PRACTICING THE EIGHTFOLD PATH: A Zen Approach by Gary L. Ray HR3040 Zen Buddhism Norman Fi

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

PRACTICING THE EIGHTFOLD PATH: A Zen Approach by Gary L. Ray HR3040 Zen Buddhism Norman Fischer Institute of Buddhist Studies Berkeley, CA March 19, 1992 The Eightfold Path is the core doctrine of Buddhism. Like a doctor, the Buddha prescribed the Eightfold Path for the cure of all suffering and impermanence (Dukkha). Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed: "What is the way which leads to the cessation of suffering? The way is the Eightfold Noble Path itself..." The last of the Four Noble Truths states that there is a way that leads to the ending of Dukkha. This way is known as the Ariyan Eightfold Path, or the middle path because it lies between the two extremes of strict asceticism and sensual pleasures. The Buddha declared: "There is a Middle Way discovered by the Tathagata -- a path which leads to peace, to insight, to the higher wisdom, to Nirvana." The Eightfold Path consists of eight categories: (a) 1. Right Understanding 2. Right Thought ----- (b) 3. Right Speech 4. Right Action 5. Right Livelihood ------ (c) 6. Right Effort 7. Right Mindfulness 8. Right Concentration These categories can be grouped into three aims of Buddhist training: a) Wisdom, b) Ethical Conduct, and c) Mental Discipline. Wisdom is composed of Right Understanding and Right Thought. Ethical Conduct consists of Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Mental Discipline, the last category, consists of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Although often called steps, each category is a link within a chain. "...they (each category) are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual." The Buddha is sometimes referred to as "the great doctor", with the Four Noble Truths being the symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis and prescription for Duhkha. The fourth truth, the Eightfold Path, is the prescription. Taking only part of the medicine, that is, practicing only some of the parts, will not cure the body: "Zen practice is like the human body. If you have one part of the body diseased, then the whole is diseased as well." Despite the existence of the Eightfold Path, the contemporary Zen student often feels a lack of direction. This path is often ignored by students, leading to little advancement in their spiritual practice. Zen Master Stephen Echard describes this: "So many students seem to be stumbling along, not making much progress in their practice, and wondering why. They invariably cling to meditation as a spiritual panacea, mistaking the practice of meditation for the dharma practice itself." The Buddha taught that through the Eightfold Path, a balance was to be achieved between wisdom and compassion. In Buddhism, "...compassion represents love, charity, kindness,...and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind." A Zen analogy sometimes compares wisdom and compassion with the two wings of a bird. If one wing is weak or broken, the bird cannot fly, the same is true with spiritual practice. Without balance, a student cannot make progress. An imbalance results in the individual becoming a combination of two extremes, either a compassionate fool or cold intellectual. The Buddhist goal in life is the perfect blending of both compassion and wisdom within the individual. In simpler terms, some Zen masters express the goal of Buddhism as character perfection. To discuss how the Eightfold Path is followed, we need to survey each step individually within the three categories: The first category, Wisdom, includes Right Understanding and Right Thought. Right Understanding is being able to realize the Four Noble Truths, namely that life is duhkha and the cause of duhkha is desire. Duhkha is often translated as suffering, but a better definition would be dis-ease with reality, or as Zen Master Robert Aitken prefers, anguish. This anguish is a profound suffering over our own mortality. By accepting the Four Noble Truths, it also follows that the "prescription", the Eightfold Path, will be regarded as true. By accepting reality as it is, in the very moment it is occurring, one is better able to enjoy life. "Right view is to have achieved a sense of equanimity, of confidence that what is is right and that what one believes is true because he enjoys it without question." By living life to its fullest in the present moment, not dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future, the individual is able to utilize 100% effort and concentration in any activity. An example of how this works is an example used by Zen Master Echard. You can take two people, one a Zen student and one who has no spiritual practice, and expose them to identical situations. Both go skiing and break their legs in an accident, but each has an entirely different understanding of the event: One injured skier, may accept this accident gracefully, mature enough to realize that when he or she chooses to take up skiing that potential injury was part of the package.... The other less mature individual could well be sent into a frenzy of anger at the "injustice" of their accident. This person will suffer a psychological hell of their own making. The acceptance of reality of the first skier makes it likely that the negative effects of the accident will be minimized, allowing the skier to make the best of the situation, possibly spending the rest of their time drinking hot chocolate and having people sign their cast. For the second skier, outraged at reality itself, not only is their suffering broadened from the initial event, but it leads to additional situations (karma) that compound the problem: The worst part of this scenario for the angry skier is that they are likely to suffer more in the future because of their inability to deal with their situation. They bring this on their selves by arousing contempt and anger of their