The Four Noble Truths & Daily Living: The Eightfold Path.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Mar 19, 2013
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The Noble Eightfold Path to Freedom

The fourth Noble Truth or the path to freedom can be presented in a variety of ways.

The classical presentation is known as the eightfold path. The path is first divided into three sectors: wisdom, behavior and spiritual discipline. Wisdom is divided into two classes, while behavior and spiritual discipline are each organized into groups of three, totaling eight. The eight qualities of the path are preceded by the word “right,” which is somewhat misleading. The words “complete,” “whole,”or “natural” (organic) more accurately convey the intended message.

The eight qualities of the path are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Right View

Reality is made known in and through the body. Since suffering is what brought us to the spiritual path, and suffering is a consequence of being disconnected from the body, it is safe to say that we have a point of view that is disconnected from reality. This is unnatural view or insanity. So, it should follow that right view is basic sanity—a point of view inspired by a deep and abiding relationship with reality.

It is important to note the emphasis on process. In this case, right view is not referring to an accurate conclusion. Instead, it is referring to an unregulated revelation of experience where awareness, sensation and cognition are not sensed as separate and distinct entities, but are embraced as different dimensions of experience. To emphasize conclusion is to initiate a process of indoctrination, while placing the emphasis on process initiates the restoration of sanity or the health and well-being of the living system.

There is a natural alignment or balance that is revealed by consenting to the mode of operation designated by nature in our biology. This act of consent is the practice of meditation addressed in the following titles, Right Concentration and Right Mindfulness. As for now, we are concerned only with the notion that right view is pre-ordained by our biology and is not theoretical proposition. This is verified experientially through the recovery of wakefulness and health.

Interestingly enough, this recovery is precipitated by the recognition of suffering and insanity. To see insanity as insanity is a moment of clarity, and the first step in restoring basic intelligence. To notice that one is lost in thought during meditation is to return to the present moment, since in the present moment we are lost in thought. Noticing that you are lost is the beginnings of relocating your Self. This experiential slip-knot is called grace.

Right Intention

Right Intention is referring to a gap in the ego-delusion. So, it does not reference itself in order to determine the value or worth of a given action. Therefore, right intention may also be referred to as selfless motivation—a movement untainted by expectation or fear. Right intention is spontaneity. In this case, spontaneity means, not only un-rehearsed, but also incentive-less motivation. This is essential because any intention that is conditioned by what we want and don’t want is bound to expire, as we are bound to wake up bored or burnt out one day. The question is not, can we practice when we want to, but can we practice when we do not want to?

When the body and mind merge, like water being poured into water, revealing an individuated process that is often referred to as Being, the insane and disconcerting patterns of tension and delusion subsist and, once again, unadulterated creativity begins to seek opportunities for expressivity. These opportunities fall under the heading of behavior.

Right Speech

Right Speech refers to any form of communication—spoken or written word, art, dance or body language—that is directly encouraged by Right Intention. Once again, Right Intention is the energy of internal balance or individuation. Furthermore, an effect is always similar in nature to its cause—apple seeds do not yield oranges. Therefore, right speech always encourages harmony and reconciliation. This is not to say that right speech always achieves reconciliation, but it never intends to produce discord or to selfishly feed off of another’s integrity. Naturally, Right Speech is devoid of useless, dishonest, divisive or harmful elements.

There are two forms of reconciliation that may result from Right Speech: external and internal reunion. External reconciliation refers to social accord or the restoration of harmony between individuals. While, internal reconciliation refers to the recovery of wholeness within an individual.

Right Action

Once again, Right Action is behavior that is directly inspired by Right Intention. Therefore, it is action that supports the health and well-being of, not only our Self, but also those around us, and the environment.

As was the case with Right Speech, Right Action can set in motion harmonious consequences both internally and externally. Behavior that promotes growth in one’s self or another individual is any action that breaks through unnatural patterns of tension or cuts through activity encouraged by self-centered delusion. These include: healthy diet, exercise, meditation, writing, cleaning, bathing, etc. External harmony is produced by behavior that reinforces the health and well-being of social groups and the environment. These include anything from mediating an argument, to taking care of a stray dog, to picking up trash on the sidewalk.

Right Livelihood

It goes without saying that Right Livelihood is free of dishonest, inconsistent, or corrupt motivations. Any strand of thought that suggests our political and/or business concerns are disassociated from our spiritual life, promotes a spirituality that is disassociated with the body and therefore disloyal to our true self. I cannot make a dollar off of others suffering, nor can I cast a vote that is not in accord with my hearts intention. Right Livelihood is the acknowledgment that we must, first and foremost, be honest with our Self, regardless of whether we are in the privacy of our bedroom or at the office.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us… Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”  ~ Joseph Campbell

Right Livelihood may also been seen as an art form—a way of life that defends the integrity of pure Intention and provides that energy with a platform for gifting itself to the world. Such a way of life enables the full range of an individual’s capacities to come to fruition within the context of daily living.

