The Noble Eightfold Path to the End of Dissatisfaction
Talks on the Buddha’s instructions for individual and collective liberation.
with Sean Feit Oakes, PhD
namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhasa Homage to the blessed, accomplished, and fully self-awakened one.
“Bhikkhus, just as the river Ganges slants, slopes, and inclines towards the east, so too a bhikkhu who develops and cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path slants, slopes, and inclines towards Nibbāna.
“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path so that [they slant, slope, and incline] towards Nibbāna? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu develops right view, which is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release…. He develops right intention… right speech… right action… right livelihood… right effort… right mindfulness… [and] right concentration, which is based upon seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, maturing in release. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu develops and cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path so that [they slant, slope, and incline] towards Nibbāna.” (SN 45.91)
About the course
This course is a compilation of audio recordings of meditations and talks, given over a year-long+ deep dive into the Noble Eightfold Path in our weekly sitting group, Insight Meditation Satsang. The content is organized as a course for your ease, and includes written overviews of each talk as well as links to further study.
Registration includes lifetime access to the course and is offered freely, in the spirit of Gift Economy. If you are able to do so, contributions are greatly appreciated and will support the continuation of offerings like this. You can learn more about Gift Economy and make a contribution here.
Background: The Noble Eightfold Path
Siddhartha Gotama (possibly 563-483 BCE), who came to be known as the Buddha, lived in the fertile intellectual and spiritual period of the Upaniṣads, and embodied its creative and passionate spiritual ethos. He was a member of the Sakyan clan, a ruling family in what is now North-central India. After experiencing distress upon seeing an old person, a sick person, and a corpse, he left home to seek the deathless. He practiced meditative concentration under two prominent yoga teachers, then asceticism on his own, finally reaching his goal through what he called “The Middle Way” between sensory indulgence and self-mortification, and profound insight into the cause of suffering. After realization, he was called “Buddha”, meaning “awake”, or Tathāgatha (“One Thus Gone”). The Buddha taught a detailed path based on cultivating focused attention (samādhi) and mindfulness rooted in ethical action and embodied inquiry. His core understanding is expressed in the teaching called The Four Noble Truths, and the practice outlined in The Eightfold Path.
the four noble truths
1. The truth of suffering, also translated stress or dissatisfaction (Pāli: dukkha / Sanskrit: duḥkha). 2. The truth of the cause of suffering: grasping (tanha/tṛṣna) rooted in ignorance (avidyā). 3. The truth of the cessation (nirodha) of suffering through the cessation of its cause. 4. The truth of the path (magga/marga) to the cessation of suffering, called The Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga/arya aṣtanga marga), consisting of…
1. Right View: understanding our experience in light of the Four Noble Truths 2. Right Intention: toward non-harming (avihiṃsa/ahimsa), kindness (mettā/maitri), renunciation (vairagya)
3. Right Speech: refraining from lying, divisive, abusive, and idle speech 4. Right Action: refraining from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct 5. Right Livelihood: cultivating honest and non-harmful economic relationships
6. Right Effort: decreasing unskillful body-mind states, cultivating skillful states 7. Right Mindfulness: focused inquiry into body, feelings (+/-), conscious states, qualities of mind 8. Right Concentration: unification of mind (samādhi) through meditative states (jhāna/dhyāna)
The Buddha’s path integrated the practices of samādhi that were prevalent in his day with a quality of present-moment inquiry called Mindfulness (sati/smṛti). Mindfulness is a detailed inquiry practice that uses focus and stability of attention to attend closely to the arising sensory information of each moment, revealing three fundamental characteristics of every experience, known as the Three Marks (P: tilakkhaṇa): impermanence (anicca/anitya), the quality of instability, revealing that everything is constantly arising and passing with changing conditions; suffering (dukkha/duḥkha), the recognition that nothing can be held on to as a reliable or constant source of ease or happiness; and not-self (anattā/anātman), the realization that nothing stable can be found to call “I, me, mine, myself”, not even consciousness. The difficult teaching of not-self set the Buddha apart from Hindu Vedānta, which held that there is an individual self, or soul (attā/ātman), even as it held that the ultimate nature of that self was impersonal and not different from Brahman. The distinction is subtle. When asked by the seeker Vachagotta whether there is a self or not, the Buddha famously refused to answer. Anattā points to the insubstantiality of our habitual sense of self and how the feeling of separateness, along with the clinging that is the habit of the mind, creates suffering and stress.
Every week at Satsang, we do a short chanting ceremony called a pūjā, or devotional ritual. We chant a few ancient verses in Pāli, the language of the early Buddhist texts. These verses are excerpts from a longer sequence of chants done daily in Theravāda monasteries, emphasizing the basic lay (non-monastic) practices of going for refuge and the five ethical precepts. The verses we chant praise the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, pay homage to the Buddha, renew our practice of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem, and renew our commitment to the ethical practices known as the Five Lay Precepts. The pūja ends with a short verse in English known as the Five Recollections…. [Read more about the chants here.]