companions because of their childish behavior, full of self hatred, and more likely to repeat their mistakes in the future. Right Thought is to be able to put into practice what is rightly understood. Realizing that the world is how it is, one must understand that the reality is already perfect. Right Thought is "resolving to let come what may, including desires, and desires to change things." ...it means willingness to accept the world as it is, for to desire to change it is to want to do violence to it. And such violence ranges all the way from a whimsical wish that it were just a little bit better to an insistence upon changing it completely, as in killing, for example. Zen Master Robert Aitken uses the example of "killing time" as a an example of committing a violent act against reality. Acceptance that the world is how it should be the goal of Right Thought. To use the skier example again, to even wish that things were different, that one's leg was not broken, is an act of violence against the world. These examples may sound trivial, but psychological harm is being done, harm and suffering that makes the pain of the broken leg seem insignificant. Also, reality is interdependent, so as in the example, internal suffering spreads outward to the rest of the world, causing others to suffer, and creating negative karma, likely to bring about additional grief in the future. Ethical Conduct is the second category. This classification, based on compassion and love, includes Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. Right Speech, as it is commonly interpreted, includes the obvious abstention against lies, slander, rude or harsh language, careless speech, useless speech, and gossip. A more subtle aspect of Right Speech, an action resulting from incorrect thought, is the lie that refuses to accept reality as it is, was, or will be. Buddhist scholar Archie Bahm writes: "...any, assertion, or willingness to assert, that things are, or should be, other than they are, or are going to be other than they are, is a lie. Unwillingness to accept things as they are is the basis of lying, and any expression of that unwillingness is wrong speech...." The direct result from Right Speech is meaningful communication that is naturally friendly and amiable towards others. "If one cannot say something useful, one should keep `noble silence'." An example of "noble silence" is a story about a roshi (zen master) and his student enjoying a beautiful morning. The student says: "What a beautiful morning." The Roshi responds: "Yes, but what a pity to say so." Right Action appears to be the most basic of all Ethical Conduct, yet, as will be discussed later, the scholarly interpretation of its meaning is mixed. The common meaning of Right Action is best summed up by the Five Precepts. According to Robert Aitken's modern interpretation of the precepts, they include: 1) Not killing 2) Not stealing 3) Not misusing sex 4) Not lying (or using incorrect speech) 5) Not giving or taking drugs For lay students, these five precepts are the appropriate starting point. In fact, when a person decides to take "Tokudo", a Buddhist initiation ceremony, they vow to uphold these five precepts. Later as the student advances or if they were to enter a period of monastic practice, additional precepts, or a different interpretation of the precepts would be included. For example, the lay student follows the precept of "not misusing sex", but if that student were to enter a monastery for a period of time, that same precept would change to "not having sex". There are no moral implications in being celibate, it would only be a logical way to avoid complications. Zen Master Philip Kapleau uses the analogy of a road travelled to describe following the precepts: To live by the precepts is to travel the Way of unity and harmony in which the road is smooth, the obstructions few, and the scenery strikingly beautiful. To transgress the precepts is to take a side road that appears interesting but which soon turns bumpy, becomes monotonous, and ends in the dead end of regret and apprehension. Breaking the precepts not only results in hindrances on the path, but also deals with karma; future events that result in past actions. As Alan Watts points out, "Failure to observe the precepts produces "bad karma," not because karma is a law or moral retribution, but because all motivated and purposeful actions,...are karma Obviously, for everyone there will be times when the precepts are broken, and when they are, the student acts firmly but compassionately to correct the problem. Stephen Echard Roshi includes a vow for new students at the end of the Tokudo ceremony that discusses how to self-correct problems while maintaining a compassionate bearing: I understand that being a beginning Bodhisattva the force of Karma is strong and I will occasionally fail to keep my vows. Thus I vow I will periodically examine myself and make amends where necessary. That I will treat myself with the same kind of loving kindness and stern discipline I would if I were my own child and carry this attitude forward toward all sentient beings. The last precept of Ethical Conduct is Right Livelihood. Right livelihood refers to having an occupation that is life supporting rather than life destroying. Professions of wrong livelihood include: robber, arms dealer, salesman, usurer, and gambler. Although such careers as law enforcement or the military are sometimes on this list, certain schools and teachers disagree. Some Zen teachers feel that such professions are necessary, but those professions may not be appropriate for the Zen practitioner. A general rule is: If one's profession distracts one from the Way, then it is wrong livelihood. The third classification, Mental Discipline, includes: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Right Effort is a serious attempt to perfect the mind. This involves preventing negative states of mind, ridding oneself of existing