The book contains a fractal summary of the path that aids in remembering it. I especially liked the chapters on Right View, Right Intention and the Development of Wisdom as they put things into perspective and explained the seemingly circular and interconnected nature of the teachings. To realize one is to realize the other. Bhikku Bodhi also clarifies how the Noble Eightfold Path is related to the Three-fold training in morality or sila, concentration or samadhi, and wisdom or panna.
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Ill will Wrong view The ten courses of wholesome kamma are the opposites of these: abstaining from the first seven courses of unwholesome kamma, being free from covetousness and ill will, and holding right view. Though the seven cases of abstinence are exercised entirely by the mind and do not necessarily entail overt action, they are still designated wholesome bodily and verbal action because they center on the control of the faculties of body and speech.
Thus kamma is wholesome or unwholesome according to whether its roots are wholesome or unwholesome. The roots are threefold for each set. The unwholesome roots are the three defilements we already mentioned — greed, aversion, and delusion. Any action originating from these is an unwholesome kamma.
The three wholesome roots are their opposites, expressed negatively in the old Indian fashion as non-greed alobha , non-aversion adosa , and non-delusion amoha. Though these are negatively designated, they signify not merely the absence of defilements but the corresponding virtues. Non-greed implies renunciation, detachment, and generosity; non-aversion implies loving-kindness, sympathy, and gentleness; and non-delusion implies wisdom.
Any action originating from these roots is a wholesome kamma. The most important feature of kamma is its capacity to produce results corresponding to the ethical quality of the action. An immanent universal law holds sway over volitional actions, bringing it about that these actions issue in retributive consequences, called vipaka, "ripenings," or phala, "fruits. The ripening need not come right away; it need not come in the present life at all.
Kamma can operate across the succession of lifetimes; it can even remain dormant for aeons into the future. But whenever we perform a volitional action, the volition leaves its imprint on the mental continuum, where it remains as a stored up potency.
When the stored up kamma meets with conditions favorable to its maturation, it awakens from its dormant state and triggers off some effect that brings due compensation for the original action. The ripening may take place in the present life, in the next life, or in some life subsequent to the next. A kamma may ripen by producing rebirth into the next existence, thus determining the basic form of life; or it may ripen in the course of a lifetime, issuing in our varied experiences of happiness and pain, success and failure, progress and decline.
But whenever it ripens and in whatever way, the same principle invariably holds: wholesome actions yield favorable results, unwholesome actions yield unfavorable results. To recognize this principle is to hold right view of the mundane kind. This view at once excludes the multiple forms of wrong view with which it is incompatible. As it affirms that our actions have an influence on our destiny continuing into future lives, it opposes the nihilistic view which regards this life as our only existence and holds that consciousness terminates with death.
As it grounds the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, in an objective universal principle, it opposes the ethical subjectivism which asserts that good and evil are only postulations of personal opinion or means to social control. As it affirms that people can choose their actions freely, within limits set by their conditions, it opposes the "hard deterministic" line that our choices are always made subject to necessitation, and hence that free volition is unreal and moral responsibility untenable.
The teaching on right view makes it known that good and bad, right and wrong, transcend conventional opinions about what is good and bad, what is right and wrong. An entire society may be predicated upon a confusion of correct moral values, and even though everyone within that society may applaud one particular kind of action as right and condemn another kind as wrong, this does not make them validly right and wrong.
For the Buddha moral standards are objective and invariable. While the moral character of deeds is doubtlessly conditioned by the circumstances under which they are performed, there are objective criteria of morality against which any action, or any comprehensive moral code, can be evaluated. This objective standard of morality is integral to the Dhamma, the cosmic law of truth and righteousness.
Its transpersonal ground of validation is the fact that deeds, as expressions of the volitions that engender them, produce consequences for the agent, and that the correlations between deeds and their consequences are intrinsic to the volitions themselves. There is no divine judge standing above the cosmic process who assigns rewards and punishments.
Nevertheless, the deeds themselves, through their inherent moral or immoral nature, generate the appropriate results. For most people, the vast majority, the right view of kamma and its results is held out of confidence, accepted on faith from an eminent spiritual teacher who proclaims the moral efficacy of action. But even when the principle of kamma is not personally seen, it still remains a facet of right view.
It is part and parcel of right view because right view is concerned with understanding — with understanding our place in the total scheme of things — and one who accepts the principle that our volitional actions possess a moral potency has, to that extent, grasped an important fact pertaining to the nature of our existence. However, the right view of the kammic efficacy of action need not remain exclusively an article of belief screened behind an impenetrable barrier.
It can become a matter of direct seeing. Through the attainment of certain states of deep concentration it is possible to develop a special faculty called the "divine eye" dibbacakkhu , a super-sensory power of vision that reveals things hidden from the eyes of flesh. When this faculty is developed, it can be directed out upon the world of living beings to investigate the workings of the kammic law.
With the special vision it confers one can then see for oneself, with immediate perception, how beings pass away and re-arise according to their kamma, how they meet happiness and suffering through the maturation of their good and evil deeds. It is possible for someone to accept the law of kamma yet still limit his aims to mundane achievements. There is nothing within the logic of kammic causality to impel the urge to transcend the cycle of kamma and its fruit.
The impulse to deliverance from the entire round of becoming depends upon the acquisition of a different and deeper perspective, one which yields insight into the inherent defectiveness of all forms of samsaric existence, even the most exalted. This superior right view leading to liberation is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. It is this right view that figures as the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path in the proper sense: as the noble right view.
Thus the Buddha defines the path factor of right view expressly in terms of the four truths: "What now is right view? It is understanding of suffering dukkha , understanding of the origin of suffering, understanding of the cessation of suffering, understanding of the way leading to the cessation to suffering.
It reaches its climax in a direct intuition of those same truths, penetrated with a clarity tantamount to enlightenment. Thus it can be said that the right view of the Four Noble Truths forms both the beginning and the culmination of the way to the end of suffering.
The first noble truth is the truth of suffering dukkha , the inherent unsatisfactoriness of existence, revealed in the impermanence, pain, and perpetual incompleteness intrinsic to all forms of life. This is the noble truth of suffering. Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; separation from the pleasant is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates of clinging are suffering.
What we are, the Buddha teaches, is a set of five aggregates — material form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness — all connected with clinging.
We are the five and the five are us. Whatever we identify with, whatever we hold to as our self, falls within the set of five aggregates. Together these five aggregates generate the whole array of thoughts, emotions, ideas, and dispositions in which we dwell, "our world. But here the question arises: Why should the Buddha say that the five aggregates are dukkha?
The reason he says that the five aggregates are dukkha is that they are impermanent. They change from moment to moment, arise and fall away, without anything substantial behind them persisting through the change. Since the constituent factors of our being are always changing, utterly devoid of a permanent core, there is nothing we can cling to in them as a basis for security.
There is only a constantly disintegrating flux which, when clung to in the desire for permanence, brings a plunge into suffering. The second noble truth points out the cause of dukkha. From the set of defilements which eventuate in suffering, the Buddha singles out craving tanha as the dominant and most pervasive cause, "the origin of suffering.
It is this craving which produces repeated existence, is bound up with delight and lust, and seeks pleasure here and there, namely, craving for sense pleasures, craving for existence, and craving for non-existence. If craving is the cause of dukkha, then to be free from dukkha we have to eliminate craving. Thus the Buddha says: This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering.
It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving, its forsaking and abandonment, liberation and detachment from it. The fourth noble truth shows the way to reach the end of dukkha, the way to the realization of Nibbana. That way is the Noble Eightfold Path itself. The right view of the Four Noble Truths develops in two stages. The first is called the right view that accords with the truths saccanulomika samma ditthi ; the second, the right view that penetrates the truths saccapativedha samma ditthi.
To acquire the right view that accords with the truths requires a clear understanding of their meaning and significance in our lives. Such an understanding arises first by learning the truths and studying them. Subsequently it is deepened by reflecting upon them in the light of experience until one gains a strong conviction as to their veracity.
But even at this point the truths have not been penetrated, and thus the understanding achieved is still defective, a matter of concept rather than perception. To arrive at the experiential realization of the truths it is necessary to take up the practice of meditation — first to strengthen the capacity for sustained concentration, then to develop insight.
Insight arises by contemplating the five aggregates, the factors of existence, in order to discern their real characteristics. At the climax of such contemplation the mental eye turns away from the conditioned phenomena comprised in the aggregates and shifts its focus to the unconditioned state, Nibbana, which becomes accessible through the deepened faculty of insight.
By seeing Nibbana, the state beyond dukkha, one gains a perspective from which to view the five aggregates and see that they are dukkha simply because they are conditioned, subject to ceaseless change. At the same moment Nibbana is realized, craving stops; the understanding then dawns that craving is the true origin of dukkha.
When Nibbana is seen, it is realized to be the state of peace, free from the turmoil of becoming. And because this experience has been reached by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, one knows for oneself that the Noble Eightfold Path is truly the way to the end of dukkha. This right view that penetrates the Four Noble Truths comes at the end of the path, not at the beginning. We have to start with the right view conforming to the truths, acquired through learning and fortified through reflection.
This view inspires us to take up the practice, to embark on the threefold training in moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom. When the training matures, the eye of wisdom opens by itself, penetrating the truths and freeing the mind from bondage. It would be artificial, however, to insist too strongly on the division between these two functions. From the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of the mind do not remain isolated in separate compartments but intertwine and interact in close correlation.
Emotional predilections influence views, and views determine predilections. Thus a penetrating view of the nature of existence, gained through deep reflection and validated through investigation, brings with it a restructuring of values which sets the mind moving towards goals commensurate with the new vision.
The application of mind needed to achieve those goals is what is meant by right intention. The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of good will, and the intention of harmlessness. The intention of renunciation counters the intention of desire, the intention of good will counters the intention of ill will, and the intention of harmlessness counters the intention of harmfulness.
The Buddha discovered this twofold division of thought in the period prior to his Enlightenment see MN While he was striving for deliverance, meditating in the forest, he found that his thoughts could be distributed into two different classes. In one he put thoughts of desire, ill will, and harmfulness, in the other thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.
Whenever he noticed thoughts of the first kind arise in him, he understood that those thoughts lead to harm for oneself and others, obstruct wisdom, and lead away from Nibbana. Reflecting in this way he expelled such thoughts from his mind and brought them to an end. But whenever thoughts of the second kind arose, he understood those thoughts to be beneficial, conducive to the growth of wisdom, aids to the attainment of Nibbana.
The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering