Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

On the Noble Eightfold Path

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"And what monks, is that middle way awakened by the Tathâgata ? It is this Noble Eightfold Path ; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  This monks, is that middle way awakened by the Tathâgata, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, and leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvâna." - Samyuktâgama (Samyutta-nikâya), 56.II, verse 421.


The Dharmacakra as the eight spokes of the heart cakra
made of white peals or bone and worn as a breast ornament


The wheel is an Ancient Indian symbol of creation, power, protection and the Sun. As a Solar symbol it appears on clay seals found in the Indus Valley belonging to Harappan culture. Of universal appeal, it can also be found in Ancient Egypt (namely hieroglyph N5) and in Western astrology & alchemy.

The wheel also represents motion & change. As an Indian weapon of war, it had sharp blades and was rolled into the ranks of the enemy, swung on a rope or hurled as a discus. Its destructive power was pertinent.

In Buddhism, it represents the "cakravartin" or "wheel turner", setting the "wheel of the law" or "dharmacakra" in motion. Moreover, the truth of the path of the Buddha brings rapid spiritual transformation, change and has the power to overcome emotional instability (desire & hatred) and mental delusions (ignorance). It is a symbol of skillful method, the way to steer well in the light of day & the darkness of night, symbolizing conventional truth and the realm of dependent arising.

The hub of the wheel symbolizes morality ("śila"), the spokes the absorptions ("dhyâna") of calm abiding ("śamatha") as well as the Noble Eightfold Path, whereas the rim is the wisdom ("prajñâ") attained by insight meditation ("vipaśyanâ").

In his First Discourse, the wisdom leading to enlightenment or entry in "nirvâna" was taught by Buddha Śâkyamuni in terms of four interlinked propositions known as the Four Noble Truths ("cattâri ariyasaccâni"), covering the central tenets of the Buddhadharma. The First and the Second Noble Truths deal with "samsâra", its pervasive suffering and causes of suffering. The Third Noble Truth introduces "nirvâna", the message of true peace (or cessation of suffering) inherent in Buddhist wisdom, as well as the Two Truths. Finally, in the Fourth Noble Truth, the Truth of the Path, the Buddha taught the Eightfold Path, the way out of cyclic existence.

This First Discourse can be found in the second basket of the Tripitaka as "Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma" (Samyutta-nikâya, 56.II).

The Four Noble Truths follow the pattern of a medical anamnesis, with (a) diagnosis, (b) identification of causes, (c) curability & (d) method of treatment, or therapy :

1. the truth of suffering : diagnosis : caught in & trapped by cycles, sentient beings suffer ;

2.  the truth of arising : etiology : their ignorant craving chains sentient beings to cycles ;

3. the truth of cessation : curability : the suffering of all sentient beings can be ceased by way of wisdom ;

4. the truth of the path : treatment : train in merit & wisdom in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path.


The path ("marga") proposed by the Buddha is the Treefold Training ("triśikśa"). These "higher" trainings involves morality ("śila"), the practice of meditation ("samâdhi") and wisdom ("prajñâ"). These are interdependent conditions, and so all need to be present in order for the cure to have effect (the end of suffering).

The Noble Eightfold Path is called the "middle way". It steers between indulgence and austerity, between too much & too little. The eight factors, rather than being stages of a process, exemplify how morality, meditation & wisdom have to be practiced on a daily basis. They define how a Buddha lives and so by living like a Buddha, one gradually becomes one (this is the causal path).

The common element in these higher trainings is their reliance on the wisdom eventuating reality without any conceptuality, in a nondual mode of cognition. In such an enlightened state, sensation equates perception.

In the practice of the Eightfold Path, wisdom & morality (as compassion), are like two baskets, filled by the ongoing practice of meditation :


1. Right Understanding (or Right View) : acceptance and experiental confirmation of the teachings of the Buddha (the "Dharma") ;
2. Right Resolve (or Right Intent) : the commitment to develop right attitudes ;

With a wrong view, the path is rejected before the cure can take effect. This is like a patient who rejects therapy. So even if the cure is approached with right understanding, which is the primary cause of healing, secundary causes are necessary. These imply changing attitudes, contexts & conditions.


3. Right Speech : tell the truth and speak in a thoughtful & sensitive way ;
4. Right Action : abstain from wrongful bodily behaviour (killing, stealing, mindless intoxication, and wrong sensual pleasures) ;
5. Right Livelihood : do not harm others by one's occupation (commerce in weapons, living beings, meat, intoxicants & poison are forbidden) ;

Morality is a fence to protect the young, vulnerable shoots. It develops right attitudes and allows one to accumulate merit.


6. Right Effort : control the mind and gain positive states of mind ;
7. Right Mindfulness : cultivate constant awareness in a proper way ;
8. Right Meditation : contemplate certain crucial topics (analytical meditation), experience Calm Abiding, and realize emptiness (by way of Insight Meditation).

Meditation supports both morality (merit) & wisdom. Right view leads to right intent. This causes right speech, leading to right action causing right livelihood. The latter causes right effort, leading to right mindfulness causing right meditation.

We may assume the renouncers ("samanas") & orthodox Vedic practitioners ("brâhmanas") of pre-Buddhist India practiced eight levels of meditative absorption ("dhyâna" or "jhâna"), integrating both form and formless realms. In a general sense, "dhyâna" is the means by which "samâdhi" is attained. In Classical Yoga, recorded in the Yoga-sûtra of Patañjali (dating from the 2th century CE), "dhyâna" preludes "samâdhi" or "union". The latter has two divisions resembling the absorptions : (a) union with coarse or subtle seed (form) and (b) union without seed (formless). "Dhyâna" is often called "concentration" because perfect "dhârâna" or "concentration" proper equals "dhyâna". The latter is best translated as "contemplation". In the Buddhadharma, "dhyâna", "samâdhi" and "jhâna" are used interchangeably.

In "śamatha" meditation, i.e. "dwelling in tranquility" or "Calm Abiding", which has nine stages, these absorptions are identified as levels of deepening mental calm. To supplement these, Śâkyamuni developed "Insight Meditation" ("vipaśyanâ"), which, through the analytical examination of emptiness, leads to the direct experience of reality as it is, to suchness. Insight Meditation applied to emptiness is the core of the spiritual practice advocated by the Buddhadharma. To view the wisdom realizing the ultimate nature of phenomena, namely emptiness, as the heart of meditation, is to introduce a truly philosophical yoga.


© Wim van den Dungen
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.



initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 30 XI 2011 - version n°1