The Eightfold Path

The Buddha taught that existence has three fundamental characteristics, known as the Three Marks. These are: Dukkha / Duhkha (suffering); Anicca / Anitya (impermanence); and Anatta / Anatman (not-Self). One of the most important teachings in Buddhism concerns the first of these marks, Dukkha / Duhkha, and is found in the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths follow the traditional Indian methodology that doctors used to analyse and treat diseases: define the disease, establish the cause, define the end result of the cure, then detail what one needs to do to be cured. This is why the Buddha is often seen as a doctor, offering a cure to suffering. Thus, the first of the Four Noble Truths states that pain and suffering exists. The second states that the cause of suffering is craving. The third truth asserts that an end to suffering can be achieved through one’s own efforts. Finally, the fourth truth details the way to end suffering – this is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path is extremely important in Buddhism since it impacts on how people live: Buddhists attempt to propagate right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and meditation. Thus the Buddhist belief in the Noble Eightfold Path means that believers try and live better lives in accordance with the morality encapsulated in it. The same can be said of the Buddhist belief in Kamma / Karma – that Kamma / Karma is not just action based but intention as well, with that good intentions and actions leading to good results and bad intentions and actions leading to bad results. These results can be experienced in this life or the next, to the point of affecting what you will be reborn as. This means that the Buddhist belief in Kamma / Karma leads Buddhists to attempt to lead good, moral lives. This impacts society with members attempting to impart Buddhist values in all their social interactions. Equally, Buddhist leaders attempt to rule or govern according to Buddhist beliefs. King Asoka / Ashoka is a good example of this – building hospitals, helping the poor and promoting animal welfare.

The benefits of Buddhist beliefs on individuals and communities are clear from the above. Beliefs promote social cohesion amongst citizens, with encouragement away from acts of selfishness and towards the general good. If the ruler follows the example of King Asoka then the whole of society benefits. On an individual level, Buddhism can offer meaning to lives and engender a sense of belonging in a community. Meditation can help one overcome life’s problems, from exams, to dealing with excruciating pain or the loss of a loved one.

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