Siddhartha of the Shakya clan was an Indian prince who lived over two millenia ago. Throughout his childhood, he lived in the lap of luxury, jealously guarded by his parents from even seeing any kind of human suffering. One day, as a young adult, Siddhartha decided to leave the protection of his palace and explore the outside world. What he saw – sickness, old age, and death – shocked him so deeply that he soon decided to leave the palace for good to search for answers.
After subjecting himself to extreme austerities for some years and seeking out the most famous sages in India for answers, Siddhartha realized that he was getting no closer to understanding why people suffer. So one day he decided to meditate at the foot of a tree until he became enlightened.
At the edge of death, Siddhartha suddenly realized the Four Noble Truths and woke up! From then on, he was known as Shakyamuni Buddha, or as we know him colloquially, the Buddha.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
What the Buddha realized was basically as simple as this:
- There is suffering (dukkha).
- Dukkha is caused by desire.
- There is a way to escape dukkha.
- Following the Eightfold Path is the way to escape dukkha.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
The Eightfold Path is a fundamental Buddhist teaching. All concepts in Buddhism flow directly from this central doctrine. One could spend an entire lifetime studying this seemingly mundane set of guidelines. Many have. Every time you think you fully understand any one of the eight principles, your understanding gets pushed even further, similar to an infinite feedback loop.
Because it is so important that the Shaolin interpretation of the Eightfold Path be adhered to, we will share the exact interpretation from shaolin.com:
1. Right Views: ask yourself “why do I do what I do?” Examine your motives, your goals. No action should be mindless; a spiritual person knows why he acts.
2. Right Resolve: are you prepared for the task at hand? What are your preparations of thought, speech, motivation? Is the task at hand worthy of your time and effort?
3. Right Speech: words are powerful; do you use them wisely? Careless words may hurt others, open yourself to attack. The U.S. Navy was not joking when, in World War II, it placed posters on ships and in bases proclaiming “loose lips sink ships.” Buddhists are aware of the power of words and the thought-entities they can invoke (more on this in a later addition).
4. Right Action: once you decide on a task, is your procedure well-thought out, or is it hap-hazard? If you wish to become an M.D., you must gain admittance to a medical school. Each step leading to that must be precise. One does not enter medical school directly from a manager’s position at True-Value Hardware (but a hardware worker MAY become an M.D. if he makes the appropriate actions).
5. Right Livelihood: Buddhists believe that work is a manifestation of spiritual development. Enlightenment is difficult to achieve if you are in the wrong occupation for you, i.e., a vegetarian may find extreme moral difficulty working as a butcher. The choice of career is important, and Buddhists believe that the choice must come from within, not from “following in the family footsteps” – that is, unless you truly find fulfillment in that business. To a Buddhist, a large part of your physical self IS what you do.
6. Right Effort: having embarked on a path, are you giving the journey the logistical and emotional support it needs to be accomplished. Buddhism frowns on half-hearted efforts.
7. Right Attention: are you giving enough attention to yourself, to gauge your moods and relationships to be sure you are still on the right path for you? If you cannot hear yourself, how well can you hear others?
8. Right Meditation: have you the discipline to fully focus on the task at hand? (We enjoyed Yoda’s comment in “The Empire Strikes Back” about Luke: “Never his mind on where he is!) You need not be single-minded; life is, after all, made of many experiences and relationships. But the task at hand deserves your full mindfulness, or it is unimportant. Can you tell which?http://shaolin.com/philosophycontent.aspx
The New Order of Shaolin Ch’an will build upon this preliminary understanding of the Eightfold Path in our Dharma studies. There is a vast ocean of knowledge waiting to be explored by all members of the Order, from first day initiates all the way up to the Grandmasters.