Suffering—we all go through it, albeit in different forms.
We may be suffering from the pain of losing someone.
Or we hurt from the ache of falling ill.
We may also feel miserable from the anxiety of aging.
And for most of us, the stress of not getting what we want.
In this world, suffering is inevitable. But will it ever end?
According to Buddhism, yes. Suffering can end.
But how do you overcome your suffering? In Buddhist beliefs, there are certain ways to end one’s suffering: The Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path describes eight ways to end human suffering based on the teachings of the Buddha himself.
But to walk the Eightfold Path, first, you need to understand the true nature of suffering. This is revealed in the teachings of the Buddha called The Four Noble Truths.
Table of Contents
As the Buddha reached enlightenment, he came to understand the four truths about suffering. In his sermon, the Buddha describes these four facts as follow:
The first truth is dukkha or suffering. In this truth, the Buddha describes the existence of suffering, which he said comes in many forms.
Suffering may come in the forms of birth, old age, illness, and death. It also appears in the forms of unsatisfaction, encountering the unpleasant, and separation from the unpleasant.
The second truth is samudaya or the origin of suffering. Here, the Buddha identified cravings or attachment as the cause of suffering.
This truth revealed our unsatisfactory nature of things can put us in misery. As long as we are not satisfied, we remain in agony. That is even without the outward causes, such as illness and separation.
Other Buddhist texts also point to our negative actions and thoughts being the cause of our suffering. This includes acts of killing, stealing, and lying, as well as thoughts of desire, greed, and ignorance.
The third truth is nirodha or the cessation of suffering. This truth revealed suffering can end.
To end our suffering, we must work to reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the state of mind where we extinguish desire. The Buddha himself is proof that humans can free themselves from their desires, attaining this noble state.
The fourth truth is marga or the path. In this truth, the Buddha describes the Eightfold Path to reaching Nirvana.
The Eightfold Path describes the eight ways to end man’s suffering. These eight ways are divided into three forms of training, which include ethics, concentration, and wisdom.
Ethics is about refraining from committing non-virtuous deeds. Concentration involves training to control the mind, while wisdom training refers to developing insights so you can better see the true nature of things.
To overcome your suffering, you must follow the Eightfold Path set forth by the Buddha. Below, we will talk about these practices in great detail to help you understand what you must do to attain enlightenment.
To simplify, the four noble truths state that:
By understanding the four noble truths, we learn about acceptance of the problem and the solution to it. Now, we need to constantly remind ourselves of these four noble truths so we can start overcoming our misery.
Buddhism has its own way of dealing with suffering. In the Four Noble Truths, the fourth truth talks about the Eightfold Path, which are eight ways to eliminate suffering.
In this section, understand what the eight practices are all about and what you need to do to walk the noble path.
The first step to alleviate one’s suffering is having the Right Understanding. In Buddhist teachings, this refers to having an accurate view of the nature of things. It’s about seeing things as they are without label nor judgment.
Without the correct view of the nature of things, your thoughts, action, and speech may stray from virtuous deeds. That’s why this practice is especially important because our perception of things influences the other practices in the path.
To cultivate Right Understanding, you need to practice Right Mindfulness, which is another practice in the Eightfold Path. Mindfulness is all about having present-focused awareness. A mindful person would reflect rather than react in certain situations.
By practicing mindfulness, you get to develop insights that are vital to come up with true understanding and clarity of the matter.
When you cultivate Right Understanding, you can develop insights to have the Right Intention. This is also known as Right Thinking.
Right Intention is important because it is human nature to think before doing an action. When you practice Right Intention, you can avoid the wrong kind of thinking and stick with the right kind of thoughts.
When we say wrong kind of thinking, we mean thoughts of attachment, hatred, and harmful intent. The right kind of thinking in this regard refers to detachment, thoughts of love, and thoughts of non-violence.
To cultivate Right Intention, the Buddha suggests joining other people who practice correct thinking. They can be a community of mindfulness practitioners or meditation groups.
Right Speech ties back with Right Intention because what we speak comes from what we are thinking. In this practice, you must learn to avoid verbal misdeeds. These include lying, cruel speech, divisive speech, and senseless speech.
According to the Buddha, Right Speech consists of four main efforts that you should work on:
Words can be a powerful tool to communicate understanding, love, and harmony. But they can also be used to hurt people. If you use your words to harm others, you’ll be bound to continuous suffering.
To practice Right Speech, you have to exercise mindfulness. When you are mindful of things, it can act as a filter to what you’re going to say. This ensures that you only speak correctly in line with the Buddha’s teachings.
Again, Right Intention is the foundation of Right Action as what we do originates from what we think. Here, your effort should focus on avoiding physical misdeeds. These include hurting, killing, stealing, exploiting, and sexual misconduct.
If you want to free yourself from suffering, you must not inflict pain on aanyone. Clear your mind of violent thoughts to ensure you always behave accordingly. But how?
This is where mindfulness consumption comes in. To prevent yourself from planting seeds of violence in your mind, you have to be mindful of what you consume through your five basic senses.
Don’t let damaging thoughts enter your mind as you go your usual routine—watch TV, browse the internet, or engage in discussions. Only allow nourishing thoughts to enter your body and mind.
Work that directly or indirectly causes harm to others must be avoided. Jobs that deal with slavery, animals for slaughter, drugs, alcohol, or poison fall in the wrong livelihood category.
Supporting yourself with trades that cause harm to others is a source of suffering. Right Livelihood forbids this, and instead, your work should contribute to the well-being of others in a positive way.
Thus, you must begin questioning yourself if your work is causing pain or good to others. Reflect on your answers to deepen your practice of the path.
The next practice involves due diligence to prevent and abandon negative states that may arise or have arisen while nourishing and sustaining positives states that have yet to arise or have already arisen.
In life, there’s always a potential for love, happiness, and peace to grow in our consciousness. Likewise, there is a chance for greed, hatred, ignorance, and violence to develop in us. These emotions are lying dormant in our consciousness, waking to grow from seeds. It is up to us whether to refrain from cultivating the negative seeds or to nurture the positive ones.
That is Right Effort. It’s how you work towards the seeds planted in your consciousness. With Right Effort, you choose to work on the wholesome seeds over the unwholesome bunch.
Mindfulness plays a great role in following the path to enlightenment. But like the other seven practices, there is also a right and wrong way of doing mindfulness.
Don’t just practice mindfulness for the sake of being mindful. Right Mindfulness is done with the Right Intention to walk the path to Right Understanding. When you do, you become aware of how you act, speak, work, and exert effort. See how the practices tie back to each other?
Right Mindfulness constitutes an awareness of the body, feelings, thought, and phenomena. If you want to end your suffering, your mindfulness practice should be the right kind and all else will follow.
Finally, Right Concentration helps you become deeply present in the moment.
Being present-focused is an important part of mindfulness. Thus, Right Concentration is crucial as it helps you practice Right Mindfulness, which affects virtually every step in the Eightfold Path.
To walk the path of Right Concentration, you must adopt a regular meditation practice. Meditation will help improve your focus so you can discover deep insights and see the truth in the nature of things.
Going back to the descriptions above, the Eightfold Path is an interconnected web of practices that is key to ending your suffering.
Working on a certain path would help you improve in other areas as well. That means you don’t have to be great at all practices at once. Focus on what you think you’re comfortable working on and move forward from there.
When you start to truly understand the Four Noble truths and began to walk the Eightfold Path, that’s how you overcome your suffering.
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