts.
It’s a path, one which doesn’t need to be perfect at any point. Simply approach it as the areas for improvement which, when taken together as one body, allows us to alleviate our suffering and realize true peace and happiness.
Also know that, because they’re so closely interrelated, when you work on one part of the path you inevitably improve in other areas as well.
To work on Right View is to improve Right Thinking and Right Action, among others. And to practice Right Mindfulness is to nurture every other place on the path.
This is true for each point on the path, so pick an area you’d like to focus on first based on how you answered the questions "How am I doing in this?” and "How can I improve in this?” and move forward with confidence from there.
The Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths and 8-Fold Path were created with a great love and compassion for all beings, and it’s in that spirit which I offer the path to you as well.
Not to be Buddhist or not (whether or not that interests you), but rather to take your life into your hands and decide that it’s too important to be lived idly.
The path doesn’t require you believe something other-worldly or extraterrestrial or even require you give up your current life as it is, it only requires you believe that there is a path out of suffering and to follow the path diligently to get yourself there.
A path to transcending your daily challenges and difficulties to a place of greater peace, happiness, and equanimity.
Download How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path
Download a free PDF version of How to Walk the Buddha's 8-Fold Path to True Peace and Happiness and begin following the Buddha's path: