In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is the last of the Four Noble Truths. It describes the principles of thought and behavior that help on one’s path to enlightenment. According to Ratnasekera (n.d.), following the Eightfold Path makes the person “fully self-possessed, in command of his faculties and well-equipped to lead a life of personal integrity and truthfulness an immanent type of spiritual enlightenment” (p. 1). The principles laid out in the Eightfold Path find some reflection in Jesus’ teachings.
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Ratnasekera (n.d.) explains, “The Eight-fold path concentrates on three specific areas where conscious human activity is involved and through which human beings accomplish both good and evil” (p. 1), and these areas are mind, consciousness, and conduct. The principles of the Path are to become habits and inextricable parts of one’s personality (Ratnasekera, n.d., p. 2). The first principle is Right Understanding, which addresses the need for correct interpretation of the Four Noble Truths.
Right Thought is the second principle, stating that one’s thoughts must be “free from lust, ill-will, cruelty or violence” (Ratnasekera, n.d., p. 4). The third concept is Right Speech, which urges the people to speak the truth, avoid gossip and rudeness. Right Action provides, perhaps, the most detailed instruction, as it teaches to live in peace with others and to act with honor, to avoid violence and to be compassionate, to avoid sexual misconduct, as well as deceitful actions, to refrain from greed and stealing, and so on.
The fifth principle of Right Livelihood insists on “earning one’s living or pursuing a profession that does not hurt or bring harm to others” (Ratnasekera, n.d., p. 3). Right Effort underlines the importance of having no evil motives, whereas Right Mindfulness “implies a constant, diligent and attentive awareness to the activities of the body, emotion, brain and ideas engendered in mind” (Ratnasekera, n.d., p. 3). Finally, Right Concentration teaches to avoid distractions in life and learning.
Personally, I see the majority of these principles as positive traits that a person should have, irrespective of his religious beliefs. For instance, it is naturally beneficial for society to avoid violence and stealing and to follow the laws. Honesty and compassion are personality traits that are valued anywhere in the world, and it is hard to call a person “good” if he or she does not consider the feelings and lives of other people or is unjust and corrupt. However, the one principle that I found rather peculiar is the Right Mindfulness. Living in the West, we do not pay much attention to controlling our body and mind, which is probably a loss. Meditations and other Buddhist practices that connect body and mind could be useful in learning how the two work together and lead to better understanding of self.
Clearly, a lot of principles of the Eightfold Path correspond in one way or another to Christian practices. The most striking examples are the principles of Right Speech and Right Action. Jesus, for instance, also taught to avoid violence, dishonesty, to have no quarrels or fights with people, even those who are wrong, and to show mercy and compassion to all members of the community, treating them as brothers and sisters (Christian Wisdom, 2004).
The approach to these principles in Christianity and in Buddism, however, is different: “the Eight-fold path […] appears to a Christian as a natural discipline of character-building in a person” (Ratnasekera, n.d., p. 1). Overall, the Noble Eightfold Path teaches us the principles that in Christianity are considered basic virtues, rather than a path to enlightenment. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to undermine the importance of these principles, as they are vital for people to coexist peacefully in any community, regardless of their religious beliefs.
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Christian Wisdom (2004). Bible verses and quotes: Teachings of Jesus. Christian Wisdom. Web.
Ratnasekera, L. (n.d.). The Eight-Fold Path of Buddhist liberation seen in a Christian perspective. Web.