negative states of mind, creating positive states of mind, and fostering and developing positive states of mind. Cleaning an attic is a good metaphor for this activity. If something positive and useful is found, keep it. All the junk that gets in the way and keeps one from utilizing the positive stuff should be thrown away. As with the other aspects of the Eightfold Path, Right Effort is involved as an end, not a means: "Right effort is effort to keep the end in view, not some distant future end, but the present end. It consists not in seeking rebirth and greater future reward but in exercising constant appreciation in this very life of the end-aspect of what is." Zen Master Do-gen describes how this works: "To gain a certain objective you must first become a certain kind of man; but once you have become such a man, attaining that objective will no longer be a concern to you." At this point the connections between each of these "links" is obvious. A wrong thought leads to wrong actions which then leads to more wrong thoughts, perpetually re-creating the cycle of suffering. However, when energy is put into Zen practice, this cycle becomes a positive rather than a negative cycle. The seventh practice of the Eightfold Path is Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is being attentive to one's inner condition. This includes the activities of the body, the mind, the emotions, and conceptual ideas and thoughts. Practicing Right Mindfulness means to be aware of each of these things to better understand oneself by analyzing cause and origin. Buddhist scholar Archie Bahm describes the student practicing Right Mindfulness: "No matter how many things, such as body, feelings, heart, ideas, arouse one's interest, he willingly accepts each for what it is, keeping in mind his sense of equanimity relative to it. At a practical level, this means being aware of every moment. When eating, walking, studying, driving, or even using the bathroom. Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that motivation is the key to Right Mindfulness. If we rush through an action so as to get to an activity we enjoy more, then we lose that moment. Actions should be performed for the sake of the action alone. He uses the example of doing dishes: There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.... If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." ...If we can't wash dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. By not being mindful and living in the present moment, we cease to live; becoming a constant victim of the future and the past. The eighth of the eightfold path, the last component of Mental Discipline, is Right Concentration. The Zen practice of Right Concentration is Zen meditation, called Zazen. Zazen appears to be deceptively simple when explained. The student sits with the back straight in a cross-legged position. The left hand is placed on the right with the thumbs lightly touching, forming an oval. The hands are the placed in the lap, next to the abdomen. 13th century Zen Master, Do-gen Zenji, explains some of the finer points in his work, Fukan Zazen-gi (A General Recommendation for Zazen): Now regulate your posture so you are sitting properly, leaning neither to the left nor to the right, forward or backward. [Looked at from the side] your ears and shoulders should be in a straight line , and from the front, your nose will be in a direct line with your navel. Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and keep your teeth and lips closed. Your eyes should be [slightly] open, and your breathing should be soft. The mind is the next focus of Zazen. Do-gen Zenji advocates the practice of Shinkantaza, or "just sitting". In this practice, the mind is concentrated on not thinking. Do-gen writes: "Think about the unthinkable. How do you do this? Do not think." A useful practice for the beginner, and even the expert at times, is meditating on the breath. As the student inhales and exhales, the breath is counted, from one to ten, and then starting back at one again. If (when) the mind wanders, concentration is brought back to counting, starting over at one. Zen Buddhism considers Zazen the core of spiritual practice. With the rest of the Eightfold Path properly followed, through Right Concentration, the mind can be focused to see reality as it is. Right Concentration should feed back to Right Understanding, completing the chain and unifying the entire system of practice. However, like the other steps along the path, the practice of meditation is not a means to an end. Right concentration is the end itself. Do-gen's writes: "That which we call Zazen is not a way of developing concentration. It is simply the comfortable way. It is practice which measures your satori (enlightenment) to the fullest, and is in fact satori itself." With the entire practice in order, it is only a matter of time until the goal, a goal that was not striven for, is realized. There is only the path to be followed, yet there is nowhere to go. Like doing the dishes, the path should be walked just to walk the path. In 1228, the monk Wu-men Hui-k'ai wrote: "The farther you advance, the more confused the path; the more you retreat, the less clearly is the path perceived. If you do not advance and do not retreat, you are a dead person. Now tell me, how do you live the ideal Zen?" APPENDIX: Karma and Good & Evil Cautions concerning generating bad karma appears to show that the Zen student should strive for good karma, yet this can also be a trap. If an individual worries about the future, constantly trying to generate good karmas by righting wrongs, and fighting against evil, they will only become frustrated and unhappy. Worse yet, they will have spent their life outside the present moment, attempting to make the actual into the ideal. "One should abstain from stealing from the end of life and giving to the means...Demanding of the present more justice or more love of or by others than one gets is