While wakefulness is our birth right as human beings, this potentiality is seldom realized without commitment to the path of unknowing. This path of unknowing is the spiritual path.

Right Effort

Right Effort refers, not necessarily to the investment of time and energy, but to the persistence with which we are willing to invest in those behaviors that encourage both internal and external balance. Right effort is discipline. To practice discipline is to become a disciple of your own basic sanity. The contemplative life is a life devoted to restoring that basic state of wakefulness or healthiness embedded in the process of unfolding that is the human condition. This commitment starts with the restoration of personal sanity. Then, it begins to include the basic quality of wakefulness in every body—friend and enemy alike.

Right Application

Usually translated as Right Concentration, Right Application refers to the implementation of effort. As mentioned earlier, there is a natural mode of operation that constitutes an individuated human being. Consenting to that mode of operation is the application of effort or how to be a disciple of basic sanity. Right Application amounts to the practice of shamatha or calm-abiding meditation.

In the practice of calm-abiding we are working to disengage those habits of censoring our experience by simply noticing when thought becomes self-referencing or inbred, labeling it “thinking,” and returning to the immediacy of direct experience, as symbolized by the sensation of the breath. We initiate contact at the tip of the nose, feeling the coolness and precision of the inhalation. Then, we notice as the chest and abdomen expands. We acknowledge the gap between breaths. Next, we feel the contraction of the abdomen and chest with the exhalation. Finally, we return to the tip of the nose, noticing the warmth and openness of the out-breath. When, not if, we notice that the thinking mind is referencing itself, we label it “thinking,” and come back to the sensation of the breath. No more, no less. This is the Right Application of effort or concentration.

Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness refers to the uninhibited, individuated flow of awareness, free of any dualistic governance or over-sight. There is no longer a vague witness watching over our experience. There is no one standing behind the heart beat, rather the heart beat is mindfulness. Just as the heart beats and the lungs breathe, the brain thinks. There is no lung breather or heart beater, nor is there a thinker. Apart from the next thought there is no one there to regulate thought. There is still thought, but there is no longer intellectualization. Thought is revealed to be a physical sensation. Thought is mindfulness.

This brings the eightfold path full circle, as mindfulness is a falling into basic sanity. Right Mindfulness is the recovery of basic sanity—the self-liberating or auto-regulating quality of being. This takes an un-godly amount of fearlessness. So much so, that one may translate mindfulness as basic trust or faith. In this sense, faith is a subtle but profound form of courage. Practically speaking, it is the fearlessness that activates mindfulness. It is the willingness to turn towards your fear and fall into the instability. This is the experience of freedom that enables your true life to come into Being.


This is the fourth and final installment in the series. The links for the first three installments are provided below. If you would like to be notified when the author publishes another series, please click here.

  1.  Sitting with Suffering.
  2. The Gospel of Human Suffering.
  3. Prayer & the 3rd Noble Truth of Freedom.



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Ed: Brianna Bemel


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality for Elephant Journal, and The Web of Enlightenment. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. He also teaches at Explore Yoga. Click here to listen to my podcast.


15 Responses to “The Four Noble Truths & Daily Living: The Eightfold Path.”

  1. RAS says:

    To paraphrase the pianist Schnabel's comment about Mozart, the Four Noble Truths are too simple for children and too complicated for adults.

    The Four Noble Truths were the Buddha's foundational teaching; the sum and substance of the Dhammacakkapavatana Sutta, the Buddha's first discourse — given to his five ascetic companions at Sarnath after the Buddha's enlightenment. Only one of these highly skilled sadhus, Kondanna, understood the Buddha's teaching at an experiential (as opposed to intellectual) level.

    The seeming simplicity of the Four Noble Truths allows well-meaning people like Ben to misconstrue and misinterpret them long before they have realized the real depth and profundity of the Four Noble Truths.

    Not for nothing is it said that realization of the twelve aspects of the Four Noble Truths is also the realization of Nibbana/Nirvana. And the foundation of that realization is Right View.

    In the words of the Buddha, "What now is right view? It is the understanding of suffering (dukkha), understanding of the origins of suffering, understanding of the cessation of suffering, understanding of the way leading to the cessation of suffering." (Digha Nikaya 22)

    Again, this is not an intellectual understanding. It is a penetrating realization that is independent of thought or opinion.

    To quote Bhikkhu Bodhi, "This right view that penetrates the Four Noble Truths comes at the end of the path, not at the beginning."

    In other words, parroting the four Noble Truths and interpreting them "in a practical, contemporary, and western point of view" is one thing. But it is not the Buddha's teaching.

    Indeed, it is wrong view — a fundamental misunderstanding that leads one to build error upon error upon error.

    For a more accurate intellectual understanding of of the Four Noble Truths read Bhikkhu Bodhi's book 'The Noble Eightfold Path' (BPS Publications) or Ajahn Sumedho's 'The Four Noble Truths' which can be downloaded here:

  2. Padma Kadag says:

    Ben…Please provide a bibliography in the form of footnotes or at the very least without footnotes with a comprehensive list at the end.
    Your use of the Joseph Campbell quote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us… Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls", letting go of plans in our life has rarely led anyone beyond samsara nor has bliss. There are many kinds of bliss. Biss alone is just that…bliss.Who can argue that the machinations of samsara are nothing other than "doors of the universe"? Not quite sure why Campbell needs to be quoted next to Shakyamuni Buddha. The editor Kate once commented that I should produce something rather than to "detract". Buddhism is a lot about saying what it is not. To write about what Buddhism is requires experiential authority which can be verified.
    What is the motivation for your writing?

  3. BenRiggs says:

    I could easily explain the "experiential validity" of Campbell's quote using the Buddha's discourse on the 5 skandhas.

    Other than the Campbell quote, neither of you mentioned any inaccuracies in the article above.

    This leads me to believe that both of you require a language and format that is traditional in order for it to resonate with you. If the conservative format and vernacular are not present your alarms go off and you begin to discredit the information for vague, seemingly un-identifiable reasons. While I have written within a more traditional Mahayana framework in the past, I have since come to the conclusion that I can be of more benefit to others and myself by "re-casting" the teachings within our own cultural context and providing practices that support a journey towards the realization of the principles articulated in the Buddha's teachings.

    The vast majority of people who could benefit from Buddhist practice are not in anyway moved towards practice by the overly monastic, culturally irrelevant explanation.

    The motivation for writing my article was to find an explanation that moves people towards practice. As to whether you or other monasticly inclined individuals find it relevant is of no consequence to me. There is plenty of material available to you. I know. I have read it and studied with the people who wrote it.

    I will not be having a conversation about how I am wrong for writing along these lines because you say so. If you wish to actually point out an inaccuracy I will be glad to respond.

  4. RAS says:

    Dear Ben,

    1. I am not pretending anything. I am simply responding to what you wrote in the article to which I responded. I don't know what you have written previously. Nor should it be necessary for me to know what you have written previously. I have noted, however that what you have written in the article to which I responded was not helpful to anyone's correct understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

    2. Your use of language in your article is reflective of your understanding: wooly and imprecise. Words and The Four Noble Truths seem to mean whatever you think you want them to mean. You would do well in your "re-casting" to remember Mark Twain's observation that "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

    3. When you say "Reality is another word for impermanence" are you talking about Mundane Reality or Ultimate Reality? Do you know the difference? Apparently not.

    4, Do you realize that writing "So, 'impermanence is revealed in the body' means that the thinking mind seeks to solidify and organize awareness into solid, enduring qualities like self; while the body, in this case, does not refer to the supposed lump of matter, but the unorganized (non-conceptual) quality of basic awareness' is about as close as one can come to incoherent babble without irrevocably stepping over the line? Apparently not.

    5. Do you think that people of other cultures are not "stuck in [their] heads." Do you think that people of other cultures do not "sit in front of TV's, computers, and phones all day." Do you not realize that the brilliance of the Buddha's teaching on The Four Noble Truths transcends all cultures, all of humanity, and the span of time? Apparently not.

    6. You wrote (in response to comments about your article on The Four Noble Truths): "There is plenty of material available to you. I know. I have read it and studied with the people who wrote it." You were then asked to identify what you had read and who were the authors with whom you "studied." Your incomplete and very unsatisfactory answer: "I have read hundreds of books and most notably studied with Geshe Sonam Rinchen."

    7.. You were asked to identify from which of the Buddha's teachings on The Four Noble Truths you drew your statement that Right View is "pre-ordained by our biology"? Your response was "tathagatagarbha" by which, I suppose, you are referring to the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra. Unfortunately for your argument, the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra is not one of the Buddha's teachings and is not a teaching on Right View, The Noble Eightfold Path or the The Four Noble Truths.

  5. David St. Michael says:

    I'm having a difficult time with this article. Sorry, but it's so filled with "jargon" and needlessly long winded. Is this meant for the new people? Because if it is, it's not working. Best of luck, Ben. :-)

  6. Drew (Sakya School) says:

    Pick a hair off the Ox, split it to find another colour, then again to find another.. This splitting of hairs is a nice intellectual exercise until you realize whatever split of the hair you observe, you may not be observing the fact you are riding the Ox either way…
    Or- if a finger is pointing at the moon, should you ask: “why didn’t you clean your fingernails first?”, or just notice the finger wasn’t supposed to be the Moon? ༀ

  7. Drew (Sakya School) says:

    And sorry but: why are the comments shooting down instead of co-operating in enlightenment activity? If you believe Ben’s description does not translate over, offer improvements! Ie. The question about reality being impermanence- ‘is this experienced or foundation reality’ is a false dichotomy of sorts. Clinging to a reality concept of permanence either way is an error of practice. When the foundation is all that is left, there is no questioning. ༄

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