The Eightfold Path

Written on May 16, 2010. Written by .

This article is not an explanation of the eightfold path of Buddhism.  I have never been satisfied with the eightfold path; it feels like a list of tips rather than a path.  This doesn’t seem like the best format to convince students of its effectiveness.  This article is my interpretation of the actual path that is referred to by “the eightfold path”.

1.  Acknowledge the problem. This corresponds to the four noble truths.  The first step is to acknowledge that human psychology is susceptible to unnecessary stress that can be prevented through conscious intervention.  This step can be attained by learning about psychology.

2.  Make efforts to fix the problem. This corresponds to factors six through eight of the eightfold path.  Through meditation, contemplation, and study, we can come to understand how our psychology works.  It is very important that these efforts are continual and aren’t abandoned when the end of the path is reached.  Our minds are fluid and will relapse into their natural state.  It is also important to accept mistakes and temporary relapses as part of the path.

3.  Understand the nature of the problem. This corresponds to steps one and two of the eightfold path.  Through our efforts in step two, we can become fully convinced that our attachment to life quality maximization is the source of the problem.  This is not an easy realization however, because it seems very counterintuitive that attaching to something sabotages one’s ability to attain it.  This is sometimes referred to as the paradox of hedonism.

4.  Find a new perspective on life. This corresponds to steps three through five of the eightfold path.  Even if we want to detach from life quality maximization, it is not something that we can directly do.  If our perspective on life is based on hedonic success, then our mind will never have the flexibility to detach.  We must first find a more meaningful perspective on life – a perspective that makes our personal comfort and pleasure seemed too trivial to get really worked up about.  This perspective will most likely involve helping other people in some form since this is the basis of our genetic interpretation of meaning.

5.  Accept suffering as a part of life. Even the most enlightened person in the world will experience suffering from time to time.  By fighting our suffering with stress, we only make it worse.  It’s just like trying to crawl out of quicksand – you only sink further.  With the proper perspective on life found in step four, we now have something bigger to be concerned about than our own hedonic successes and failures.  This new perspective displaces the old one.  We certainly don’t have to encourage suffering; we can even act in ways to avoid it, but we accept it gracefully when it does come.

6.  Detach from life quality maximization. If we have the right perspective and can truly accept suffering, then our minds will gradually detach from life quality maximization.  There’s a big difference between wanting to be detached and actually being detached, which is why the path is not that simple.

7.  Recalibrate all your other attachments. Most of your attachments probably stemmed from your attachment to life quality maximization.  If you go back and consider how important these things are now, you will probably start taking many things less seriously.

8.  De-stress. As your attachments adjust to more reasonable levels, emotions like anger, worry, and frustration will have fewer triggers and stress will start to fade away.  This does not mean that you will have no attachments.  You will still get excited and disappointed, but there won’t be the exacerbating factor of attachment to life quality maximization.  Your emotions will be stabilized without making you any less engaged with life.

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