stealing -- stealing from the irreplaceable enjoyment of the present." This does not mean that one should sit back and accept things in a passive "do nothing" fashion. Buddhist acceptance is a different concept: Acceptance is a conscious awareness of the reality of ones situation and does not imply a lack of energy. Acceptance is a ground for action because it deals realistically with the actual. Attachment to desire is a type of frenetic non action in that it ignores actuality in favor of a denatured possibility." With all this talk about good karma and bad karma, the reader may wonder where the concepts of good and evil fit in. To take up the issue of good and evil it is necessary to briefly discuss the concepts of Nirvana (emptiness) and Samsara (form). The concepts of good and evil belong to the world of Samsara, the everyday world. People appear to live, grow old, and die. This is the world that we all live in, where concepts seem to have meaning and reality can be pleasant or unpleasant. Nirvana is the enlightened world, a way of being where concepts like good and evil are empty, without substance, where there is no birth and death, and where everything is totally interdependent and without abiding form. This is also the world we live in. This world of Nirvana is realized in the world of Samsara. Both these worlds are the same. Samsara is Nirvana and Nirvana is Samsara. Or better yet, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This can cause problems however, as the mind performs mental gymnastics that can result in an attachment to the ideas of form and emptiness. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki wrote: ...if you are not careful the sutra (Prajna Paramita Sutra) will give you a gaining idea. It says, `form is emptiness and emptiness is form.' But if you attach to that statement, you are liable to be involved in dualistic ideas: here is you, form, and here is emptiness, which you are trying to realize through your form. In the perspective of Nirvana, there is no good and evil. The concepts of good and evil, as well as everything else in the world, have no substance that gives them an independent reality of their own. In the universe, an action is only an action. It is neutral. Actually, it is beyond neutrality. To place a label of good or evil on an action is illusory and serves no purpose. However, thinking back again in the Samsaric world, those concepts of good and evil (better words are positive and negative) have some value in describing reality as we see it. In our everyday world, words are necessary to describe the positive actions of someone like Mother Theresa or the negative actions of someone like Adolph Hitler. However, to label something good or evil, even Hitler or Mother Theresa, implies that those individuals are only capable of doing good or doing evil. If you look at the situation like this, then Mother Theresa could never do evil and Adolph Hitler could never do good. You do not have to look very far to find instances of both actions with these two individuals. To give a more concrete example, a bus has no true substance; it is empty of abiding form. It is only an expression of time and space and does not exist independently from the rest of the world. That is the Nirvana aspect of the bus. Nevertheless, stepping off the curb in front of this "example of insubstantiality" would be disastrous. That is the Samsara aspect of the bus. The bus has dual conceptual natures. Nirvana and Samsara are the same worlds with a different level of realization. Just as form is emptiness and emptiness is form, form is form and emptiness is emptiness. To get back to our examples of good and evil again, there is a saying in Zen that's an offshoot of this concept of emptiness and form: "There is no good or evil, but what's good is good and what's evil is evil." Anyone who has realized enlightenment lives fully in both worlds. Works Cited Aitken, Robert. The Mind of Clover. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984. Aitken, Robert. "The Rectification of Names." Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Winter 1991: 79. Bahm, Archie J. Philosophy of the Buddha. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958. Bays, Gwendolyn, Trans. The Voice of the Buddha: The Beauty of Compassion 2 vols. Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1983, Vol 2. Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox. Los Angeles: Center Publications, 1978. Coomaraswamy, Ananda. Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1988. Diener, Michael S. "Tokudo." The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen. Trans. Michael H. Kohn. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1991. Echard, Stephen, Roshi. Private Dokusan (Lecture). July, 1989. Echard, Stephen, Roshi. "Taking Tokudo and The Precepts." Unpublished document. Zen Institute of San Diego, N.d. Echard-Musgrave, Stephen, Roshi. "The Eightfold Path." Ittai: Newsletter of the Zen Institute of San Diego. Vol 1, No. 1, September, 1991: 1-8. Kapleau, Philip, Roshi. Zen: Merging of East and West. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Miracle of Mindfulness. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987. Payne, Richard. Lecture. The Institute of Buddhist Studies. Berkeley, 11 Feb. 1992. Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, 1974. Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1958. Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. New York: Weatherhill, 1988. Watts, Alan W. The Way of Zen. New York: Vintage Books, 1957. Wu-men Hui-k'ai. "Cautions on Meditation." Trans. Nyogen Senzaki. Daily Sutras for Chanting and Recitation. New York: The New York Zendo of The Zen Studies Society, Inc., 1968. Wu-men Hui-k'ai. "Wu-men's Cautions." Trans. Robert Aitken. The Gateless Barrier. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. Yampolsky, Philip B., trans. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank