Buddhism is surely a refined way which, with all the doctrinal elements inevitably included such as in all the disciplines which became religions, gives the possibility to perform a sophisticated analysis of the inner states through determined and well- structured practices. The same founder of these disciplines- Buddha, gave such an accurate description of what a man must do and the results of the various practices, that we could define it as “scientific”.
Many readers and practictioners know the foundations and the meaning of the “Four Noble Truths”, and they all speak about suffering and pain (and their meanings) which we all suffer in our everyday lives. In an abbreviated explanation of those precepts, we could describe them in this way:
1. Suffering exists;
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires;
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases;
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path;
The last one, the fourth truth, speaks about a glimpse of hope, a possibility of overcoming this state of suffering, the condition which keeps us in a state of perpetual stagnation. It’s the precept on which every apprentice might focus his work.
While the realization of the Four Truths happens in a moment, as a realization of our own condition, the development during the practice of the Eightfold Path can only be gradual, proportional to the work one does on oneself. The practice begins with the development of an ethical conduct, the Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood.
What does this mean? It means that the apprentice must take responsibility for what is he saying so that he does not offend or harm. So, a practice of gentleness and the awareness of what we say and what we speak about.
For the reason that speech is a result of what we are thinking, this first stage, when well -developed, brings us to a right way of thinking. Such as the thoughts which influence the content of our conversations, the tone and the cadence of the voice, even changing the way we speak makes changes in our way of thinking and, also, makes it easier to manage the contents of our mind. This is the meaning of the Buddhist saying “We are what we think”.
Then, the apprentice must learn to act without egoistic purposes, without depending on the result of his actions, so, in Western words, without expectations. This produces a Right Effort and a Right Concentration to the further steps in the Eightfold Path.
The Right Livelihood implies to make a distance from extreme actions of every type, and also from greed and from actions with the purpose to harm.
After this first stage, what follows is the development and cultivation of a Right Effort, Right Thinking and Right Concentration. The Right Effort could be explained in this way: learn to administer our daily energies. As explained in previous posts on this Blog, we usually waste great amounts of energy in actions that are directed toward nothing: we think or, better said, we let our mind produce thousands and thousands of thoughts, speak in a compulsive way, let our body produce uncontrolled and useless movements, tensions, and stresses. What is suggested with this percept is to apply our whole energies in order to develop more sober behaviours; such a habit arises from a right way of acting, the above mentioned Right Action, and it’s a fundamental supposition for developing a conscious and focused will. This can’t be performed without Right Thinking, so a conscious way of administration of our mind, and this together brings us to the development for Right Concentration, a focussed attention which is able, in a second moment to unveil what really lies before our eyes.
It’s the beginning of a de-mechanization, a gradual desegregation of the old habits which keep us imprisoned between the walls of our illusory way of living, feeling, perceiving and seeing reality as it is.
A Right Thinking brings us out of the perpetual attitude to fall into various identifications with what happens around us and in us; the development of such a skill brings us to the Right Concentration, the improving of our attention to the degree that we can experience life in a lucid way, instead of that as sleepwalkers.
The last stage is the flowering of a Right View and a Right Intention. Right View means the realization and comprehension of the Four Noble Truths, the situation in which almost all humans are imprisoned. A true understanding of the reason for a condition of suffering and of the relative vacuity feeds the wish to overcome this situation, to become able to manage our illusions, with the support of Compassion towards all living beings, also involved in the same situation; it’s the birth of a purpose, an intention- the Right Intention.
Even if the Eightfold Path is divided in stages, its practice is not linear, as seen above. There is an interaction of cause- effect between each phase. A linear approach to a teaching brings us to nothing; a sober learning is most similar to the flowing of a spiral, a vortex in which the proceeding of a phase brings us to a deeper understanding and the realization of another one.
What is needed, is a further and rare skill, the greatest one: having a “heart” (sensibility) able to dicipline our whole life, to integrate a theoretical study with the practice, and bring the results of this addition into the way of living and experiencing our daily life – moment by moment.